Natural light food photography is a fabulously rewarding genre for SO many reasons, that I really want you to try it yourself!
Firstly, you can do it in a very small space, even if you don’t have abundant natural light. What’s more, the main subject won’t run away (hello, photographer’s child syndrome!). You can indulge any pre-existing addiction to props (or develop a new one)…and, speaking of props, it opens up a whole world of creativity! You’re also not limited to photographing meals, nor do you need to be a fabulous cook.
Honestly, with a few food photography tips and tricks, anyone could give this a go. But be warned, it can be addictive!
This week’s highlights’ reel is a collection of delicious food images from our gorgeous Grads, which we’ve complemented with what we consider to be the essential tips to get you started having fun with food photography…
Soft light is best for food photography. You can recognise it through the absence of sharply defined lines between the shadow and highlight areas. A soft light will wrap gently around your subject, and the graduation between the shadow and highlights will be very subtle and hard to pinpoint exactly where one ends and the other begins.
One of the best things about natural light food images is that thanks to having small subjects, you don’t need a lot of light. If you have a very dark house, you can set up a small table (even a card table is big enough) near some window or door light.
Eliminate any background clutter by using backdrops. The best bit? You don’t need expensive, custom made backdrops or backdrop stands! Just a decent-sized piece of board will do.
Related: Natural light food photography
Food photography suits both high and low key exposure styles. So, regardless of whether your personal preference is for light, bright and airy, or dark and moody, it will work and sing!
For a light and airy look, use mostly light coloured props and background and set up in bright (bug diffused) light.
For a dark and dramatic look, use mostly deep-toned props and backdrop, and lower key light.
It has to be said, this is one of the most fun aspects of food photography!
With props, you can play with colour, texture and pattern. You can create striking modern imagery using minimalist setups, bold colour and simple props. Or you can play with a vintage look incorporating lots of texture, deep tones, old kitchen utensils, platters and lines found in op shops.
Props can add interest and depth to your food photo or convey a human element by including a hand preparing the food or eating it.
Props can also be a powerful storytelling tool. The inclusion of specific cooking tools or ingredients convey how the food was made, or where the ingredients came from. They can even suggest what is about to happen (for example, if you photograph food on a table set for eating) or what has happened (eg: food half-eaten with used utensils and crumbs scattered in the frame).
With all that in mind, your options for food photography props are already endless. And we are not even getting into linen, platters and backdrops.
So when it comes to props and styling, consider the following:
When deciding what to use, choose just a few and ensure they work with one another and (especially) the subject. Use your food as the inspiration when trying to decide what colours and textures to use in props.
For example, in the photo below, the brown speckles in the platter mirror the tones and texture of the toast. But, most importantly, the effect is subtle, so it doesn’t overwhelm.
If styling doesn’t come naturally to you, keep it simple by limiting yourself to one platter, bowl or surface for your food and add interest with one utensil. If you’re ready to level it up, check out this article…
The angle you shoot from is one of the top considerations in your composition when it comes to food photography. When deciding what angle to shoot from, you need to consider what you’re trying to highlight and whether other elements in the shot might get in the way or distract, or if you want to highlight them.
You also need to be able to see the food well, including its details and textures. If you have hero props, for example a beautifully aged vintage spoon, you might want to shoot down so you can really show it off.
Get down low to eye level, and consider the rule of thirds when placing your food and props.
This angle is probably the most common in food photography, as it’s the perfect way to show off both the food and the setup when you want to see the front of the serving ware. It’s also the trickiest to get right! Too high, and you can’t see the other elements properly. Too angled, and it feels like it’s falling off the surface.
However, there’s no one size fits all because all subjects and props are different, obviously. You just need to try loads of angles and see what looks best when you get them off-camera.
When you really want to draw attention to detail in food or props, a shoot down perspective frames out background elements and really draws the eye to the subject.
You could easily shoot down handheld, presuming you have enough light. However, if you’re taking loads of shots it can get a bit tiring! It’s also very hard to do if you’re height-challenged. If you don’t have a tripod and you don’t have a pair of 12-inch platform shoes…use a chair or a small step ladder to raise yourself high enough that you can easily shoot directly down and not angled.
I love the interruption to the pattern in this shot, created by moving one piece. This not only added interest but also the suggestion that slices have already been eaten. Plus, the strawberries give us a hint as to the main ingredient.
Think beyond the finished product and try some storytelling food photography by capturing food being prepared.
Don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have time? Not all food photography has to be a finished meal, and nor does it have to be home-cooked!
Think outside the square. Capture fresh ingredients such as fruit and vegetables, farm bought produce, store board cupcakes, herbs and spices.
Depending on your available space, anything from 35mm to 50mm would work for food images.
As you’re up close, you’ll have less depth of field. Food photography is not a genre where you want an artful sliver of focus, generally speaking. You want to get a fair amount of the food in focus, with a subtle fall away in the depth of field. Try apertures of around f/4 to f/5.6 depending on your subject, your distance to it and what you want to highlight.