This is a post from my 7-Day Holiday Photography Tips, which I sometimes gift to Paperclipping Members around the holidays. I wrote this with December holidays in mind, but I decided to share the food tips post for free before Thanksgiving starts!
Note: I’m not an expert photographer. But I’ve had some relative success with many of my photos and want to share what I know at a time when we most want stunning pictures.
Good food photos require basic photography skills: good composition, good (especially natural) lighting, great angles, etc. Food can be tricky, but hopefully you’ve been practicing the two previous lessons and you’ll be ready to apply what you’ve learned in a new way!
Holiday food shots can vary between close-up’s of Christmas goodies, to a plate of food on a table, to the entire banquet. The type you’re taking will determine your photo settings. Let’s talk about different types of food shots and some of the approaches you can take so you can get photos that capture the magic of holiday food.
Uniform Food Shot
If you’re photographing a uniform picture of a whole bunch of the same cookie, for example, you might try a low f-stop (f/4 or under) and place your focus on just one of those cookies, allowing the rest to fade into blur. With flat cookies, I usually focus on a cookie or item that is close to the foreground, but not at the very front.
With treats that are taller and have more height, I often focus on the front ones, as I did with these candy apples.
There is no rule that says whether the focus should be in the front, somewhere in the middle, or even the back. I’ve seen interesting shots where it was the back food items that were in focus. Wherever you choose to put it, the shallow depth of field adds just a touch of variety to an otherwise uniform shot and gives it depth.
If you’re photographing a buffet of a whole variety of food, the holiday feast, for example, you might prefer getting more or all of the food in focus. This means you’ll need a larger f-stop. I would try somewhere around f/7, trying to keep the aperture open enough to get light, while still getting the details. This can be a challenge!
In terms of composition, remember, all the same principles apply. There are a lot of competing details in a buffet shot, so you’ll need a focal point. The most important item, which is hopefully also the most dramatic, can be that focal point. It can be the main course, some candle sticks, or the center piece.
With a clear focal point, you can then get partial views of the other dishes surrounding the main attraction, if you want a closer view. Or you can get a wider shot and show the whole bounty.
Large Single Items
Single items can be dramatic. Use natural lighting whenever possible for food, especially single items. Try shooting your item from the same direction we’re used to seeing our food — down at an angle, like this:
Then try other angles, such as directly overhead.
Now how about just above the level of the subject itself?
If you want your food item to look dramatic, fill the screen with it. If your item is petite, and you want to show that it is petite — miniature baked goods are trendy right now — give your item some context. Put the petite item on a plate with a fork. Step back a bit and give it a little space in your composition.
Another idea is to get low, share just a hint of the table setting around the foot item, and capture some bokeh from the tree in the background (note: bokeh are the gorgeous circles lights make when they’re blurred by a shallow depth of field).
Don’t forget to capture the action and the reality! Chocolate on the fingers and fingers in the mouth are at least as cute as smiles!
Because this photo captured life in action instead of as a pose, it’s okay that not everyone is in focus.
Aiden, the focal point, is in enough focus for the purposes and story of this picture. The motion blur of the hands creates movement and evokes childhood. Blake blurs in the foreground, enhancing the idea that we’re looking past him and over to Aiden.
Allowing for this amount of blur, Izzy, who took this shot, was able to lower the f-stop and the shutter speed to let more light in.
Observe and Practice
It’s all really about lots of practice and experimentation. That’s why the best tips I can give you for photographing holiday food are to . . .
- Study photos of food that you love, paying attention to the angles and the composition. Then try it yourself!
- Understand the basic camera rules of lighting and focus so you know which settings will be best for your shot. If you practiced the challenges of our first two lessons, you’ll do better with your food shots.
Do you want ideas for scrapbooking your wonderful new photos? The Paperclipping Membership is on sale through Sunday, Nov. 30!