Taking photos of your food might be a cliché, but it has become almost as popular as taking photos of your own pouting face on social media.
Instagram has over 178 million food photographs and you only have to glance at Twitter in the evening to see that someone you know is eating something that looks fantastic.
Of course, taking photos of food might be a bit of fun for many, but there are those who get paid to shoot food professionally.
Hugh Johnson is one such professional, photographing food for the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Yotam Ottolenghi and Thomasina Miers. To celebrate the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards, we had a food photography master class with Hugh Johnson, to pick up some food photography top tips.
We tested these tips using the palm-sized interchangeable lens Sony A7R II full frame camera, giving plenty of manual control. Of course, it also helps when you’re shooting food that looks delicious on the plate.
1. Use the light around you
Photography is about light and to take the best possible picture, you need to think about where the light is coming from. A common error is over-lighting, making the light too harsh, with direct lighting making highlights blow out.
For great results, try shooting from a 45-degree angle, with the light source on the other side. This avoids casting your shadow on the food. Try moving the food or yourself for an ideal position, or try using something like a white napkin as a reflector if you think things need a lift.
If you’re struggling with direct light, try making a shade. You don’t need bright light, you just need to use the light in the best way.
2. Use a range of apertures
Using a wide aperture means more light can get into the camera. Something like f/2.0 will let in loads of light, giving you a sharp food photo while blurring the background for that bokeh effect.
Closing the aperture (f/5.0 or higher) will draw more into focus but requires a longer exposure. This will let you have the food in focus and more of the background too. You’ll need a steady hand or tripod for longer exposures. If hand-shooting, try tucking your elbows into your body for a more support, breathe out, then take the shot.
Of course, if you’re using your phone, just try to keep it as steady as possible.
3. Shoot as quickly as possible
Your food looks the best the moment it is served, so move fast to get your photos as soon as you can. The longer you leave it, the more likely it is that sauces will separate, fats will congeal or leaves may start to wilt.
If things are looking a little flat, you could try spraying it with a little water from a hand sprayer, remembering not to drown your food. This will add a refreshed sheen to the highlights.
4. Rearrange your food
Don’t be afraid to rearrange the food. An ill-placed element of the dish might get in the way, so move it, twist it, make it look interesting, adding depth and texture. Try turning the plate for a different view, to expose new highlights that are interesting.
Don’t be afraid to cut into food, but be ready to shoot: an oozing egg or juice from a steak looks really appealing, but miss the moment and you’re left with a mess. You could also try the bold addition of pepper, to add more texture, or something delicate, like a single mint leaf to the top of a creamy dessert, to add a point of interest.
5. Set the scene for your food photos
A common mistake is making things too complicated. The star of the show is the food, so don’t clutter it with too many accessories. However, a fork might make things more intimate, and two forks suggests sharing.
An out-of-focus folk catching the light, or a glass with ice in, is a familiar hint that there’s more happening around the table. If you’re preparing the food, use a patterned plate to avoid the blandness of pure white. This will also help the balance the contrast in the photo.
6. Vary the view
Although shooting from 45- degrees is a great way to get the best reflection of light off your food, try changing what’s in frame.
It doesn’t have to be centred, it doesn’t have to be the whole dish, it could be that only that big juicy raspberry is in focus, or the light passing though that decorative leaf, leaving the rest to your imagination.