Half-week homework: Foodie fun

#foodie. #nomnom. #foodporn. #eatingfortheinsta. The hashtags may vary and stand-up comedians may complain, but one thing is undeniable: we love taking pictures of our food. And why shouldn’t we? The need to eat is one of the few things that’s common to every single person on the globe, yet simultaneously food is also one of the richest, most diverse means of cultural expression and differentiation. Celebrate our togetherness AND uniqueness in this week’s photo challenge!

Your mission: make permanent visual art from transitory consumables. Take mouthwatering menu-style images, highlight your cooking skills, share your family’s culture, or try to capture the camaraderie of a meal shared among friends, then share your favorite images! Post ’em on our Facebook page or Instagram tagged with #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework. Read on for tips and sample images!

Photo by Macey Sigaty

There are two basic shooting angles that form the vast majority of food photos you’ll encounter: straight down and at an angle between around 30°–60°. Experimentation is always encouraged, but there’s also a reason for the standardization… they tend to look great! Compare the header image and the one directly above to see what I mean.

Shooting from above takes a meal into the abstract. It’s probably not the best choice if you’re trying to sell the food or make your viewer extra-hungry, but it really gives geometric forms and colors an extra bit of oomph. I love all the different ways the two plates contrast with one another in the photo at the top of the page (pure white vs. vibrant color, neat pentagon set against roundish blob, even the shape of the plates themselves), but it’d be much less noticeable from the side. Shooting from above lets you use the table as a sort of matting, too; check out that royal purple!

For the most part, you’ll be fine hand-holding these shots, but if you want to get serious about it, you’ll need a tripod that can be angled to shoot from above, like this one. When I say “get serious,” the sky’s the limit here; elevating the subject above mere digestive fodder, this is the way to photograph the creations of masterful platers.

On the other hand, shooting from a medium angle is a pretty good simulation of how you would actually encounter the food if you were going to eat it. As you might imagine, this is absolutely the way to get those pictures that evoke spontaneous “MMMMM”s. It also makes your depth of field control critical to the construction of the image. Whereas your whole scene will likely be in the same focal plane when shooting straight down, when shooting from the side with a wider aperture you’ll be able to highlight a very narrow slice of your dish if you so choose (especially at close range, from which you’ll likely be shooting when you’re shooting food). This can look awesome—even more so with strategic background complements like raw ingredients or cookware—but it can also ruin your shot if you don’t realize how little is in focus.

In most cases, your ideal lighting scenario is going to be softly diffused natural light. A backlight really makes something like this passionfruit juice pop, but for opaque edibles, light from the side is probably your best bet. (Conveniently, that’s where you’ll find most windows.) A decent set of reflectors would be a great item to have on hand to make sure the light is diffused the way you want it to be. In a pinch, try aluminum foil to do the job!

If you really want to manipulate the light, my recommendation would be to either go full-on studio or use a small light extremely creatively (e.g. the LitraTorch with a gel filter). I would strongly recommend against using a speedlight or built-in flash. It’s really easy to completely blow out a white plate, and even if you direct the light correctly the resulting photos often feel a little more like pictures of things than of food.

That being said, there’s a bit of a trend in food photography to use rather extreme lighting. Check out the super-bright and super-dark examples below and ponder how you might establish your own unique style.

You don’t have to limit yourself to completed meals, either. Moving a few steps back in the process can be a neat exploration of where our food comes from.

Erm—maybe not that process! Sorry, Mr. Buffalo. Fruit mid-harvest or vegetables being chopped up are probably going to have a broader appeal than photos of the meat-packing industry.

And don’t forget the human element! As with any kind of photography, incorporating some sense of human emotion into the presentation of your subject will more easily connect with the human emotions of you viewers later. Eating is hugely communal and easy to identify with, so it’s ripe (hah) material.

You can even stretch the meaning of “human element” a little further. Our four-legged friends all need to eat, too.

Hope that got some creative juices flowing. Happy shooting*, and bon appétit!

*and sharing with #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework!

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