Food is always judged by its looks. Its look is probably the third most important sensory indicator of its worthiness, following taste and smell; we call it eating with our eyes.
Making a dish look its best is an important job for food photographers and stylists. In fact, many of the mouth-watering photos we feature here at Sauté are the result of talented visual artists. Ryan Haack and Aaron Shintaku of Foxes & Wolves Photography, Marivic Divina, and Max Milla are just a few of our favorite people whose work we love to feature in our magazine.
We caught up with these experts to ask them how they do what they do and what tips they have for people who want to try this too.
PICK A STYLE THAT TELLS A STORY
We regard a food’s visual composition the same way we regard any type of visual art — a method of storytelling. Every visual aspect captivates us in some way, telling the unique story of the food in front of us: its origin, its culture, its meaning.
For Max Milla, “… it always helps to know what food items you will be shooting beforehand. It also depends on the theme or the look. For example, if you’re shooting an Acai Bowl and the theme is ‘Spring is in the Air’ then you’re most likely looking to shoot outside with a happy colorful feel.”
There are many ways to accomplish different moods and stories with food photography. Whether that be the background setting, the food itself, or the way people or things interact with it, you can manipulate any of these aspects to craft a story.
LIGHT IS VERY IMPORTANT
You might think that a certain dish looks delicious because of its colors or shapes. But when I asked about the most important tips to capture good food photography, our experts all touched on the same thing: light.
Of course, different situations call for different types of light. Haack says he, “Always looks for the light, what’s the source and where it is coming from? Is it too harsh? Do we need to soften it, do we need to bounce the light, diffuse it for harder shadows?”
Good light exposure is key to keep the subject from becoming too low-res or grainy. And not much effort is really needed. Max Milla says, “Daylight is your best friend.” Some of the best light comes from sunny days, especially with good cloud coverage that diffuses the light. When indoors, it is important to keep your subject in a well-lit area. If more light is needed, you can turn to artificial light sources (a simple phone flashlight does wonders for picture quality).
MAKE IT NATURAL
A small tip: when it comes to staging a picture, try not to over-stage it. Adding too many elements to a picture, whether that be in the dish or in the background, can diminish the quality of an image. It can distract from and over-power the story you are trying to tell.
The number one goal of a food photo is to make your audience crave what is in front of them, which is hard to do if the picture is unnatural, “I want my images to look natural, and my style is very simple. For me, too many food items or props would be unappetizing,” says Marivic Divina.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that one should be underprepared when it comes to staging a photo. For Foxes & Wolves, a photo set-up requires multiple steps to achieve a certain look, “We want the image and the food to look as real as possible and evoke an emotion that gets your taste buds tingling,” says Haack. Find a middle ground. Thoughtful planning goes a long way to perfecting the final product.
Ryan Haack and Aaron Shintaku | Foxes & Wolves | @foxesandwolves | foxesandwolves.com
Marivic Divina | marivicdivina.com | @marivicdivina
Max Milla | mxmlla.com | @mxmlla
BONUS: HOW TO PERFECT YOUR FOOD INSTAGRAM
Considering all the steps above, many food photographers take further steps in the age of social media, like Instagram. We all wonder how to achieve that same professional-level of work seasoned food photography experts arrange for our visual pleasure. Husband-and-wife duo, Buddy and Tasha Clay of @FoodieOC, are masters at getting our taste buds tingling with their Instagram page. We spoke with Buddy about how to get into the Instagram foodie headspace.
On Instagram, perhaps the only thing more important than aesthetic is consistency. “We have had this conversation with so many people who want to create successful pages. We tell them that they have to be very consistent. It also has to be of higher quality than just the average Joe,” says Clay. “The main thing is that content has to look just a little better than real life.” Select an identity: color, composition, style — these are all important things to consider when staying consistent.
Another thing is finding a balance between your personal interests and the interests of your audience. FoodieOC is no stranger to this. With over 45,000 Instagram followers, Clay has to keep current trends in mind when posting. Instagram success comes from pleasing the Instagram market. Still, you should remember that food photography on Instagram is about showcasing the food and the experience above anything else.
Of course, we mustn’t forget about the technical aspects, which in the case of Instagram, is all about post-editing. According to Clay, “Post-production, and using editing apps is 100 percent necessary and you should always take time making sure the pictures look similar to the one you posted before by having all the colors corrected properly. You have to take time to edit and make sure your pictures are perfect, otherwise, it will never catch anyone’s eye.” When asking Clay and FoodieOC about their go-to editing apps for social media, they suggested Lightroom and Snapseed.
The visual aspects we associate with a certain dish can make or break our opinion of it. Taking these extra steps will definitely improve your food photography skills and make every dish you snap look even better.