The business case for including great images in your marketing is clear: photos are the fastest way of communicating to time-poor customers as demonstrated by the dominance of platforms such as Instagram.
As Better Food Traders one key way we can inspire and motivate our customers to commit to seasonal eating is by offering delicious seasonal recipes illustrated by lovely photographs that make the viewer imagine eating that plate of food. However the majority of us don’t have time or budget to hire photographers. Yet, food photography need not be daunting or out of reach: an amateur can achieve a photo good enough for Instagram or Facebook at very little expense, using a smart phone camera and a few props. Here are some top tips to get you started.
What you’ll need
A window, a plate and utensil, some coloured card, a smart phone, some seasonal veg, an hour out of your time and a spirit of adventure!
Throughout this process keep check, check, checking through your camera (a phone camera will work fine). What looks fine to the naked eye may look very different through the lens.
Lighting: start with natural and indoors
- Start with natural light, indoors at a north facing window if possible or at least a window with plenty of natural light on a bright day.
- Avoid direct sunlight as it washes out a photo and can create problematic shadows.
- Avoid photographing outdoors: the light will surround your food at all angles causing it to look washed out. If do you have to photograph outdoors, you can mitigate the diffuse light by creating shade on one or two sides of the dish using card or boards.
Props: keep it simple
- Props need to enhance the main attraction (the food) not compete with it. Choose plates with matte – not glazed – finishes, avoiding patterns.
- A plate with a curve up at the edges can give a more 3 dimensional look to the photo.
- Think about the colour palate. e.g. is your white plate a warm or a cold white? What will go with the colours in your food?
- You can also use chopping boards and slates. Or layer the plate onto a board to give a sense of depth and additional interest.
- Add interesting spoons, forks etc. You want someone to feel like reaching into your photo and eating that delicious dish.
Preparing the food: think asymmetrical angles, shapes, colours and texture
- Start with a really simple recipe of seasonal food, such as a winter salad.
- When cutting up food, cut at different angles and sizes so the dish isn’t filled with uniform shapes. Uniform shapes on a plate make people look at the pattern, not the food.
- Choose food items that create identifiable layers. Think about different colours, shapes and textures.
Remember, the aim of the photo is to make the viewer identify and want to eat the food!
Plating up: from big to small
Start with the bigger items and end with the small
- Start with spring green kale, add the orange squash cut at different shapes and angles.
- Add in some chick peas for different shapes.
- A splash of white – such as feta cheese – and black pepper brings the rest of the colours to life.
- Red pomegranate seeds or pink peppercorns provide a colour contrast.
- Take your time and keep taking photos. Go back and make adjustments to the plate as necessary.
- A splash of oil at the end brings the dish to life.
- Remember to check through the camera lens as you go.
- Don’t fill the plate, leave some room at the sides.
- Avoid putting food on the plate in uniform patterns. Brains want to see patterns. You want them to identify the food!
When looking at your photograph, people need to be able to identify all of the elements of food – avoid soupy plates of indefinable veg. You want someone to look at your photo and think about about the glorious taste of roasted squash not ‘What’s in that brown gloop?’
Experiment with different colour backgrounds and textures (using card, paper, vinyl cut-offs, boards etc). The same dish can look very different.
Angle: go bird’s eye
Start with a bird’s eye view. Use the grid function on your phone to make sure your dish is centred.
Photographing raw vegetables
Reveal their inside, their unique character and celebrate the subtle differences
Many of us will need to photograph raw vegetables to show what’s in a veg bag or what’s new to the shop that week. Here are some top tips:
- Reveal what’s inside – open that sack, cut open that potato, that beetroot, that squash to reveal the colours, patterns and textures within.
- In the hungry gap embrace the apparent ‘sameness’. Putting green vegetables together reveals their differences, not the similarities.
- You can experiment with something stylized, again putting similar colours together.
Take it to the next level
As you get more confident, progress to taking photos from an angle as though you’re sitting at a table ready to eat. Remember to put something interesting in the background.
- Hands on: Take the viewer into the action by having a hand in the shot (from the side so it doesn’t obscure the food), sprinkling some pepper on the dish for example. You want people to imagine they are there.
- Or ask someone to hold a vegetable (close – a camera makes everything seem further away than it really is). This adds human context and you don’t necessarily need their face in the shot
- Or if you’re feeling adventurous dress a table with several plates, glasses, serving spoons, condiments and other props. Group everything together to provide a sense of abundance.
Turn it into a reel!
Most importantly of all, enjoy the process and share the fruits of your labours with us on Instagram @betterfoodtraders 🙂
Huge thanks to food photographer and influencer Sara Kiyo Popowa @shisodelicious for her inspirational teaching. Contact Sara for details of her workshops.