Rob Wiley outlines some fantastic food photography tips & pointers in the article he wrote for Food & Wine this month - Shoot First, Eat Later. Some of the tips I sent in his direction were a bit more technical than the ones included in the article and I suspect many of you might be interested in reading them. This list is in no way comprehensive, just what was top of my mind as we were corresponding.
Always have a camera with you:
This was a goal of mine this year. I always have one of my cameras on me so I don't miss out on those serendipitous shots and encounters. Equipment: I use the Canon DSLR series - the 20D for many of the shots on 101 Cookbooks, the Canon Mark II 1DS for shots where I need a larger files size (print, stock, etc), and
I have a tiny Leica D-Lux 2 that I'm using more and more now. I use fixed lenses, no zooms. I carry the smallest camera possible that can get the job done for me - this way I'm not tempted to leave it behind.
Get a good lens:
If you are going to invest in a digital SLR (as opposed to a point + shoot) don't buy the "package" with the stock lens. Buy the body and then buy a faster lens separate. I like the Canon 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 (I'm sure there is a comparable Nikon) A faster standard lens will allow you to take great food shots when you are indoors or when less light is available.
If you are sticking with the point-and-shoots, make sure it has a good macro mode on it (won't help you in low light, but will help get that shallow depth-of-field food photographers tend to like)
If you typically shoot at night, indoors, or in dimly lit environments consider the ISO range on the camera - the digital equivalent of film speed. My "everyday" camera goes to 1600, which is the equivalent of having 1600 speed film in it -- match that up with a pretty fast lens (see above), and you are going to have more to work with and you won't have to rely on flash or a light kit.
Since I wrote this email a new generation of power point+shoots is on the horizon with much higher ISO speeds, 1600 and even 3200 - previously available only on pro cameras.
Utilize all-natural (or available) light:
I look for light that is soft, sometimes diffused with a thin curtain (which helps the window to act like a huge light box). I avoid direct light because it throws really harsh shadows across the food. No Flash. Ever. Unless you want your food to look sweaty and greasy - which can sometimes be cool/modern when you are talking about BBQ or something. But get the techniques down using natural light first, and then start breaking the rules.
Learn to color balance:
A lot of the amateur food photography is plagued by an orange or blue cast that washes over the entire image. By learning how to adjust the color balance (either in the camera or in an image processing program) they can clear that problem right up. This is particularly a problem for people who shoot indoors under artificial lighting. See note about why I like natural light.
In the kitchen at Yoshi Tome's wonderful Sushi Ran in Sausalito, Ca
Don't get hung up on the getting the quintessential "final shot".
There are all sorts of great detail shots that emerge throughout the cooking process - the environment, the raw ingredients, the chopping, the motion, the flames and all the action that comes into play in the second act, and THEN the final plated image itself.
Some people get so focused on the item they are shooting, they forget about the visual "noise" going on in their backgrounds. Pay attention to backgrounds and clear out any elements you don't want in the final shot.
Hope this helps some of you who are just starting out on the food photography from, I'm also happy to (attempt to) answer any technical questions you might have in relation to shots you might have come across - mine or otherwise. Back to recipes next week, promise.