Do you have a passion for cooking and delicious, special food? Then you probably also feast on the sight of a tasty culinary photo. Maybe you already photograph beautiful dishes on a regular basis, for example for a recipe or a food blog, or maybe you are thinking about starting one soon.
After all, culinary photography is pretty hot. We write, blog, tweet, watch and read about cooking and eating. And a tasty image is indispensable, because let’s face it: a blurred, overexposed photo of a stained plate is not what you want.
We want photos in which the flavors, aromas and colors burst out. But that’s not easy. Culinary photography is an art, literally, and it takes some practice to be able to take truly beautiful photos. The good news is that this article will give you the tips and guidance that will enable you to take the most beautiful food photos. And those tips are not from just anyone.
Culinary photography elevated to an art form
Angélique Schmeinck, one of only two female master chefs in the Netherlands, has literally elevated culinary photography to an art form. In her Culinary Gallery in the heart of Velp, the love of photography and gastronomy come together: “With every ingredient I see, I wonder what else it could be. In form, texture, structure, color, taste and all the relationships that can exist between them.”
A journalistic photographer captures a situation as it occurs. A fine art photographer, in contrast, conveys her feelings or vision with photography. Angélique Schmeinck is a culinary fine art photographer. As an experienced chef, she can put emotion in a culinary photograph like no other. She uses ingredients and her “chef’s passion” to convey an image.
Food photos used for magazines, food blogs or recipes are slightly different from culinary fine art. After all, the aim of food photos is not to convey a feeling or vision, but to capture a dish in the most appetizing way possible. Yet there are certainly many similarities. Angélique shares her professional steps and accompanying tips, so you too can take food photos of the highest quality.
Step 1 – Before you start: think about what you want to express with the photo
What is the purpose of your photo? Will you use it on social media, on a blog, a recipe website or book? Think carefully about what exactly you want to convey and make an “outline” of the photo. What ideas, shapes, colors, textures and associations come to mind when you think about the dish and its ingredients? If you have a particular memory or emotion associated with the dish, then you can include that in the setting.
Step 2 – The preparation
Good preparation is essential for taking a good culinary photo. Make sure that the various ingredients for making the dish are ready. Practice with the ingredients (or temporary substitutes), so you have a good idea of how you will capture the dish. Play with the lighting and settings of your camera.
Based on the sketch you made, start with the composition. From what angle does the dish look the most appetizing? There are dishes that look best from above, but some dishes look best from the side. Also consider whether the dish should be in the center of the photo or not.
Finally, determine the perspective, depending on the composition. If you choose a photo from above, make sure you spread everything out well. For a sideways shot, you can create depth by placing the main ingredients or dishes in front.
Step 3 – The background
It may be all about the dish, but the background will help determine how well that dish comes out. If all goes well, before you started, you thought about the setting while sketching. Because of the association you have with the dish, you want to portray a certain setting. So you will have to make sure that the background matches that setting.
It doesn’t really matter which background you use, as long as it fits with what you want to portray. Whether you choose a natural setting, with a piece of bark or an urban setting with a brick base: make sure the focus remains on the dish. With shallow depth of field, make sure the background remains somewhat blurred. This can be a good way to keep the dish in focus.
Step 4 – The presentation of the dish
The most important part of the photo: the ingredients and the dish. Make sure you use fresh ingredients that look nice. Make sure the whole thing looks appetizing. For example, you can blanch vegetables and rinse them cold to ensure good color, and you can sprinkle a little oil or water on salads to give them some shine.
Take the picture as soon as possible after preparation. You can cut the dish, but do so with a super-sharp knife so you can do this neatly. Make sure you carefully lay out the different parts of the dish, and wait until the last minute with the “irreversible steps,” such as pouring on a sauce or gravy. In between, take test shots every now and then to see if your composition comes out nicely.
Remove any sloppiness: splatters and other imperfections can make for a messy whole. Add some fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds or crunchy bits to make the dish look even more appetizing, but do so in moderation. As is often the case: “less is more”.
Think about small details that can give the photo a unique character, such as applying asymmetry, for example by working with odd numbers of ingredients or decorations. You can also create movement in the photo, for example by pouring a sauce or a glass of wine during the photo.
Step 5 – Taking the picture
The dish is ready, you are satisfied with the composition and perspective: it is time to take the picture. To take the picture you should preferably use an SLR camera. The quality of the photos is high and you have the freedom to play with the settings.
Set the ISO value as low as possible to reduce noise and increase image quality. With the aperture value you can then create a larger or smaller depth of field. At a smaller depth of field, the background becomes blurred, while at a higher depth of field this does not or hardly happen.
It is best to use daylight for a food photo and if that is not possible you can use soft artificial light. The flash of the camera you can not actually use. Keep playing with daylight or soft artificial light as much as possible. If it is still too dark you can work with homemade reflection screens. A piece of cardboard with aluminum foil can reflect excellent light and thus reduce underexposure.
Finally, you should preferably use a tripod. This way you have your hands free to adjust the composition and you avoid camera shake, which does not benefit sharpness.
These 5 steps can help you take the best food photos and hopefully inspire new ideas and creations. For even more inspiration, check out Angélique Schmeinck’s culinary photography artworks.