Are you a photographer and considering specializing in food photography? Before getting started, you are looking for information on the specificities of this sector, the opportunities and the necessary equipment. You are in the right place ! In this article we tell you everything about starting food photography. We will even offer you a culinary photo kit to get you started!
The specificity of culinary photography
4 steps to successful food photography
6 tips for successful food photography
Necessary photo accessories
Styling food photos
Photo editing software for your food photos
Working in food photography
The specificity of culinary photography
Like any photo, a successful food photo lies in being able to tell a story and put life into your photo, making it come alive .
The specificity of culinary photography is that it must also convey the deliciousness it conveys by highlighting the food, the ingredients and the dish.
A culinary photo must inspire, it must make you salivate and make you want to try the most difficult recipes or visit the best restaurants!
4 steps to successful food photography
Succeeding in your food photos means first and foremost finding a story around the dish you have to photograph and carrying it through your composition thanks to the staging of the dish and the accessories you are going to use to decorate the scene. .
Step 1: find inspiration
The first step in composing your food photos is to tell a story and therefore find the story you are going to convey with the dish you are featuring. To do this, the first question to ask yourself is: what message do you want to convey through the image?
Food is at the center of our culture and many moments of life are marked by food! Take the opportunity to get inspired!
Here are some ideas for “turnkey scenarios” for your food photos:
- Return from market / return from shopping to highlight raw, uncooked products
- Family snack for setting before cookies
- Family cooking afternoon to showcase a simple/traditional cake
- Aperitifs with friends to photograph aperitifs, alcoholic drinks or even dishes to share like platters
- End of year celebrations to photograph traditional dishes
- Healthy meals for a healthy lunch
A specific message
In some cases, your client may ask you to send a specific message. He may want to reinforce the nobility of his product or remind people how natural his product is. According to these elements, you will have to tell a story in accordance with this message.
Step 2: choose your accessories
Once your message and your scenario have been chosen, you must choose the accessories that will accompany your image. We are talking here about the accessories which will decorate the photo, which will participate in its scenography.
- Photo backgrounds – if you choose to go with a flatlay, you will need to choose a photo background in accordance with the message you are trying to convey. A healthy Instagrammable dish will go perfectly against a marble background, while a traditional dish can be highlighted by a wooden table effect background.
- Tableware – vintage tableware vs contemporary tableware, you will have to choose what makes the most sense to you based on your story. Likewise, you will need to choose the tableware items that you will need.
- Raw ingredients – it is common to use raw ingredients to illustrate your culinary photos, especially when the ingredient is not easily recognizable: pears for a pear cake, leeks for a leek tart and so on. !
- Materials or flowers – we don’t hesitate to decorate the scene with pretty materials, linen, cotton, it can be tea towels or napkins for example; a little floral touch works too.
In general and to save time, take a little more than you really need in order to do tests and check what will work best when composing your photo.
Step 3: set up the set
To choose and set up your set, we advise you to give depth to your image. To do this, do not hesitate to superimpose the elements in your image. Assume that you will need a minimum of 4 elements to give depth to your image. For example :
- Element 1: the background
- Element 2: a container, e.g.: a cutting board
- Element 3: a second container, e.g.: a bowl
- Element 4: preparation
- Element 5: a drape, e.g.: a piece of cloth
Of course all this will be distributed over the image, you should not put everything in the same place, balance will be the key word in setting up your set.
Step 4: compose your food photography
The first step consists of placing the main “masses”: the containers (plates, dishes, cutting board, etc.). If you have planned two containers (a bowl on a plate for example), put them. Likewise if you considered that you would have two plates prepared.
The second step consists of placing the food / dish / product that you want to highlight. Don't hesitate to slice it so that we can guess the inside if you are in the case of a dish such as a cake, a gratin, a tart... Having the dish and a slice is always interesting.
The third step is to add clutter to your image! Give it life! This is the secret of a successful image. A few crumbs, a cut part, spices and herbs fallen here and there. It tells a story, a moment of life!
Finally, add a little shine to your dish. A little oil, a syrup... This little touch will give your photo a little more deliciousness! Be careful, however, not to overdo it: you must aim for strategic points in the image (the points of light). Our tip: add the oil not directly to the bottle but via a pipette or spray. Even more, oil tends to cause salad and raw foods to wilt: put it on at the very last moment!
6 tips for successful food photography
Succeeding in your food photos requires these 6 tips!
Tip 1: Make a mood board
The first of our tips is to put together a mood board. This advice will not surprise you if you already take photography, as an amateur or professional, for clients. The mood board, or inspiration board, allows you to fix, in a few images, the inspirations for a shoot in order to determine the atmosphere.
You can make your mood board on Pinterest, certainly the most used tool for this type of work. The advantage? You can search for existing photos and use them, display your mood board publicly or not and easily share it with your clients/sponsors.
Tip 2: Opt for a culinary photo kit
The second tip that we can offer you is to opt for a culinary photo kit. What is this ? A set of objects and accessories adapted to food photography to quickly establish an atmosphere. The goal ? Save time and avoid buying each item separately.
Tip 3: Tell a story
Whatever photo you create, think about the story you're telling. You will not photograph in the same way a salad designed for a healthy lunch with crossfit friends and a cooked brioche for a gourmet breakfast with the family. Think about the story and you will be halfway to the success of your photo!
Tip 4: Bring life
This fourth tip follows the previous one! If there is history, there is a moment of life. And who says life, says mess, crumbs, peelings, teeth, part started. Make sure to highlight these elements in your photos and your photo will come to life!
Tip 5: Aim for transparency
If the recipe you are illustrating contains a rich interior (gratin, tart, marbled or laminated cake, etc.) remember to open it. Opt for a precise cut by removing or isolating part of your photographic element so that you can see the inside!
Tip 6: Play with shine
Last tip that we already talked about a little earlier: use shine to make your dish even more delicious! The latter will be obtained through a topping, a syrup or even oil. To apply the latter, use a pipette, in order to gain precision (as opposed to applying via the pouring spout of the bottle).
The necessary photo accessories for food photography
In addition to technical equipment (camera, lenses, etc.), other photo accessories are necessary for food photography. This is the case for the tripod (especially if you want to try flatlay), lighting and reflectors.
Whatever type of food photography you want to do, we can only recommend taking a tripod. It will ensure support and precision while you gently modify the set-up and decoration of your photo!
The tripods we recommend for food photography:
- A tripod with an integrated horizontal handle: the integrated horizontal handle is interesting for your flatlays, while the tripod will allow you to take all your food photos. We recommend the Manfrotto brand, which is recognized, but you can also turn to the K&F concept brand, which is less expensive and has good feedback among professionals.
- A high C-stand tripod: for certain settings you will need to have more perspective than a traditional tripod can give you. This is why opting for a C-stand tripod will be interesting. Once again, we recommend the Manfrotto brand. Your only limit will be the height of your ceiling 😉
Lights: Torches and softboxes
If food photos can be taken in natural light for beautiful results, it is also possible to boost the light supply. This is particularly the case in winter because natural light is weaker or when you have to go shoot in a restaurant, the room of which may be poorly lit.
To provide this boost of artificial light, we advise you to have at least two torches. Choose quality lighting rather than cheap lights that don't provide enough light... Our recommendation: Daylight type lighting, LED has the advantage of being able to be used for your photo and video projects, its versatility is interesting. It can be used just to complement existing daylight or provide light for a complete set, it's up to you. For our part, we validate the GODOX SL60W LED Video Torch, 5600K. The price of this equipment is not necessarily very high: count on around €150 per spot, but you must also add the purchase of one or more softboxes accordingly. The softbox comes in several dimensions and shapes, it will allow you to have less direct light, for an image with a softer rendering.
Whether you work in natural light or artificial light, a reflector/diffuser is a photo accessory to have in your purse. It will allow you to moderate excess light or redirect part of the light towards the object you wish to photograph.
We recommend that you opt for a multi-sided reflector:
- The white side allows light to be reflected;
- The black side allows it to be absorbed;
- The gold and silver faces allow the light to be reflected in another way, giving it a different tone, sometimes necessary when the initial light is too yellow/too white, too blue...
Other photo accessories
In addition to these elements, we also recommend two accessories that we believe are essential for taking food photos with complete peace of mind.
A remote control
Doing food photography involves getting your hands dirty. Oil, earth, water... You touch, modify, change... And it's better that it's a remote control that takes your camera! The remote control is also useful if you need to take action photos (where you need to see your hands!). Finally, this will allow you to take your photos in succession, without necessarily returning behind your camera each time you change the set-up.
A Live view cable
This cable connects your camera to your computer. The advantage? The photos are automatically saved to your computer and you can view them live. In addition to better viewing the photos during the shoot, you save time on editing and selection!
Normally, you always have a cable sold with your camera, or reopen the original box looking for it and do a test. Small hiccup: the original cable is often very short, not necessarily very practical to use. So take its reference and do not hesitate to order its counterpart in a longer dimension.
Now that we've taken a big look at the technical photo accessories you need to take your food photos, let's talk about the more fun part 😇 The accessories needed to successfully style and artistically direct your food photos.
First necessary accessory for your food photos: photo backgrounds with varied and different effects. Because you certainly do not have flat surfaces at home with marble backgrounds / aged table / tiles / etc., you will certainly need to use photo backgrounds.
Except that in food photography, it is difficult to use paper backgrounds, as we often do in photography: the use of food and the fact that the products are placed directly on the background is too likely to damage them! This is why you will like to use printed photo backgrounds, especially on vinyl support.
In our online store , we offer the following patterns/colors:
- Floor tile
In food photography, one of the most important aspects of staging is the dishes used! It will strongly impact the atmosphere that you will create and the photos that you will take!
Here are the parts we recommend you have:
- Boards, made of wood or ceramic, to present food or support smaller containers;
- Contemporary kitchen containers such as casserole dishes, mini gratin dishes, pie dishes, cake molds and so on! Generally speaking, it will be in your best interest to buy them new to avoid scratches which may be visible in the photos (unless post-production photo editing does not scare you!);
- Neutral containers (plates, cutlery, glasses) : having neutral will allow you to highlight complicated dishes or respond to very specific customer requests!
- Vintage and antique containers (plates, cutlery, glasses). Mismatched or on the contrary matched, it's up to you to choose!
- Containers (plates, cutlery, glasses) with character: engraved cutlery, glasses created by artisans or even plates and containers created by ceramists. This will bring originality to your tables and photos!
For all of these items, remember to have at least two of each, as well as different sizes. This will allow you to play on the settings! Consider having at least a few of these elements in a set of six so that you can create larger tables.
Last accessory to equip your tables and make your photos more alive: table and kitchen linen! Pretty napkins, a folded apron, potholders still wrinkled from the heat or even a checkered tea towel will perfectly dress your tables, not to mention the tablecloths which can also serve as a photo background.
Here are the table linens you should have in your possession for successful food photos:
- Some napkins
- An apron
- A pair of potholders
- Some tea towels
- A fabric table runner
- Placemats, in fabric or other materials (burlap, etc.).
For all these elements, vary the colors and play with materials. A black satin will not have the same reflections as a colored linen!
Photo editing software for food photos
If you already work as a professional photographer, you probably have your favorite photo editing software. The one you always use for your touch-ups. For retouching your food photos, use it! It will necessarily be suitable and will allow you to evolve on familiar ground.
If you don't yet have specific photo editing software, we can recommend the classic Photoshop from Adobe for details as well as Lightroom, also from Adobe. Photoshop will allow you to retouch each photo in detail, while Lightroom will allow you to apply all of your adjustments to all the photos from the same culinary photo shoot in just a few clicks. Perfect for visual unity in your shoot!
Working in food photography
Let's conclude this article with the opportunities that exist today in food photography. Who are the potential customers?
Restaurants and caterers
The primary clients of food photographers are restaurants and chefs. In order to highlight their dishes, for their site, their Instagram or their menu, they will be fond of culinary photography services. Please note: they may at the same time be interested in photographing their place!
If food bloggers generally know how to take photos of their recipes well (it is often thanks to the quality of their photos that they gained notoriety in the first place), some prefer to delegate this part and may be interested in the services from a food photographer! Go ahead and contact them armed with your book :)
Culinary magazines and cookbook publishing houses
Finally, culinary magazines and publishing houses of practical cookbooks are fond of culinary photos and recipes. If they most often work with the same actors in food photography for reasons of practicality, they may be interested in opening their pages to new photographers. Again: don't be embarrassed by your shyness and contact them using your book to ask them if they are looking for new regular or one-off collaborators!
Are you getting into food photography? Why did you choose this sector in particular? What interests you and which actors would you like to work with?
See you soon !
The Access Shooting team