Food and Drink Photography
Part 1 of 2
Hiring a food photographer can be daunting, particularly for the first time. It can be nerve-wracking and confusing about what I will do, what you need to do and what happens during the day(s) of the shoot. I hope to allay any worries you may have about the process with the information below, but I am always happy to talk through things with you.
Reasons to Use a Food Photographer
Great photographs of food, drink, and their ingredients can turn a website, cookery book, menu, or promotional material from the perfunctory into a mouth-watering and inspiring presentation.
Since Roman times it has been said that we eat first with our eyes. Restaurants and gastropubs pride themselves in the presentation of their food and diners savour those moments when the plate is placed in front of them. Seeing a beautifully crafted and perfectly taken picture in advance builds that anticipation even more, and will often boost the desire to book that table, buy that book, or cook that meal even stronger. When a customer is choosing a restaurant, the images on the website are almost as important as the reviews. As the popularity of TV food programmes shows, we love to see food, even if we can’t smell or taste it. To make the most of this food has to be photographed beautifully, ideally with a high-resolution, professional camera and the appropriate lighting.
With a camera phone in almost every pocket, it is tempting to take photos yourself. However, a professional food photographer, will not only use the best equipment and lighting but will also bring years of experience to make your food look as amazing as it tastes. Some specialists even use special Macro Shift / Tilt lens that can produce macro images that most photographers won’t have in their arsenal of equipment as the glass (Photographers speak for lens) cost in excess of a thousand pounds and are used for only rare occasions. It is not surprising that most photographers do not have one.
What I Provide for a Food Photography Shoot
There is no such a thing as a typical food and drinks photography shoot, each client has their own specialities and ways to present their fare, but assuming the food is cooked at the restaurant kitchen, I would ensure that I have checked there is a suitable space to set up my lights and a surface that I usually bring, it maybe a stock surface that are widely available, but I prefer to find out what the ‘Brand’ of the establishment is, is it fine dining, contemporary, traditional or rustic?
Based on conversations and agreement, I can bring custom made surfaces, sometimes ceramic, wood or even hand painted boards, I would also consider the plate or serving material that the food is delivered to the client, if agreeable the standard white plates would be either new or even substituted for a darker mid tone, that is less clinical and shows the dishes off better, these are all considerations that have to be agreed with the client.
I have an extensive selection of fabrics, cutlery and props that will enhance the food, but the star should be the food, and it is the chef who shall plate up, ideally just a few seconds before it is photographed.
It is important to have the conversation before the shoot and if extra props are required, agree who is bringing and what cost is there.
A shot list and schedule is required, and ideally there is not service on at the time, the food should be prepared for the shoot, although if it is a quiet day, it maybe cost effective to have a chef also covering the few clients that maybe around?
Things You Should Do To Prepare for a Food and Drink Photo Shoot
As you would imagine, the time taken to prepare and cook the food to be photographed can limit how many photographs can be taken in a single day. If there is more than one chef available it may be possible to produce more results, but only if the lighting and props are simple as attention to detail and lighting of each dish can be quite different.
There are some dishes that do require attention and careful planning, where something like a stew, or curry is involved, it is often needed to have vegetables or ingredients, that are lightly cooked and added at the last minute, as well as tricks with steam and glazes. I do not advocate cheating with non food items, unless the client has a need for special effects, I always try to produce images of food that can be eaten and only enhance dishes with techniques that ensure it looks good enough to eat and is good enough to eat after the shoot, I do hate wasted food.
Any preparation that can be done in advance of my arrival, along with any baking, will allow the most to be made of the time I have with you. However, freshly cooked food always looks best, it is good to test the lighting with a basic dish, then the final plating and decoration is done, placed and photographed in seconds.
Back-up ingredients and duplicate items should be on standby, and things like salad, should ideally be from a plant and not a bag, as ready-prepared salad tends to look rather sad even before the bag is open, It is often details such as fresh salad, veg or fruit that require lots of care to get the best results.
Have lots of tissue and cleaning products so surfaces can be sorted quickly.
If you have any special locations or building features you would like included, please make sure they are clean and tidy and that there is no demand for their use for the time we have together. If you have a nice finished tabletop or bar surface you feel could be used, it is important to discuss this before the session, it may be too high, and not practical to light.
I like to visit a site before a shoot, but if that is not possible I suggest that iPhone images are sent and the dimensions of spaces are confirmed.
Electrical output sockets shall be needed for lighting, ordinary 13amp sockets are fine, ideally 3 close to the proposed location where the food shall be photographed.
It is usual to shoot many dishes from above, to achieve that I bring a low base with the surfaces that have been agreed upon, a small ladder and large tripod are also part of the kit I shall bring, if there are low ceilings (under 2.5 m), please advise so an alternative location can be found, or an alternative angle.