I have always enjoyed looking at food photography whenever I go out dining. It is an easy way to pick what you want to eat. In fact to me it is the only way. I’ve found that great food photos can sell a dish very easily, and studies show that a high quality photo encourage customers to pay a higher price on something they’re looking to purchase. It is only natural, since we are visual creatures. I’ve found many photographers in Arizona who are able to produce nice images, but it is still rare to come across high quality food photos in restaurant and catering companies’ menus.
Recently I had some fun playing and shooting photos for a local restaurant in Downtown Phoenix. Taking good pictures of food is a process that can be tedious and extremely time consuming if you want to do a decent job. However, there’s something about the process of making something so basic look great that makes it a very interesting challenge.
Unfortunately this was not a project where one could really try the most advanced food styling techniques because there were too many items to photograph in a relatively short amount of time. Being able to work withing time-constraints is part of the skills needed to work in this industry. However I was happy with the results and the client seemed very pleased with the tests I was able to show him during the shoot.
Since Sonoma had great cooks that knew about food presentation, my main focus on this particular project became to get good lighting. There was still a good amount of styling work involved, but it had more to do with making the food look fresh and re-arranging a few elements. There was no need to assemble anything complex like a whole set behind the dishes or sculpt a sandwich or a burrito, which are some of the most difficult types of food to photograph.
It is well known that a good picture will sell a dish. It will also attract potential costumers when you look at a restaurant’s advertising material. There are phone apps that let you browse through restaurants near your current location. It is another case in which having high quality food photography can make all the difference on where a person will decide to go to. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m out dining out I never feel comfortable ordering unless I see a picture of what I’m about to eat. The problem is that most restaurants do not have photos on their menus. Something I still find hard to comprehend.
Becoming an expert at producing incredible food photography is something that takes a lot of patience, attention to detail and practice. Just like everything else. Only by working with all kinds of food you will realize what lighting works best, what type of set design will make food look better and also what foods deteriorate very quickly and what can last for a while without any problem. Apples and avocado change color very quickly after you cut a slice. Limes get very dry. Corn tortillas get all twisted when left outside. Cilantro leaves start looking almost sad if they’re not kept at a certain temperature. That’s why it is important to work fast or build stand-in plates just for testing. Then put what is called a “hero” dish when it’s time to snap the final photo. Not moving at lighting speed can represent wasting food, which some clients will be concerned about. In the end it all costs money.
Frame composition is extremely important, but often easier to deal with than food composition. Meaning: how to arrange each little piece of meat, or leafs on a plate so it all looks perfect. There’s a lot more than just throwing everything on a plate and hope it looks ok. There are many aspects of it that are important to learn, and that’s part of what makes it such a special area of photography.
For those who want to try it, all I can say is: play with your food! Try different angles, item arrangements and lighting set ups. If the project allows it, hire a food stylist so you can concentrate on lighting and composition. Having a food stylist is like having a make up artist at a model shoot. Though it may not be absolutely indispensable, it will make a huge difference in the quality of your photographs. If you (or your client) want to achieve a High-End look, you will need a High-End production, and that means having the budget for a great food stylist. In the mean time, reading will help tremendously when you need to do things on your own. I have found some useful info online just by searching food photography tips. But I will definitely recommend buying the book Food Styling For Photographers by Linda Bellingam and Jean Ann Bybee. If you are new to food photography, it will open your eyes to what it really takes to produce great images.
Andrew DeCarlo Studios specializes in Food Photography and food styling for clients in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Miami. You can contact us for questions or to get help with your next project at 480.200.0630 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
For now, keep playing with food and taking photos. If you shoot some good ones, share your images and your experience with others. It will enrich your life.