Getting food to look like eye-candy can be quite a challenge — so how do the professionals make it look so easy? Food photographer Jim Tan’s secret to getting that extra oomph factor in food photographs is engaging with the chef. This, he says, helps him understand the inspirations behind each food creation before the shooting starts. Here are some other tips to make it look like you are hanging out in the kitchen of a top chef.
Let in the Light
Besides giving food a wholesome feel, window light allows for pleasing contrasts and can help create fade-away effects as well as providing useful shadows. Try a variety of angles to see how the light affects the dish and to find the shots that stand out the most.
Playing with Angles
Play with angles to showcase the food differently, to add intrigue or a sense of playfulness. Some dishes look amazing when shot from overhead, while others like tiered food should be shot from a lower angle. To prevent distortion, don’t shoot too wide. And what if you need to shoot a full table setting, multiple dishes or an obscure background element, while minimising negative space in the background? Try shooting slightly above sitting level.
Tell a Story
Showing the ingredients that go into a dish, and how the food is prepared, cooked, plated or garnished, adds an element of action to the photograph. When shooting a completed meal, use the ingredients or tools as props to add a new dimension to the photos.
Showcase Food Being Eaten
Ultimately, food is meant to be eaten. Showcasing this in a subtle way sends the signal that someone is enjoying it. A few well-placed scattered crumbs next to a half-eaten slice of cake with the whole cake in the background, an open sugar packet, or a half-way drunk espresso can add real-life dimension, and make the photo more visually enticing.
Fake It When Necessary
The motive is to excite the senses and whet the appetite of the viewers. Sometimes, it’s better to use ‘staged’ food instead of a real dish to make something look good. Always think about how a dish would look its best and what you might need to change about a recipe, or the food itself, to get your desired effect. Some food, such as meat that tends to dry out easily, can be lightly glazed with oil. This creates a glossy finish that will be attractive to the eyes. Likewise, steam creates a “piping hot” effect, suggesting that the dishes are freshly prepared.
Use Props and Models
Be aware that the types of cutlery and utensils, tablecloth, glassware and napkins can each subtly add to the mood and success of your shot. Equally, models can help create winning shots, if captured with the right pose or expression.
Companies Play a Part
Companies involved in food shoots can also help their photographers create enticing shots of their food. Tan says this ultimately requires good communication: “Discuss the type of look and feel you want with the photographer before the actual shoot,” he advises. “On the day of the shoot, company representatives should be on hand to facilitate the efficiency of the shoot by working with the photographer on contingency plans and props. Or helping with ideas that suddenly crop up while the shoot’s underway.”
As Tan says, these tips ultimately boil down to practice, and finding what work for you. “It really is up to individual preferences and the creativity of each photographer,” he notes. And with lots of practice, even amateurs can be well on the route to becoming accomplished photographers.