Yummo! Shooting Food

Many times a business deal has been concluded over a pricey meal or in a coffee shop. Hundreds, if not thousands of cookbooks, are published every year. Entire magazines and web sites are devoted to recipes and cooking tips. Many charities and non-profit organizations self-publish cookbooks as fundraisers. There are so many different kinds of food preparation and cooking gadgets that entire mail order and retail stores are exclusively devoted to gadgets for the gourmet.

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With the exception of that rare and courageous breed of photojournalists that cover war and other disastrous events, I have more respect for photographers that can make food look appetizing than almost any other genres of shooter. It seems easy. After all a plate of food doesn't usually move about. The photographer can control the light. No need for model releases in a food still life.

So what is it that makes capturing food images so difficult and the results so often disastrous? First the photographer has to remember that what looks good to eat, often comes out looking very unappetizing in an image. A buttery sauce can just look greasy if the light is too reflective on the sauce. Hot and steaming soups can look cold and abandoned without some actual visual steam. Meat is especially difficult; if not photographed with care, it can resemble nothing more than a slab of charred flesh.

The Ulterior Epicure quoted in Pop Photo (link below) reminds, "Keep in mind how your dish is being prepared. 'I'll order salad with dressing on the side, because when it's tossed, it looks gross and soggy'." But the best shots for maximum downloads will be set-ups where you can control more than you can in a restaurant. To fully understand how the quality of food photography can affect the restaurant business, order a burger at one of the chains. Compare what sits in front of you to the photo of the "same" burger on the menu. (See last URL in TIPS below).

Your goal is to make food look good enough to eat. First ensure that the food is presented in an attractive manner. Clean up any splashes on the edges of the serving platters or plates. Arrange the food in an artistic manner. (Food stylists are very skilled professionals at this art and have many tricks up their sleeves to make food look good). The worst sin is shiny food. Pick up a magazine devoted to recipes and you'll see only a very few of the images show dishes reflecting any light at all. For some reason those tiny specks of light reflected from the moisture in the food turns a yummo dish into a disaster.

Put people in the shot in the background or show a hand serving. You want to concentrate on the serving or table setting. Busy backgrounds will introduce unnecessary clutter in the picture. The most popular images are of common dishes, holiday food and traditional ethnic dishes.


•When you travel, take pictures of regional food.
•More tips on food photography are here: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001451.html http://www.popphoto.com/popularphotographyfeatures/3510/my-project-edible-complex.html
•A fine art photographer famous for his 1970's book Suburbia has lately turned to photographing food. He manages to turn the yucky into art. I recently visited a show of his recent work with him and, indeed, these images printed at larger than 16 x 20 are a great commentary on our culture of food and the photographer's sense of humor. www.billowens.com. You can read more about Bill here http://www.kqed.org/arts/people/spark/profile.jsp?id=925
•Here's an interesting link to illustrate just how important it is to make a burger beautiful: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/big-mclies-lying-fast-food-photography

Photo credits: Mark Aplet, Nick Stubbs, Tatyana Nyshko, Attila Kadar.

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August 22, 2007


Here is a video of a food photographer talking the viewer through a food shoot.

June 18, 2007


Here's the full link to the trendhunter.com site. Amazing how awful fast food looks compared to the pro shots.


June 11, 2007


Good ideas, great tips here.
I give you one of mine:
You need a sauce that look like a meat sauce? Use oyster sauce. Available in Asian stores. This sauce looks really great, will not move on the dish and looks great even after a few hours!

June 08, 2007


Fantastic, some great tips, i'll be sure to try some of those. Thanks

Lucien, you could probably make 'caca del toro' look good.


May 24, 2007


Hello, since it is so, follow here one more hint to do perfect fried eggs - separate 2 egg whites and fry them in a frying pan of teflon, cut the top of a peach in syrup and put it right on the center of the fried whites... there is perfect fried egg, a little bit of the syrup of the peaches will serve to give that special brilliance.

May 23, 2007


you are funny Lucien...thanks for the tips! ;O)

May 23, 2007


Thanks for those excellent tips, Poco_bw!

May 22, 2007


Lately I have been shooting food as well. Sure changes the way I look at grocery shopping. :o)

May 21, 2007


This is "caca del toro" always you can make food look good:
-Take a bootle of glyceryne mix half with tap water and spary it on meat, fish, fresh fruit you will get the glossy look.
-Blow torch always in your bag, you will make the lines to imitate the grill
-icecream always is a %$%^& and gers runny quick put mashed potatoes and food colorant looks great and doesn't melt.
-you want steam buy some tampax those ones with the string soak them in water microwave them, hide it in the food and voila the steam is going ...
-you want a nice "thanksgiving" turkey ,let ir raw get some brown shoe polish, some clear varnish, siliconic oil in top, with the blow torch do the ends and there you are.
- you have to shoot some breakfast with cereals instead of milk use white glue looks much better.
I guess are enough tips for the moment.
Be sure when you do all this things your assistant is not your 15 year old son, because he want to eat everything.
In this situations better take with you your mother in law.
Have fun, and happy shooting, if you got also a Colt 45 better the inlaws:-)

May 21, 2007


this is making feel hungry!!! giggle thanks Ellen

May 21, 2007


I agree with this article! I shoot food professionaly here in Rio de janeiro for restaurants. My best results were obtained with natural light, but sometimes I use one spot of a continuous light. Some of my food photos are in my website - http://www.mzweig.com.br/marcio, hope you enjoy it!!! :)

May 20, 2007


Great article. I love shooting food. I´m not a proffesional but I fun a lot preparing, shooting and finally, eat my own dishes.

May 18, 2007


If you shoot some food photos and then eat it for lunch is the cost of your food deductible as a business expense? I had sushi for lunch.

May 17, 2007


I am just finished shooting a 6months project, shooting food for a cook book for a client... all natural light, learned something new every session, was a lot of fun;did a lot of research myself on line but, boy! these links would have been nice to have a few months ago...;O) Thanks again for great tips, Ellen!

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