Food photography looks easy, but as anyone who has tried capturing a dish in low light knows, it’s even easier to Instagram the finest of Michelin Star fare into grainy mulch.
After lots of trial and error, I’ve figured out a few ways to improve the odds of a good photo, and I’m delighted to share them here. I’m assuming most readers will be looking to improve their smartphone photos, but many of the tips apply just as readily to SLRs and point-and-clicks.
Let me know if there’s anything you’d add?
1) Shoot before you eat…
A photo of an untouched meal, freshly served, creates desire in the eye of the beholder.
We want to taste it. We wish we were there. Heck, I’ve even been known to salivate. But a photo of a half-eaten meal (or even a meal with a single bite taken out of it) does the exact opposite. It looks messy, and it’s just not fair on the chefs who poured their souls into its presentation.
2) See the light…
Photography is all about light. The darker a restaurant, the grainier your pictures will be. When I enter a restaurant or cafe I always take a quick look around for the table or seat with the best available light (beside a window is often good – as with the above shot from Ox, Belfast).
The more natural light you can get into a photo, the more the ingredients, detail and composition of the dish will come through. That goes for SLRs and smartphones alike.
3) Press the part of the screen you want to expose for…
Why is the photo dark? Why are the flowers behind the food in focus, when the food isn’t?
Because the smartphone isn’t a human brain. You have to tell it what to expose for and what to focus on, and the simplest way to do that is to press the part of the screen you want to appear brightest and sharpest. Play around – you’ll be amazed at the results.
In food photography, as in life, less is often more.
Try to clear your photo of unnecessary clutter by quickly moving vases, condiments, crumpled napkins and so on out of frame. Leaving cutlery and napkins in can look good – and indeed, can make a picture if that’s what you intend – but as a rule, simple arrangements are best.
With an SLR, you can adjust the aperture to blur a background, but that’s rarely possible on a phone.
Another tip is to crop your photo after you’ve taken it… removing anything that distracts.
5) Choose your filters wisely…
When they’re good, filters can be great. When they’re bad, they’re horrid.
Post-production can vastly improve a picture, but it can also completely ruin it – or worse, change its meaning. A simple filter that boosts the vibrance, compensates for low light or puts a pleasing frame on your picture can be nice. Going all Kelvin or Nashville on it, not so much.
There is no filter on the above picture, from Ananda in Dundrum – just natural light.