Remember the time when you ogled on seeing a plate of spaghetti perfectly plated? Or did you ever see a chef create something wonderful on TV and you wished technology could download food. Personally, I believe we eat with our eyes first and then with our tongues. Many a times, we create a lip smacking plate of food and then we wish we could click it to save it for ever in our memories. Alas, there is no DSLR, no focus light and other jazzy camera equipment. But that is one aspect atleast we food bloggers attempt to master. So, do you really need all that equipment for a great food picture. I asked my friend Namrata Jain to tell you about it. But more than that, she would also tell you how to take great pictures without all that fancy stuff you see. Namrata authors the blog My Food Tapestry; I have many a times drooled over the pictures on her blog and quietly wished the screen would allow me to grab a bite.. Alas 😦
And if you ever thought vegetarian food was boring, her blog will change that perception as well.
Hello Dear Friends,
Elson asked me to do a guest post for his on-going How To series. I was excited and eager. Elson writes beautifully and his love for food is evident in his words and his posts. Well, he wants me to cover a topic which brings out the biggest critic in me. He loves the pictures that I take and I for one am highly critical of my own work. We eat with our eyes first. A picture speaks a thousands words. Quotes like these kick me in my butt every time I shoot my food. If truth be told, I have drooled over and stalked many a sites purely for their outstanding photography. Desperately trying to figure out styling and photographing ideas, I struggle and stumble with my limited resources. They say you can take excellent pictures even with the most basic digital camera, you really don’t need an SLR. So with that motivation, I make use of the resources around me. I try to take shots where each picture tells a story of its own. I aim really high, and for those who frequent my blog know that I still have a very long ladder to climb. Still, in spite of all this, the little that I have learnt in my one year stint, I would love to share it with you. Thank you Elson for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
Let’s get started –
1. The camera –
I have the most basic one. Learn to ditch the auto mode and start fiddling with the manual settings. Learn all about ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance. Read all about it here. Just learning the basics can have an alarming difference in the quality of your photographs.
2. Light/Setting/Studio –
Ideal food pictures are shot in studios or you could make one for yourself. Since I don’t have the expertise or the space for it, I mostly go natural, that is, take my pictures out in our terrace garden or in the balcony. I play by one basic rule… lighting. Too much light spoils a photograph, too little makes for a very dark one. Inside the house, there is glass and shiny surfaces which reflect a lot of light rendering a not so good picture. Evening or night times with the tungsten bulbs all on, again the picture quality suffers. So, I prefer taking my food cutlery and all to the garden outside my house which is covered by walls on either side and a roof on top. Light flows in only through one side making it ideal for my photographs. The best time I have noticed is mornings and early evenings as the sun rays are warm and not so harsh. Once it gets dark, I refrain from photographing.
3. Background Props/Boards and Work Surfaces –
You can surely make mundane boring food look sexy and gorgeous. I secretly lust for props like these. But we make do with all that we have and can find, coz buying antique and silver ware is not easy on our pockets. What we can do is make optimal use of stuff at home. Do not ignore old well used scratched metal or wooden trays. My garden provides me with a wonderful wooden bench ideal for placing my food.
My Work Station
Old baking trays, an extra board of laminate left or your child’s wooden study table, all make great backgrounds.
4. Cutlery and China ware
Now for the food to be placed in. Silver, brass, antique and expensive crockery make great photographs – FACT. Decrepit copper bowls or cups make excellent pictures. Your red sauce would look more sanguinary in rich china ware. But since they are difficult to procure, I have found solace in inexpensive china ware, mostly in white!
White bowls, chutney pans, cake mounts, platters – buy them in white, as food displayed on it looks best. Visit your dollar store or your local market and pick one of all the serve ware that you use. It will be mostly enough to complete a pretty picture.
Keep an open eye for newer variety of cutlery or forks or platters, especially when you are traveling. I usually get very good stuff where I am least expecting it.
One look at my crockery section and you can see how WHITE it is 🙂
An attractive wooden soup bowl often makes very good pictures. Be it rice or some curry or stew or soup, it serves as a perfect container to be photographed.
5. Other props
So its been a year or so since I have started blogging, and I have collected twines, twigs, coils, brown shopping paper bags, ribbons … anything you name. My most prized finds are these small cute little gunny bags which we use here in India to gift or as wedding favors. One time, my MIL was coaxing me to take a pair of beautiful anklets which she got as a party favor, but I was more interested in the bag. 🙂 I let her have the anklet and was ecstatic with the little bag.
Scarves make such pretty pictures! I use my colorful stoles as a mood enhancer in plain pictures. Your child’s little toys can prove to be a wonderful place to pick your ware from. I have used Milee’s toy spoons and little plates and no body could tell. 🙂
Crumpled baking paper or brown paper makes very good background for your baked food dishes. So you baked a beautiful loaf of bread? Now wrap part of it with brown paper and twine, set it against a well crumpled baking paper and there you have a great picture waiting to be captured!
Use your dish cloth, or apron or kitchen napkins and dinner napkins to good use by laying them in an informal way against the food.
6. Important Pointers/Tips
- The first on my list is to pull back. A newbie photographer will have the impulse to “move in” on their subject. Get that beautiful crumbly crust of a muffin as close as can be. But really, the most beautiful shots are when you can “pull back” from your subject and make the intended focal point “pop” as opposed to “fill the shot”. It’s a simple phrase to remember when shooting: “pull back” – taken from here.
- Think of what you want to do, how you would like to shoot, what cutlery you would like to use. Imagine. Create a scene. First in your head and later on paper. Roughly sketch it up, so that you have a clear vision when you execute it. I am going to be honest, I don’t always do this step, but all those times when I plan and create, the results are much better than expected.
- Partial photographs of food look more enticing than the whole picture. I learnt this a tad late.
- Rule of Thirds – The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. The lesson is that a direct face-on, centered shot is not always the most interesting or pleasing to the eye. You want your photo to have movement and flow. Basically it means, you place your focal point of interest not in the middle but on the intersections of the imaginary lines, that is, on the sides of the pictures. Here is a good tutorial on the rule of thirds.
- Color and shapes are a great way to add beauty to your scene. But be subtle. For example, if it’s a very plain looking dish, try and season with a twig of some bright green herb or if it’s a dessert, which looks very boring, fruits or sugar dust or drizzled sauce can create a very inviting atmosphere.
So with all said and done, here is one of my most favorite shots –
Thank you Elson for giving me this wonderful opportunity to write and share my stint with photography basics. I would not have had the courage to do it ever but this guest post makes me contribute, share and help many a novice newbies out there, drooling and lusting after those gorgeous food photographs 🙂