Foolproof Food Photography

Food photography can be a challenge. This is the system I’ve developed to take great, editorial-style photos of food.

Here’s the highly technical schematic.

For those of you that need a little more explanation, let’s go through the key components.

Key 1. Backlight as keylight.

The fastest way to ruin a food shot is by using flat, frontal lighting. By putting a soft source (anything will work: umbrella, softbox, window) above and behind the plate you’re shooting, you’ll create all kinds of nice texture in the foreground of your image. Here are a few examples, taken on different shoots, at different times, but with the same technique.

Key 2. Bounce for fill.

Very often, the backlight alone won’t give you a good shot: the foreground will look dim and dingy. Fortunately, all you need to do is use a white card right under your camera to bounce some light back towards the plate. Here are a few shots I took in a restaurant with nothing more than window light and a menu as a reflector.

Step 3. Get low and close.

High-end food photography tends to involve a lot of beautifully arranged props. If you don’t have that luxury, get in on that food! Using an aperture of 2.8 or 4 will allow you to use selective focus, putting more emphasis where you choose.

I shot all the photos you see here with the Canon 24-70mm lens. In virtually all cases, I was zoomed all the way in to 70mm, and had the lens almost touching the food.

Here are a couple more examples of food I’ve photographed with this formula. Bon appétit!

6 Replies to “Foolproof Food Photography”

  1. Good photos. Another easy item to have around are those two sided six inch or so round makeup mirrors with the incorporated hinged stands. Various sizes of cut plastic mirror material works well also for reflections.

  2. Looks amazing! I tried it too but I have way too much light if I want to take photos at f2.8
    I already dialed my shutterspeed up as far as possible with the flash (1/320) and my ISO is at 100
    Still I get an amazing amount of light on my subjects

    How far do you place your softbox? I have a 500 Watt light

    1. The softbox or other lightsource should be fairly close to the subject matter (as in, no more than three or four feet away), to keep the light very soft. If you’re using a flash as your lightsource, and you can’t turn the intensity down any farther, try bouncing the light off a wall or a piece of white posterboard instead of going directly through the softbox. If that doesn’t give satisfactory results, you might need to get some extra diffusion material for your softbox to cut the intensity of the light some more.

    2. Another way to allow for a wider aperture opening would be ND filter.
      Or in the setup you mentioned before if you can separate the diffusion from the source, you could bring in the diffusor very close and place your source further away.
      cheers folks

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