Food Photography 101

Lately, I have been taking a lot of photos of food while I travel.  San Sebastian’s Food Week in Spain was amazing and I couldn’t help but document it for my readers at Travel Destination Bucket List. (Restaurants and cooking school links: San Sebastian Food, La Muralla, Ni Neu, La Fabrica)

While I revelled in the foods and flavours, I quickly learned how hard it is to do food photography.  Low lights in restaurants and lack of tripod meant that a number of shots were not as I envisioned!  It got me thinking – surely a google search on food photography will yield some answers.  It certainly did – 479,000,000 hits.  I narrowed it down to food photography tips – a mere 119,000,000 hits!  Digital Photography School was the first to come up.  As a fan of their site, theirs was the first I clicked!

I realized quickly, for my purposes anyway, there are 2 schools of food photography that are of interest to me:

1.  Food photography in restaurants.  While I love food, cooking and eating, travel is my passion.  I hope to share many restaurant reviews from all around the world.  I need to improve my skills if I am to share my finds. (Travel Destination Bucket List has a food category for delectable dishes from around the world!)

2.  Food photography in a controlled setting.  When I am at home, in my kitchen, I love to cook.  I started NutritionallyYours to share some of my insights while studying nutrition, but have found it tends to focus more on food and recipes…hence the need for food photography.

So….here are the Food Photography 101 tips I have put together for Food Photography in a Controlled Setting.

Lighting

Like driving a car, if you are going to light up your food, the best placement is 10 and 2!  Keep the light soft where possible to avoid harsh shadows and distorted lines in your food.  Some say natural light from a window will cast the best light on your food.  Others recommend a light box to diffuse the light.  My home setup is pretty simple.  To date, I have been using a high ISO to compensate for the lack of light in my kitchen.  A simple desk lamp has also saved the day on a few occasions.

Composition Basics

Crop, crop, crop (music to my ears) where appropriate.  You want the food to be the focus, not the clutter on the counter top.  You also don’t want a huge expanse of nothing behind your dish.  A tight crop will bring focus to your food, simplifying the shot so that the food literally jumps off the photo.  Crop with the lens by getting in close.  Getting in close will also highlight the texture of the food.  Let’s get up and personal.

Foreground the food – make it front and centre in the shot.  Food photography is about making the food the subject.  Make it stand out by giving it the prime position in your viewfinder.

If cropping is not the answer as you want context…use Depth of Field to your benefit.  Perhaps you are setting up the shot for a picnic dish – why not photograph that dish on a picnic table so the context of the use of the food is evident in the photo.

While I have yet to master this technique…I love it when I come across photos of a serving of the food in question in focus in the front of the shot with the remained of the dish in the background, gently out of focus and basically, out of range.  Works brilliantly with pies, quiches, pizzas etc….  Anything that has been created as a dish with a piece taken from it!

Angle

Shoot from a lower angle – it will better highlight the food, giving depth and volume to the photo.  Fork view will keep it interesting.  Some say to shoot at a 45 degree angle.

Staging or Food Styling

Real estate agents do it with houses all the time.  Professional photographers are no different – check out some high end food photos – everything has a purpose in that photo and is meant to create an image, sell a product or stimulate you to cook that recipe…  Remove the clutter from the background, use props where appropriate and add context where needed.  On my post from the food experience from La Muralla, one of the comments I got was in regards to the size of the hand made ravioli.  With no reference point, it was hard to tell how big the ravioli was.  Lesson learned – I will look at adding a fork in the future to give the context of size!

Oil – while I have yet to try this, a number of sites recommended a small amount of vegetable oil may be used to enhance the photo.  It’s like photo shop before the photo is even taken!  Just be careful – it is possible to over oil your food, giving it a greasy appearance.  That most likely won’t be too appetizing!

Clean up – they do it in the best of restaurants…and you should too!  Before shooting the food, take a cloth and wipe the plate, eliminating any crumbs, sauce smudges or marks on the plate that don’t belong on your photo.

Action

I never would have even thought of this, but it is true…action brings a dynamic element to a photograph, whether it is food photography or otherwise.  Use a tripod to get a slower shutter speed to capture the motion.  Take the shot just as the food comes out of the oven and you have the steam rising up – makes it more appetizing and places the viewer in the shot.  How about garlic sizzling in a hot pan of oil??  One of the shots I took while in the kitchen at San Sebastian Food’s cooking class was the classic flames with the gas stovetop – while it wasn’t a perfect shot – I still love it!

Colour

No one wants a dull and unappetizing dish…make sure the colours pop in your shot.  Crazy plates with colourful designs may distract from your food, but out of focus background colour should lend a warmer feel to the photograph.  Carefully chosen background colours can really make your food pop.  Have a little fun with it – try different props to add colour – a pretty napkin or place mat my be all you need.

Equipment

Any camera will do.  Point and shoots these days even have a food setting for taking photos of your dinner.  You see people pulling these out in restaurants all the time!  Phones aren’t just for talking anymore either….it is amazing how things have changed with the camera quality smart phones out there.  While some photography tips suggest a macro, I have found the 50 mm fixed to be great to work with.  It always for such a narrow depth of field, yet isn’t too powerful a lens.  I find my 100 mm macro to be a brilliant lens, but sometimes a little too much for my crop happy ways and limited kitchen space!  I have a tendency to use my favourite “all-in-one” travel lens – the 18 – 200 mm.  My kitchen isn’t that big and the range of focal lengths can’t be beat when I use that one!  If you are looking at light boxes and off camera flash photography, you are already well above my skill set!  Perhaps you would like to write a more technical post for me – but my skills and equipment are not there yet!

I do see the benefits of using a tripod and will most likely be giving that a go for some fun action shots.

I have a long way to go in my food photography skills – but these are some of the top Food Photography Tips links  I found on my internet search:

Digital Photography School Part 2

Michael Ray’s Food Portfolio

Mashable

Healthy Happy Life

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Yummy Breakfast Skillet

Breakfast Skillet

Tis the season of delish leftover veggies!  I love taking breakfast up a notch on the weekend and the breakfast skillet ranks higher than homemade pancakes in my books!

recipe for breakfast skillet

Not only is it ouey goey goodness with the right ingredients, it is a super healthy way to up your veggies during the winter when salad consumption and fresh garden ingredients may be low!

It is so awesome and easy to make.  Take last nights left over baked or stir fried veggies….

uses for left overs

add some creamy goats cheese…

breakfast skillet

While all those flavours are heating up in an oven proof toaster oven, fry up an egg.  Personally, I love it best with a little dash of Montreal Steak Spice (thank you Club house for the MSG free flavour goodness!) and a soft fried egg.

making a vegetable skillet for breakfast

Place the egg on top of the hot vegetable and goat cheese mix and enjoy!  So delish when the runny, warm yolk mixes in with the left over veg!  Welcome to breakfast heaven!

Dreaming of Morocco: Moroccan Spiced Rack of Lamb

High on my bucket list of travel is Morocco – so exotic and inspiring, I hope to travel there one day for sure!  For now, I will have to be happy with bringing Morocco home through the kitchen!

dinner is served!

I was thrilled when I came across JaneSpice’s Moroccan Spiced Rack of Lamb for some Moroccan inspired dinner.  With a rack of lamb defrosting in the fridge, it was time to check out the flavour rack!  The recipe calls for a lot of spices, a couple of which I don’t have, but JaneSpice suggests this is not a deal breaker!

Spice List

  • 1 tbsp mild paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground caraway seeds
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 10 saffron threads, finely broken
  • 1 tsp salt

Mix and rub into 1 rack of lamb (about 1.5 to 2 pounds)

preparing Moroccan lamb

Cook time: 20 – 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes, before carving.  (I know everyone’s oven cooks somewhat differently, but I found 27 minutes to be the perfect time for a medium rare rack.)

The flavours were awesome!  You could easily vary the heat with more or less of the cayenne pepper.I served with roasted potato, beets and carrots drizzled in honey and left over spice rub with a fabulous Aussie shiraz….

Australian shiraz

صحّتين (باللهجة اللبنانية). (Bon appetit!)

Top 5 Winter Cooking Gadgets

Top 5 Winter Cooking Gadgets

As temperatures drop in the Northern Hemisphere, cooking styles start to change, influenced by the colder temperatures and shorter days.  Makes for some amazing, hearty meals and body warming soups…bring on the kitchen gadgets and gizmos …. winter cooking is here!

1.  Crock pot – I don’t know why it took me so long to add a crock pot to my kitchen armory, but I finally added one a few winters ago, and have never looked back!  In fact, my one crock pot became two and ultimately three.  My largest crock pot gets center stage on my kitchen counter all winter and is a regular feature on the dinner planner.  Perfect for soups, stews and decadent winter dishes….it allows me to prep in the morning and let it simmer away all day.  Love coming home to the wonderful smells of home made cooking goodness – warms the house and the soul.  The medium crock pot makes awesome rice pudding – nice and thick after a day out in the cold!  Then there is the mini – perfect for warm dips and Christmas parties.  This little guy doesn’t come out as often at my house, but I am sure I could find more uses if I tried!

cooking essentials

2.  Immersion blender – this one goes hand in hand with the crock pot when making creamy soups.  I couldn’t resist but get the cordless – it moves from counter to stove top/crock pot to sink without the hassle of dealing with cords and plugs.  No muss, no fuss.  Also great for smoothies and shakes – this little blender gets used year round in my kitchen, and has even been known to travel with me.  I bought the Cuisinart Cordless rechargeable hand blender which also came with a handy mini-chopper – love the 2 in 1 versitility for quick food prep on a cold winter night!

kitchen essentials3.  Cast iron skillet – another versatile kitchen tool, my cast iron pans have become the go-to choice for my stove top.  Like the crock pot, I have them in 3 handy sizes.  This dependable cookware is a must in todays kitchen.  The cast iron skillet conducts heat beautifully, goes from stovetop to oven with no problem and has a number of healthy benefits.  Benefits such as the ability to use less oil, avoid leaching chemicals (potential aluminum and teflon risks) and fortifying your food with iron (they say cooking acidic food like tomato sauce in your cast iron skillet can increase iron content by as much as 20 times!).

4.  Toaster oven – I have had mine for yours and don’t know what I would do without it!  We have all been there – you are heating up leftovers for one and don’t need to heat up the entire oven for your single serve.  It takes a fraction of the time to heat things up and personally, I find reheated left overs taste so much better in the toaster oven than the microwave.  Throw a little grated cheese onto the leftover veggies and you have a delicious dish ready to satisfy!  I don’t think my kitchen would be complete without it.

5.  Dutch oven – much like the crock pot, the ability to slow cook amazing stews and soups is a must over the winter cooking season.  The versatility to go from the stovetop to the oven with one dish is tough to beat.  I also love my trusty dutch oven for cooking perfect, fluffy rice every time.  Something about that heavy lid – doesn’t let any of the steam out.  I find the rice is perfect every time.  I lucked out and got a brilliant KitchenAid on special as they can run a little pricey!

winter kitchen essentials

What about you – what tops out your list of Top 5 kitchen gadgets and tools for winter?