Creating professional food photos at home

Guest Post by Alessandro Festa http://www.alfweb.com

I’m a foodie, there is no doubt about that. I love food; I love to eat, cook, look at, touch, and smell food. But I’m a photographer too so I’m constantly have the urge to hear that “click” sound of the shutter and “freeze” something with my camera. As a photographer and a foodie these loves have taken me through a incredible journey where other than eating and tasting food I, at some point in my life, started to make photographs to inspire others to taste that delicious food I was tasting myself.

But what it is Food Photography and how can you take professional looking pictures even without having a professional set-up? Well, let me explain briefly what “food photography” is: it’s a specialization of commercial photography, where the ultimate goal is producing attractive photographs of food for use in magazines, packaging, cookbooks, etc… basically is a collaborative effort that, at least, require three “roles”:

• Someone who cooks
• Someone who can setup the food in the right position
• Someone who can shot the picture

This means, in the professional world, that we’re speaking of a chef, a food stylist and a photographer. When we are speaking about magazines or other professional food photos, they might have art directors, professional lights and many other expensive gear, but is it possible to make “professional looking” pictures if you don’t have all of these?
The answer is YES and here it is a simple way to achieve great results without spending a penny. Or at least just a few bucks. Now, since we are speaking about food let start with:

“Recipe for a perfect food photo at home”.
Ingredients:
• A “chef”: someone who may prepare what you will shoot
• A Window or a light source (better if you may shot in natural light you may do this even in the backyard garden)
• A table
• A couple of white (or coloured) piece of paper (like the drawing paper A2 format)
• A camera with manual focus
• Lens (I’ll use a 100mm f 2.8)
• A tripod

We will take something like this:

Not so yummy isn't it?

And at the end we’ll have something like this:

Now if you got everything in the list, let’s start:
1. Prepare the meal, I’ll got for a simple “pasta with zucchini and saffron”, you may choose whatever you want, I suggest to go with something you know very well, so that you may focus on the picture, colors and the way to present the food. While your “personal chef” is cooking start to prepare the setup.
2. Light: light is a fundamental step in this process, I’ll simply use natural light with a little trick. The best would be to use two light sources: one on the side of the setup and one behind you. But if you do not have 2 windows in this specific position (I don’t) we will choose for the one at side.
3. Position the table so that you have enough space to place the tripod in front of it and to manage the food quickly, I use a handmade table with wheels so that I may rotate it based on where is my main source (the sun).
4. Place something at the end of the table to help you to create a setup, as you may see in the picture below I use the door window. Create a long paper sheet using the adhesive tape (I use a special one made for drawing paper) and attach it to the table and to the backend support. Basically the idea is to obtain something like this:

5. Now what you got is a perfect “homemade” setup for your food pictures. The light that comes from your side will give a lovely natural touch to the food but it will be not enough for you.
6. MIRROR LIGHT: if you look at the professional pictures, you’ll notice that they always add a second light source that comes opposite to the main source, but how to do it at home if you’re using natural light? Simple! Take a third drawing paper and simply ask your “assistant/chef” to stand with it at less than few inches from the food, exactly on the opposite side of the main source of light, since the sheet will reflect the light you’ll have a simple, but efficient second light source, isn’t it simple?!

Using a third drawing paper to add a second light source

on the left natural light without reflective material, on the right with the reflective material

EXTRA TIP: I use to hang out at a famous Swedish furniture store and found these (picture) kitchen apparels that work great when you desire to add special light flashes on the food.

7. PREPARE THE CAMERA AND THE TRIPOD: Now setup the camera with a good lens, I use a 100mm at f2.8, shoot with the lower ISO possible (I use 50 on my Canon 5D, but 100 is okay) in order to reduce the noise on pictures, RAW mode ABSOLUTELY so to avoid jpeg artifacts, manual focus for the lenses, food photography require accurancy but autofocus would limit your ability to decide what to show and what to blur to give that extra touch that will make your picture absolutely great.

8. Be aware that pictures are normally shot in vertical so that are suitable for magazines, so your tripod should be stable enough to sustain your camera in that position, personally I use to shot with long exposing time (around 1/6-1/10) so absence of vibrations are important.
9. Now your “assistant chef” will be ready with the food, what you have to decide is the way to present, if you want colors in it or not and if you’ll shoot “close on details” or presenting the whole thing. I use to have a simple rule: place something of the same color of the food under the plate and leave everything else white. You’ll ask why? Well so that your eye will focus immediately on food and using the color and the absence of details out of it.
10. So the food is on the table, look through the camera, adjust details, think at what you’re looking, wait do not shot immediately take you time to think and adjust the plate.

Bio: Alessandro Festa (http://www.alfweb.com and http://www.flickr.com/photos/alefesta) is a semi-professional photographer specialized in food and travel photography.
He lives in Turin, Italy but is available for work at every part of the globe.
He’s twitter page is at http://twitter.com/thetorinoagent

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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