Hello and welcome to a very special and last in the series under the tag ‘Food Photography and Styling’. I call this series as a benchmark in the history of ‘Yummy Food’. This series has not only given my blog an whole new set of readers/followers….but also gave me an opportunity to learn new things, new aspects and new ways to make food look beautiful….As every journey has to end…this series which has been started a year back…and from then till now I have called up much talented food bloggers to come and share there views and ideas on this hot and burning topic in food blog’s. All I say in the end is a big thanks to all the food bloggers who took out time apart being busy with respective works…..and to all those who took time to read and write a comment…and to those who took time to share the posts on facebook and to those to tweeted about the post and finally for all those likes and thank you to my silent readers who readers the post but never leaves a comment…..
Coming to today’s post, all I have to say is…It is a journey where the miles are counted basing on getting refined over the time and post…..it is a journey of food, photography, stories, musings and ramblings…one at a time or all at a time……a journey of a mom with two cute daughters who clicks to share her passion of food photography. It is a journey where she polished her food photography skills by every passing day…..The one whom I am talking about is none other than Soma of ecurry. Scroll down to see what Soma has to say about her journey…where mile is a milestone achieved and crossed…..Thank you Soma for taking out time and sharing your journey with us…..So lets ride with Soma…where journey is fun…..
FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY – A JOURNEY
I have got myself deep into food photography; to the point of obsessing to get everything right. And that “right” is nothing but what I visualize in my mind what a perfect picture is going to be for that particular day or post. And then I strive to meet my own expectations, which is often not easy.
Food blogging as it had begun for me was nothing more than keeping a record of the recipes then, has now opened doors to a this completely new world which I was ignorant of. The recipes are definitely the most important part for a food blogger, but to have those recipes appeal to the reader in a way so that they linger and go ahead to read the recipe is important too. The aim is to make food look like you want dive into it right away, even if it only a plain salad. It is just like it works in real world. The first thing that you do with food is taste with your eyes. A lovely platter of just plain green salad plated in a good way will always be more welcome than a bunch of leaves tossed and served in a colander.Right?
I am not sure that I am qualified enough to talk about food photography here. To tell you the truth, I do not even have the confidence in myself. I have my struggles and frustration almost everyday with this world of food photography- trying to learn, play and experiment with every chance I get. And being not so good with the technical aspects of the camera does not help much either. I am no expert and I vehemently refused when Lubna asked me contribute to her Food Photography series. But even after that long email she persisted and that she should still ask me to do a post, humbles me. Yet I am nervous to write about a subject I know nothing about. So please bear with me even if I make no sense at all.
Here I should mention my dear friend Alka of Sindhi Rasoi. Some months after I had started blogging and connected to a few people, Alka wrote to me about my photographs and introduced me to Photoshop. Until then I was not aware of the existence any photo editing software. She took few of my photographs and played with the brightness and contrasts and sent them back to me. I stepped into this new world then! I started to realize the importance of photography and how it relates to food blogging! I owe a very big “Thank you” to Alka!
I am not sure what more I am going to say here, other than what have already been said by all the good photographers in the previous posts. I will talk about what I did and continue doing to improve myself. I do hope it helps you some.
It has been a journey for me from here, about 2 years back… (Harira)
…to here as I am now – (Tomato Dal – below).
Every photo shoot session is a step of learning. If you have doubts and questions, do not be afraid to take help. The food blogging and Flickr community are full of nice people ready to help. Ask the experts for criticism and try to improve on those lines. This is the first step I took to begin with, after I started making a list of blogs I love and those that inspire me.
What I will do today is write about the things I do or how I am slowly learning and also my intuitions.
I cannot speak of anything technical here; no apertures, no f-stops, no lenses, no DoF or how to achieve it. I know nothing about the technical terms of a camera or how it functions. Until this February I had been using a “bridge” camera which has some more features than a P&S and also does not have a lot that a dSLR has. So I had been shooting with a fixed lens that came attached with the camera and in Auto mode. You really do not need the best camera in the market to make good photographs.
And if you are one of those fortunate ones to own a dSLR, there are many who have written in details about the intricacies and the technical aspects of the camera. They are truly wonderful posts/lessons and I would suggest that one should (including me) read those in details.
Here are a few things I will talk about:
PROPS & BACKGROUNDS:
This is NOT the most important thing of photography. But I will begin here as this is how I slowly got into it, even before I started exploring light, angle and others. Collecting cute, unique items has always been my hobby and it has taken another direction now. But you do not have to do this. Start off by what you have at home and if you have an eye for it, you might find it right on your shelves.
Below is only a part of what I own.
Second hand store finds, old bottles, baby spoons, baskets you would otherwise toss away, little dessert cups you can take away from a restaurant, tea light candle holders and many more.
The best things to start with are some props in white or neutral shades. This way you do not have to worry about taking the attention away from the food. When you get more comfortable and confident, you can start playing around with color, pattern and matching schemes.
Painted Boards and Fabrics are the two things that would count as most important here. I buy small pieces of fabric from Fabric Stores, or use up what I have at one, or even tear out old clothes/jeans etc. Then there are scarves, shawls and bed-sheets – you get the idea. Use whatever you feel will work.
Aged, rustic and painted wooden boards are the backgrounds that have worked best for me. They are easy to clean up. Old shelves, windows, panels all will do. I am constantly on the look out, even on road sides and back yards of friends and have often politely walked up and asked for it (have never been refused). Then there are the home improvement stores which sell overwhelming kinds of wood boards. Some have scrap bins and you will get them at a minimal price or for free if it happens to be your day. I have painted and stained all my boards using wall paints, and my children’s poster, acrylic and spray paints. It is wise to paint each board with different paints on each side. To have that rustic look, I leave the boards out in the yard to wear them out (for them to have some texture) for few months.
I believe that the most important aspect of Food Photography for me was learning how to use and control light. A well styled beautiful looking food can fall limp on your screen if your light is not right. And that just does not mean low insufficient light. Sometimes too much light (harsh light and high contrast) can have your photographs look washed out and overexposed too. I have been having issues with over exposed photographs and I am slowly learning from looking at many photographs and also honest criticism of friends.
My photo shoot set up at home:
– main source of light is a really large window on the right. The room is otherwise very well lit with big windows covering all walls except for the left. You can see my home made “reflector” – a board covered with foil. I have wooden planks placed on a storage cupboard where I hide my props etc. I will cover my windows with baking paper when I need to.
Natural light is the best. As an amateur do not rush to get yourself artificial lights. And DO NOT use flash if you are not a pro. We have abundance of natural light, so make best use of it. You have to find your best place and which time of the day works out best for you. I have a large line of windows facing west and the best time for me to shoot is during the morning hours, any time from 9 – 12. The light is whitish and soft at this time.
The Clock Position is probably the best way to understand light.
When you are learning I would recommend for you to try out all the different positions with the exact same set up, just for you to see how the photographs look different. So walk around the shooting spot and take multiple shots.
Here are the 3 main positions to break it up in broader terms.
1. Back light (I see it as 12 o’ clock): When the light source is behind the food. I use this a lot and love it. It beautifully illuminates and highlights the food and also plays with the natural shadows giving the needed dimension to your photographs. Shadows add drama, dimension and the element of interest to a photograph and I feel that it may be well achieved with back light.
The photograph of the Tomato Dal (above) has the back light. No reflector is used as the background is already white and reflects a lot of light.
Back Light on dark background (Below) – for a moody feel:
The Rosemary Almond Cookies (below) – light coming from back 12 o’ clock with light blocked at the upper left hand corner (I have a window on the left side and did not want the light) + a reflector on the lower right corner to remove shadows and illuminate the cookies. I wanted sole attention on the cookies, so I did nothing to decrease the shadow on the lower left.
Back Light on Blood Oranges with no reflector or white board to fill in shadows. See how beautifully the light on the oranges make them glisten and look fresh and juicy!
2. Side Light (9 o’ clock or 3 o’ clock and anything around your right and left hand side): May be from any one side or all sides if you have a room full of windows. I use this a lot too. I have my table set up with the main light source on my right hand side.
Bhuna Khichuri: Light coming from a large window on the right hand side (approx. 1 o’ clock to 5 o’ clock position) with a foam board placed on the lower left to remove some shadows from the left corner of the bowl. I wanted the entire frame to be in full light, so no flags or blocking any of the light is done here.
& (Below) Side Light with some areas blocked as in the Pomegranate:
Side light/light on the right. Light from back, the left side and part of the right blocked with boards. I had placed a small dark card to block light from the lower right corner to prevent the glare on the pomegranate slices on the bottom and on the side. The only stream of light is from the top of the window falling directly on the top pomegranate which I wanted to illuminate.
3. Front Light (6 o’ clock): When the light is in the fore front. Personally I am not too fond of this one, though it might work well in some instances. Among the few ones that worked out well with the front light is this photograph.
Malai Kofta: Front lit, close up with full light on the food.
This is a photograph from the time when I had no thoughts or idea about direction of light and had no formal setup for food photography. Unfortunately I have taken a lot of photographs with front light. I am not a big fan of photographs too close either. But if you know the food is not messy, has good texture and looks good, go for it. The photograph above is one of the few instances where a close up shot worked well for me as did the front light.
If you have a large light source, cover it with baking paper (Yes it works!) or a light sheer curtain. This softens the light.
While shadows do make photograph look natural and imparts the depth, too much of it might not be a good thing. Use white boards, reflectors, etc to fill in the shadows. I use a foam/poster board and another cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil as my reflector (see above photograph of the set up). There are a many fancy equipment available to reflect for this, which you can always get if you want. The carpenter’s clamps work well to keep the boards in place, so you do not have to hold it while shooting or use a support at the back to make them stand.
Sometimes for moody photographs, you will have to “block” light, in some part of your frame while allowing the light to highlight only the food and to have a general “low key” effect for the entire frame. I have some black foam boards for this. Or using anything not transparent works. For smaller areas I have used photo frames, books, small cards, etc.
This is an example of the shot of the Methi Leaves below and how I took it.
The main source of light on the right hand side has been partially blocked, allowing some light to stream in from the top. The result is a well lit bunch of green methi with a dark and moody feel.
TIPS: Try to use dark background to have the dramatic low key effect.
STYLING, COMPOSITION AND THEMES:
The Style, Composition and Theme usually work together. The three together finally decide how your photo is going to look and how you are going to connect to your readers/viewers.
The important thing is to find your own style. There are a million inspirations out there for you to look at and learn, but speaking for myself, I never feel satisfied until I do what I want to do. Believe me, finding your own style and getting creative is way easier than copying another photograph. I have learned that while doing that one Donna Hay Challenge. When you are starting off, try to keep in simple without too much distraction with props and accessories. If you are using them, make sure they make sense and have some relation to food. So if you have sage in your ingredient list, do not use coriander around the food just because it looks curvy and beautiful. When there is too much going on in a frame, the focus to the subject is lost. It is like photographing your child. When you want to capture that smile, you want the focus right there and not the mountains and the flowers around.
There are certain rules here too, but I will leave you to read the other posts here, for this has been discussed. For me it has been working on the concept of “I know it when I see it”. There are a lot to discuss and know: things like grids, lines, flows, balance (and it is wise to read about all of it, just to have an idea), and a lot more. However finally you will have to do what looks right to you. I usually set up a table and keep changing positions until I find that I have hit the correct spot and the right balance. You will have to find the right thing and decide what looks good for you. It is subjective and it is your personal choice.
Decide the theme or the mood for your post. Is it contemporary? or do you want a warm rustic feel? Are you looking for a stylish gourmet kind of platter or do you want an inviting, scattered, come share with me kind of look? Plan your props, composition and styling based on that.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Use only fresh herbs/garnish: Always, always use good and fresh ingredients. A bunch of limp and dry, going brown herbs will totally ruin your photographs. You would rather do without it. Place herbs in fresh water and spray them occasionally. Have a spray bottle. Just before shooting, spray fresh and raw ingredients with water for a fresh just picked, just washed look.
Keep the fresh cooked look: For cooked food, a drizzle/spray of oil keeps it from drying off and conveys that glistening just cooked feel.
Prop sizes matter: I find it easier using small sized props (bowls/plates). Balance out the size of the props. For example, do not use a huge over sized ladle beside a tiny bowl.
Watch the quantity: Do not overfill plates and bowls with food. You do not need to show the entire amount you have cooked or even one full serving. Small neat potions work best and are easier to handle too.
Back off from the frame. Most of the times, macro close up shots do not make food look pretty.
Tell a story. A half filled glass, a drip of the syrup, a squeezed slice of lemon, a bitten/broken cookie, an unfolded napkin – all of these convey some action going on with the food.
Indian Food: Curries, soups and Indian food in general is very difficult to photograph. If you have a runny, soupy dish, try to pile up some of the solid ingredients for them to show, instead of shooting just the sauce/soup with little heads of solids trying to surface up. Use the tempering if you have to at the end right before the photography to add some shine and texture.
Garnish! Tiny chopped fresh herbs, lemon slices, sliced fruit every matters (only in little amount and neatly sliced) to catch attention.
Overcoming kitchen accidents: Mishaps happen in the kitchen. The food always does not come out looking perfect in a real life kitchen. Try to pick the near perfect looking food to photograph. So if your cake or pie is falling apart (and hot pies tend to do that!), you do not have to show the entire messed up dish. Pick one tiny slice and set everything else in the background so the focus is on one perfect one.
Learn and absorb: Food magazines, Cook books and blogs that you admire are great sources to study food photography – styling, angle, composition, and mood; keep your eyes and mind open when you are browsing through the pages. The list of blogs that inspire me are innumerable and too many to list here. I have a list in my blog which I refer to often and browse through when I have time.
After every thing is tried out and read and studied, follow your heart. Rules and techniques are good to know, but do not bind yourself with them. Be ready to break the rules. Experiment, change positions and finally decide what works best for your.
It is happiness to me to photograph food, but happiness mingled with struggles, discontent and frustrations. But after all these, we should get ourselves to that point where were you are satisfied with one good photograph after a 100 shots (may be) and pat ourselves on out back. Every occasion, every platter every different kind of light, the mood of the food and your mood provides a new opportunity for something new. So try and practice (a lot!) and above all ENJOY!
You can find Soma @
For your convenience I have pinned all the post listed under the tag food photography & styling on to a board by name Food Photography & Styling on Pinterest…..You can follow it by clicking here…..I have pinned some interesting tips and techniques food photography and styling. You can find it here.
Finally I thank Namitha, Kulsum, Nisha, Nithi, Harini, Nags, Deeba, Sandhya, Pavithra, Arfi, Tika and Soma for making this series so wonderful and memorable.
In case if you have missed the entries under this series, here are the links to the posts…
- Guest Blogging – Food Photography #5 by Sunshinemom aka Harini Prakash of Tongue Ticklers.
- Guest Blogging – Food Photography #4 by Nithi Rajasekaran of The 4th Sense Cooking.
- Guest Blogging – Food Photography #3 by Nisha of Look Who’s Cooking Too.
- Guest Blogging – Food Photography #2 by Kulsum of Journey Kitchen.
- Guest Blogging – Food Photography #1 by Namitha of Collaborative Curry.