Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Photographing food – a few tips learned at Food Photo Lab

I recently participated in a one-day food photography workshop with FoodPhotoLab, a Florence-based organization in partnership with Belluno-based photographer Alberto Bogo, whose photos have been published by Condé Nast and a number of prestigious magazines. While the class was aimed at food bloggers, I knew it would be useful to pick up a few tricks that I could use while photographing any still lives, portraits, food at restaurants, products for MakeTank, and whatever else. I learned a number of tricks that, if anything, have made me now able to recognize how a lot of the shots that I see in food blogs are done, and with a 100 euro investment in lighting, I should be able to replicate some of them.

In a day-long, 8 hour workshop (plus lunch break), I got four good photographs. We experimented with simple backlit still lives of small pastries, using natural light, before moving on to some vegetables, and finishing with studio lighting and more complex arrangements after a brief on props and set creation. I found that my style is unsurprisingly minimal and I tend to like deconstructed recipes laid out and shot from above. I did attempt to do this – here is the result.

If I had to break down what I learned in this one day course it would be this:

  • You’re never going to get a well lit shot of food in a restaurant, but you can try to compose it properly, aiming at your food at an angle that might be anywhere from 0 to 20 to 45 degrees. If you have an appropriate camera while shooting your meal, put part of it in focus, and make the background fuzzy to eliminate distractions. The best lens to do this would be a 50 macro. I was using an old 60mm Nikon macro for all these photos except the ‘deconstructed’ one which uses my standard 18-275mm Tamron.
  • Don’t be afraid to shoot into the light – just use a reflector of some sort to bounce it back at your object. The cookie photographed above uses backlit natural light, unfiltered, reflected off white cardboard boards held up with clips. Check the shapes and strengths of your shadows, not just the lighting and reflections of the actual thing you’re shooting.
  • All those pretty wooden tables and stuff are just props. Food photographers create chromatically ordered sets that often use wooden flooring slats. Sufficiently lit and blurry, this thin piece of wood board can be made to look like a large rustic table.
  • You can imitate natural light with sufficiently diffused artificial light – see the two photos below.

Artificial light (slave flash in soft box), cloth, board, and stone wall.

Natural light, wood panel, outdoor stone wall

If you’re wondering what is for dessert, here it is. Not a very successful photo, this one, but when the reflector board fell on the pastry, I was forced to cut it in half, and after further attempts to photograph it properly, I gave in and ate it. It was delicious.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.