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 might 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!

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