With social media and specifically the arrival of Instagram seven years ago, we have seen an increase in the amount of people sharing food images. And they aren’t all professional photographers sharing these images. Who hasn’t met with a friend for lunch and hasn’t been able to touch their food because they had to take the perfect shot? They will move the dishes closer to a window and step on a chair to take an aerial shot, sometimes using napkins as reflectors or smartphone flashes as filling light. From a cup of coffee to the most delicious high cuisine dish at that trendy Michelin Star restaurant or just some home baking, it is guaranteed that if you are scrolling through your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed you will come across a photo of food.
The rise of food blogs and food related TV shows, such us The Great British Bake Off or Masterchef, has also motivated people to start cooking and baking from home and, believe me, when you make tasty and extremely delicious looking dishes, you want to share it with the world and of course you want your photos to do justice to your food.
But there is nothing more frustrating than struggling to capture that deliciously looking dish with your camera. I have been there. I am not a home baker, neither do I own a food blog, but when I travel I love capturing some characteristic food here and there. Before I was a photographer, I found this quite a challenge. If you are a food business owner, the image of your business is extremely important. It must show that you are a professional and not an amateur and so, your photography needs to look professional too, not only on your website, but across your social media channels, even if it’s done by you.
In this blog, I am going to share my top tips to finally take photos that you will want to share and everyone else will want to eat!
1. Find your style
Everyone has a different style. There is no such a thing as bad or good style; it is just your style.
Food photography is extremely versatile, you could be someone that enjoys minimalistic, symmetric shots of your subject or maybe you prefer to fill your frame with props that compliment your subject. Then you have the choice of lighting where you can go from a bright capture, to a low key and dramatic one. My advice is to spend some time researching, getting inspiration from other food photographers, bloggers or Instagrammers, create a mood-board with your favourites and go back to it later to identify a pattern, a style that is repeated across the images, then build your own personal style from them.
2. Tell a story
During my years at University, I found it difficult to come to terms with this concept. My lecturers used to highlight how important it is to tell a story through your images. That’s all photography is about, isn’t it? And I just couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t find a story to tell, I just found specific things that I liked to capture, but there was no story behind them. I simply liked them and took a photo of them. Well, my friend, I am now a huge storytelling lover! It’s a bit of an abstract term in photography, because, unless you are working on a project that collects a series of images, sometimes you can only show one frame to tell a story. A good example of this is Instagram. Although you have your personal profile where your photos are organised in a grid and potentially can all join in to tell a story, you also need to tell a story with each individual photo, because your followers could come across them while scrolling down their news feed and not necessarily by accessing your profile and so, they won’t be looking at your grid as a whole.
How can you show a story in one frame with food? Easy peasy (lemon squeezy). First write it down. Food is always had within a context, there is no such a thing as food without a context. It might be a family gathering for a special occasion or just a cup of hot chocolate to warm you up on a chilly Sunday, maybe you finally managed to get the twist in those Swedish buns and they look beautiful, whatever the context around that food, write it down. The next step is to design the frame to match the context.
3. Add props and human elements
A simple, easy way of adding context to your frame and leaving a little less for your viewers’ imagination is using ingredients, cooking tools and accessories. Even showing a little human action would make the viewer relate more with the image, plus it helps to provide a sense of scale. If you go for human elements, I personally prefer images where there are no faces shown, keep it impersonal that way anyone can relate to it without identifying the person involved.
Light is a key element to any type of photography. What is photography without light? When we hold our cameras and adjust exposure settings we are painting our frame with light. It is an extremely powerful tool for storytelling and it can change the context of a set-up, without changing anything else, to the complete opposite.
Combining your style and your story you will have to identify what is the best light for your frame. What time of the day do you want it to be in your image? Are you anywhere near a window? Is it dark at night with a warm tone lamp on? Design your story with light.
If you are outside and you don’t have the possibility of designing your shot but still want to take that killer photo to share with your followers and make everyone jealous, then find a window. You can never go wrong with some natural light. Your camera is a powerful tool. You can adjust exposure to make the scene look moody and dramatic or bright and vibrant.
5. Use the right kit
Last but definitely not least, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in the previous points if you don’t have the right kit. I gave up taking any of my food photos while I was out with my smartphone a long time ago… I use a combination of my FUJIFILM X-T2 and, since its release a couple of months ago, the FUJIFILM X-E3. Sometimes if I’m out shooting for a client with my X-T2 and I pop out for a coffee and piece of cake or lunch, that’s what I’ll use, but I’m currently loving the compact and light body of the X-E3. I shoot food mostly for my social media channels, so the instant Bluetooth feature that syncs all the images I took to my phone is ideal. It has improved my workflow saving me time that I can then spend enjoying my delicious food! When I finish with it, my images are already in my phone and ready to be shared instantly.
And what lenses do you need to shoot food photography? I personally shoot with a couple of lenses and from different angles, but if you have a very specific style when it comes to shooting food or a specific angle you want to always shoot from, then you might only need one lens. I shoot from as wide as the prime lens XF18mmF2 R. This lens gives me extra room to add props and accessories to create a context, as well as the XF23mmF1.4 R and XF56mmF1.2 R, which allows me to play with depth of field too. Macro lenses are extremely useful when getting close and personal with food, if this is your style then the new XF80mmF2.8 LM OIS WR macro lens is a must!
If you are just getting started and considering one of the Fujifilm X Series cameras, the combination of the X-E3 with the kit lens XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS is a winner. With the same sensor as the X-T2 and X-Pro2, it’s the perfect camera for taking your first steps into photography without having to invest in another camera in just a couple of years. The kit lens offers a versatile focal length range that will allow you to shoot wide as well as close up.
More from Chio Fernandez