My free checklist will help you get organized so you can finally run a smooth food photography shoot!
I’m writing this at 8:54pm. There is a cake cooling on the counter. It will be photographed in the morning, because I want a warm glow of natural sunlight in this particular picture, and I am already building the scene in my head. With food photography, I always try to brainstorm my shots, plan my background and props and, if possible, I try to sleep on it before shooting the next day. My planned (and slept on) images are always the strongest ones. I thought I would share my process with you.
When I shoot a recipe, deciding what dish to shoot is fairly straightforward, but sometimes I only have a theme (Christmas), meal type (dessert), or a product to feature. In this case I obviously chose a recipe that will look good on camera (avoid stews or anything overly cooked and choose something with vibrant colors – greens, reds, etc.), and if possible, something that I have made before. If that is not possible, I always make sure to buy more than double the ingredients so I have enough for adding ingredients as props in the pictures, but also to cook the dish one more time if something went wrong the first time (it happens).
I am an Instagram addict. There, I said it. I can spend hours scrolling down my feed. I curate the accounts I follow almost more than my own feed… Amongst the many foodies I follow, my favorites are @dcfoodporn (he always the coolest and newest spots in D.C.), @twolovesstudio, @bealubas, @ful.filled. I also find a lot of inspiration on websites like TheFeedFeed or TheKitchn. I also have a subscription to my local library and I borrow a lot of food and food photography related magazine to stay on top of the trends. And of course there is Pinterest.
Food photography should not only be about the dish. It should tell a story. By looking at it, you should be able to imagine who is about to eat the dish, where they live (roughly, I don’t need a street address), and if the picture is well executed, it should trigger some emotions or memories in your audience. This is created by the choice of the dish itself, but also by your choice of background, props, etc. A dark wood backdrop with silver flatware and stone plates won’t tell the same story as a white marble background with modern grey plates and copper silverware. Think about the story you want to tell and start putting together the props in your head.
Once I have figured what the mood and general look of my picture will be, I start thinking about my shooting angle (overhead, 45 degrees, straight on), depth of field, and the type of light I want (soft, harsh, cold, warm, etc.). Then I usually draw a quick sketch of the layout of my set. That way, when it does come time to take the pictures, I already have a map of where I need things. On shoot day, I prepare the set with my props, lighting and camera. I like to do this before I start cooking so the food doesn’t have to stand while I get things ready.
I always shoot tethered, so I can check my focus, composition, lighting and all the tiny details on the spot. There is nothing worse than importing your images after breaking down your set and cleaning up only to find out that something is not right and you need to reshoot.
I edit in Lightroom and sometimes take my images into Photoshop for detail retouching or to create a composite. Once I am happy with the image, I usually export it in several sizes: full size for the client, medium for my portfolio and small for my social media.
Then I sit back and eat the cookies. All the cookies.
This is my process when I have images to shoot food photography for a client. But you need to think about what your images will be used for. If you are shooting for fun, maybe you don’t need to put that much time into planning your images. But even if you snap a picture with your phone (nothing wrong with that) for your blog or social media, plan your image. Just a little bit. Spend 20 minutes away from the food, imagining the scene you want to create. Add props and take them away in your mind. When the time comes to plate and actually snap the pictures, don’t be afraid to rip down the scene and re-do it if necessary.
So take a few minutes, dig around in your kitchen, and see what you can come up with next time. Remember, this is your story and vision, so don’t worry about trying to style and shoot like other bloggers and photographers, let it be your own and don’t be afraid to stand out from the pack. No one will get noticed if we are all just putting pastel plates on white boards all the time.