Lets Play with our Food!

Table of Contents

Did your parents ever tell you not to play with your food?

Food photography is so much fun: it’s all about texture, colours, and dimension. You need to create space and height in between the food so everything is visible. You continually build up and remove things, look through the camera (or phone camera), and then tweak some more. There are days that you will want to keep things very simple and clean. I love those days!

Combining food photography and journaling

I’ve started to look at my food photography as part of my journal entries. Eating is a fun part of my day, and I like to make it memorable, whether in lockdown, traveling, or staying home. The quality of my meals is getting better due to photography, because I want them to look as great as they taste!

My desire to create unique images has driven me to be more adventurous in the kitchen. I am lucky to live near a fishmonger who will prepare a dish for me to cook, and she always styles it so beautifully. My homemade sourdough bread has a better shape now, and they look tasty and tempting. When I cook, I think about how I’ll photograph it, and I take my time to prepare the food to look appetizing. It doesn’t always happen, but that is the fun of playing with my food and learning new recipes.

Food Photography by Marguerite My Thanksgiving Dinner in Portugal

Food Photography by Marguerite My Thanksgiving Dinner in Portugal

How to do food photography at home with natural light

Since we want each part of the meal to stand out, lighting can help enhance the depth of our image. Turn off all the electrical lights in the room and only photograph under natural light. Some best practices to capture this light include:

  • Place the food close to a window.
  • It’s best if the sun is not coming through the window because it will create a harsh light.
  • The best light is bright, but soft and diffused.

Think of the quality of light that goes through a cloud on a sunny day. The light is bright but filtered, and when you photograph a subject, it will be evenly lit. It won’t have harsh shadows or intense light.

Create a few reflecting boards so that you can reflect light into the darker areas and balance the overall lighting. You can do this by wrapping a board with foil, and sometimes a white-colored board will do the trick. I like the foil because it encourages a brighter light.

Photo by Marguerite

Photo by Marguerite

How to play with your food at home

Ready to take appetizing photos of your meals? You will need:

  1. Masking tape
  2. Tiny boxes to raise the food on the plate
  3. Silly putty or something malleable and sticky to help you place objects on the set
  4. Paper towel
  5. Water
  6. Bowls to place the food while you set up
  7. Oil
  8. Cotton balls (paper towel also works)
  9. Long and short tweezer (I use my hands, but the tweezers make handling easier)

Plan your shoot

Begin by finding your foodie muse. Once you decide what you want to photograph, do some research on social media. Look for food photographers and take note of your favorite ones. Check out how they photograph the type of food you’ll shoot. Choose a style that speaks to you; we’re not going to copy them, but we are looking to draw inspiration from their ideas. How did they arrange their set? What’s the theme or colour palette they used?

Use what you already have

I know it’s tempting, but put the credit card down. I always think: “If only I had this dish,” or “Maybe I can run to the store and buy a new set of cutlery…” But I don’t. I would go broke! This is a personal project, so I use what I have at home to style my images. Some items you can gather from your cupboards:

  • Plates for the food
  • Clean cutlery or beautiful old ones with that extraordinary patina!
  • Cloth napkins
  • Flowers (I don’t always use them, but they provide a beautiful pop of colour)
  • Tray
  • Small bowls to put food or a flower (I use this to add texture to a set)
  • Wine glass, or glass appropriate for your shoot. I love to use a wine glass with sparkling water and a lemon to make a set look more glamorous.
  • Consider if you need ribbon or string for this shoot Get all your items together, and check your list twice. Once you start photographing, you don’t want to be running around looking for another prop, so it’s best to be prepared first.

Prepare your food

When I cook, I make enough for two plates, just in case I mess up the first dish (oops!). I always have extra little things to add to a meal on hand, like sprouts, seeds or other garnishes. It may take trial and error, but learn at what stage food looks its freshest. Lettuce wilts, so only get it out when you will photograph it and don’t wash it- just clean it. We want things to look good enough to eat!

Tell the story

Food Photography by Marguerite Home Cooking

Food Photography by Marguerite Home Cooking

Think of a story for your photograph. Do you want to pretend that this is a formal dinner at home? Spread the pressed tablecloth, light the candles, arrange the flowers and set the mood.

Want to document the dish to use it to remember a recipe and share it with friends? Keep it simple with a no-frills, well-lit photograph. This doesn’t mean you can’t create ambiance, but it’s all in the approach.

Set the location

Create the optimal background and setting for your meal. You’ve put the work into making a delicious dish, the set should flatter your efforts. Some ideas for where to place your plate:

At the table

  • If you set up at the table, make sure to have enough light, and don’t forget to use your reflection boards to bring in that extra spark. Candles can help, and fairy lights are a lot of fun and light up certain areas.

By the Window

  • If the sun is coming through the window, place a white translucent board to even out the light. You can also wait to photograph when the sun moves away from your window.

In the middle of a room

  • If you have a room with several windows, you can place your food in the middle of the room to get lots of light.

Align your shot There are a few different ways you can set up your shot. You might just take your photos without the use of a tripod. The benefit of doing it this way is that you can change the camera’s position quickly, and you can move around freely.

I also use an overhead tripod with a boom for many of my flat lays, but this isn’t necessary to take great photos. I bought a selfie stick with a hole at the bottom that allows me to screw it onto my tripod. It’s an inexpensive way to use a boom, but I can only use it with a mobile phone. The main reason for me to use this contraption is to film my videos. Hand-held photos are my go-to.

A small tripod is useful if you want to photograph at eye-level. It will allow you to keep the camera in place, and you can tweak your styling while you see what it looks like. A small tripod is handy when photographing in a challenging spot – adjust your self-timer and shoot without shaking or having to be bent over.

If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to rush out and buy a tripod until you’re sure you really need one.

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash Choose Your Muses

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash Choose Your Muses

Feed yourself first

Always eat before a shoot. You’ll need at least a couple of hours, and no one does their best work when their stomach is grumbling. Set yourself up properly, and don’t rush! You can always pause for coffee if you need a break. As the shoot progresses, use different camera angles, move the plate around, adjust your camera height. Take a lot of pictures and look at them carefully after you change the camera or the food position.  When you have the shots you want, stop photographing! Take it all down. It’s tempting to keep tweaking, but trust the process. You’ll learn more and more with each photo shoot. Happy creating!


How to Make Table-Top Photos by Marguerite

Links for you Top 5 Apps to Improve Your Food Pics

Tricks Food Photographers Use to Make Food Look Delicious

Main photo by Marguerite My food diary- taken at a restaurant

Marguerite Beaty, Blogger, Photographer & Artist

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