Wednesday, 1 February 2012

My Ten tips for Great food photography.

I was fortunate enough to work on a now multi award nominated food book 'Loose Birds and Game' by Andrew Pern multi award winning chef and co-owner of 'The Star inn'

It was a truly mammoth undertaking, which has opened many doors for me in the world of food and drink, and bringing in a regular amount of work.

I like to think I picked up a couple of cooking tips along the way too.

Its worth bearing in mind if you have an interest in food photography that the self publishing revolution means there will doubtless be some good work to be picked up.

But how to go about it?

Food photography has more associated folklore than any other field of photography with stories of petrol being poured on food to 'give it the right sheen', a smouldering sanitary product placed user food to keep it warm and moist, hollowing out mass produced fish fingers and substituting it with a fine Cod fillet, not cooking the food at all and just using a blow torch, and of course the realms of using things that look like food which are not intact food at all.

All of these are reputed to be true, some I doubt, but a couple I know are.....I wonder if you can spot them?

But lets be honest here, there are two different types of food photography, one where you have a team, including a food stylist, who's services can be worth their weight in gold, the other kind a more 'real word approach, rather like the excellent series 'Heston's Feasts' on Channel 4, where a more real world aesthetic take precedence (I wonder what they filmed it on? some shots had a DSLR look to them but I suppose it could have been a Sony F3, though it would have been a bit unwieldy in a kitchen)

So this is post is not for you if you are about to shoot a major food campaign, it is aimed ay the smart one man shooter who has been asked to undertake a food photography project for the first time.

1. As I so very often say 'Shoot what you Love, Love what you shoot' if you have no interest in food at all and you try to convince the client you do, despite your lack of experience you are playing with fire. If you have no interest at all consider declining the assignment.

2. Try to get some sort of idea of what dishes/food you will be photographing, go away and research what it SHOULD look like, if cooked and shot well, this will give you some sort of target to aim for. Ask the client what sort of food photography he likes, will it be something like Jamie Oliver's photographer David Loftus? Or do they like the very clever and different food photography that one sees in Pret A Manger?

3. Work closely with the chef who is preparing the dish, perhaps spend time with them as they cook the dish for you, building great relationships is all
 This too will give you an idea of what the food should in fact look like and make the most of the that time to come up with a plan of how you both think it should look. Yes, have some sort of game plan, even if you don't stick to it.

4. You will need some sort of space, no matter how small, so work out where you are going to shoot it. It should be close to, or in-fact IN the kitchen for reasons I will come to shortly. And it should be near a window....

5. The cornerstone of good food photography is to shoot with natural light. Natural light is just that, and it has a look and feel which is very difficult to achieve by other means. You can, and I have shot with flash but the nuances of lighting food are not to be taken lightly. Lighting with natural light with a series of homemade reflectors to add or subtract light from areas of a dish will take you a long way. Make sure there are no artificial light sources anywhere even close, or at least that they absolutely cannot influence your dish, imagine the shadow areas of your beautiful dish filled in with the green of a fluorescent or the yellow of a warm plate....

If you have never ever used a grey card in your life, this it the time to start using one, at regular intervals throughout the shoot too. You know that that colours of the food are spot on

6. Timing. This is the big one that no-one talks about. It does not matter about anything else if you keep hot food hanging around on a plate, everything you will have done will be for nothing.
The food will flag, sag and the fat and juices will congeal and no matter what you do it will not look right.
Sometimes you will have minutes, sometimes only seconds.
When we shot the Gull's egg I reckon we had under 60 seconds to get the egg yolk running just right before it congealed. We shot six gull's edges which cost £80.00 from Harrods and only one shot worked out. Gulls edges are so delicate, cutting the top off ruined many and then we over cooked some too.
I'm very pleased with this shot though.

7. Find the way in to the dish, don't be afford of moving the plate around, there really is no hard and fast rule, the view point might look good from overhead but it really is down to you to move the camera around and find the 'right angle' but be aware that if you have shot all the dishes from overhead and you choose to shoot one at just below eye level it might look out of place.

8. Keep it simple. Don't go for the overcomplicated look. It can look fussy and down right messy.
With food photography, less really is more, I'm a big exponent of the simple white plate.

9.Invest in a good quality tripod and precise head. I favour a Gitzo, with the brilliant Manfrotto 405 geared head, perfect for food photography with its precise adjustments (the Manfrotto 410 is much cheaper but nowhere near as good ), if you are shooting for a more depth of field you will be using a slow shutter speed if you are going for long exposures it is advisable to lock the mirror up and, you would be amazed at the amount of vibration mirror bounce can cause.

My well used 405...

10. Get a good macro lens. In my opinion there is simply no substitute for a really good prime lens for food photography. I shoot with Phase One and Canon and I have a macro lens for both.

The 120mm F4 Phase One Macro lens was used for all the plated dishes in 'Loose Birds and Game' while my Canon 'L'series 100mm F2.8 Macro with its very handy hybrid IS system was used for detail shots on the fly in the kitchen.

I reckon both of these lenses are some of the sharpest currently available anywhere.

So there you have it, if you would like to see the fruits of this project I have a limited number of books at a very special price available thorough my blog.

A mere £15.99 plus postage for a seasonal taste of the countryside.

I'm considering doing free webinar about food photography, if there is appetite for one, do let me know.


Andor said...

Thanks for the great post - just thinking about trying out myself in some food-photography (even if it is just about to do for my pleasure, not for a client) - great ideas and tips to take care about!

Nice result with the Gull's egg!
(I'll try something first with a bit of less time-pressure :-D )

Unknown said...

Thank's Andor

It is just a great way to celebrate fantastic food, even if it's not for business.




Ian said...

Good tips. I sometimes get asked to take a few food pics for a pub or sandwich shop web site. A "real world" food photog seminar would be good to watch

Raul Kling said...

Please sign me up for the webinar!

Unknown said...

Hi Ian and Raul

Thank you very much for the comments

I will have a word with the guys at the Manfrotto school of Excellence and see if we can a food webinar.



blog said...

Hi Drew, The Gull's egg shot was EGGcellent! Sorry I couldn't resist it. The temptation to try & catch some of the egg yoke...I had to stop myself from poking my monitor. Great shot. Regards Sarah

Unknown said...

Thanks Sarah,

Really pleased you liked it.

The back story to the gulls egg can never be told but it was great fun!



Keith Hammond said...

really enjoyed the post Drew, i would be very interested in a food shoot webinar, i love trying new things.

Unknown said...

Hey Keith,

Thank you very much for that.

Your webinar interest is duly noted.



Libby said...

Yes Drew another vote for the food webinar. All great advice here. And while I don't do outrageously expensive little bird eggs, I do a lot of pastries and such, and some of these only have about a 5 minute lifespan after coming out of the oven. When the steam accumulates under the crusts some become wrinkly.

I'll share one horror story with you, though not exactly mine. This goes back to your tip about interest in the subject etc. A guy here lowballed me on price for a shot at an ice cream shop and he didn't use wads of paper and such as stand in food to set up his lights before the dishes came. The shoot was in mid July and, well need I say more? What a mess. Whipped cream collapsing all over while he was trying to set up lights to get the red Blinkies on the back of the LCD to go away. The shop called me for a reshoot but I was too busy.

A question - Just wondering what your thoughts are on using a PC lens on the Canon? -Libby

Unknown said...

Hey Libby

Ah, the satisfaction of someone coming unstuck who has undercut you....

The time frame of shooting food is just not given enough credence.

I have read quite a few food blogs and they just do not mention this.



myrtle said...

WoW! What an interesting post indeed. Enjoyed reading your blog.=D
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