Point, Sip, Click

July_27_header

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.

Fillcard_example

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. 

Flash_examples

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!

Pasta_sample

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!

Comments

  1. says

    matt, you never cease to amaze me with your tips, behind-the-scenes and informative postings. this is all INCREDIBLE information, especially that 2nd bottle of wine. sage advise.

    and if i needed another reason to be in love with you (which, i didn’t by the way!) you quoted jerri blank. let’s drink a third bottle of wine while watching strangers with candy.

  2. says

    Anyone who can quote Jerri Blank AND give great photos tips deserves at least 2 bottles of wine.

    Or maybe another bottle of Absinthe.

  3. says

    My favorites are #1 and #8. Apparently you do too since there seem to be TWO #3s and TWO #4s. There’s nothing cooler than Matt’s Top Twelve Photo Tips … ;-D

  4. says

    Thanks for posting your tips! I am just getting into photography and it’s great to know some of the secrets when setting up displays. Looking forward to reading more.

  5. Alphonse the Noble says

    On David Lebovitz’s blog you asked: “Who’s Alphonse?”

    I am Alphonse; next question?

  6. says

    AND, if you are like me you’ll need Tip #11 – Keep a sponge handy to blot the wine stains (or Photoshop if you are drinking red)off your china, work surface, forehead, dogs, shoes, etc. (I can’t help it, I’m accident prone).

    This is a very helpful post Matt. And I appreciate the link to Lara’s site! My photography skills are in the infant stage.

  7. says

    tip number 7 depresses me.
    ok, i am accepting that I am a simpleton blogger, not a fancy food stylist and any food that gets pictured on my blog is absolutely going to be for real, straight from my kitchen, on its way to my gullet.

    thanks for the great article – and I am glad your rss is now working – I have been trying to add you to my reader for weeks but only today did it work.

  8. says

    Your tips are so much more helpful than Food & Wine’s, and I say that as a hardcore fan of the magazine.

    Here’s my question: You have some pictures on the site that have both of your hands in them and seem to be taken from the perspective of your face, as if you were looking down at what you were holding. How do you do that? Do you tuck the camera under your chin? Do you have somebody taking the picture from behind you with their arms around your shoulders? Let me in on the secret!

  9. Chen says

    Great tips!
    Except number 9: I’ve seen some food bloggers copying the -exact- food styling from cookbooks or magazines, something I think is rather dishonorable and pathetic.

  10. says

    Chen, copying is a NO NO under any circumstances. I don’t encourage copying whatsoever. I agree that it’s dishonest, pathetic and shows lack of creativity.

    However, please don’t confuse my rule #9 with copying. Emulating and using it as a starting point should never be confused with copying. As artists we all take a bit of everything, put in in a blender, add ourselves and end up with a new totally different result.

    At least that’s what I hope happens when using exisiting art as a base to begin.

    Thanks for reading.

    -matt

  11. says

    Thanks for the tips. Reading your blog is always fun, especially when you deflate a few myths.

    I liked, for example, your rundown on how that dish was assembled prior to photographing it- I will never be disappointed if my dish doesn’t match a picture in a magazine ever again!

    Worried, but not disappointed.

    Muchas smoochas,

    Liz

  12. says

    Hah hah hah… I love your tips. I love especially the advice to drink lots of wine. I try to on every shoot I work on.

    My one mistake was when I was managing a cover shoot for a magazine and brought along a couple bottles of Champagne with which to ply the three people we were shooting. After a glass or two, they turned red (as do most Asians, sigh), which made the make-up artist really annoyed with me.

  13. says

    You rock my world. Simple as that. I LOVE reading and looking at this blog and this post is the perfect example of wine.

    Oh and I just finished off some wine. Not photographing right now though.

  14. says

    I have one tip for shooting in digital that I have learnt the hard way through hours correcting in Photoshop.

    White Balance. Always take a reading of the light you are shooting in if your camera will allow. The pre-sets are usually a bit off.

  15. says

    Thank you for the tips, Matt! I will certainly try the wine trick next time :)

    Oh, and you will certainly hear from me next time i have a question too. I just don’t know where to start! It’s true, L’s fabulousness with sharing tips is incredible. I always wonder if she ever sleeps?

  16. says

    I like your photos. I am thinking of getting my first single lens camra, do you have any suggestions? I am using Canon ISUS750 now and hope to publish my first cookbook. Please give me some advice. Thanks. ViVi

  17. says

    You crack me up! The suggestions are all great, even the duplicate threes and fours. I have enjoyed reading your site very much, I am learning about photography a little more every day- at least now I know what I am doing wrong- even if I don’t always know how to fix it! Happy New Year! xo

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