"Food Photography" Sat 18-May-13 11:23 PM by bobpilot
What have I gotten myself in to this time?
I photographed a sporting event and a local restaurant gave all the athletes a free sandwich, a very good sandwich! (he also gave me a sandwich)
He noticed my camera and "Staff" badge (I got a photo pass for the event) and asked me what I did; I told him I took some photos of the event.
As I munched on my sandwich we talked a bit about photography and marketing. He asked me if I'd be interested in taking some photos of some new menue items for him. I told him I'm not a professional photographer, and that I've never photographed food. (I didn't think it counted that I've photographed my food at a restaurant). He said he'd pay me. I said I'd research food photography and we could talk about this idea.
I have two Buff softboxes and a striplight all with grids; and two Buff Einstein lights. But that is a lot of gear to transport and set up on location. And a lot to deal with for one person.
First: Should I even attempt this?
If I do, is natural light with some reflectors a better way to go than using big studio lights (I sure hope so)?
Or, should I get a lightbox?
Since this is a picture forum, I thought I'd post a few photos that I took of the food when it was served to me in a restaurant in Varazdin Croatia.
If these photos show that I have an eye for food photography, then I'll learn more about composition for food, lighting food, and techniques. I will give my thoughts on each image. Bear in mind that I did not take these to be food photos for marketing, although I did my best at the time to take photos that were good product shots; I took them to record my experience. Also, this was on a patio, I don't remember what the roof was, maybe an arbor, anyway the lighting was good, at least to my eye: diffused and soft. I used a 28-70mm lens, not a macro lens. I now have a 60mm macro and a 105 macro.
I like the table layout and composition of the items on the table; I like the low angle. The background seems too busy but it also provides an ambiance. If I were to take this shot again, I'd move things around to put the checkerboard more to the right. (The flag of Croatia has a red and white checkerboard, so you see this pattern a lot in various applications.)
I like the angle; the composition is good to my eye. Do-over: Square the image with the table cloth so the tablecloth is the background.
I like the angle and the composition although I'd like to see a bit more of the plate on the right. The focus is the main problem. I don't see enough in good focus. If I were to do take this shot today, I'd get the pasta in front of the tomatoes sharp.
I like the background and the table setting. The food could have a bit more light on it; a do-over would be to use a reflector.
I like this shot but I'd make a few changes; the plate on the left is too predominate and I'd move it to the left. The lighting seems fine and I like the low angle.
This seems a bit too close, but I've seen food shots like this, so I'm not sure.
Those are my thoughts, what are yours? Did I evaluate these about right? If I did, perhaps I should consider going forward with the project.
#1. "RE: Food Photography" In response to Reply # 0
I hope you haven't bitten off more than you can chew.
Sorry, couldn't resist.
I have zero experience with this, so all I can say is kudos to you for being willing to consider this challenge. I know that food photography is a form of product photography and has it's own special challenges--the food must appear to be freshly prepared and appropriately hot or cold.
Your photos look good to me, but the focus of some seems tenuous. Also, if these are to be for a menu, it seems that they may be looking for images of individual dishes rather than whole table settings. Who is going to do the styling--the chef, or you? A food stylist will make sure every noodle and sprig of garnish is placed just right. Would you be paid enough to make your time and effort worthwhile? Or, is the experience alone part of the value to you? Lots to consider.
#2. "RE: Food Photography" In response to Reply # 1
Because this is a casual arrangement; it seems reasonable to give it a shot. My guess is that we can work together to come up with something he likes.
The food will be prepared by the chef; I won't style it.
The focus is off on my images due to several factors; a non-macro lens, and my lack of experience. I now have a macro lens, and more experience. Is this enough? I don't know. I'll set up a place to shoot at my house and play with lighting on products.
I will be paid; how much? I don't know. I don't have a standard fee. My estimate is that this will take two to three hours; I just can't imagine taking longer than this. So, what's reasonable? I don't feel right charging what a professional charges. And yet I don't want to undercut or devalue the services that a true pro can offer.
Of course, if he has changed his mind, I won't hear from him.
#3. "RE: Food Photography" In response to Reply # 0
One of my dogwalking partners owns a successful restaurant downtown and recently had occasion to have some of his productions photographed for a magazine article. I would have given my eye teeth to be present but I only have second hand information. The mag, I seem to recall, is based in the middle south but they engaged a Quebecois photographer who came with his own stylist. My owner/chef friend prepared and plated the food but, after that, sat back and watched. The stylist came with a van-ful of props from which were chosen a few that seemed to be appropriate to the food (though not necessarily to the restaurant). My friend was pleased with the outcome but seemed amused/bemused by the transformation of food prepared in downtown Boston to something you might encounter in an upscale rural log cabin.
Sounds like fun. Dying to hear how you get on with it.
#4. "RE: Food Photography" In response to Reply # 3
As the restaurant owner and I talked about photographing food, he said, "Well, how hard can it be?"
When I was a boy I like Tuesday morning; garbage day. For some odd reason I liked to watch the men lift the garbage can and jog with it to the truck, grab a hand hold and swing the can into the truck bin, and jog back to replace the can; all the time the truck slowly moved down the street. I liked the sound and the motion.
What these men did took skill, and yet they are 'just garbage men', how hard can it be? I challenge anyone to do what they did and come away thinking their job is easy and takes no skill. I remember one man, who was probably 20 years old, used to talk to me as I jogged beside him. I could hardly keep up and yet was carrying a heavy load. I guess this left an impression on me; work takes skill, no matter what the job. And a realization that very few appreciate this skill and take it for granted. After all, how hard can it be? Anything that takes any skill is much more difficult that it seems to the casual observer.
So, how hard can food photography be? A lot more of a challenge than it seems.
I have yet to hear from him, so maybe he has abandoned the idea. My thought is that I will photograph the food as it comes form the kitchen, and use natural light with a reflector. He will probably be there as I shoot, so I plan to use a tether to Lightroom on my MacBook Pro. This way he can help me make changes to the composition.
Here is an article on the process involved to get one shot:
#5. "RE: Food Photography" In response to Reply # 4
I used to have a customer that was a top Atlanta stuio photogrpaher. One of his specialties was food photography.
There are lots of tricks to photographing food. White balance and lighting is key. Having a gloss on the food is very important - even after 30 minutes sitting on a table under bright lights. Details are important - everything needs to be perfect. And there is no reason the food being photographed needs to be edible - in fact, many food photos are virtually inedible.
I do know that he did a lot of retouching by hand to correct reflections and imperfections. "Grilled" meats were typically lightly boiled to the desired doneness so they would remain plump. Color was painted on the food using a variety of substances. Tiny paint brushes were used to brush oil on food to create glossiness. And garnishes are very important. There is a lot of touch up afterwords on food photos so don't underestimate the post processing time.
You'll probably want to consider shooting tethered or with an iPad and Eye-Fi card for immediate viewing.
Everything is on a schedule if you are working with a chef. You might want to photograph preparation - at least mis en place. Talk with the chef in advance about what to feature or highlight in the dish and how the plate will be styled. Understand what the food should look like - glossy, crisp, etc. Likewise formally prepare a shot list - a storyboard of sorts so you know exactly what you are planning to shoot.
I think its a great project - and you'll learn a lot. Your first attempt will by no means threaten a professional food photographer. I'd ask for fair compensation just to keep it professional. In practice I'd probably work out a trade for meals if its a restaurant you like. Restaurant owners are very quick to work out deals for trade if they can.
Be sure you have an appropriate contract and specify the authorized use. Part of the practice is also establishing the way you'll work if this continues.