Photography 101: Getting Ready to Shoot Food

By: Eden Hensley; Photos by: Brooke Dennis for Alt Summit

Ever noticed how the food lifestyle bloggers share on their sites and in their social media streams makes your mouth water? I could have just finished a hearty meal and I’ll still find myself salivating over their photos.

Curious how you can create a feed that leaves your fans drooling? In the first of a series of posts, we share some of our favorite tips from a few of our Alt Summit Design Camp instructors on which equipment to choose and how to prep your table before you start playing with your food.

  1. Shoot with a portrait lens when possible for compression of scene to get the background to drop out. Nicole of Nicole’s Classes uses two lenses: an 85mm lens with full frame camera for her primary lens and a 24-70mm lens for overhead shots.
  2. To see if you've gotten your shot right, tether your camera to your laptop like William and Susan Brinson of The House of Brinson. When shooting tethered use a jerk stopper. If you trip on the tether without a jerk stopper, you'll break the connection and your camera will no longer be able to connect. With Canon this is about a $500 repair whereas a Jerk Stopper costs between $19 to $25.
  3. Consider where your light source is coming from and adjust. Use windows opposite of full sun steaming in -- North or South exposure -- for indirect light. Use this trick from Candice of Handmade Moodto determine if your light is too harsh: if you can see the edge of your window in the shadow, move your set up. Subtract (black foam core) or add (white foam core) light based on what you want to convey. Avoid shooting with your subject front lit (light source is directly in front of your food). Side light shows shape, dimension, and form of your subject. Darker shadows can be used to make a setting more romantic or dreamy. Backlight creates a more dreamy, romantic setting; expose for shadows on the subject.
  4. Avoid specular light. (The highlights that appear on shiny or reflective surfaces are specular light. The light is being bounced from the surface directly into your camera lens.) Some common places you'll find this happening are on polished silverware and glazed pottery or china. Nicole recommended a couple of tricks: turning or removing the silverware; replacing polished silverware with an antique (tarnished) piece or applying adhesive spray mount; and using stoneware with a matte finish or applying adhesive spray mount to the surface.
  5. Use grey cards to set your white balance. Be sure that you have one light source—all natural or all artificial. Use the eyedropper functionality to fix between control shot with grey card and rest of images. If you primary light source is natural light, double check that you’ve turned off any overhead lights (tungsten).
  6. Level your surface. You want to avoid distortion and inconsistency between frames (especially when shooting a how to where only some of the components change from step to step).
  7. Choose neutrals when picking props and linens.Ginny Branch say when you do, your food will pop.
  8. Secure your backdrops into place. You can use clamps but your foam core may move somewhat. Another option Candice of recommends is placing your foam core into a set of two frog pins (found in the floral supply area of Michael's). When using frog pins, be careful as they are very sharp.
  9. Set up your shot before you start playing with your food. You don't want your garnish to sink into your soup. A trick Nicole recommends for keeping croutons or other ingredients that absorb liquid or weigh more than your soup from sinking is to put marbles in the bottom of your bowl.
  10. Choose your camera angle based on what you want to highlight. To make your food look three-dimensional on the screen (or paper), position your camera a little higher than the subject. If you want to highlight volume, shoot at or slightly below (and up towards) your subject. If you want to emphasize shapes, shoot overhead; be sure to shoot with a tripod so that the camera lens is parallel to your tabletop.
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Eden Hensley

Marketing creative, community engagement specialist, technophile, photographer, food and wine enthusiast, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Road to The Good Life, a lifestyle blog about appreciating and enhancing your life by being grateful for the "haves" instead of lingering on the "wants." There you will find personal stories about my life and family weaved in with real-life, achievable entertaining tips, recipes for hearty home cooked meals, and DIY projects for capturing and sharing memories. I believe the best place to swap stories is over a shared meal, preferably a Thai-meal served family style, and teach an online introduction class to Thai Flavors and host the Family Dinners at The Station supper club in San Francisco.