In this age of social media, most of us can’t resist sharing whatever it is we are experiencing or seeing. Food is one of many subjects that we may choose to post on our Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There’s no denying that posting pictures of that delicious grilled beef you had in Tokyo or the mouth-watering babi guling in Bali is very tempting. But occasionally we will come across pictures from friends or family of food that makes us cringe –a combination of the following: bad lighting, awkward angles, improper framing, or blurry images. Therefore, it’s important to realise that food photography is its own form of art. One that requires a lot of practise and a baseline understanding of a few things. In all seriousness I’ve yet to master the art myself, but I feel it’s worth the time sharing some tips I’ve received for taking pictures of food.
Frame it well
In photography there are numerous rules when it comes to framing. You want to strike the right balance in composition so that the viewers wouldn’t be left wondering or unfulfilled when looking at your pictures. Contrary to the belief of many, it’s alright to take your time and contemplate on your best approach. Don’t rush taking the pictures because you’re getting weird looks from the next table.
Similar to the previous point, the top down method is a favourite shooting technique by many food photographers. What this means is that your dish should be at the centre of the frame with mostly equal space around all sides. To achieve this, you probably need to stand up and hover directly above your food with the camera. If you’re at a loss of angles, the top down method is always reliable and will at least give you decent photographs.
Up close and personal
Another shooting method and the opposite of the top down, shooting food at close proximity will yield fantastic pictures that accentuates all the little details and ingredients used in the dish. Word of caution: this method should only be used if your camera has sufficient depth of field –or bokeh as some may call it. Without such effects, there’s a chance your pictures will turn out flat and bland. Focus and lighting are the key elements you need to control with this method.
Let there be light
Speaking of lighting, I would always recommend to only use natural lighting when taking pictures of food. Go ahead and turn the pesky flash off of your camera or phone. If possible, don’t rely too much on the room’s electrical lighting as well because they tend to wash your pictures in a shade of yellow.
You want your food to look exactly as you see it with your own eyes. Many phone cameras and even some point and shoot cameras tend to mess up the white balance when shooting indoors if it’s set on automatic. Sometimes it’s recommended to set your white balance manually if possible. It might require more time to get a good picture, but getting your white balance right the first time is miles better than correcting it in post-processing.
After you’ve used the top down or up close method a good amount of time, it may be time for you to explore other angles and backgrounds. One such angle is known as the “food in the air”, where photographers raise the dish with their hands and taking the picture with a more interesting background rather than a table or the wall of the restaurant. You may also want to decorate the frame with eating utensils, small plants, napkins, or condiment containers.
Photography at its core is about capturing something with an inherent beauty that will awe and illicit emotions in the viewers. There’s no reason that this philosophy should not be applied in food photography as well. Do take pictures of food that other people will find attractive. Try to resist snapping a picture of a messily assembled burger or a salad that’s swimming in dressing. (HARIO PRIAMBODHO)