Friday, October 24, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Better Food Photography

I've been taking photos with my iPhone camera for as long as I've started taking snapshots of food. So it was surprising to me when I was asked to give tips on photography when I used to write for the now-defunct Squidoo platform. Last week, someone asked me if I had any advice on how to take better photographs.

The fact is, I've never considered myself any kind of photography professional or anything coming close to it. I admit I do enjoy taking photos of food and I might spend a lot more time than others, taking forever to get that perfect angle or shot of my bowl of soup. But as I mentioned before, the iPhone camera is the only camera I've ever used so I'm not sure how much use my suggestions would be to those who don't use a smartphone.

For those of you that are still interested in some advice from me, I will do my best to give you some advise on what I do to take better food photos.

First of all, I spend a lot of time studying other people's work, especially food bloggers and on Pinterest. I try to learn as much as I can from these professionals and I simply do my best to emulate what they do with my iPhone camera. I learn so much just from doing this.

Next, I try make my food as pretty as they can look. Presentation is everything when it comes to taking great food photos. Would my cupcakes look great on a certain plate? Or do they look better in a basket? A plain white tabletop? I spend a great amount of time going back and forth, debating whether the colors of the cupcake clashes with my tableware.

Even before I cook, I think about how the finished product would look. For example in the Japanese Beef Stew above, the Japanese Negi ( green onions ) were added at the very end to add some much-needed color. Without them, the dish didn't look as nice. And because it's a dish that's eaten during the fall season, I added some maple leaves to the picture. By the way, those maple leaves are fake and were purchased at the 100 yen store.

Compare the photo above with this one. First of all, this is before editing and you can clearly see how dark the photo appears. I also thought that the dish looked better taken from a top angle. With the right angle, some props and editing, there's finally some drama to the photo. 

Although not all the time, I usually do some kind of editing work on my photos, either in photoshop or more often these days, with an app like Snapseed or Camera +. Editing them just a bit will really push your photos up a notch or two. 

For these strawberry cupcakes, I was striving for a spring mood as evident by the fake sakura petals in the foreground. I also thought they looked great placed in a basket. I also added some blur in the foreground and background in Snapseed with the Tilt and Shift option in addition to increasing saturation just a tad. 

Sometimes, taking photos from an unusual angle is all it takes for an interesting picture. This shot I took at a modern Thai restaurant was made so much more interesting by taking it at an angle. As you can see, the food as well as the tableware was very rustic and although beautiful, there wasn't enough color to make it pop. So the unusual angle adds some visual interest to this rustic dish. 

If all else fails, try taking a photo from above. This is especially helpful when you want to focus on everything on the plate. For this plate of pasta, I carefully planned it to look this way even before I started to cook. I knew I wanted to go with a yellow theme so to complement the yellows, I added green peas into the mix.

Taking the photo from the top lets you see all the various shapes and colors of this very happy pasta plate.

A bowl of granola with pineapples. Oh how ho-hum it can seem. Unless there's some honey that's being drizzled on top! You won't believe how I took this photo. 

I carefully drizzled the honey from my spoon with one hand, while I took the picture with my other hand. It took a bit of concentration and timing, but it worked. Action shot. Yay!

Do you notice all those beautifully-photographed food all over the internet? You know, the ones with the immaculate background and surfaces that you would never be able to replicate at home? Well, you can as long as you know how.

You simply go to the nearest hardware store and buy yourself some wood. I bought two of them and painted them white. I was looking for a distressed and weather-beaten look so I tried my best to make them look like that. It wasn't difficult at all and was quite fun to do.

I also painted the other side of the wood with a brown color. This way I have two choices of colors to use for my surfaces and background. Not sure if you noticed, but I've used the brown side for my Japanese Beef Stew above.

Check out this super unattractive picture. Here I am prepping my Japanese Rock Road for blogging purposes. Yeah that's my TV in the background, but you won't be seeing that in a picture anytime soon. I set up my two boards like this with the Rock Road facing my window for some natural light. 

Once I got the angle I wanted, I took a dozen snapshots of the Rocky Road. Unless you're going for a gloomy effect, it doesn't look that pretty does it? 

Now comes the editing. I simply edited the photo in Snapseed using the Brightness and Contrast filters. I also minimized shadows with the Shadow filter. 

After all that's done, this is what the final photo looks like. It's pretty obvious what a difference editing makes. Most of these apps are free or just cost a few dollars at the most, and you really don't need to use expensive software like Photoshop. Leave that to the pros!

Finally for those using Pinterest, photos like this one are better. Notice that it's taken at a vertical rather than horizontal. However on blogs like this one, I feel horizontal shots look much better so I make sure I have enough shots to use later on. 

So there you have it. I hope these simple tips and tricks will help with improving your food photos. Like I said, I'm no pro and I only use my smartphone camera for everything. If you just keep a few things in mind, you're guaranteed to get fantastic photos that would surpass any of mine. 

Thanks for reading and I hope some of this helped you in your food photography endeavors. Cheers and have a fabulous weekend!

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  1. Thanks for the tutorial Shinichi, now can I come over and help you eat all that beautiful food?

  2. Shinichi, I remember the article you wrote at Squidoo's request. I was grateful for your tips then and for these now, which I think include a few new ones. Like you, my iPhone is my camera. Getting the right light on my food pics always seems to be the key, and boy is it difficult if I'm taking them at night!

    1. I have the exact same problem Grace. So for dinnertime photos, editing is almost always necessary for me.

  3. I missed my invitation to dinner Shinichi, I'm sure it's in the mail.......

    1. haha. You can just drop by anytime. As long as I am home, there will be some kind of treat ready for unexpected guests. :)

  4. Very helpful tips. Thank you very much indeed!

    1. It's certainly my pleasure Giovanna. I'm so happy it helps.

  5. And - I almost forgot, this is great advice Shinichi. You put together all these photos and comments and were so clear and thorough. Thanks so much!

    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed this post. Thank you for taking the time to comment my friend.

  6. Most excellent photo tutorial. My photos tend to be of handmade plush animals for my online shop, but your tips and techniques described here for food photography can actually be incorporated for just about any subject matter. The neutral backgrounds and interesting angles and editing lend themselves to noteworthy (and noticeable) photographs. Enjoyed yours very much. Thanks for the tips.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the tutorial. I hope it helped somewhat. Cheers!


As always, your comments are appreciated. Thanks!