Guest Author - Elsa Neal
Even if – maybe especially if – you’re not a good cook, you most likely have done some sort of creative tweaking and styling of a dish to try and make it look nicer. Perhaps you’ve added a swirl of syrup or sauce on a large white plate before dishing up, a sprig of parsley and twist of lemon, or maybe you’ve only felt happy about making swans out of the napkins.
If you are comfortable in the kitchen, your creativity probably involves instinct as you add a dash of your favourite spices and raid the pantry for a “secret” sauce or other ingredient.
The creative preparation of meals that look and taste beautiful is truly one of the most transient art forms. The memory of the events surrounding a meal can last a long time, especially if it was a special occasion like a proposal or wedding, but the memory of exactly what was served and how it was presented often fades. The only way to preserve this artistry is to photograph it.
An editorial gig with a food magazine is often the highlight of a food stylist’s career, where they get to practice their creativity and lateral-thinking skills, but styling for advertising and packaging are also lucrative positions.
Photographing of pre-prepared food can often take time, while the hot lights can wreak havoc with the look of the food. Food stylists have many tricks (see the link below) that they use to keep a plate looking fresh and appetising, even if it’s been through half an hour of photographing. Unfortunately many of these tricks, not to mention the time out in the open, leave the food inedible.
Here are some quick tricks to photographing food:
- Have your equipment, setting, and lighting ready before the food comes out of the oven (or the fridge). Check the positioning with an empty plate first.
- Place the dish directly underneath the brightest light you can find. Try to incorporate extra lighting from several other directions.
- Natural light is best, but not always possible. The ideal situation would be a bright sunny day with non-direct light coming in through a window and reflecting off white walls, with an additional bright, warm-toned light on directly above.
- If you do have good natural light (or a warm-toned, bright light-source), place a mirror opposite the window and angle it to reflect and balance the light.
- If it hasn’t already, allow any steam from your food to ease up – too much will result in white clouds in your picture. A little steam, though, can make your dish look fresh and hot in the photo.
- Set your camera to the macro setting and try to get as much of the dish as possible to fill up the picture.
- Turn off your flash, or use a bounce flash if you have one, angled upwards to use the reflection of your walls or ceiling.
- Take the photograph almost directly above the dish, or at a slight angle – but do experiment with different shots. Use a tripod if you have one to avoid shakes.
The more you practice creating and styling your dishes, and then photographing them, the more professional your work will look. Before you know it you’ll have a portfolio you can produce if someone asks for it.
If you’re interested in food styling, preparation, or photography as a career, or just want to feed your creative flair in the kitchen, you’ll find these books helpful:
Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, details the creative and artistic intricacies of food preparation.
Digital Food Photography by Lou Manna – this book goes through the techniques of photographing food for the best results.