The key to food photography is creating images that look mouth-watering, delicious and inviting. There are so many different routes you can take within this area – restaurant photography, content creation, magazine shoots, campaigns, stock photography… the list is long. To become a Food Photographer you need a passion for photography, styling, editing, colour and of course – food. Constantly pushing yourself, learning new skills, evolving your personal style and consistent practice is essential to becoming a successful freelance Food Photographer.
How to Get Started
Buying a professional camera can be expensive. I started on my beloved crop sensor camera (Canon 200D) with a 50mm lens and did not make the leap to a professional full sensor until I had several restaurant shoots behind me.
Knowing the fundamental principles of photography is essential. This includes having a solid understanding of the three pillars of exposure; ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Learn how to manually control your exposure and try not to use your automatic mode. This will give you much more control over how you want your photograph to look. Workshops, reading books and utilising YouTube can help teach you the basics of photography as well as lighting, composition and editing.
Although a Food Stylist is a different role to that of a Food Photographer, the majority of the time, especially when dealing with restaurant photography, hiring a Food Stylist is not always an option. Having a good understanding of food styling will only make your images more striking and make you more employable. A selection of different backdrops, props and materials will provide you with more to play within your images and allow you to really set the scenes you are wanting to achieve.
Start by building your portfolio and utilise Instagram. It is a great way to consistently practice, to find inspiration and connect and see what other Food Photographers are doing. Remember that every Food Photographer, no matter how big they are now, had to start somewhere.
Where to Find Work
Finding work can be challenging when you first start out as a Food Photographer but keep going! Build your portfolio to a standard you are proud of so you can show potential clients as well as consistently email and make connections – get your name known! Charge a rate that you feel is right when you feel it’s right. Remember the fee is not just about the shoot, it also involves your time post-shoot in terms of editing, organising, uploading and travelling.
What Software to Use
I would highly recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC to edit and organise your photographs. Although it may seem a bit technical at first, YouTube videos/Adobe tutorials can teach you the basics and of course, if you play around with it yourself it will help you to get to grips with it. Remember you can always undo your edits, so your photograph will be safe in case you want to start your edits again.
Natural vs Artificial Light
I am a big fan of using both natural and artificial light. Both can really help set the scene, depending on what you are going for. Using natural light for your photography is very dependent on the time of day, the weather and the season. For me, I gravitate to mostly using artificial light as it gives me more control and freedom as well as not having to rely on the unpredictable UK weather.
However, sometimes artificial light just doesn’t quite give the mood I am going for, particularly when shooting in restaurants, and on these occasions, I will utilise the natural light as much as possible. It is important to learn how to utilise both but make an effort to get to grips with artificial light. It allows you to have that option just in case you need it on a typical gloomy grey UK day.
How to Make Food Look Photogenic
Making food look photogenic is not as easy as it seems, however, there are many different tricks that you learn along the way. Here are my top three tricks to start off with:
Freshest of Ingredients
Often when picking fruit or vegetables, I will specifically choose particular ones and not just grab the nearest handful. I want all my produce to look as fresh as possible, particularly in terms of its texture and colour. Be ruthless when you buy your ingredients and check them closely.
We have all seen those perfect smoothie bowls with the fruit intricately designed on top but how do you get that fruit to not sink to the bottom of the bowl? Frozen mango and banana! Chop them up into small chunks, place in the freezer overnight and pop in a blender last minute when you have everything ready to go. Its thickness will allow the fruit to sit on top with no problems!
I will use the raw produce that has been used to cook the dish as props to set my scene in most of my images. It allows you to create a story behind the image and expand on the recipe element to the photograph.
Tips for Photographing Specific Food
To keep your vegetables looking firm and full of colour, do not cook them completely through. Keep them firm and as al dente as possible to ensure their texture and colour is left intact for the photograph.
I am a huge fan of using herbs in my photographs. Adding them to a dish can often be the cherry on top of the cake, allowing the scene to come together. Knowing how to store your herbs is essential as you want to keep them looking as fresh as possible. Each herb has a completely different lifespan and each flourish in different conditions. For example, basil should be left at room temperature whereas rosemary should be in the fridge. Learning how to store herbs properly will only make them look more striking in your photographs.
Imagine you have created that perfect avocado on toast. You go to photograph it and you start seeing that avocado turning brown… This happens to avocados, apples, bananas and potatoes, to name a few, due to a reaction between the enzymes and the air in your kitchen. Adding lemon juice gives you that little bit of extra time, slowing down this chemical reaction from occurring.