Point, Sip, Click

by Matt on July 26, 2006

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Allow me to chime in on the Food & Wine article about food photography. No doubt you’ve seen it already, as well as all the amazing tips and pointers that have been offered. Well, in the words of Jerri Blank, I’ve got something to say. I’ve spent the last 10+ years on the set with some amazing food photographers who have worked with great publications like Martha Stewart Living, Chronicle Books, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Target, and my own photography has been featured in Real Food Magazine, Whole Foods Market, and even the Los Angeles Times, which ain’t too bad for a boy who has no idea what an f/stop is! I guess all those years of osmosis have paid off!

I know everyone’s offered their advice already, so humor me and pretend to read my take on it all. Who knows, you might find something worthwhile. I said MIGHT.

Mattstips

1. Drink wine while you photograph. It makes everything look better, and you’ll have a good laugh later on when you review your images.

2. Use light creatively. You’ve no doubt read about the importance of natural light, and I’m going to tell you the same thing. Food just looks better with natural light. But take natural light one step further by diffusing the source. This eliminates any hard shadows, it bathes the subject in even lighting and it allows the camera to capture much more detail.

Diffusion can be achieved with paper, a semi-sheer or translucent curtain, frost or even wax paper. Get creative!

3. Take a moment to reflect. Just because you’re using the sun doesn’t mean you can’t coax some rays in the direction you need. Enter foamcore or white poster board. Placing foamcore near your subject across from the light source will reflect light open up areas that have gone dark and give you beautiful, pleasing fill.

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4. No flash. EVER!  Ok, let me back up. Unless you’re adept with bouncing your on-camera flash with cards and shades then it’s best to ignore it completely. It’s just not flattering – unless you are trying to achieve that hard, flash look. That’s not to say that strobes and flashes cannot be used with photography, but we’re talking external lights that sync up to the camera and allow you to place and control them. That’s an entirely different topic. 

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3. Tripod tripod tripod. There’s just no way around this. Get a cheap tripod and take time to frame your shot. It’s imperative.

4. Once you go black… Things like broccoli and dark leafy greens get very dark, as do meats, stews and roasts. Keep this in mind.

5. Keep It Simple, Chef.  If you’ve created a masterpiece and you’re just about to sit down but want to photograph it first, remember to keep it simple. That means you should try to photograph one plate, one drink and one place setting in your single shot. Putting multiple plates and servings in a shot creates confusion and draws the viewer away from the dish you’ve spent so much loving care to prepare. Do a little experiment and you can see for yourself.

6. Dull and boring. Digital images are inherently dull. Something about pixels and what-not. If you use an image editing program like photoshop, try sharpening your image just a tiny bit. It makes a world of wonder.

7. One Step At A Time. This isn’t so much a photo tip as much as a food styling tip. This is food styling 101 and be warned that utilizing these steps will oftentimes result in a product you can’t eat. Or shouldn’t eat. Or don’t want to eat. But here it goes: cook your ingredients halfway to completion separately and assemble individually.  Yes, it’s a pain in the butt, but this is the food stylist’s secret.

This pasta wasn’t cooked in a pan with all the ingredients together. Instead, pasta was boiled, sausages were grilled, chard was sautéed and onions were browned. A million pans converged on the set, items were built in the bowl with long forceps and voila! A pasta dish you might want to eat! God I love advertising!

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8. Open another bottle of wine. I’m sure that first bottle is almost empty, no?

9. Imitate. No, I’m serious. And of course I don’t mean steal someone’s style, but attempting to recreate an existing image or set you’ve seen in a magazine will yield a result you never expected. And no, chances are you probably won’t get it exactly like the image you’re emulating. But that’s where you’ll find the real stuff.

But remember, don’t steal.

10. Ask questions. I’ve never understood why photographers were such a secretive lot. Maybe it has to do with competition. But there are tons of excellent resources online like my friend Lara’s sight called Still Life With… She deserves an award for her endeavors that detail and explain food photography for all of us. Feel free to reach out and ask your favorite blogger how they do what they do. The best part about this world is that it allows us to connect; asking for photo tips and advice is just natural.

Not that I really know what I’m doing, but if you have any questions feel free to write me!