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Need some advice on food photography


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Technog33k Registered since 01st Dec 2011
Mon 12-Dec-11 12:22 PM

Hey all,
I run a few different blogs and have taken some photos for posts I've done. The ones that I have the most problems with are the food posts, the pictures I take never seem to come out the way I want them to. It's not just the quality of image either, it's the way the food looks within the image.

If you look at pro food photographers (is there even such a thing) work (like that in food magazines) they always seem to have the setting perfect. Is it me, or do they rely heavily on after camera modifications to make things look right?

I'm not quite sure how the forums work here as far as pictures, etc so till I get the hang of it, I'll link to images that I'm referencing if that's ok.

The images can be seen here:

The images that I'm referring to here are as follows:
Pro image - The one with the milk on a plate (part of the recipe)
My image - all the others.

Now, I know that the picture of my son isn't the greatest but it's one of those 'candid' type shots that didn't really matter as far as composition, etc.

But the other shots are the ones I'm not happy with. I must have taken at least 30 or 40 pictures before settling for the ones I did use.

I do posts for all kinds of other things including electronics, people, places, you name it. So I may be coming back for some advice on those as well.

Any help from anyone out there would be appreciated.

And thanks in advance.

Norm "Technog33k" White


Southern York Co, US
1973 posts

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#1. "RE: Need some advice on food photography" | In response to Reply # 0

SheriB Gold Member Awarded for sharing her exceptional images and details of rural farm life. Nikonian since 11th Sep 2010
Mon 12-Dec-11 03:09 PM

In trying to open the link I get 404 error Page not found.

I do know food photographers rely on tricks like spraying/coating food with water, oil, etc to make it look 'glistening' and I think I read about cotton balls made wet and then heated up in a microwave, then tucked into the appropriate hiding place to make the food look like it is steaming..

Sheri Becker

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San Francisco, US
711 posts

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#2. "RE: Need some advice on food photography" | In response to Reply # 0

dgs2 Silver Member Nikonian since 30th Sep 2004
Mon 12-Dec-11 07:47 PM

Your link doesn't work, so it's hard to respond. Please fix the link.


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Visit my Nikonians gallery.

Visit my Nikonians gallery.


Philadelphia, US
8057 posts

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#3. "RE: Need some advice on food photography" | In response to Reply # 0

Ned_L Moderator Awarded for his in-depth knowledge in various areas, especially Travel Photography Charter Member
Tue 13-Dec-11 12:49 AM

Norm, as the others have said, your link doesn't work, but I went to your "normanomicron" site and looked at the food photos, and I see what you mean. They need some help.

I hope this helps. Here are some general food photography tips and general ideas about food photography I've amassed over time which has done well for me.

  • Use a clean, non-busy background, no clutter. The idea is to emphasize the food. Make sure the background and the food are sharply contrasting. More often than not, for example, I'm using a plain white plate for the food, which generally has lots of color to set the food off.
  • You've got to get your white balance "right," or can I say, at least not "wrong." Meat should be shot in warm tones. You need to watch the natural light "blues" as there's nothing worse than blueish meat, or gray meat for that matter, for example. If you're forced to use fluorescent light, remember that will give your food a blueish look if your white balance isn't right.
  • Don't overlook even small details when you setup your shots, as they can make a huge difference. Clean plates, bowls, serving pieces and silverware, etc. can make a big difference compared to plates with a stain, or a fork with a water stain on it.
  • Don't be afraid to cut it up. You don't have to take the food as it was cooked, for example. Consider cutting it open as it can make for a great shot. Cut a layer cake open to see the layers. Slice a roast beef with slices carefully laid on top of each other, and consider drizzling on some gravy. Make sure the beef is very rare as medium meat grays quickly and frankly, well done meat is ugly to most people. Speaking of gravy, a clump of mashed potatoes sitting on a plate is darn boring, for example. Consider gravy, a dollop of butter melting on top, maybe some chives sprinkled on it, etc. Even strawberries in a bowl could be dressed up with a bit of whipped cream.
  • Use natural lighting whenever possible, in my opinion, or if you must use artificial light, consider shooting the food in a light tent for diffusion, with lighting which has a daylight color temperature. You could shoot near a window too. Don't use the harsh light of a strobe. If you've got to use it, bounce it or diffuse it, if you can't go to a light tent.
  • Sharpness and detail is important so use a tripod to get the camera/lens still. Watch your use of depth of field and use it creatively to make the subject stand out.
  • Get close to the food if possible. It will help bring out the textures and details, which can make the shot more interesting and the food more enticing.
  • Try taking the food photos from many angles. Don't just take a bird’s eye view. Don't be afraid to get low, very low. Consider moving the food around to try different food setups, one of which may work better than the others.
  • Use props like a glass or bottle of wine with a steak, OJ with the plate of pancakes, or a syrup container. Try having someone pour syrup on the pancakes and take photos as it drips down over the edges of a stack, and don't have a small stack either. Make it big. Jazz up the cupcakes with something colorful, maybe hearts or sprinkles.
  • Do hesitate to cheat. Some foods will have an attractive glisten if you brush on vegetable oil. If you need something to look wet, oil can help there too. Get steam coming out of food which would be served just out of the oven by using microwaved cotton balls that have been soaked in water.
  • Consider cropping in tightly. A tight crop can keep the shot simple which can emphasize the main subject of the shot.
  • Mist fruit, vegetables, and glassware with water to create condensation and make them look more appetizing.
  • Shooting a bowl of soup? Dress it up with a dollop of sour cream or other contrasting color product and maybe swirl it around.
  • Use the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds can help you to give compositional strength to your photos.
  • Smaller dishes are generally better because it's generally easier to fill them up attractively with food, preventing the dish from looking bare. Don't over fill the plates or bowls.
  • As mentioned above, color tone is important. Use something like a Macbeth color checker. I always shoot a color chart on every food or color sensitive shoot.
  • Shooting ice cream? Fake's better than the real thing.

Take for example your shot of the cookies in the green and white cloth. The cloth looks dirty and the contrast isn't very appetizing. The cloth isn't crisp looking and the color combo detracts from the star of the photo, the cookies.

Please don't take this as an insult, but the sorry little "tree" with the single Christmas ball in the next photo is really a poor composition. That "tree" makes the whole photo look very sad, in my opinion.

I hope the tips and criticism helps.

A Nikonians Team Member

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2601 posts

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#4. "RE: Need some advice on food photography" | In response to Reply # 0

elec164 Silver Member Nikonian since 15th Jan 2009
Tue 13-Dec-11 03:29 AM

>If you look at pro food photographers (is there even such a
>thing) work (like that in food magazines) they always seem to
>have the setting perfect.

Not only are there specialized food photographers, but there are people who specialize in preparing food for photography. Regular food you eat just does not photograph well.

I saw a special on the subject and all those great food shots you see in cookbooks, magazines and commercials takes a whole team of people to prepare, and they are often not edible. You would not believe what they do to the food to prepare it. For things like a whole roasted chicken, the chicken is cooked just enough to firm it up (not fully cooked) and then they torch the outside to get that golden crispy looking skin. Same goes for hamburgers. The inside is basically raw and they just torch the outside then they use colorants to brown it, then they heat up a skewer to sear the grill lines. And then they often oil or glycerin it up to make it shine. They use toothpicks to hold things together and paper towels to stuff things to make them look fuller (apparently paper towels make a good chicken stuffing or pie filling substitute) or to absorb liquids to prevent things from getting soggy like under the hamburger.

The show is on one of those education type channels like Discovery or Science Channel and airs every now and then. It’s worth watching if you have the chance and happen to catch it (although you’ll have an entirely different feeling when looking at those great recipe Photos).

So if you are photographing regular food you would eat, then you will most likely never achieve that cookbook look. Because in general those foods are made of, and sprayed with stuff you don’t want to eat. Even the milk in the pro shot probably isn’t milk (or something was added to it to make it look better). I’m not saying you cannot get good shots for your purpose (especially following Ned’s advice), just that the shots you see in magazines and cookbooks are often not the food you would eat.

Just some food for thought (pun not intended).



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#5. "RE: Need some advice on food photography" | In response to Reply # 3

Technog33k Registered since 01st Dec 2011
Tue 13-Dec-11 10:35 AM | edited Tue 13-Dec-11 10:44 AM by Technog33k

Ok, first off, here's the corrected link:

Next, I don't take offense at anything said, I grew up fat, so I've got thick skin.

That being said.

THANK YOU for the tips.

I was having a hard time finding a good no-clutter background as it's well, our house, it's lived in. It's definitely not better home and gardens material but we do keep it clean.

White balance is something I've got to work on. I'm still learning, and haven't quite gotten that far with the composition part yet.

I know the cloth itself isn't dirty, I just didn't think it looked dirty. I guess because I'm used to seeing it and just don't realize the colors have run over time. I'm thinking in the future, maybe getting a few cloths specifically for pictures?

Would you say a plain white cloth napkin is better for cookies? I've always liked the way the 'picnic' biscuits looked in the basket with the red/white cloth.

I put the tree in there for I don't know what reason, thought it'd make a few people smile (that remember the Charlie Brown Christmas). But looking back and hearing about it, yeah, it does make it look pretty miserable.

Again, thanks all for the suggestions, looking forward to hearing any more that you may have but I think I've got a GREAT point to go from here.

I'm starting to get the theory behind the shutter speed down and I'll be working on the aperture setting next. I think I'll definitely work on white balance after that.

I'll post more pictures up when I get the chance in my gallery so y'all can see my progress.

Norm "Technog33k" White