Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Food Photography for Articles & Advertisements

Keeping with my photography theme I thought I would make today's Tips Tuesday about taking food (or food product) photographs for magazine articles and advertisements.  This is something that I find myself doing quite often for my job as a lot of the businesses I do stories on are either primary producers (so do things like make cheese or wine or have cattle or pigs!)....and I have taken quite a lot of shots in cafes too.
Now true 'food photography' is a whole art form in itself.  Something that requires a 'food stylist' and hours of setting up and gluing together food and propping up hamburger buns with cardboard and doing other random things that I know nothing about.  That is definitely not what I do.  I basically get in, snap photos and get out again, trying not to get in anyone's way.  Well....sort of.  There are some basic things that I keep in mind and I thought I would share them with you today.
Make Your Photos 'Pop'
Sometimes when I'm looking through the viewfinder I know instantly that something is missing.  Whether the scene is too cluttered or an object needs to be turned slightly the other way, or even if it is lacking in a little colour.  For example, this camembert cheese that I photographed for an on-farm cheese company.  With a white table underneath this glass platter, and the white cheese, it needed this little sprig of lavender to give the picture a little lift.  I did have to ask (nicely) for the owner/cheese maker to go and pick me some lavender from her garden, but afterwards she saw immediately why it was a good idea.
Sometimes photos are hard to set up, and once you do get it stacked just the way you want it, it still doesn't look exactly right.  This was the case with the photo above.  I just didn't like the green background at all.  Basically it was a plastic table cloth that just looked a little cheap, to be honest, and the colour stood out way too much against the white of the milk and cheese.  This was the opposite of my problem in the previous shot, where I needed that pop of colour.  Here I wanted to avoid it because the background was just not important.  This is where post-production can be your best friend.  By all means, crop away what needs to be cropped away!
Making the Uninteresting Interesting
Above is another cheese photo.  Here is another.
And another...
....ooooo...pretty pyramids.  I'm sure I have a few more cheesy shots....
Oops..and here we go again...
...what is it with me and cheese??!  Anyway, cheese is not a particularly exciting thing to photograph.  I mean it doesn't do anything, or say anything...not even "Cheese" when you take the photos ("ha!  get it?!..."cheese")  Sorry.  So, what I was trying to say is that cheese is all about texture, as well as taste, so this is what I've tried to go for when taking photos of what is otherwise a pretty boring photographic subject.  Look for ways to make it appear tasty, which of course you know it was!
I also do get to take photos of other types of food....I promise...
...such as this mushroom.
Up Close and Personal
How interesting can a mushroom possibly be?  Actually, when you look at it closely, very.  Look at the segments, the texture and the gorgeous shades of brown.  I loved taking these photos, even though at first I was dreading doing this shoot, because I just didn't see how I could make it interesting.  I mean, come on...they're mushrooms.  They grow in the dark.
But in the end they made themselves interesting!  I mean...how gorgeous are they!  They're almost cute...like little squidgy plump buttons of fungi fun!  They kind of remind me of that Disney movie 'Fantasia'. 
Really it was all about giving these little guys the benefit of the doubt and seeing them for more than what I thought they were going to be.  They turned out to be excellent subjects for photos......and then the owners of the business murdered these ones above....and cooked them up with pesto and goats cheese and I'm afraid I just had to eat them.  I felt terrible.  They were delicious.
Sometimes food comes in packaging....and sometimes it comes pre-packaged...like these eggs...popped out conveniently by the chook, all in it's own little oval-shaped container.  How thoughtful of her.  But sometimes....the food product will also come in some OTHER form of packaging, like a box or a bag.  It's important to show that off well too.  Make sure that the colours are true to life, particularly if you have to go home and edit your photos, because these colours are carefully chosen by the business (or their marketing team), and represent their brand.  It also helps if you have the packaging in the shot looking neat and tidy, (so no folded dicky corners or crumpled wrappers if you can help it.)
I know...I know....more cheese...but it is also the pretty packaging that I wanted to highlight by using the background to set it off...the green of the labels with the little picture of the sheep.....(it was sheep milk cheese by the way).  Baaaaa.....
Harvest...Paddock to the Plate
Sometimes I have to take food shots before the food is really even food, or should I say, the end product, like these olives above.  Yes!  These are baby olives! Everybody.."one..two..three..Awww.."
So cute!
And here are some grapes.  These were probably teenagers, in terms of their age.  So not so cute.  But, my point here is that it was really important to show off the raw ingredient.  Really give people a feel of what it was like to stand up close and be able to touch, feel and smell the harvest.  This is why in these sorts of photos I like to switch my camera over to macro so I can pick up every little detail possible.
Food Photography
Now, this is probably what you were thinking of when you read my title of my post....'Food Photography'.  Now this is food!  A plated up pile of deliciousness all good to go and ready to be devoured.  This was a plate of barramundi.  I got to eat this by the way.  Jealous?  You should be!  For these type of food photos I can't afford the time to set up lighting boxes and lights and all the creative claptrap that goes along with 'real' food photographers, (although don't get me wrong...these people do AMAZING things), but as a magazine journalist you just can't afford the time...nor anyone else's for that matter.  While I was taking these shots I had the chef hanging over my shoulder...who was sort of in a hurry to get back to the kitchen as they were in the middle of serving lunch.
So this is where I do the best job I can, in the time I have, in the space I have, with the limited equipment that I have.  It's a kind of a "make do" situation.  For me I take photos of food using the most natural light I can, which means finding a surface/area/table that is flooded with as much light as possible, set up my tripod and switch my camera over to a slower shutter speed...because hey...unless I'm trying to photograph melting ice cream...my subject isn't going anywhere.  I also take a few varying the degree of the depth of field so I get parts of the food slightly blurry.  It just makes it look a little arty.  I make sure I take lots of shots so I have plenty to choose from.....and I be extra nice to the chef....so he/she lets me feast on it afterwards!  Probably the best tip I could give you!




  1. After my light lunch I am starving! I'm such a cheese head and I swear those photos were like my heaven. I've even joked to Joshua about quitting our jobs to become cheese farmers. (; Great tips Amber!

    1. It's so weird that I've had to do three articles on three separate cheese farms! Honestly...and I'm not that in to cheese! I found out that cheese making is such a tricky thing when it comes to getting right....so think carefully before quitting your job! ;) However, I reckon you'd be great at it. I can just see you milking the cows twice a day.......

  2. I’ve just found your blog and I’d like to say that I’m in love with it!
    I like your posts and photos! Really amazing!
    I’ll be happy to see you in my blog!)

    Diana Cloudlet

    1. Hi Diana, thanks for the lovely comments. I will pop on over to check out your blog now.

  3. Wow! All the dishes are beautiful and make me hungry! I love seafood and vegs!
    Take care and keep in touch!


    1. Thanks for visiting Grace. I do get to see some yummy food and produce with my job!

  4. You are seriously the most talented photographer I have ever "met".. Online meet, you know what I mean!! Haha! You are so talented and this was really a helpful post. I honestly don't have much to say about the post other than your photography is gorgeous.. I read every word here and it was/will be so helpful to keep in mind as I continue into the world of photography! THANK YOU for sharing!!

    Much love,
    -Stephanie Eva

    1. Awww...shucks! Thank you...but it's weird..I look at my photos and think some a ok and some not so good. Aren't we critical of our own stuff!?! I see other photographers work and know that I don't compare to anything that they do. Anyway, I hope this was helpful to some degree!