Taking photos of food can be fun and creative. Like people/pet portraits, there are ways to make your food dish look better for your photo shoot.
In this tutorial article you'll learn about lighting; what lighting to use for a simple food shot and, how to position your lighting.
Camera angles are important for shooting food; you'll see the most common angles, and how to place your food for your shoot. And, just like pro photographers,
we will show you how to eliminate unwanted shadows from you food photos so they look great!
Shooting Mode - Point and Shoot Camera
For your food photo compositions, you can use your Point and Shoot Camera's Close Up mode, Food Mode, Macro Mode, or Portrait Mode.
Your camera probably has at least one of these modes.
What mode you use depends on what your shooting and what look you want for the shot. Best tip is to try more than one mode so you get different shot perspectives.
Portrait mode is typically used when your a few feet away from your subject and then you zoom in some - an aperture of f4.5 - f5.3 range is good, thereabouts.
Close up mode you may get even closer than your portrait mode and you won't zoom in as much - if any.
Macro mode is for really closeup shots. For this you would not be zooming and your within a few inches of your food item. Your aperture is probably f3.2, f3.4, f3.6, thereabouts.
Macro mode is good when you want to focus on a particular item or area of your food shot, and then have the rest of your food blur out in the background.
A good example is cupcakes. You would have 3 cupcakes lined up behind each other on a narrow platter. You focus in on the first one, and take your shot. The first cupcake
will be in focus while the other two will have some blur as well as the background.
Depending on your camera make; you may be able to take this type of shot in Macro mode and Closeup mode.
Food mode If your camera has this mode, it is similar to Closeup mode. On my Nikon L32 Point and Shoot camera, the Food Mode allows for changing the background
color in camera before I even take a shot. It is not a mode I use very often.
Compose Our Pasta with Tofu Shot
For these photos of pasta with tofu, I shot them in Portrait mode, and zoomed in for apertures of F4.9 - F5.8 range; which gave a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second, thereabouts.
I did not use the camera flash, My white balance is at Daylight mode. I don't have to dial in an ISO number because on point and shoot cameras it is done for you. (Some models do have
adjustable ISO 100-800, or 100-1600) but on my Nikon L32 I don't have to.
The camera is positioned about one and a half feet from the food dish on a tripod positioned slightly above the
food dish and pointed down at an angle of about 45 degrees.
The Light Box is positioned to the right of my food dish, and angled down somewhat towards the table and the food as shown in the photos. The Softbox Light, together with my Fill Board Light
provides adequate lighting for this shot.
Proper lighting is the single most important consideration when taking food shots. Without it, your
photos won't look good no matter how delicious your plate of food looks.
Use your light meter to see what you should be shooting at for the lighting you've arranged.
GoTo Previous Tutorial- Portraits - The Basics, to learn about using a Hand Held Light Meter. If your using an 85watt or greater photography bulb for your shot, and
you've positioned your Softbox and Fill Board, and camera as we suggested; then you are going to have sufficient lighting for your food shot. It is however, a good idea to
practice using a Hand Held Light Meter so you know how to use one.
As explained in our previous Portrait Tutorial, this Softbox is an octagon shape, has a 30 inch diameter, and is using a 85watt photography daylight bulb. It is rated as 10,000 hours.
I bought this Softbox on Amazon.ca for about $80 Canadian, including shipping. Included was the stand, the softbox, the diffuser, the 85 watt photography bulb and a carrying case.
Because of its' diameter I can use it for closeups - Food shots, Portrait Shots, and Full Body shots, and even Group shots. The larger your Softbox diameter the more area it will light.
If you just wanted to shoot closeup portraits of people, pets, and food, you could probably use a Softbox with a 20 or 24 inch diameter. Softboxes are available
in all shapes and sizes.
Subject Light and Fill Light
To shoot food properly, you should have one Subject Light(Softbox) and at least one Fill Light board(single foam board white or black). The Subject light is positioned usually off to either side or back of the food
dish your shooting. The Fill Board light is positioned on the opposite side of the Subject light. The purpose of the Fill Light is to bounce light back onto your
food dish to eliminate unwanted harsh shadows. Use white fill board with a light color food display and black fill board with a dark toned food display.
The Fill Board is similar to using a Reflector in Portraits to get rid of unwanted harsh shadows around the face, neck areas.
Position Lighting - Softbox, Fill Board
For our food photo shoot, the fill board is positioned to the left of the dish (our left looking at dish); and is the opposite side from the Softbox.
The Fill Board is placed close to the food dish and just off camera as shown in these photos.
The board is being held by the table and two push pins in the wall - one on either side of the board.
I bought the foam Fill Boards at the local Dollarstore for a buck each. They have black and white ones.
The Softbox light is positioned about 2 feet from the table and pointed downward towards the dish.
Depending on your Softbox size: 30, 24, 20, 18, (inches - diameter), you may want to
position it closer or a little further from your food dish.
Take Your Shots
Once you have positioned your lighting, and put your food dish in place on the table, it's time to take a few test shots. Test shots are good because you can get a
good idea of how your image will show, and you can look for any harsh shadows. Depending on your point and shoot camera's view display size; you may be able to see
harsh ahadows. If not, you can upload your photos to your computer to get a better look at them.
If you don't have a image editing software installed on your
computer, you can download the GIMP free image creator and editor. They may have a paid version with additional features, but you only need the free version for
editing and cropping your images.
If your image(s) look good, then you can use them or take additional ones at different angles to compare shots. If your image has harsh shadows you can
move your Subject light a little closer to your shot and/or reposition it a tad to the left or right to see the repositioned light helps to get rid of the unwanted shadows.
If not, you can add a second Fill Board behind your food to eliminate the harsh shadows.
Let's look at the photos I took:
Photo 1 was shot with the Softbox positioned right (our right looking at dish) of the food dish at about 45 degree angle.
No fill board was
used in this shot.
Photo 2 was shot with the Softbox, same position as the first photo, and a Fill Board was also used to add a Fill light, by bouncing the light off of the board and onto
Look at Photo 1;
look at the sides of the cubed tofu on the left side of the dish display(see arrows). These are shadows that we need to get rid of. The Softbox light, because it is
positioned on the right side of the food dish; does not put light on the entire dish contents; especially food sides facing the opposite direction as are
the sides of the cubed tofu.
By using our Fill Board, placed on the left side of the food dish; we were able to throw light back onto the dish and those shadows, thus eliminating
them and making a better photo; as
shown in Photo 2.
A Fill Board is useful for eliminating harsh shadows or shadows you would rather not have in your shot, and when taking food shots shadows can
be in lots of places. This dish with cubed tofu is a good example. For our dish we only required one fill board, however depending on your dish and the angle of your shoot;
you may need a second Fill Board to eliminate all the unwanted harsh shadows.
Place your Fill board(s) as close to your dish as possible but just out of camera
If your taking a shot of food at an angle of 45 degrees as we did for our pasta shot, you don't need a background in place because you don't see the background in the
shot. However, if you were to lower your angle to 30 degrees or want to take a side shot then your background will be shown in the photo so you should put a background
in place in case you do shoot from several angles.
For my background
I put a white bristol board on the wall behind the food dish which you can see in this next photo. Make sure the bristol board extends a tad below the table so it appears
seamless in your shot.
Look at this pancakes photo to see what I mean.
Look at the background - you can see where the bristol board ends leaving a space that doesn't look so good in the photo. You want to position the
bristol board so it is positioned just below the table's height, therefore making your background seamless looking, and your photo looks better.
Shoot Your Angles
For food shots, there are commonly shot angles: those being 30, and 45 degrees. Also common is overhead shots of food, and side shots. Of course, you can shoot at whatever angle
you want; these mentioned angles are a good place to start.
What angle you shoot at depends on what your shooting; how it is positioned on your display plate or dish; and how you want it to show.
Let's look at the above photo. It was shot from the side, and shows well, however, had the angle been just a bit upwards we would see more of the fruit and less of
the edge of the plate, and also the top of the pancakes; the blueberries and butter would have shown better. And, the background bristol board, as mentioned, should have
been lowered so it appears seamless in the photo's background.
Angled Shot - 45 Degrees
This next photo was shot at about 45 degrees. This is a good angle for the pancakes as it shows the fruit, the pancakes, and a good view of the
butter, and blueberries on top of the pancakes. There are no harsh shadows on the left of the pancakes so our Fill Board has provided enough bounce light to
eliminate any visible unwanted shadows.
Over The Food Shot
This next shot is an over the food shot. For this you need a tripod that has an extendable arm for this type of shooting. You can hand hold the camera if you can keep
the camera really steady as you shoot. Holding your breath as you take the shot is known to help. And, if you do hand hold take several shots, chances are one will
For this over the food shot, I used my Manfrotto Compact Tripod. It has a swivel ball head so I could angle it downward no problem, however it has
3 legs, which made it somewhat challenging to take the shot. I lowered all legs to their shortest distance and put the tripod on the table.
Because we are taking our shot over the food we see the spaces all around the food, including any harsh shadows we don't want. For this shot, Our Fill Board that is
positioned left of the food(Fill Board 1) did not provide enough bounce light to take out the harsh shadow(see arrow in photo) at the left back side of the shot - the shadow on the plate.
So, to get rid of that shadow we will need
to use a second Fill Board(Fill Board 2) and place it directly behind our food dish just out of camera range. That should bounce enough light to lessen that harsh shadow.
To position your second Fill Board you can use whatever you like to keep it in place. For my two Fill Boards I used white push pins; for the First Fill Board,
I put two in the wall to hold the first Fill Board (and it is supported by the table). For the second Fill Board i put 2 white push pins in the first Fill Board near
the top where I lined them up together; and with just enough space to nudge in the second fill board, and then two push pins at the bottom of the first Fill Board,
and again nudged in the second Fill Board to keep it in place.
Because these foam boards are so light, the push pins are ideal for securing them while you shoot.
Look at the photos of the Fill Boards to get their distance from the dish. The closer you can get the fill board to your harsh shadow the better.
Lighting is Most Important
Lighting is most important for all types of portraits; including food shots. Without adequate lighting for your shot, harsh shadows are likely. A Fill Board may help eliminate
some of those harsh shadows but if the Subject light being thrown isn't sufficient, it won't get rid of those shadows completely, and your beautifully displayed food
just won't look appetizing.
Look at this photo of noodle types. I shot this with my Nikon L32 Point and Shoot camera and for lighting- a 72 bulb Dimmable Video Led Light mounted on a tripod.
At the time, I thought it was pretty good lighting. The center dish has the most light, although around the right side of the noodles are harsh shadows. The first dish has harsh shadow around the outside and inside of the dish,
and the third dish has a mix of light and harsh shadows.
Harsh shadows should be avoided in all shots. In some instances soft shadows can be appealing for a food shot to contrast color, depth or texture of what your shooting.
In this noodle shot, that is not
the case, so additional Subject lighting(a Softbox light) and a Fill Board would have made this a much better photo.
Buying A Softbox
You can buy a professional Softbox on Amazon for less than $80.
Look for one that includes the stand, the softbox, the diffuser, and the bulb. Look for ones that are for Continuous Lighting. It can have just one bulb socket as mine does, or
it can hold two or four bulbs per Softbox. You can also buy strobe lights or flash lights that will provide adequate lighting also. However, these types are usually more expensive and
more complicated to work with. A Continuous Light Softbox is ideal for Portraits and Food Shots.
The one I purchased is made by the Newer brand. It included a 85watt photography bulb.
Get a least a 85watt photography bulb, especially if your going to use just 1 Softbox. Photography bulbs are different than household bulbs. Besides being
energy efficient, with many service hours (8,000- 10,000 hours average rated), they also are less hot than household bulbs. The 85 watt photography bulb that
was included with my Softbox is equivalent to about 350 watt candescent common(household) bulb. A 45 watt photography bulb is equal to about 200 watts (household common bulb).
And, if you do buy the stand and softbox separately, make sure the stand is able to fit your softbox. Most are universal from what I have read, however, some may
only be compatible with same brands.
Also at Amazon, a Softbox item may show the Softbox picture with a stand, however, for some items the stand is not included so do read the item writeup to see what is and is not included.
In This Tutorial Article
In this tutorial article, you have seen how food can be arranged for a food shot; and how to position your Fill Board(s) and SoftBox for proper lighting.
Shooting at different camera angles allows you to choose what's best for your displayed food.
Do take test shots, then check your shot for harsh shadows. If needed, add a second Fill Board to get rid of unwanted harsh shadows.
Also try moving your light source closer to your food, or reposition it somewhat, to see if this helps eliminate the unwanted shadows.
Experiment With Your Shots: Try moving your light source behind your food for a different lighting perspective. And, take your shot at different position than your light source.
In our next tutorial article, you can learn tips on How To Make Your Food Look Great For Your Photo Shoot.
You'll learn about arranging colors, what plateware to use, and ways to keep your food fresh looking while you shoot.