Food is an essential component of our everyday lives. It is part of who we are, of our humanity. And in a fast-developing world, the excitement surrounding refection has left the kitchen and extended to the outside. People are more excited about dining because, now of all times, food has become an art, a statement, like fashion. From the table set up, the serving, the cutlery, the ambiance, the background, and foreground; everything about food has attained an unprecedented prominence today. Food photography is, therefore, an important as every other genre of photography.

Food image

A close-up shot of a food station in the serving bay of a hotel. Food photography is a crucial ingredient in hotel marketing.

Why Food Photography?

As hotels compete for an outstanding place in the market, there has emerged the need to showcase the culinary and dining expectations to potential clients. This has seen a rise in marketing and advertising strategies that center on victuals as a major component of hotels. The overall consequence has been the emergence of photographers specializing in the crucial art of photographing food.

Food in plates

Food lovers want to demonstrate their passion by taking photos of what is in their places.

Meanwhile, food bloggers now have a platform to profess their love for food. Those who share in this passion, wishing to illustrate recipes, reveal secrets of good cooking or simply brag about what they are eating, have propagated the idea of taking photos of what’s on their dining tables to share online. Hotels, on the other hand, are faced with a need to exhibit what’s on their menu in pictures and have ended up seeking the services of professional photographers to achieve the best imagery.

Beautiful Cakes

Food bloggers also want the best images for their blogs, and hotels are faced with the need to showcase the dishes on their menu.

Why perfect this art?

There’s no doubt, food photography is an emerging and crucial trend in today’s world. This is the reason why photographers need to perfect this art. There’s nothing as magical and enticing as a perfectly captured photo of food. It seduces the taste buds, and in like every other genre of photography, a well-captured photo of food can and should be used to tell a story. It should be a statement to the viewer, a call to action to engage in the dining.

Food photography ham

A perfectly captured photo of food is magical and enticing. It seduces the taste buds and tells an inviting story to the viewer.

Client’s Brief

First, ask yourself these questions before you start clicking: Is the table well set? Has the cutlery been well-aligned? Are the napkins perfectly in place? Most importantly, other than relying on your photographer’s eye, you must also ask yourself whether the scene before you agrees with what is clearly outlined in the client’s brief for the job. The mood board should guide you here, and whenever you feel that something is out of place, it is wise to consult the hotel’s management beforehand to avoid the inconvenience of capturing the wrong images and having to repeat everything all together. Oftentimes, photographers assume these crucial details and conclude that setting up is entirely the responsibility of the client. However, as a professional photographer, details are your alpha and omega in food photography.

Food Setup

Consider the client’s brief above all else. As a professional photographer, do not assume crucial details of the setup as this may mess up your project.

Food Is Your Story

Second, consider the gear. A DSLR camera will do just great, possibly a full-frame body to ensure picture quality. A tripod and remote shutter may be of use in some cases, depending on the type of shoot and time available. Have a wide-angle lens like the 24-70mm or 17-40mm for large table set-ups as well as close-ups. Prime lenses such as the 50mm f.1.4 are the best when it comes to small set-ups. However, the go-to lenses in food photography are macro such as the Nikkor 105mm f2.8. Macro lenses allow you to get a flattering image with both outstanding sharpness and a shallow depth of field for the background. They will help you achieve some rare shots at 45 degrees. Keep in mind that food is your story here; therefore, you have to draw in the viewer to connect with the thrill of the scene.

Food story

How do you want to tell your story? The gear you use in food photography will determine this crucial fact. However, you must always consider picture quality and depth-of-field.

Light is King

Third, consider the most important component of photography—lighting. It is advisable to shoot food in natural light. This will help maintain the accurate color of the food, plates and all the other elements in the frame. Soft, diffused natural daylight is the best option. Try the outdoors or near a window to photograph food, of course putting in mind the fact that light changes in intensity and direction depending on the time of day. As always, it is important to avoid harsh light. Use a diffuser to distribute the light evenly and a reflector to fill in the light where shadows are prominent. For instance, with a table set up near a window, place a diffuser between the window and the scene and a reflector on the opposite side. This will be a creative and very effective way of playing around with light.

Most often than not, as a photographer, you will not always have the privilege of natural light at your disposal. Thus, light modifiers. The question at the back of your mind should be how to manipulate this artificial light to look like natural lighting. A large soft-box is the best for food photography. However, other modifiers such as a reflector dish with a honeycomb grid can be used effectively. The most flexible artificial lighting option to use in food photography is an off-camera speed-light on a light stand with a flash diffuser to bounce the light. This will come in handy when you have to move around frequently.

Swahili dishes

Natural light is always the best in food photography. However, as a professional photographer, you have to understand how to manipulate artificial light to recreate natural light to get perfectly exposed photos in the absence of sunlight.

Compose Your Story

Fourth, consider the composition. If you deem photography as a tool of storytelling as we do at Versatile Photographers, you will agree that composition is your boldest ally. What story do you want to tell with the project at hand? Perhaps it’s a hotel and you want to relay the tale of a sumptuous brunch in an enchanting setting. Or maybe you want to visually narrate the story of a delicious dinner on the balcony of a tranquil restaurant overlooking the city. Or simply showcase the eclectic experience of an eatery. The composition you use will go a long way in telling your story.

A photo’s composition is a powerful ingredient in food photography. The foreground, subject, and background make up your image. With this in mind, it becomes easier to compose your shot. To take enticing photos of food, you will need a neutral background to complement and put emphasis on your subject. Noisy backgrounds are detrimental to achieving this and should, therefore, be avoided by all means. Since color, like light, means everything in photography, try to generate an appealing contrast in all the colors in your frame. This will evoke a positive feeling in the viewer. For an interesting color contrast between the background and the food, consider using a bright, dark or wooden background.

Food props

Consider including utensils and other props in your shot to tell the bigger story behind the preparation of the food.

Use creative props

A dark background works well with dark food such as grapes while a light-colored one complements bright food like cakes. Wooden backgrounds wonderfully rhyme with almost any food. Cutlery, towels and the tablecloth will add a lot of feel to your photos; therefore they should be a highlighted part of your shot. When shooting from the front, your foreground is an added opportunity to tell a story. Use props such as utensils, herbs, potted plants, ingredients, fabric, linen, and so forth to give depth to your visual story.

Christmas drinks

Your background will work wonders in setting the mood and narrating your story from all sides. Utilize it perfectly.

Narrate from all Sides

Fifth, consider the angles. To tell the story from different sides, you have to shoot from diverse positions. Shoot from above to capture all the details of the food and the setup. This will place emphasis entirely on the subject and eliminate a noisy background. Shoot from the side to highlight the different layers of a cake or the splendor of wine glasses. Blur the background to focus on the subject. Shoot diagonally to incorporate all views. To make a decision on which angle to shoot from, always take time in between a shoot to step back and digest the scene before clicking.

Food photography is a genre that still needs to be explored more. The creativity that surrounds this exciting escapade is boundless and Creatives should pursue this to the maximum.

STORY BY: David Macharia, CEO and Founder, Versatile Photographers

WRITTEN AND EDITED BY Tim Njugi, Writer, Blogger and Photographer

PICTURES BY: Versatile Photographers

CONTENT CREDITS: Radisson Blu Hotel Nairobi

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