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Food Photography: Advice & Inspiration from a Food-Shooting Pro


all images © Nicole Franzen

 

Thanks to photo apps like Instagram, and to our current culture of capture-and-overshare enthusiasm, I can no longer sit down to a meal without snapping a photo of the food. If you take a look at the various tags on Instagram related to the things that people consume throughout the day (#food #eats #noms) you’ll see that I am not alone in the habitual photographing of my meals.

But outside of the realm of iPhonography, there is also a thriving professional food photography world. Yes, this is an actual job that many fortunate (and talented!) folks have managed to carve out for themselves. While some great cooking glossies have gone by the wayside (RIP Gourmet), there is no shortage of outlets for professional photographers to showcase (and cash in on) their work online and in print.

Culinary Composition

Professional food photographers may make their deliciously-staged shots look simple, but the craft of capturing food is no easy feat. Even someone well versed in the other genres of photography will have to relearn the rules when shooting subjects as fickle as couscous or cheeseburgers. And reflective subjects like glasses full of bubbly can offer significant challenges in improper lighting.

So with those sorts of challenges in mind, I’ve asked Brooklyn-based food photographer, Nicole Franzen, to share her tips for shooting food, including advice on equipment, lighting, styling and composition. Nicole runs the gorgeous food and lifestyle blog, La Buena Vida, and her photo clients include Bon Appétit, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn Magazines, and Gramercy Tavern, among many others.

Below are Nicole’s tips on the craft of photographing food. Grab a fork and dig in!

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How-To: Shooting Photos in Directional Sunlight

How-To: Shooting Photos in Directional Sunlight
Text and Photos by Lynne Eodice

The sun starts out very low in the sky and offers some warm, pretty light first thing in the morning. Then it rises as the day progresses, producing brighter and less dimensional lighting from above. In the late afternoon, the sun is low in the sky again, but in a different position. Foliage that was illuminated from the front early in the morning may be backlit in the afternoon, or vice versa, depending on which way a scene faces.

Natural light changes constantly throughout the day, and the intensity and quality of light changes throughout the seasons of a year. The continual shifting direction of sunlight imparts the same subjects with different looks. A red-rock area in the desert Southwest that looks somewhat pale and washed out during midday can be ablaze with color and texture late in the afternoon.

You can sometimes change the direction of your subject if you don’t like the way the light is striking it—like a person or obedient pet—until you see a lighting direction that you like. If you don’t like the way someone is squinting in the bright sun shining down in the middle of the day, you can move that person to the shade, for example, or turn him so that his back is to the sun. With subjects that are more stationary, like a rock formation or statue, you can often move around them to change the lighting direction, which often opens you up to more unique angles.

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How-To: Capturing Action & Motion

Capturing Action & Motion
Text and Photos by Lynne Eodice

There are several ways to express motion in your photos—ranging from freezing the motion with a very fast shutter speed to panning along with your subject using a slower shutter speed. You can also express a feeling of motion by slowing down your shutter speed to intentionally blur your subject.

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How-To: Getting the Right Exposure

How-To: Getting the Right Exposure

Text and Photos by Lynne Eodice

One of the most important issues you should address before shooting a picture is setting the exposure. First of all, a good exposure is one that captures the overall tonal range (the range of dark through light tones) that is visible to you before you click the shutter. What you’re trying to do is to capture an image that shows light tones, dark tones and everything in between. When you create a good exposure, it means that you’re giving your camera’s sensor the right amount of light to record your subject’s tones correctly.

Put quite simply, good exposure is the amount of light that it takes to record a scene correctly onto your camera’s sensor. If you give the sensor too much light, your picture will be overexposed. The image may appear washed out and lacking in detail in the brightest areas. If there’s too little light, the image will be underexposed and will look dark and dingy. So in most cases, you’ll want to capture an image that’s neither too dark nor too bright, but just right.

Some subjects are easy to expose correctly. When a scene is well lit and has an average tonal range (with nothing being too dark or too light) and the light is fairly even, getting a good exposure is a pretty simple process. Your camera’s built-in automatic exposure does a good job of recording subjects like this correctly. But the more complex your subject is in terms of light and dark tones, the more challenging proper exposure can become. For example, you need to know how your camera’s meter will react to a beautiful snow-covered landscape—and what you need to do to record that snow the right way.

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How-To: Understanding & Applying Depth of Field

How-To: Understanding & Applying Depth of Field
Text and Photos by Lynne Eodice

Depth of field is the zone in your photograph that’s in sharp focus in front of and behind your main subject, and which has a profound effect on the way your images look. Here are two essential terms to know:

• Shallow depth of field — Characterized by a blurred background and/or foreground.

• Great depth of field — Denoted by overall image sharpness.

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