Whilst there are a few restrictions to what a Smartphone camera can do technically, compared to a DSLR, it’s still possible to make your food photographs, whether at home or dining out, look more delicious with the following simple techniques and a bit of creative flair...
When it comes to the importance of food presentation ‘The first bite is with the eye.’ The first step to creating good looking, appetizing shots of your food is the quality of light that falls upon it. (The word photography translated from its Greek origin means to ‘write or draw with light’)
Nothing looks more unappealing than hard, direct flash light, creating harsh, ugly shadows on food and over saturated colours (most kebab shops have some of these offenders on display!)
For the best quality light it works better if you’re having lunch and you’re near a large window, the more light the better but try to diffuse it in some way, whether it’s coming through frosted glass or simply wait for cloud cover (you won’t wait long in Britain!) The aim is to soften the shadows and create natural, even contrast to reveal the delicate detail in the texture.
However if you’re dining in the evening or in a dimly lit area, then the next best thing to do is diffuse your cameras flash with a paper serviette, you may need to experiment with the thickness and distance from the dish but this is part of the fun!
It’s tempting when dining out to fill the picture with everything in sight, however the best way to draw your viewer in is to look for the hero.
What I mean is focus on the main ingredient in the dish, like the perfectly sliced tomato in a salad, the fried egg in cooked breakfast or look for the most appetizing part like the melting drip of ice cream on an apple pie, this allows the viewers eye to be guided from there into the rest of the picture.
If your camera has manual function, then set the aperture to as wide as possible i.e. f1.8-2.8 put very simply, this gives a very pleasing depth of focus and softens out distracting back ground detail.
Our natural angle of view when eating our food tends to be at a sort of ¾ angle, not directly from the side, and not completely above it. Whilst this is pleasing, shooting our photographs from directly above offers a more unusual angle and can really add some style to your pictures. This works particularly well for flatter foods like pizza’s, sandwiches, soups, salads etc.
Foods like a stack of pancakes, knicker bocker glory or thick cake however would suit a side on angle to show the depth.
A good tip to remember is shoot all dishes from these 3 angles: to the side, directly above and ¾ and simply choose the best one!
Here’s where you can get creative and start adding in props, garnish and other features to give the picture a story. What’s the occasion? Who are you aiming the picture at? What mood are you creating? All these things need to be considered when styling your picture
The best way to get ideas for the is to simply look in lifestyle or cooking magazines, keep a folder of tear sheets to refer back to when you need some inspiration.
However, like anything, less is more; you’re aiming to create a picture that satisfies the eye bit doesn’t look like you’ve spent a day styling it. You’ll be surprised how by simply adding a sprig of garnish can transform a bog standard snap into a stylised photograph.
Knowing which colours match and complement each other is also a vital ingredient in telling your story. For example, rich blue’s and cool colours can really make brown and beige foods like bread really pop, whilst more vibrant and warmer colours like deep reds or burnt orange can really compliment green salads.
Consider textures as well to add feel to your images; Smooth shiny coffee beans on rough hessian sack is a classic example of this.
The main aim is to get 95% of the picture right at the time of shooting and make any small adjustments afterwards in post production. The odd few crumbs or slight stain can be removed fairly easily this way, you may also want to add some sharpness and a touch of contrast to make the whites truly white and the blacks punchier.
Whilst you could experiment with more adventurous manipulating it can quickly become apparent that the image has had ‘work done’ and undo your careful preparation. Remember the point of food photography is to make the food look appetising not just pretty.
Also, if you’re posting photographs online it’s always best to shoot in landscape format that is the camera in a regular horizontal position, as the picture then fills the screen and look neater when included in a blog post.
So, to recap, use natural light where possible -ideally a large window with lots of indirect sunlight, Search for the hero - focus on the main ingredient of your dish, Change the angles – shoot side on, up above and ¾, Tell a story – use props and garnish to convey the mood and finally clean it up in Photoshop – make small adjustments afterwards to enhance the overall look.
I look forward to seeing your experiments; feel free to post them in response.
Don’t tell me, show me!