Food Photography: How to Make Food Look Shmexy For Less Than $20

It’s 5:30AM in the morning, and it’s way too damn hot to sleep, so I figure I’ll just rock out to some Beastie Boys and start on this blog post I’ve been postponing all week. Why not?

I’ve been doing food photography for my girlfriend’s food blog at Les Saveurs De Mimi for the last month or so. It’s an interesting relationship really. Our cooking/photographing time is when there is any semblance of normalcy. Every other time we’re just adorably weird. However, we made a deal that if she cooks the food, I have to make the food look good. The problem comes by the time I’m done photographing, since the food’s already sort of cold. It still isn’t bad, so this is just an ode to how much pain and suffering I have to go through to photograph it and make it look good, only to eat it cold. Not that I’m complaining. Far from it. I swear I will die of diabetes/some food related disease very soon. She cooks too many good things to not eat/photograph.

I use a simple 1 light set up with a plastic white picnic cover on it, which Mimi holds directly overhead, right above the food, and it’s done me wonders. I have Mimi’s food photography class that I dropped into to thank for that. It’s so ghetto, but works so well.

Here are some photos that I’ve taken with this setup:

I also do tethered shooting, just because it frees up the space on my camera, and it looks cool. However the set up can become to cumbersome, especially if you’ve been waiting to eat said food for an hour or two, so in that case it’s just better to shoot and get it over with before you eat. Tethered shooting’s awesome because it goes directly into your camera for viewing.

A quick tip on plating/composition/exposure.

I’m not saying I’m an expert, but if you know photography, then you’ve probably stumbled upon the rule of thirds. If not, it’s basically just a tic tac toe board across the screen, and all you need to care about is the intersection points, as those are the points that will make things aesthetically pleasing for you and the viewer. I also like to add some color if I can (garnishing with salsa, rosemary or other herbs) just to give it an extra pop. I keep my aperture wide open, around f11, unless I am looking for some bokeh, then I bring as big as possible. I shoot with shutter-priority, meaning I keep the shutter at at least 1/60 so I can shoot hand held, and either crank up the ISO or “stop-down” the aperture. Food placement and less negative (white) space is what I’ve learned from the food photography class. You just gotta play around with your food and see how it goes. Here’s my equipment list.

Equipment List:
Camera: Nikon D3100
Laptop: Macbook Pro
white plastic table cloth from Goodwill for $1
Software for tethered shooting: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 with a D3100 plugin or Image Capture on a Mac can be used for free.
Home Depot Lights – $13
Tungsten lightbulb – $5

Total: $19

So if you’re trying to get yourself some shmexy photos, the one-light-overhead-softbox-ghetto set up is what I would recommend for you if your’e just starting out. Happy shooting!