Want to take food photos like the ones you saw in my Flickr and my food blog, buurps.com? This article’s for you! (If you haven’t visit any of those sites – please do!)
A Word Of Thanks
Before I proceed, I would like to thank my friends over at lowyat.net photography section and those who support buurps.com and adore the photos I took. 😀 It feels very encouraging to know people love the photos taken and they are the inspiration behind this article. (Yes, including that unknown person who approached me on buurps.com, asking what gear I was using. 😛 )
My Humble Equipment
*NOTE : The equipment listed below are my old equipments but they’re still very capable. I’m no longer using any of those listed below.
From my experience, I find that people tend to think that expensive lenses and camera bodies are needed to capture beautiful food photos – this is absolutely untrue. Here are my gears.
SLR Body = Canon EOS 350D (a.k.a. Digital Rebel XT)
The EOS 350D is really old, anything bought today out-classes it in every aspect, after all it’s an entry-level for the year 2005. A used unit is probably RM 700 or less nowadays.
Lens = Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
The EF 50mm f1.8 II is the cheapest prime lens from Canon and probably the only lens cheaper than it is the EF-S 18-55 f3.5 – 5.6 (the non IS version).
Accessories = Canon BG-E3 battery grip
This component is optional but I love having battery grip because it is helpful when it comes to getting portrait (vertical) shots.
That’s it. No flash? Yes, no flash were used for the food photos. No tripod either.
Very basic equipment, aren’t they? Any latest entry level model of today still beats the EOS 350D in every aspect. 🙂 So don’t go around blaming your gear for lack-luster photos! On a side note, I’ve recently have the EOS 500D joining my photography arsenal. 😀 Yay!
Making People Hungry
Believe it or not, that’s the IDEA I hold each time I take food photos. 😀 If it makes people hungry, it’s good enough for me!
Now, let’s get down and dirty with the details on how I go about taking food photos for my food blog.
Location = Lights, among many other things
I bet many out there are lead by their hunger – I wanna eat, I go, I snap, I finish, I leave………… is it that simple? To me, it’s actually more than that. It’s actually good to know WHEN to visit the restaurant and even to understand the LOCATION of the restaurant.
Normally I prefer to have my visit at a time when it’s less crowded as I’ll have the flexibility when it comes to choosing the BEST spot. The best spot to me is the spot where I get the most amount of light, be it natural or artificial.
The key here is to know what light you have and how to make use of it. Did you know that knowing the geological setting (I hope that’s the right term) of the restaurant helps a lot, for example is the restaurant under the shadow of a tall buildings? Is it facing the clear open sky where you can use the cloud as a huge diffuser? Are there buildings or structures around that reflect sufficient light into the dining area? 🙂
That’s applicable to daytime dining of course, for night time dining – it’s all about artificial lights.
Knowing the sources of light is one thing, knowing your position and sitting direction is another! 😀 You see, if the light was coming from behind you, then you’ll be casting a shadow on whatever food in front of you. So you’ll need to know how to position yourself in order to manipulate the light to your advantage.
Here’s an example of a location where there’s plenty of natural light.
And here’s one of the photos taken with the natural light, diffused by the afternoon clouds.
And here’s one taken under VERY low light.
Notice how in my photos I use light to highlight the texture of the food.
Another good reason for visiting when there’s lesser crowd, besides the better service and potentially better food quality, is that lesser people mean less potential having movements that change alter the source of light. It also means you have more freedom to take photos without annoying others. 😀
I remember one experience in a group outing, every time this guy sitting across me stands up, the light is altered rather significantly. This is because his body blocks the artificial light from behind him but since he’s wearing blue, he’s now reflecting another spectrum of light. Arrgghhh!
Angle and Distance
There’s no such thing as a best angle or distance. Some dishes are better taken from a lower angle, others are better taken from a higher angle. Sometimes you have to angle the dish! Take this photo for example, the plate was curved and leaving it on table level meant shadow was cast on most part of the food since we’re relying on the light reflected by buildings. So what I did was that I got a friend of mine to tilt the plate.
Whether you decide to place a saucer underneath or get a friend to hold it like what I did, it’s entirely up to you. 🙂 Just don’t spill!
As for the distance – keep in mind that it’s not necessary to snap the dish as a whole. Often, just a part of it will do. In other cases, you might want to back a little and get a better view of things.
I took the photo above from a distance as the intention was to showcase the artfully decorated dish served.
It’s all about understanding your subject. Observe the layout of the dish and explore the best angle and distance possible.
Modifying The Subject
Take note of smudges around the plate and other things, you might want to wipe them before starting your shoot. 🙂
Sometimes if the arrangement isn’t what you had in mind for the shoot, just do a bit of adjustments. Turn the plate around, move the meat further closer to the potatoes.
I am VERY picky with the background. The background should contribute to the composition and should not be a distraction. Snap at a higher angle and you have less background to worry about, as seen in the photos below.
If you’re going for a lower angled photo then there’s likely to be background, so you might need to do some table decoration moving to make it turn out well.
Bokeh is nice but do keep in mind that you should have decent amount of depth of field for the food.
I shoot most of my photos at f/4 and sometimes go as wide as f/2.x range but rarely do I use f1.8 or wider aperture.
Focus It Right
Understand the dish you ordered and compose your shot accordingly. If it was pork ribs then focus on the rib, not the mashed potatoes.
Make It Snappy
If you’re with others, don’t keep them waiting too long. If you’re around many other guests, try not to annoy them. 😀
Actually, the main reason to get it done fast is because some dish actually lose their appeal as it cools. I usually get my shots done within 3 snaps. Get it done quickly so you can enjoy the dish when it’s still fresh.
Don’t Forget The Basic Rules
Don’t forget about the guides for composition such as Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines.
They are helpful with composition as well.
High ISO Is Not A Problem
Use the highest ISO possible if the situation arises. Don’t let the “Oh I hate noise” thing hinder you, it’s foolish to sacrifice stability just for noise.
I use ISO1600 on my EOS 350D often for food photos, people still like them anyway. 🙂 When you get everything right, noise just doesn’t matter.
My other occasional accessories are like +4 close-up filter and Raynox DCR-250 macro filter (I rarely use this one for food photography).
They could come in handy, especially when you wish to highlight a particular part of the dish.
For example, here’s one taken with the Raynox DCR-250.
And here’s one with a +4 close up filter.
Don’t be afraid to post process your photos. Even a simple contrast and brightness adjustment could bring out the quality of a photo. Don’t be ashamed to crop the photo or even to remove unsightly things that so happen to be in the photo, like say a smudge on the table cloth that you didn’t notice when taking the scene.
In tricky lighting conditions, it’s good to snap in RAW so you could adjust the white balance and exposure during post processing.
Making People Feel The Hunger
I’m done with my sharing. 🙂 I hope this article is very helpful, especially to those of you who love eating, love photography and perhaps even love to blog about your meal.
From my experience, the toughest part is the angle. Some dishes are just impossible to get good composition with. 😀 Now go out and make your friends and family hungry!
My Food Photography
Here are my other food photos (among many others) for your reference. 🙂 Some of them are NOT done in restaurant environment.
– goldfries @ shutterstock
– goldfries @ dreamstime
Eh, provide pics of what the filter and raynox look like mar. Maybe got people want to buy. 😛
Can’t believe you could take some time off to write this article despite your busy times. Sometimes I wish i could do the same, but ah… cannot articulate the words as well as you! Kudos for the tutorial!
I take lots of food as I do food reviews on my blog. This definitely helps. Very good idea to showcase what the most primitive gear can do, so that people don’t just get discouraged by “Oh but my gear sucks” and just give up.
Now that I’ve seen what you can do, I will no longer feel discouraged by my gear. Mine is just a small step above yours (1000D, kit, 50mm f/1.8). A lot of learning to do.
.-= Marcky´s last blog ..Project 365 =-.
Yah pumping ISO is no problems, especially for web shots.
It’s better to have adequate DoF and sharp pictures with a bit of noise (which can easily be removed with Noise Ninja or Noiseware) than blurry pics.
BTW my main tip for would be food photogs is if you can, place the natural light source behind your food. Food always looks better backlit.
nice tutorial made. will try to follow, too much to read the details. haha.
.-= saimatkong´s last blog ..Astro B.yond TVC Shooting @ Desa Park City =-.
great write-up! I’ve learnt something new today. Thanks! 😀
Well said and nicely written. Informative too.
.-= Jason´s last blog ..BRATs Year End Trip â€“ Day 1.1 â€“ Kow Po Coffee Shop, Bentong =-.
very useful post! a must read for Malaysian bloggers since many of us blog about food lol!
Oh yes… I’m quite picky about the backgrond too 😛
Nice article, btw 🙂
.-= Chong´s last blog ..Lunch At Superdog, VivoCity =-.
Oh… This all food is amazing! It’s better than the dinner I will eat now :X But yes, it is a nice set of photographies.
It make me wish to the Japanese and take some pictures!
.-= Daniel Bento´s last blog ..P365/10 â€“ Day020 (20th January 2010) =-.
kakiz a.k.a samuel here, thanks for the info..it helps much in my photography knowledge..hope to see more..lol
And a very nice techy website! 🙂
nice yummy pictures.
good pictures and tips 🙂
.-= faisal admar´s last blog ..The Lightning Thief =-.
I didn’t see it mentioned in this blog post but I am just wondering when you post your photo, do you post the capture image as it is or do you processed it to fit the size of the blog post hence lost some resolution.
.-= Nighto´s last blog ..Where can a find a website to look for the most looked up keywords or terms in demand? =-.
Do you find photographing food in restaurants intimidating? Do get the restaurant’s permission to shoot?
So far, I have no problems shooting in restaurants except that I don’t have the time to really explore and experiment with lighting and angles as people want to eat and not wait for me to shoot the food.
For food photography, I use the 50mm f/1.8 lens. But if possible, still prefer shooting with a tripod versus without one.
@nighto – resized and save for web. I don’t see the need to post full size as it hurts loading time.
@mei teng – intimidating? nahh. I don’t ask for their permission though, I usually just take only. Usually they don’t bother.
For me, lighting is limited to where you’re going to sit and work from there on. Each dish probably takes a minute or less to shoot. Depending on the presentation and available light.
Till now I’ve not used flash, no tripod……… unless I’m doing commercial stuff. 😀
very useful post. thanks for sharing.
nice photography there! but im wondering wat would u do if the restaurant’s lights are all yellow with no outdoor lights?
oh, that condition is actually much easier than having light mixtures.
you just have to adjust your white balance (go for Tungsten if your camera has no Kelvin values, or use custom WB). if not just shoot in RAW and adjust the white balance later.
Having mixed lights eg cold lights and warm lights is the one that’s a headache. Try having a scene with daylight coming in with some warm light cast on the food. It could get unsightly.
thanks for the info! will go and trial and error soon enough, just got a new cam, lol
Great posts. Normally you are using what mode to shoot food photo? Also, any tips in determining the focal point?
Usually Aperture Priority. Just set the aperture I like and shoot away.
Focal point? I guess you mean where to focus? Firstly understand that where you focus, the clear area in front of the focus area is half the of the clear area behind the focus point – that is for depth of field.
Where to focus on? The subject of the dish, if it was fish and chips – focus on the fish, not the chips. Usually focus on the front most part is the safest bet, you can focus a little behind as well, knowing the DOF still covers an area in front of the focus point a bit.
Yea, I mean focus. Sorry for the wrong term. Thanks so much for ur prompt reply and tips.
I noticed your website searching on google and hoped to contact the author of this post. I had some further questions regarding this.
thank you for sharing.. however, i am new with dslr and i am so interested to learning basic food photography.. my questions, about the lens. i have only basic lens and you mention “Lens = Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II” Is it a macro lens..? Is it a must have or is best to have it? how much will it cost me?
And would be great if you could lead me to any source to step by step food photography… thanks.
I’ve used various lenses for food photos, 18-55, 50mm, 100mm, 15-85 ……….. as long as you know the food and know the focal length, it’s all good.
The said 50mm f1.8 II is not a macro lens. 🙂 it’s neither a must nor the best, it’s just a cheap lens to start shooting food. 🙂 cost? depends on where you’re from.
I just watched a food photography video online and the author listed as one of his key pieces of equipment is photoflow. It looks like a liquid mixed with water but he did not give and explanation on it and I can’t find a reference to it. Do you happen to know what it is?
Thank you so much for your great advice! I want to take better food pictures, so this really helps.
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