Food photography is ubiquitous. Its seen in TV commercials, magazines, blogs, cookbooks, billboards, social media posts and more.
When food photography is done right, one photo will convince hundreds or thousands of people to try that food. So how do you get started in food photography, and what do you need to know? We’re going to discuss lenses, aperture, lighting, composition, and what to charge.
What is the best aperture for food photography?
There is no simple way to answer this question. Your aperture depends on the angle you’re shooting your food from and what aesthetic you’re going for. Are you shooting the photo to get the entire dish in sharp focus? You’re going to need to set your aperture somewhere in the f14 range. If you want a specific part of your food dish to stand out, adjust your aperture to something larger like f5. Change your aperture to around f2.8 to blur out a potentially distracting background. A large aperture won’t produce as noticeable a bokeh when shooting a bird’s eye angle versus eye level. This is because there needs to be distance between the food and your background to create bokeh.
What are the best lenses for food photography?
There are so many lenses out there; each of them is versatile and can be used somehow in food photography. Until you know if food photography is the genre for you, don’t invest in too many lenses. You can do so much with just one or two lenses! A 24-70mm f2.8 lens is going to be your most versatile lens. It will allow you to shoot at both a wide angle and cropped in, giving you a variety of looks. A 100mm f2.8 macro lens is extremely useful for close-up shots.
Best lighting for food photography
Food photography doesn’t require a complicated lighting configuration, you can get by with one diffused light source and still get beautiful results. A single light source will create strong shadows on one side of your photo, which can be distracting. You can easily fill in those shadows with an inexpensive white foam board, or a reflector. Set the board or reflector opposite to the light source and it will bounce the light back onto your food. One important factor to stress is that your light source needs to be diffused light, otherwise the shadows in your image will be very distinct, sharp-edged, and diverting. A softbox is a popular light diffuser choice. Don’t forget to turn off all other lights in the room except for your photography light. The color cast from other light sources will affect how the food in your photo looks.
Also, experiment with natural lighting in food photography. Many food photographers that use artificial lighting are trying to mimic the appearance of natural light. So find a window with soft diffused light coming through it. If that’s not possible, a window with direct sunlight streaming through it will work too. In this case, use a thin white cloth, or even parchment paper taped to the window to diffuse the light. The white foam board will be used in the same way as it was for the artificial light set up. Many natural and artificial light food photographers use a black foam board to add more depth to their shadows. The black board supplements the effect created by the white board. Again, make sure to turn off all your room lights while doing natural light photography!
What to charge for food photography?
Figuring out what to charge for food photography isn’t very different that figuring out what to charge for other types of photography. An excellent place to start is to see what the competition is charging. Just remember that what the competition is charging is a reflection of their prior experience, their cost of doing business, and their skill. Before you decide if you should charge what photographer X is charging, take a look at your expenses. What do your monthly expenses like mortgage, utilities, car payments, student debt repayments, and food total up to? You should collectively charge more than this amount because a) you want to be prepared for unexpected expenses, b) you want to save for equipment upgrades, and c) you probably want to retire one day!
Now that you know what your expenses are, it’s time to decide how you want to charge your customers. Will you charge per hour, per job, per dish of food shot, or final image purchased? Depending on how much work each client you acquire needs, your invoice amounts will differ. Whatever you charge, make sure your incoming payments total more than your monthly expenses. Be realistic about what you’re charging too, especially if you’re a beginner.
Composition tips for food photography
Here is where you get to let your creativity take over! Ultimately you’re taking photos of a specific dish of food, but little elements or “props” will compliment your dish and make it look like a meal. First and foremost, experiment with displaying the meal in different dishes. A white dish can give your food a clean and healthy feel and really make colors pop. Using a darker dish gives off a comfort food type of feel. Consider adding a beverage in the background of your photo, and play around with the cutlery placement in your image. Sauces, syrups, and condiments, poured out into a pretty side dish puts the viewer in the mindset of what they could put on the main dish prior to eating.
Color is really important in food photography, and sometimes you’ll want to help a dish along by adding a splash of color. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are excellent for this. If your pasta dish is looking monotone, add a little parsley for color contrast. When photographing for someone else, always discuss adding other ingredients to a dish prior to photographing. When you cannot add colorful ingredients to the dish, use it around the main dish in the background of your photo. The raw ingredients in a dish can make a pretty compliment to your main dish as well. Think whole mushrooms, a few plump tomatoes, a dash of flour, or some orange peels. There are countless items you can use to compliment the food you are photographing!
Food is sold in the biggest cities and the tiniest remote villages. The industry is so widespread that its size is impossible to quantify. The best estimates roughly put this industry worth billions worldwide. With that size in mind, you can imagine how many opportunities there could be for food photographers! If you think there’s no room for you in this industry, you couldn’t be further from the truth!
You could talk to local bloggers who are new recipes are lacking nice photos or local restaurants with no images on their menus. You could talk to food producer to discuss doing photography of recipes that include their product. Don’t let the size of the food industry lull you into complacency. Getting those food photography jobs are still going to take hard work. The best advice we can give you is to get out the door and start talking to people! It’s through relationship building that you convince someone to give your food photography services a shot!
For great examples, check out Ella Olsson’s AMAZING food photography blog!