Food photography an appetizing application of still life techniques

I am definitely not a “foodie.”

Sure, I appreciate good restaurants, well cooked meals, the undeniable impact that anticipation adds to taste, and the community sharing that takes place while breaking bread together.

But even though I know good grub when I eat it, food has always been more of a necessity for me than a pleasure. It’s fuel to keep my engines running much more than something I enjoy for the sake of palatable pleasures. Sometimes I think that makes me lucky; sometimes not. Perhaps that’s changing a little bit though.

A few years ago I planted an herb garden. What started as a small collection of hopeful potted plants turned into a thriving garden of herbal goodness. Well, a small garden at least. Shortly thereafter I took a stab at making homemade tomato soup and took a few photos to document the event. A friend was kind enough to let me turn the undertaking into a guest post on her food blog.

A little while later my wife decided to launch a cooking blog of her own as a creative outlet and way to document and share recipes. You should read it, it’s great stuff. As she committed recipes to digital paper, I helped by photographing some of the culinary adventures.

Maybe there is some sort of metaphor here with my herb garden blossoming and and me experiencing personal growth and new flavor in life. That’s probably a stretch though, let alone idealistic and at least a little sappy. But it is accurate to say I’ve been taking a decent amount of photos of food of late, and I’ve enjoyed it.

Photos and technical thoughts below

Ingredients: These herbs came from my garden and went into this BBQ pizza recipe. I took the plate out into the sun for better lighting.

Recording the Process: Taking photos while the meal being cooked can illustrate how it all came together and help others reproduce it. This is Pesto Flat Bread on the stove.

A roasted chicken just out of the oven. The warm tone of the overhead oven light really helps make the golden skin stand out.

Presentation: Any chef will tell you presentation is everything when it comes to a good meal. Or so I’ve heard. I don’t talk to too many chefs. But it sounds right. A good arrangement and good composition can make or break an appetizing photo. Using a large aperture can help force your viewer to see the details you choose by creating selective focus. This is the result of a BBQ pizza recipe.

Variation: For this photo of stuffed peppers, I took the plate outside and used a large silver reflector on camera right to bounce the setting sunlight onto the food. The golden sun served like a rim light from the back and the reflected light filled in the details on the front. A large aperture helped keep the background from being distracting.

Making food look as good as it tastes can be challenge. Unlike other forms of still life photography where you have total control over lighting, background, environment, etc., when dealing with food you often have much less say in the matter. Of course food can prepared in controlled, professional settings specifically to be photographed.

We aren’t running that sort of operation; we make food strictly to eat it. As such, there are some difficulties to manage. Kitchens and dining room tables may look nice in person, but they aren’t photo studios and it can be challenging to keep distracting elements (the refrigerator, dirty dishes, a stack of unopened mail, the dog snoozing on the floor) out of the shot. Lights from a chandelier look great on Thanksgiving, but aren’t exactly quality photo lighting.

And you have to be quick---ingredients and cooking are time sensitive. Take too long to get a shot and your meal could be ruined. Or take too long to arrange and photograph the final result and your meal will be cold. The payoff though is photos that record cooking concoctions including ingredients, recipe, technique and table-ready presentation that hopefully make your viewer---even non-foodies---want to eat it.