How to shoot awesome food photos: 6 great tips by Gortincoiel

We have a weakness for good food. And great photos. And great photos of good food. That’s perfectly obvious. But how do you capture culinary hightlights in beautiful photographs? How can you whet the viewer’s appetite? We asked our photographer Gortincoiel and she put together these 6 awesome tips for us.

Virgin Daiquiri – to the photo

I started with photography in 2004. Later, in 2009, I dove into food photography. After the first wonky steps it turned out pretty fast, that I feel very comfortable in this field of photography. By this time, I developed a real passion for food photography. For about 2 years, this has been my main focus. For various reasons: I never get bored of food, motifs are plenty and they can be presented in new ways over and over again. And – what’s especially important – food is always available and can be arranged without much of a hassle.

In my work, naturalness is very important to me. I almost only take my photos in daylight and use a tripod plus a remote release. My arrangements are all 100% edible. I never use a dummy and always pay attention not to use any plastic items as requisites or “props.” I really like to work with rustic-style, old requisites, that can almost tell a story on their own.

And here are my 6 tips for beautiful food photos:

1) Lighting

The best photos don’t come out of complex lighting set ups, flash and soft boxes, but in plain and simply daylight. Natural lighting gives your photos a natural appeal. All you need is a window without direct sunlight, a tripod (to be independent from exposure time) and ideally a remote release (to prevent camera shakes). A reflector, for example in form of a simple styrofoam plate, can help to lighten up disturbing shadows. What you should turn off completely is your internal camera flash. Working with artificial light requires lots of experience to appear natural and therefore can not be recommended for newbies.

2) Concept

In food photography – just like in photography in general – it is often helpful to work with solid concepts. Which means, you take a fixed topic as a basis of your photos and shoot your motif accordingly. Adjust everything that’s connected with the emergence of your photos with this concept, from choice of props to lighting, perspective and the motif itself. Examples for these concepts could be “natural & organic products”, “seasonal cuisine” or color concepts.

3) Props

At least as important as the motif itself are the props. They should fit your photo concept and be inherently consistent. Grandma’s gold plate doesn’t go together with modern cutlery from IKEA. In general I always try to use objects that are either neutral, natural or so old that they carry their very own charm. Time-worn old wooden tables used as a base have a whole different appeal than smoothly polished table tops in modern beechwood look. No-goes for me are things like imprinted figures, labels, cheap looking patterns, plastic or other inappropriate objects.

4) Perfect imperfection

In the past, people set great value on preferably clean and perfectly draped food photos. The trend nowadays goes more into the direction of naturalness and authentic scenes. The photos are supposed to look “real”, as if they happened randomly while cooking, mixing cocktails or shopping for groceries. While in fact, what actually lies behind is a very specific and elaborate composition, that should only give the impression of casualness – the perfect imperfection. The cookie can crumble or be bitten or even broken. With sauces, the blob that went sideways almost became compulsory. Photos don’t have to be clean and tidy anymore.

5) Emotionality

Eating is a highly emotional topic that addresses (almost) everyone. In order to to create food photos that address the viewer directly, photographers often the apply following rules. Try to depict the food the way a potential “eater” would come upon it: fully arranged and ready to eat. The perspective should match the natural angle of someone sitting on a table. The peace of cake already lays on a plate with the rest of the cake (blurry) in the background. The fork lies next to the plate, ready to grab. The viewer gets the impression that they only have to pick it up to start consuming the delicious dessert in front of them.

6) Composition

Just like with nonfood photos, composition is key. Common rules like (A-) symmetry, golden cut or an uneven number of objects apply too in food photography. You can create liveliness and suspense through depiction of different layers. A lot of photos live off blurry parts, that can be achieved with wide apertures. Also movement (for example fluttering powder sugar, a hand or tripping sauce can bring atmosphere into a still life. Also, your composition should be adjusted to your motif. A photo of a flat pizza is preferably taken from a bird’s eye perspective. A tall bottle of juice works better if shot from a flat perspective. Furthermore, all objects on the photo should carry a relevant information. All additional accessories, that don’t add anything essential to your photo’s mood or effect, will bring more harm that use.

Here are 2 examples:

"Made with Love" by Gortincoiel

“Made with Love” – to the photo

I took this photo at a photo workshop I was attending in Hamburg. Contrary to my tips above, that lay a strong emphasize on planning and preparation, this photo happened very spontaneously. I realized that one of the course participants wore a dress that had exactly the same color as the fruits in the muffins. I wrapped it in some baking paper, brought it into shape, put it into her hands and took the photo. My model was standing right next to the window, so lighting came directly from the right side through the shop window. The underlying concept here was the repetition of color in fruit and dress. The wide aperture and therefore smooth blurriness match the affectionate and gently gesture.

The key facts: Nikon D7000, 50mm 1.8, ISO 500, aperture 2.0, shutter speed 1/60

"Satsuma" by Gortincoiel

“Satsuma” – to the photo

This photo was taken at the end of 2012 too. The clementines still had leaves and stems which gave them a fresh look. They almost look like they’ve been freshly picked from a tree. The concept here was: naturalness. The old wood, the contrasts that have been emphasized through editing and the slightly gloomy light atmosphere support the country-style, close to nature appeal.

The key facts: Nikon D7000, 60mm 2.8, ISO 100, Blende 4.5, shutter speed 1/250, tripod, remote release

Thanks a lot, Gortincoiel! Head to her user profile here.

We’re off to buy some baking ingredients now. 😉

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