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Delicious Imaging: Taking Better Food Photographs

written by: Larry M. Lynch•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/23/2011

Look all around you and you'll see images of food in many different forms, from raw to cooked. Taking succulent-looking food images is an art, a science and a profitable branch of digital photography that continues to grow. Here's how you can take better, more delicious-looking images.

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    Succulent, Eye-catching Food Photography

    Article Image Do you like to eat? Of course you do, who doesn’t (OK, maybe not if you’re a Bulimic spaghetti legs)? Now think of the myriad of photo opportunities that exist for well-composed, appetite-boosting food images. From succulent, eye-catching hamburgers, gourmet meals at multi-star restaurants, to taste-tempting, ice-cold drinks on a hot summer afternoon, this piece will delve into the unique sensory-appealing photography of meals, dishes and a wide variety of culinary or food items. From how to set up mouth-watering shots that get editors and buyers “biting", to how, where and who could use food-related photography, you will get an in-depth overview of how to shoot even better, delicious-looking food photographs. Doesn’t this “Mixed Rice" photo make you just a little hungry?

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    Food Photographs – Cooked or Raw

    Did you know that many of the photographs you see in newspapers, magazines and advertising are foods which aren’t even cooked? That’s right, many foods are best photographed when raw. This obviously includes many fruits and vegetables, a number of which are normally consumed raw. However, other foods like fish, pasta and cheeses, are best photographed while still uncooked. Not only that, but they’re much easier to handle and manage for setting up the shots too.

    “I don’t want to handle raw fish", you complain?

    Easy, then don’t- at least not with those bare, gunky mitts you call hands. Use tongs or utensils. Better yet, wear thin plastic gloves. You know, like the ones you get at seafood, barbequed ribs or chicken restaurants. They’re so thin and light that you’ll hardly notice them. They will however, keep odors, flavors and residue of all types off your hands. This frees you to focus on the camera, setup and getting the image since you can slip them on and off easily.

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    Types of Food Photographs You Can Try

    Article Image What kinds of food photographs should you take? Well, for starters let’s look at some of the wide varieties you’d need to practice with. There are, first of all, ingredients photos for illustrating a recipe. Try some still life “layouts" of common staples like potatoes, onions, green, yellow and red peppers, green, yellow and red (kidney) beans, corn and other colorful fruits and vegetables. Here is a shot of yellow and white potatoes with white corn used in a dish called “Ajiaco". Remember, clean them up first if need be. Yes, you can wash them. Then carefully dry and “polish" them if necessary. I like to use a little olive oil for the job. The olive oil smells nice and doesn’t render the foods “inedible". Some photographers use waxes or mineral oils, which do a great job, but then you usually can’t use the food afterwards. If I did that my wife would vehemently object – and I might even miss a few meals as a reminder. (Egads! We can’t have that now, can we?)

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    Recipe Preparation Digital Images

    Article Image Next, you’ll want to take some as-prepared, step-by-step images of a simple recipe in progress. Show peeling, slicing, chopping and mixing of colorful ingredients. Use side lighting from a higher angle to get good color saturation in your photographs. Also be sure to move to the right, left or across from your subject if you can get these positions during a cooking – shooting session. Vary the angles of your images so they’ll exhibit more variety than simply a dull batch of straight-on shots. Don’t be afraid to get close up either. When shooting photos of someone using a knife, have them stop at an up stroke for a shot and then again at the finish of a down stroke for another shot. It only takes a moment and most cooks don’t object. The same holds true when grating (as shown) or other rapid actions are involved.

    In the next part of this series, we’ll continue with the process of taking better food photographs and look at where to sell and publish your delicious-looking images as well. See you then.

Delicious Imaging - Food Photography 101

This article series will provide you with everything you need to know about how to take the best pictures of food. You'll also learn where and how to sell your yummy food images. A warning to the reader: you may be hungry after reading this digital photography article series!
  1. Delicious Imaging: Taking Better Food Photographs
  2. Food Photography! Tips on Selling Your Food Images