The way i see it, food photography should make you hungry. Anything else is simply not good enough! More than that, food photography is all about the food itself and not about styling. Think about it for a second and you’ll see how photographing food can suddenly become very simple.
What I look at when I photograph food
By saying “not about the styling” I may annoy a few food stylists, but the truth is that I seldom use food stylists. I like working with the food the way it is presented to me to eat and not beautify it beyond recognition. More than about styling, photographing food is about passion. I like talking with the chef, try to see the dish through his eyes, ‘taste’ it through his buds. I focus on the feeling that I get from looking at a dish rather than looking at the flower pot or the wine glass next to the plate. I know this is over simplifying things and I am not trying to belittle anyone’s work or make him/her redundant, but be it a chef at an expensive restaurant or a vendor on the street in Old Delhi, they both try to cater to your taste buds, and this is exactly what I am looking for. I want you to feel that you can eat the picture, that you WANT to eat what is in the picture. More over, I want to create an expectation that can be fulfilled if you ever come to eat this very dish.
I used to think that food photography is something very difficult that takes a lot of practice, but I changed my mind about it. Taking pictures of food is as simple as eating it, and taking a good food shot should actually take less time than to eat the dish. Shoot it quickly before it doesn’t look fresh, and then eat.
Food styling, Yes or No?
Let me make it right for the food stylists before I continue. There is of course a need for good styling in food photos but there is a limit to what a stylist can do. Getting the right plates, table cloth, color matching takes a good eye and expertise, but once your sandwich looks soggy no one can revive it. What I’m trying to say is not that we should get rid of the stylists but that making a good picture is about something else. It is as simple as can be. Work with your heart. Focus only on making the food look good and forget about all the rest.
I personally like to work with available light as much as possible but I sometime carry a couple of simple garden tungsten lights that I bought a few years back for $10 each at a local market. I feel that the warm color of tungsten is fantastic for food and I don’t correct the white balance. I also like working with an open lens at f/2.8 to get a shallow depth of field. I feel it leaves something for the imagination and that it is good for everyone.
Here are a couple of images shot in Delhi last week for a story in a Spanish magazine. For the record I have to mention that I am a pure vegetarian so did not touch these specific two dishes, but having lunch after the shoot was a long and enjoyable process :-)