For foodies, eating isn't simply a perfunctory way to fill a need but rather an experience to be enjoyed through all the senses. A well-done dish is more than taste and smell. It has to entice with its plating, textures, portions, colors.
Which is why a well-taken food photograph plays an integral part in a food blog's success. Writing about a restaurant or a recipe is one thing; it's another to take a food picture so good that you want to lick the screen. So how do food bloggers/photographers do it? Leave you drooling over a 2-D image without the benefit of a food stylist or well-equipped photography studio?
Food pornographers Matt Armendariz (Matt Bites), Sarah J. Gim (The Delicious Life and TasteSpotting) and Wesley Wong (Two Hungry Pandas) shared their secrets on how they create such enticing shots of food for their blogs.
1) “Light, light, light,” Armendariz emphasizes. “Start with enough of it and you're way ahead of the game.” A common mistake food blogging photographers make is taking pictures with not enough light in the hopes that this can just be fixed in Photoshop. But in the end that just makes for a grainy photo and blows out the details of the shot. However, at the same time, make sure to stay away from using too much light. “Flash photography, when not done correctly, can make even the most delicious, beautifully plated, artfully constructed food look terribly garish in a photo,” Gim says.
2) When shooting in a darkened restaurant, all food photographers agree: No flash! “Use a great camera with a high ISO and a lens that works fast in low light,” Armendariz suggests. He also says to ask for a table near a window if possible. While Wong offers, “If there is candlelight use it to your advantage.” And if you have no choice but have to take that shot in the dark, using a high ISO (400-plus) in low-light conditions, it's best to steady your camera for non-blurry shots. Use a portable tripod — Gorillapod is perfect considering its flexibility — or the rim of your (empty) water glass. Steady shots are especially key for when you're trying to get the details of a dish — salt grains, oozing cheese, texture of barbecued beef.
3) When setting up a shot, it's not always about the rule of thirds. For Wong, it's a “good rule to follow but with food photography sometimes a straight shot works best. You have to get a feel for the environment and ask yourself if you want to take a food porn (closeup) shot or take a step back and take the shot from a distance.” Decide whether you want viewers to salivate or to get an idea of the environment, the place setting, the composition of the dish.
4) Use Photoshop to enhance, not as a crutch. Every photo can benefit from a little something extra to make it pop. Since colors make food more appealing, you can raise the saturation levels in Photoshop. “Depending on your camera's settings, most digital files can benefit from a small boost of contrast, a slight hit of saturation and minimal sharpening,” Armendariz recommends. “You'd be surprised how easily you can bring photos to life by adding a few simple elements. But don't go overboard. Less is more.”
5) Use a camera that you are comfortable with. There is no such thing as the “best camera for food photography.” Believe us, we asked. As Gim puts it, “It is more important to know how to use your camera to its fullest capability rather than relying too much on whatever features it offers.” But aim for a camera with a lot of megapixels to play with on Photoshop, high ISO for candlelit situations and macro capability for those extra-close get-in-my-belly shots.