Tasting food is a full sensory experience – it’s not just our taste buds that get excited at new flavours, it’s our eyes too. That’s why getting food photography ‘right’ is so important.
Science has long shown a strong connection between food and emotion. As a commercial photographer, I’m here to harness the power of photography in evoking emotion in us all – creating that desire to experience… taste… and ultimately buy.
Photographing the Turks Head Pub in Hasketon
I was recently invited back to the Turks Head in Hasketon – a pub that I had previously photographed following its refurbishment two years ago. Showcasing it as a community, family and pet-friendly pub, which happens to serve exceptional food (and gin!), was the order of the day. As was positioning it as a warm and welcoming place to be.
This was achieved through a series of day time and night time shoots – which involved a continuous game of ‘cat & mouse’ with the English weather in order to get the perfect shot!
The resulting photos have been used extensively over the last couple of years to help promote the business, and as the Turks Head has subsequently won ‘Suffolk Pub of the Year’ two years running, I’d love to think that my imagery played a part in this!
Sealing the deal with food photography
This time around however, I was there to take headshots of the staff, capture the food menu, photograph a food cookery demonstration and finally, take photos of their recently launched – and very indulgent – Brunch menu (served with fizz every weekend!).
In preparation for the shoot, Chef Mauli discussed the list of dishes I was there to capture. A hugely important part of the discussion was the timings for each dish.
When it comes to food photography, like most things, timing is (almost) everything! It’s essential that the food is still hot when it is photographed. This is because oil gives off an amazing reflection on camera – when cold, food simply will look flat and unappetising.
This meant that I had to be ready to go as soon as the food came out.
To help with this, a lot of thought was given firstly to aspects such as the table settings and cutlery, as well as the desired positioning of each dish and the variety of images needed for each one.
Setting the scene
The context in which food is displayed is hugely important. Tried and tested tips for designing the perfect food photo shoot include:
- Minimise the clutter – there’s no need to include a full table setting
- Keep non-food elements simple – consider one or two extra elements such as a glass, fork or napkin
- Choose complementary colours for table decorations – a simple flower in a vase or jar will usually suffice
- Place bowls and plates on a serving dish – this helps to frame the plate of food
- Consider the way food is set out on the plate itself – ensure food is ‘balanced’ in terms of colour, shapes, etc
- Guide your viewers’ eye into the shot – use leading lines and the rule of thirds… more on the rule of thirds in a later blog!
- Keep it clean – mop up any spills and crumbs
No matter how skilful the photographer or how good the equipment, badly presented food can quickly put people off.
Bringing food to life
I’ve talked extensively on this site regarding the importance of telling a story with photography. When it comes to food photography, this is absolutely true.
Injecting ‘movement’ into still imagery is something that works very well in this context, as is enabling the viewer to imagine themselves in the scene. One shot that I have received numerous compliments on is the mouth-watering ‘pancake syrup shot’ below:
Can’t you just picture yourself pouring over this gorgeous maple syrup, salivating at the thought of experiencing every mouthful? This was such a simple yet effective shot – I simply asked the owner Jemima to pour and I shot the image.
Food photography – collaboration is key
As such a hands-on activity, photographing food is not something that can be done alone. As well as the aforementioned help with syrup-pouring, it was essential for the client to understand how all of the elements needed to come together in order to achieve the desired image.
This is just one of the reasons I will always plan ahead and discuss desired outcomes in advance, without simply turning up camera-in-hand.
Jemima maintains an extremely high standard of excellence all round and has invested heavily in tableware and settings – enabling me to showcase not only the food, but the eating environment as a whole.
I was therefore able to suggest a variety of shots taken in different positions for each dish. This is not easy when working fast and alone (I’m discounting Biscuit’s ‘help’!) so having somebody else on hand to help reassemble and position plates for each shot was invaluable.
The staff worked quickly behind me, clearing one dish as I finished the various shots required. They brought me out the next dish and kept me abreast of timings from Chef Mauli. I have to say it really did work seamlessly.
Of course I haven’t mentioned the most rewarding part of this food photo shoot for me – I got to eat one of the dishes! I chose the heuvos rancheros and to my delight it was one of the best breakfast dishes I have had…