Sharing pictures of a terrific meal with friends on sites like Facebook or Picasa is a great way to show off your skills as a cook and a photographer. But taking a great picture of a Thanksgiving turkey or mouthwatering dessert can be tricky. Here’s how to make sure your photos look as good as the food tastes.
With all the vibrant colors and interesting textures that appear on a plate, you might think food would be easy to shoot, but it’s not. Correct lighting is essential to bring out those colors, and it’s all too easy to forget about composition and wind up with an uninteresting—or worse, unappetizing—photo. Fortunately, this is where a little education, practice and a quality camera can make all the difference.
A good food photograph begins before you even go to the grocery store: Plan ahead to buy garnishes, side dishes and tableware that will enhance your picture. Linens should be clean and pressed. Plates and bowls should complement the colors in the food you’re serving, and garnishes should be used thoughtfully to add color and visual interest where it’s needed. (That’s why chefs use them, too!) Even a flower or a fork can make for a nice addition to your photo’s composition.
Don’t waste time with shot setup, however. Remember: Food is best photographed immediately when it is served. A flat soufflé makes for a flat picture as well.
You don’t want to waste time fumbling with the settings on your camera, so give them a bit of thought beforehand. Since you’ll often shoot very close to the subject, you’ll find that Macro Mode will dramatically improve your pictures. To use the Macro Mode, tap the Menu icon, then tap Focus and choose Macro.
If you don’t have a lot of light, and want to avoid using a flash, you can increase the ISO setting, which increases the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor. Remember to use a fast shutter speed if you’re shooting in a high ISO mode, and a tripod—even a miniature, pocket-size model—will help to eliminate blur. You can change these settings by first selecting the Night Shot mode and then using the onscreen menu to choose a fast shutter speed.
How you shoot depends on the dish: A turkey may require a shot that captures the entire bird. But the cranberry jelly may look its best with a close-up that gets just a quarter of the bowl in the picture along with a few stray berries on the tablecloth.
As always, experiment with your shots (just work fast), and remember this rule of thumb: Select the single most interesting element on each plate and emphasize that element with your shot.
In any photograph, the flash can be your worst enemy, washing out the image and creating harsh shadows. This is particularly true with food, where a photograph can turn a bright green bean or a lovely maroon cranberry into a mushy image that reminds you of cafeteria food.
If the lighting in your dining room is dim, consider a change of scenery. Can you take the plate to a window, or to a brighter area, where a flash won’t be needed? Sneak off to the kitchen and take a few shots in the (usually well-lighted) staging area before your volunteer waiter picks up the dish, or maybe grab a shot while the food is still cooking.
But if you can’t get enough natural light on your dish, a flash may be required. If so, an indirect flash is your best option. Instead of aiming right at the food, point the flash upward and bounce the light off the ceiling, for a softer, more natural effect.
(You can also correct the lighting by changing the ISO setting your camera. See “Setting your Camera.”)
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