Food Photos-Keep it simple

August 30th, 2010 by

In Chapter Five of Microstock Money Shots-Popular Themes Without People, I devote a few pages to the art of photographing food. I mention tips for creating images of appetizing plates of food if a stylist isn’t in your budget because even the most delicious tasting items often look unappetizing and utterly disgusting through the lens without the skills that a  food stylist brings to the table.

Not all culinary shoots can bear the cost of a stylist so build a few of their tricks into your skill set. There have been a spat of articles by food prop stylists as well as about food photography in the past months. (A prop stylist is the one responsible for the non food items in a shoot such as the type of flatware, centerpieces and other extraneous materials to add to a themed photo)  A food stylist may double as the prop stylist as well as preparing food for the camera.

The summer 2010 issue of the pricey and erudite magazine, Gastromonica, has an intriguing article about the evolution of prop styling for food photography. The author, Francine Matalon-degni, presents a lengthy review of how food photography has evolved from the flowery, heavily propped shots from the early 1990’s to the redesigned Bon Appetit and Martha Stewart minimalist images a few years into the 2000’s and on such as…”full-page bleeds of creamy sauces, landscapes of scalloped potatoes and enormous blocks of beef”. She discusses how a photo of a perfectly plated piece of pie went from being the norm to some of today’s images showing forks and  crumbs left on the plate as if the photographer has caught the eater just leaving the table.  Along the way in this lengthy piece, she equates food prop styling to changes in the American politcal scene…a reach but then we ARE what we eat.

Cautionary note: I was reviewing a group of images shot in a kitchen with a model supposedly preparing a meal. What I saw was the work of an overly enthusiastic stylist: every vegetable for a soup was lined up in perfect rows and neatly sliced. Fruit in a bowl on the counter looked like a display at an eleborate buffet in a hotel’s breakfast room. The pans on the stove came straight from the store and had nothing in them. Lesson? Add a little reality to your cooking shots by actually having something in the pot on the stove. Make the kitchen appear as natural as possible and that means a tiny bit of a mess.

The New York Times often features articles directed at photographers with instructions on the technical tips to use in food photography from the “Diner’s Journal columns. The latest, by Andrew Scrivani, is called “How to plan a food shoot” and an earlier piece concerned Four manual settings you need to know when shooting food.

Food stylist and author Denise Vivaldo gives some good tips for styling salads and preparing chicken in two separate videos. Want the lettuce in the salad to remain perky? Pack the bowl with wet paper towels before adding ingredients and plop some mashed potatoes under the lettuce. Stand a few leaves upright in the potatos. Catch the video here. Or to get a jump on prepping a lucious looking (but nearly raw chicken or turkey) for holiday shoots watch this. (Cover your ears after the first several “You Guys”.)

NPR’s All Things Considered offers help in building towering sandwiches…gaffer’s tape anyone? In an interview with food stylist Delores Custer, it’s suggested that mortican’s wax is a perfect adhesive to keep cutlery in place…remember just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean you should eat the stuff once the shoot is a wrap!

A photographer whose still life images are brilliant is Mitchell Feinberg. Check him out in this  Photography Post.

(Back to Chapter Five of Microstock Money Shots. It is about much more than shooting food. The photographers whose work  appears in the chapter are below:)

Chapter Opener: Carnival ride- Racheal Grazias

Dove in flight-Christopher Ewing

House of Parliment, London-Maksym Gorpenyuk

African with face paint-Lucian Coman

Colorful guitars-Ilya D. Gridnev

Shark from below-Joshua Haviv

Owl in flight-Brian Hansen Stock Photography

Wolf spider captures a blowfly-Cathy Keifer

Snow Monkeys-F. Mann

Peaceful landscape-Piotr Skubisz

Close-up of a leaf-Coolr

Coyote crossing the road-Nelson Hale

Lightning and small boat in storm at sea-Russ Allen

Toronto Caribbean Day parade-A.C. Gobin

Asian statues against red-Juha Sompkinmaki

Beach with palms and blue water-Petra Silhava

China’s Bird Nest Stadium-Orpheus

House of Parliment, London-Maksym Gorpenyuk

African with face paint-Lucian Coman

Colorful guitars-Ilya D. Gridnev

Shark from below-Joshua Haviv

Owl in flight-Brian Hansen Stock Photography

Wolf spider captures a blowfly-Cathy Keifer

Snow Monkeys-F. Mann

Peaceful landscape-Piotr Skubisz

Close-up of a leaf-Coolr

Field of lettuce-Laurent Renault

Variety of deserts-Regien Paassen (Also on the cover)

Salad-Rohit Seth

Holiday turkey-Olga Lyubkina

Hamburger-Sergey Peterman

Casual Friday concept-Eutock

Big dog and little dog-Eric Isselee (Also on the back cover)

Inside the curl of a giant wave-Mana Photo

Snarling dog-ZelenenkyyYuriy

Close-up of bees in hive-Florin Tirlea

Dining room-Chad McDermott

Home exterior-Ken Hurst

Fireworks-Galyna Andrushko