Whether you have been blogging for decades or just getting started on the Instagram your dinner bandwagon, you probably already know that your food needs to look like a million dollar model! In the age of what looks good sells, food is valued more and appreciated better if it is “grammable”. Bonus points if its tasty too! Most people end up thinking styling food is something of a mystery, that “they” can never make food look like the decadent, perfectly styled plates they see in magazines and cookbooks.
While the food stylists at work know and have practiced their art on plates and plates of food for years, even you can turn that sloppy bowl of pasta into something elegant if you keep in mind certain pointers. As a cookbook author who shot and styled over 200 images all on her own just for the book, I can assure you it isn’t a difficult job at all to make your bowl of soup or plate of pasta look good!
Most of the days I use my fancy DSLR and professional lens to capture food that you see. But can I tell you a secret? I almost always shoot them on my Iphone first. And I love it! Shooting on a phone is so much easier, fun and liberating at times. You don’t have to invest in heavy professional gear if your purpose is purely for the internet (read Instagram). With these easy and handy tips I hope you wont let the lack of a DSLR stop you from composing and taking brilliant food photos using just your smart phone.
Here’s the details of the Iphone 7S that I use:
Camera: 12-megapixel camera
Lenses: 28mm fixed ƒ/1.8 aperture, 56mm: ƒ/2.8 aperture
Optical zoom; digital zoom up to 10x
THE PHONE – This goes without saying but if you are interested in shooting on a phone then you have to invest in a good phone to say the least. I use an Iphone but i am sure Samsung, Vivo and OnePlus T are all equipped with decent cameras ideal for good shots. This is and should be the #1 priority but I do feel a good phone makes all the difference.
LIGHTING – Good lighting, and by that I mean natural lighting is what makes that plate of food look good. First things first. Ditch the flash!! Even if its just on your smartphone, switch off the flash. The colors, contrast, textures, the natural shadows everything shines more in diffused natural light. Not Direct sunlight!! As you know from my BTS, I mostly(90% of the time) shoot indoors, next to a large window. But some other good spots are next to a window, on the ground near a floor-to-ceiling window or any place that gets ample indirect sunlight. If you’re in a restaurant and getting to a window isn’t an option, try moving your dish to the edge of the table and shooting with any light that isn’t overhead. I hate overhead lighting or flash photography. It flattens the picture and takes away the lovely shadows and textures that make a picture beguiling. Outdoors, when it’s sunny, the direct sunlight can be too harsh, so take your dish to a shaded area. Play around with the light and shadows.
COMPOSITION– THIS is the key you need to master! Composition is where my artistic temperament comes into play and turn a picture from basic to pure wow! Play around with props, different styles, understand the colors and textures you are shooting. This is where you let YOU shine! Its especially easy to compose on a smart phone coz you can easily will move the dishes and items around to either fill the space or to create negative space. Dont zoom though!! It will simply reduce the resolution of the picture and make it grainy. Its better to edit (more on that later).Composition is also where you have to dress up the scene a bit. Think different surfaces and adding serveware. Play with the layers in the picture. Add cutlery or a napkin to fill the negative space of the shot. You can keep it as simple or as artistic as you want. You always, always want to use the freshest ingredients for styling. Don’t let the food sit there for long. Shoot quickly. Understand the angles that work for different types of food and showcase the best thing of the dish. When in doubt, top shot work best!
PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT – Just like you would on a dslr, take multiple shots even on your phone. You never know which one might turn out to the best!! When you take different angles or change the distance of your phone, the photo changes—sometimes you see some more of the scene as a whole, when you take a close up you see the details. These additions create an even richer image. And since it takes barely 10 secs to shoot that perfect picture dont be shy to click many times! Over time you will get to understand the angles better and learn to capture the best shot in quick shots.
MOVEMENT AND COLOR – Just as natural light is important for photos, so are the colors you use. For me, a back story to the dish is really important when styling. Think mood, time of the day, season. Sometimes its movement captured through hands in the frame, spoon or forks, half eaten dessert. And always garnish at the very end!! Remember contrast is the key!! Don’t be shy to use contrasting colors for garnish; fresh herbs, drizzle of cream /yogurt, tempering of spices, fresh fruits or sauce for desserts, chopped nuts, edible flowers all make excellent garnishes. Use them and use them well!
TIPS & TRICKS – Always plunge your greens in ice cold water to ensure they are really green! Lets say you have a chicken roast that you have been shooting for some time. End result – your juicy chicken now looks dry on the camera. Tip – Simply brush some oil / juice from the pan over it with a kitchen brush. Done!! Also don’t forget to garnish with chopped herbs or may be even some chopped pistachios, a drizzle of some sauce, a sprig of rosemary or may be some gremolata strategically placed over your meat will easily enhance the colors and make it look instantly more appetizing! Also, always slightly undercook for photography purpose.
KEEP IT REAL – All too often I see images that are so clean it looks clinical to my eye. Definitely not inviting enough to eat. After all, isn’t life all about pulling up a chair, joining your friends and indulging in the deliciousness of it all? So let the mess (a little of it) be. Few crumbs of cake / cookie is just normal, as is a couple of herbs strewn about. A messy napkin beside the plate, strawberries piled in a pretty porcelain teacup, some spices fallen here and there, these all add to the story. Use it. Don’t clean it all up. Keep it real.
EDITING – While you cant really edit a bad photo into a good one, you certainly CAN edit a good photo into a great one. Just remember to not edit it too much! Keep it subtle. It’s not meant to transform the photo entirely, but rather to enhance it. The editing apps I use are VSCO and LIghtroom. They give the user a foolproof way to edit photos, with all the essential tools to adjust your contrast, exposure, saturation, warmth, sharpness, and tint. Also while those fancy filters look great on portraits and landscape shots, don’t add too many filters on food photos. Lets keep the strawberries looking pinkish red and the greens green!!!