Sunday, August 28, 2011

Food Photography Tips 4: Food Styling, Food Props and Photo Backgrounds

Welcome to the fourth and final segment in a four part series on food photography tips and tricks.  I've divided the food photography tutorial into four posts: food photography lighting, camera settings for food photography, food photo composition, and the section that follows: food styling and setting up food props and photo backdrops.

I've designed the food photography tips below for beginners regardless of camera make and model, but have kept owners of digital-point-and-shoot cameras in mind to help them take higher quality photos with the equipment they already own. Hope you enjoy!

BakerGal Food Photography Tips, Part 4: Food Styling Tips, Food Props and Photo Backdrops

Food Styling Tips:

  • Select the perfect piece of food: Find the nicest piece of food to photograph (often called the "hero" among food photographers/food stylists).
  • Find a stunt double: If your "hero" could easily be damaged while setting up and arranging the shoot, do a test run with the next best piece of food, and swap in the best piece once everything is correctly in place.
  • Check the details: One you've placed the food in its setting, do a visual check for fine details: brush away unwanted crumbs, check for thumbprints on the plate, and look for other unwanted items that will detract from the subject.

Food Props:

  • More is not better: Do use props to enhance your photo, but don't overdo it. Too many props can confuse your photo and detract from your main subject.
  • Choose food photo props in context: Think about what goes with the food you're photographing and consider including it (a garnish that describes or complements the flavor, silverware you would eat it with, serving implements, drinks that go with it).
  • Find food props at a second hand store: You can find a wide variety of unique single items at second hand stores. This lets you amass a huge selection of different plates, spoons, and glasses without breaking the bank or having to buy a whole set. 
  • The best props are informative: When carefully chosen, props can provide information about your food (a twist of orange peel garnish on an orange-scented cake) and context about how you imagine it might be eaten (Marcona almonds and Manchego cheese as props for a Spanish date-almond loaf that would be served on a cheese plate) or the setting it would be eaten in (a dinner party, a holiday table setting). You can also use props to help food stand out against the chosen background (i.e. a white napkin set underneath a cookie bar).

Food Photo Backdrops and Backgrounds:

  • Crop your photos: The closer you take the photo or crop the photo the less background you have to worry about preparing. If the background is some part of your home, this especially important; Cropping can prevent each photo shoot from becoming a cleaning session!
  • Find the best light: Take the food to the place with the best natural light, even if that's not in the kitchen or not even in your house. If you need to go outside to get enough light, do that. Check out Part 1 of the Food Photography Tutorial for detailed information on food photography lighting.
  • Make a photo backdrop: Food backgrounds can be anything that suits the food your photographing. You can photograph in a nice room, or you can get creative with decorative papers, fabrics, or core board to build a small corner or flat surface against which you photograph the food. Kitchen towels, curtains, and tablecloths can all become food backgrounds. You can also use granite countertops and stone or wooden cutting boards to make a variety of horizontal and vertical surfaces. The benefit of constructing your own photo backdrop is that it's mobile. This allows you to take your photo setup to wherever the best light is. Finally, food itself can be a food background: you can spread out a layer of complementary food (like walnuts for a walnut cake, or cranberries for cranberry cookies), place your food item on top of it, and take a photo from above.

I hope you've found this food photography tutorial helpful! Please take a look at the food photography techniques in parts 1 through 3 if you haven't yet.

I look forward to hearing any additional questions you might have.

Happy Snapping!