We’ve all heard the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but a picture can also spark taste buds, activate salivary glands and conjure up cravings. A well-styled food photograph can become one of the best marketing tools for a bed and breakfast — enticing guests to your inn simply for the gourmet beginning to the day. But how do you create that striking, mouth-watering image of your signature breakfast?
Denise Vivaldo, author of The Food Stylist’s Handbook, has been a culinary professional and food stylist for nearly 30 years and was eager to share her years of advice and training to help innkeepers capture the perfect, mouth-watering images.
“Food left to its own devices under camera lights, looks old and sad. But there are tricks of the trade that can help,” Denise said. “Everything wants to look best for its close-up!”
Plate like a pro
When plating a dish to photograph, remember less is more and the neater, the better, said Denise. “The camera has a stagnant eye — it needs to record the plate. If the plate is really messy, the camera can’t focus. And then nothing is defined.”
On the flip side, a single cookie isn’t nearly as appealing as a stack of freshly baked treats. Do you usually stop with just one cookie? Nah, and neither do most cookie lovers. So consider using repetition in your image. Use your judgement when prepping your food for the camera.
It’s in the details
Presentation is everything, right? You wouldn’t serve your renowned frittata on chipped or stained China or without a flourish of crème fraîche, parsley or decorative sliced fruit. Make sure that high standard carries over to the garnishing and presentation of your photographed food.
Food left to its own devices under camera lights, looks old and sad. But there are tricks of the trade that can help. Everything wants to look best for its close-up!
Garnishes are the lacy lingerie of the food world, according to an article published on DigitalPhotographySchool.com. “They may not be the main event but they add a little color and a hint of what’s to come. Consider a herb that is in the dish, a little chile, or even just a sprinkling of black pepper to make an everyday meal seem more alluring.”
You can use your best piece of China, highly polished silverware, and most elegant table linens, or you can also have some fun and punch up the color. Think Fiestaware or maybe an Asian-inspired place setting. Just be sure to plan ahead, “plan for garnishes. Plan for color,” Denise said.
“If you have to show a big pot of beef stew … get a brightly colored bowl or tea towel to off-set that brown,” she said. “Add sliced carrots and float them on the top. Design a plate with color, elevation and movement (different shapes).”
Consider where you have placed the dish. Is it on a ratty-looking table or dirty countertop? Grab a bamboo table runner to mask a large table gouge. A marble cutting board is a great setting as is a colorful sofa table or even a beloved buffet or breakfront.
Is this my good side?
While you are plating and prepping the food, be sure to pick your “beauties” from the batch. Avoid that bruised banana or the brown tinged lettuce or a piece of overly browned French toast. If only one side of the French toast got too dark, use the other side for the photo. If an apple is nearly perfect except for one brown spot, maybe slice it up instead of showing it whole.
“Sure, beauty comes from the inside, but until someone invents taste-o-vision, visual appearance will remain a critical part of food photography,” according to DigitalPhotographySchool.com.
Ready for the spotlight
We all know it would be ideal to have the most high-tech digital SLR camera with all the fancy lenses, filters, tripod, lighting, and backdrops to perfectly capture the image of your food, but unless you are a photography hobbyist or have a friend who is, you likely just have a simple point-and-shoot digital camera. That’s OK! Great images can come from that little camera when you consider the biggest factor of making any image stand out — Lighting.
Denise offers a simple solution to not over or under expose your images. “Turn off the flash on your camera and find some lovely natural light to shoot your plate in,” she said. “Get next to a window. Soft, warm light will help your food.”
Are the images still not getting quite enough light? “Get a white board — literally a white paper board — and bounce the light into dark areas to give the food detail,” she said.
The perfect angle
After all that prep work and you’re ready to start shooting images keep these things in mind:
- Take multiple images from different angles.
- Get low and then get high. Consider different perspectives.
- Shoot both portrait and landscape versions.
- How will the image looked if you crop it to fit in a Facebook or Twitter square photo format?
- Zoom in and zoom out. Maybe you want a good detail shot as well as the full image.
- Work quickly! Just as people’s smiles start to fade or become fake after too much time in front of the camera, food will start to wilt, sag, melt and brown.
Hopefully, after all that work, you’ve discovered a new problem. Which image do I choose from the dozens? Denise’s advice is perfect…
“What photo is most delicious? What photo makes you hungry or happy or comfortable or ahhhhh…?” That image is your beauty, or “hero” shot. Mission accomplished.
Learn from the best
When looking for inspiration for food photos, Denise recommends Pinterest. “Find pictures that you love and copy them until you find your own style.”
There are dozens of other online sites that have become known as Food Porn Sites. Some of those include (be sure the click on the links to check out the pages — get ready to drool):
- James Starmer – Food
- Eat Show and Tell
- Still Life With …
- Smitten Kitchen
- Scrumptious Photography
There are several bloggers out there who are not only taking amazing food photos, but they also willingly share their tips. Here are two favorites:
The Pioneer Woman: Ree Drummond is a photographer, blogger, cookbook author and now has her own Food Network show. I love her because she is incredibly generous — not only sharing her amazing recipes, but she is always sharing her food photography tips. In fact, check out her post titled: Ten things I’ve learned about food photography for some great ideas.
The Steamy Kitchen: Jaden Hair is a professional recipe developer, food columnist and active blogger. She has been deemed one of the most influential food people in social media. Blog posts often cover photography tips, share photo shoot experiences and more. The post on her blog, titled Gettin’ That Money Shot, is a slideshow of her minor adjustments to a pizza to make it perfect.