Lights, camera, aperture! If you aren’t familiar with photography, you might not understand the importance of these elements (in tandem, of course). For a lot of starting food photographers, the click of an iPhone’s camera app does all the explanation needed. And for Rachel Averitt, clicking a button on her iPhone was the start of a food photography expedition.
Rachel is currently a brand photographer in Vermont. Although most of her professional career revolves around shooting promotional, she also enjoys cooking and taking photos for her personal culinary Instagram, @relyonrach. She also runs a blog where she shares recipes, life advice, and photos.
Whether you plan on making food photography a career or just want to impress your followers with your A+ snaps, here are some of her top tips for taking great food photos.
The Importance of Good Lighting
According to Rachel, this is one of the top mistakes food photographers make when they’re shooting in restaurants or commercial kitchens. The bulbs can leave photos with a yellowish tint. If you have a DSLR camera, you can change the color temperature on your camera’s settings. If you don’t have the ability to change these settings manually, you can use a photo-editing app (like Photoshop) to alter the composition.
Rachel recommends shooting food with light from the side or behind rather than straight-on. Although it’s most ideal to shoot with natural light, the conditions might require some assistance from artificial light. Rachel uses a speed-light (on-camera flash) attached to her Sony Mirrorless A7 to take her shots.
What Kind of Story Do You Want to Tell?
For Rachel, taking photos is all about telling a story. Most commercial food photographers have a separate food stylist who positions, angles, and details the nitty-gritty of each image. If you’re an amateur Instagrammer who wants to share a quick snap of the Pad Thai you had for dinner, chance’s are that you’ll act as both the stylist AND the photographer.
Moreover, the position and background of your shots should reflect some sort of intention. Do you want to use a minimalist aesthetic to showcase the colors on the plate? If so, opt for a white, simple dish and brightly colored decorations. If you want something more rustic and outdoorsy, try to focus on the textures of the dish or utilize a natural background. There are an infinite amount of possibilities for design- you just have to find one that works for you.
The subject of your photo also dictates how it should be shot. Rachel uses lasagna as an example. “Maybe shoot the entire pan from above? Or better, shoot part of the pan with a piece on a plate- this tells more of a story and shows a little more of its features. Take it further and put it on a paper plate or grandmas plate, place it on a picnic table, by the lake at golden hour, with your niece ready to take it.” That’s the story you’ll want to tell.
Landscape vs. Portrait
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for which is superior, so deciding whether to shoot in landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) is up to the subject (and photographer). Shooting for Instagram typically means shooting portrait while shooting for websites often means landscape.
Keep it Simple (and Cheap)
Speaking as someone who bought a $1200 camera for herself and uses her iPhone more often (as unfortunate as it sounds), I understand Rachel’s suggestion to keep everything as simple as possible. This might mean buying a mediocre lighting set off Amazon or using a white poster-board as a background. If you want to invest in a DSLR camera and high-quality lens, make sure you’re invested in the process itself and willing to learn new tips and tricks over time. “Food photography is challenging but rewarding and there are a lot of free online resources out there that can help one to improve,” Rachel says. “Consistent practice and exploration with humility have proven to be most rewarding for me.”