I had a blog fan ask me the other day if I would write a piece that talked about how I create my food styling shots for my blog. He wanted to know how I set the food up, got it camera ready, and then how I shot with the right light and angles to make mouth watering shots. I thought a “behind the scenes” spot sounded fun, so I agreed.
Making the food look good...I like to shoot with fresh ingredients and real food that will look pretty in front of the camera. I take time to make sure that every component of every dish is cut well, cooked perfectly, and attractively layered in the right type of dish. When I am composing a salad, I will make sure each individual component can be seen. The best way to do that is to layer the food and make it appear tall and plentiful. I will toss the greens or grains and then add in the ingredients. I make sure to use lots of bright colors, fresh whole herbs, and I always make sure that the dish I am using complements the mood of the food. For example, when I make tacos I like to use a big wooden board to lay them out on. I surround the tacos with the ingredients I used in the dish, and throw in a prop like a cool looking bottle of hot sauce to help set the scene. If the dish has a sauce, I always make sure it looks bright and appetizing. As a rule, I drape the sauce over the food and I never bury the food under the sauce. People want to see what they are going to be eating and making. The goal is to make your mouth water when you look at it. Sometimes you can catch a sauce slowly dripping down the side of the food (think maple syrup) at the right time and that will give you the award winning shot you are looking for. I also tend to stay away from dishes like meatloaf that are all brown because it is really hard to make that type of recipe look pretty. If you have no choice, and you have to make meatloaf look good, just add a ton of herbs around it and surround it with food props like lemons and red hot chilis. That will spice the picture right up. Props are key.
If you can believe it, for one dish I end up shooting 3 different layouts and probably snap about 100 pictures. I approach so many different heights and angles with my shots to make sure the food I am shooting stands tall and plentiful or jumps out onto the screen. I want someone to look at the food and say “Yum! I want that!”. Taking a picture overhead has a totally different effect then taking it from the side at food height. It's all great to play with!
It is a lot of fun planning the shots and half of the art happens on the fly when ideas flow best and you are in the moment.
Besides getting the food looking right, lighting is one of the most important parts to achieving the perfect shot. If the natural light doesn’t exist or doesn’t cooperate you have to add your own professional bright lights and a white box that reflects the natural light onto the food. If it is too dark the food will look dull and unappetizing. Sometimes the light will bounce in the wrong way and you can see the shine reflecting off of the oil on the food. I try and shoot in natural light outside as much as I can just because I like the shots to be totally authentic and the light doesn’t seem to bounce as much. It is also important to shoot with the right camera. Sometimes I use my iPhone, but for the most part I use a professional camera. There are many great ones out there that will offer perfect shots and help with the lighting. Here is one that is just coming out that could be really great to shoot with… https://light.co/camera
Below are some behind the camera type scenes…The outside shot below is on a rickety picnic table that ends up looking great as a background. You cant see the full table when the camera zooms in. When shooting inside, the sides of the table usually have light boxes on them and I have a zillion tools and garnishes lying around to pop in and out of the shots.