To achieve top food photography there are more factors to consider than may be realised. But firstly, we need to know just how the shots will be used, as this affects the approach in many ways.
For shots to be used on packaging the image will need to complement the pack design and fit the allocated space exactly and it needs to be decided if a background, such as a table setting, is wanted or if the product is on a plate cut out to sit on the background design. If it is for more editorial use such as magazine features, PR or website then a looser approach can be taken and a ‘lifestyle’ element of the props could be added.
Here we come to a choice of backgrounds. For many uses a fairly plain background can be used, which makes for easier cutting out when required. This can use colour, whether added by coloured light or backgrounds, but care must be taken to compliment the food and not reflect odd colours on to it.
Careful preparation of the food itself is obviously pretty vital. Sometimes we do the food arrangement ourselves but it’s very tricky to prepare food, handle the camera and arrange lighting all at the same time. We normally use a skilled food stylist, who knows all the tricks to make food look fantastic, even when it’s gone cold, and can make it almost levitate to get beautiful results. A chef can also produce good looking food though he’s not normally going to have the same precision of finish because it’s not necessary for most of his food presentation.
Of course, it’s often forgotten that we will need to prepare several versions of the dish, in order to choose the best possible example for photography. You’d be surprised how demanding the camera is so we always need lots of the product as there is often a high rejection rate. Better to have some left over than run out at the critical moment.
Excellent facilities for preparation of the dishes help enormously in getting the best results. Having plenty of cooking equipment and accessories makes the job quicker and better and using tiny specialised items, like dentists tools, means every pea or piece of lemon rind can be manipulated into the correct position. With a good selection of plates and props readily to hand means that odd little corner can be accessorised without having to go shopping.
From a photography point of view, selection of the right camera and lens makes a big difference. Normally we use a digital monorail camera which enables us to alter the angles of the lens and digital back to change focus points. Therefore we can either make everything sharp from front to back of the shot, or limit the focus to one small point – a style that is very much in vogue.
One of the most important factors in getting great results is the lighting. Usually we are recreating a feeling that there is natural daylight, with a lot of enhancement from mini spot lights and reflectors etc. to bring out the texture and colour of the food. This takes a huge amount of skill and experience so that ultimately, the shots make the mouth water and the viewer feels they want to eat it. Raise the desire and people will buy it.