DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - Point and Shoot Cameras

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Food Shots - Composition Tips


Getting Your Food Camera Ready

In this tutorial article, you'll learn about composing your food for the camera. Most important - Proper position of your background color board or sheet, where and how to pose your plated food, and where to place any props your using around the food dish.

As you read in the previous tutorial, you can use many props to enhance your food dish. Once you have decided on your color palette, your background and side dish colors, you can then arrange props for the area surrounding your food dish.

There are ways to arrange or position foods and props so that they appear more pleasing to the human eye. If your dish is really simple, with no props, then your only concern is your color blends, and your single food dish arrangement. However, if your adding napkins, cutlery, glasses, pots, pans, or additional food items separate from the Subject Food dish, then placing them correctly can make for a better photo.

Rule Of Thirds

As with any photo shoot, using the Rule of Thirds is good to follow when posing your food item(s). Placing your food item along the horizontal or vertical lines as per the Rule of Thirds Grid or where they intersect composes the photo better.

Look at these photos of a Raspberry Pastry. Your most important food item should be placed at one of the points where the lines (horizontal and vertical meet); and your remaining food items should be placed along the lines vertical or horizontal. For this shot, the pastry in the foreground is our most important food item, so we have posed it properly as it is positioned where the vertical and horizontal lines meet. And, the other pastry in the background and the raspberries next to the pastries are also along the lines.

Pastry Raspberry with Blurry Background Pastry Raspberry Photo with Rule of Thirds Grid

Sometimes you have several important food items like a punch of cupcakes, as shown in these cupcake photos- Photo 2, and photo 4.
Because we arranged them in a circle on the plate, the front 2 cupcakes, and the back 2 cupcakes are positioned at the points where the lines intersect, and the middle 2 cupcakes are along the horizontal lines, therefore this photo is composed as per the Rule of Thirds

Cupcakes with Blurry Foreground Cupcakes Rule Of Thirds Grid

Most point and shoot cameras have a Rule of Thirds Grid that you can enable while shooting. Look for it in your Menu choices. Using this Grid is a great way to learn to shoot per the Rule of Thirds.

Assembling Your Food Ingredients

Nothing is nicer to look at then a properly assembled photo of food. When done right, it is appetizing and perfectly balanced. For this you need to practice, and hone your skill, as it does take practice.

Let's look at these chicken burger photos.

The first burger shown here is from our previous tutorial, and as you can see; it is not very well put together. It looks lop sided, and isn't very pleasing to the eye.
The bottom bun is not really visible, the bacon and cheese are just kind of in limbo, and the top chicken burger could be better positioned. The mayo would probably look better if spread thinly across the burger creating a nicer look.

The second chicken burger is a single; and it has a better look to it. The bottom bun is visible, the deli lettuce is positioned nicely along the bottom bun but less so in the front, so we can see the chicken burger. The cheese over hangs the burger neatly, the mayo spread across the burger, and the bacon is positioned on the top tomato so you can see it well. The top bun has been basted with canola oil to give it a nice gleen. The bun is just off to the side, which gives us a good view of all the ingredients.

The third photo shows the same chicken burger positioned on parchment paper instead of a plate. You can style with things other than a plate. Instead use parchment paper, brown paper bags crinkled or not; wood boards (like a bread board) and the like. There are many ways you can showcase your burger without using a plate. For the side dish color, the color under our parchment paper, we used a light brown color craft paper square. By placing your parchment paper over this you add dimension to your food item. For the parchment paper, I bought a roll (40ft), and just cut a piece the size I needed for my burger item.

Chicken Burger Not Composed Chicken Burger on Plate on Parchment Paper Chicken Burger on Parchment Paper


Creating Blurry Backgrounds

Blurry backgrounds are nice to look at and they are very common in photography; both for people portraits and food portraits. On a point and shoot camera the best way to achieve the blurry background look is to use your Close Up or Macro mode. Your camera may also have a Food mode, but if you have a Macro mode, use that instead, or try both to see which gives the better photo blur. Macro mode and CloseUp mode do essentially the same thing; allow you to shoot up close to your food.

When composing your shot, get within a few inches of your food dish (Subject dish), and then pick a food item from the foreground of your dish, usually the most important item is chosen. Now focus your shot on that one item, press shutter halfway to hold the focus, the click to get the shot. Now your item you focused on should be in focus, but the background in your photo will have a blurry look. The amount of blur will depend on how close you shot your Subject and the distance between the Subject food and the background food, or other prop items in your background.

Look at this Steak Salad photo. I used my Nikon L32 point and shoot camera and used the macro mode. I focused on the steak in the foreground for my shot. You can see that the first two or three slices are in focus then the remaining slices and the greens at the back of the plate are out of focus; and the background area behind the dish is also out of focus.(blurry look)

For the colors used; I put pink tissue paper under the plate, and you can see the pink in the front of the dish and then it fades a bit at the left side. Pink is a good color to use for slices of beef like steak; because it blends good with the pinkish color of the sliced meat. I didn't add any color to my background, I just used the white Fill Board which has the out-of-focus blurry look. I purposely under-cooked the steak so that when sliced, it would look pinkish and moist which is much better for your photo.
Steak Food Photo with Blurry Background

Add Background Color

Background color can make a difference in your food shots.
Lets look at our cupcakes photos - photo 2 and photo 3.

For photo 2, I placed my cupcakes on a light blue round plate, but I didn't add a background color.
For photo 3, I added a pink color square for my shot background.
The second photo looks much nicer because it has the pink background which blends good with the other bold colors of the cupcakes' icing; and the blue plate color is a good contrast for all the icing colors.

Cupcakes with Blurry Foreground Cupcakes with Pink Background

When shooting food, you can add a background to blend with your color palette. You can use a variety of color squares, and also patterned color squares, or simply a white background. If I just want a white background, I use my White Fill board, and you can also use your Black Fill board, depending on the look you want for your photo. And, when using patterned color squares and taking a close up shot for a blurry background look, the patterned color squares can produce some interesting results when blurred.

No color background square is needed for a blur look background without color. If you going for the blurred background like our Steak Salad example; you can shoot close and just blur out the background so no color board is needed.

Try different compositions to see which colors work best for your food dish ingredients, colors and props.

How To Position Your Background Color Squares

Craft paper squares are ideal to use as backgrounds for your food shoot. They are 12 inches wide and therefore more suitable for small food displays. For example a single dish of food with just a few food props as shown in these photos of the raspberry pastry.

For this shot, I placed the Subject Food item in the foreground and then another in the background just slightly off centered from the foreground one. I also put some raspberries next to the pastries, and sprinkled some powdered sugar over the berries. I put the pastries on a cut piece of parchment paper.

How To Position Background For Photos Background Squares for Food Shots Cropped Image of Food Item

Important here is that the background pink square and food items are positioned so that once you take your shot, the background shows behind all the food items. Look at the first photo (arrows), and you can see that I did not position my food and background properly. The far right side of the shot has a white background showing. The left side also has white showing behind the food items (the berries) and would not look good if I crop the photo into the berries.

The second photo does have the pink background across all the food items. The background and food items were positioned properly. If I crop this photo on the left side into the berries, I will still have my pink background showing behind the food items.

Photo 3 has been cropped. You can see that the pink background is across all food items in the background; no white background showing, which is how we want our background to look. When you compose your shot; look at your screen view's display and look at your food display background before taking your shot to see that the background is how you want it.

Cropping Images

Cropping images is very common in photography. Usually your shots will have spacing around the Subject Food Item. Cropping allows you to zoom in closer to your food items which results in a better looking photo. If you intend to sell your photos, then you should leave some Copyspace in your images as well. Copyspace is important as it allows the person who buys your photo(s) to add text to the image. If you crop too close to your food item(s), then there isn't enough room for buyers to add text to your image.
For more reading on Selling Your Images GoTo our Sell Your Photos article. Section : Tips For Success

Background Boards, Squares, and Fabrics

If your food shoot includes several food items and props surrounding your Subject Food item, and your shooting more wide than narrow then colored foam boards or using cloth materials may be better for your background.

Foam boards are usually larger in size and of course if you use cloth materials from your local fabric store, you can cut them at any size you like. Craft stores also have many types of boards (colored and white) that may be suitable to use for backgrounds. You can also pin material to a canvas board or a foam board, and use those for your food shot backgrounds. Craft stores and the Dollar store usually have these quite cheap.

Portrait color backdrops (professional background) can also be used although they are a bit pricey, especially if you want to have several colors to work with. Pricing usually is at $30 or more for a photography backdrop on Amazon.

You can use anything to hold your background color fabrics; just ensure that they are wrinkle free as they will photograph better. And, if your going for the blurry background look, you can experiment with your background colors or fabrics, as the blur can provide some interesting results, especially on patterned or abstract backgrounds.


Composing Tips For Food

Use these tips for better photo results!

Place tallest items; like glasses, pitchers, in the background. If it is a round table you can place them in the middle of it;

Balance your food items so they are interesting to look at;

Use fresh fruits and vegetables free from blemishes, dents, and the like;

Enhance the food props area or dish with garnishes, like a sprinkle of herbs, flour, powdered sugar, or a slice of lemon;

Use compositional lines to bring the viewer into your food dish: use cutlery or props;

Add a human element to your shoot area or dish: take a bite out of the food, (like pizza, pie) or place a squeezed lemon next to the food;

If the background is going to be in the shot; add color to it to enhance the food display;

Get creative with your shot; use a blurred background or blurred foreground to make the shot interesting;

Create Layers: place produce on plateware, add a napkin and put some cutlery on it;

Add an element of movement; just add a fork or spoon;

Lighten dark food: position your food dish so the darkest food items are on the side that has the most light;

Add tea towels, napkins, parchment paper under your Subject dish to add dimension.




In this tutorial article, you learned tips for food composition.