Amateur’s Food Photography Part III: Take Your Time

by Jenn on January 25, 2011

in Photography

For me, food photography is about finding my zen space.  Last week we talked about evaluating the color and quality of light with a lot of technical information jam packed into a post, and this time I want to talk a bit more abstractly about photography.  Oftentimes we are flying around to take photos quickly while the food is still hot, only to realize after the food is eaten and gone and that what we shot on camera is less than desirable.  Sound familiar?

I’ll tell you a little secret about my French Onion Soup

prestaging for French Onion Soup

That pot didn’t hold any soup.  It was totally empty, and in this case acted as a prop just used for staging.  The soup was still in a pot on the stove, onions busily caramelizing away (after all, I did have 4 whole hours to set up this shot since French onion soup depends on slowly caramelized onion goodness :-) ) I knew I wanted to include the pot, even with all its scratches and wear, because I love the fun country feel it gives to the scene.  So I set my favorite cutting board on the table in front and started to think about my composition.

This soup had an entire head of garlic in it, which gave me the perfect excuse to set my garlic strand next to the copper pot.  I used a lens and lens cap as standins until I looked for the right bowls for my soup. Yep, these will do!

Staging French Onion Soup Shot Pullback for Onion Soup

Ok now that I have my “scene” a little figured out, I can play a bit – add some garnish from the scallions? leave them out? How about killing the incandescent over head light (see it reflecting on the bowls) and working on lighting up those shadows on the front of the bowls a bit – well, it’s rather rudimentary, but I think this setup will do for now (this is before I knew where to buy things like poster board) – I just hung some white place mats and positioned them to help bounce the light coming in from the windows, and played a little more with my framing, focus and exposure settings.  By the time the onions were finished and I was taking the bowls of soup out from under the broiler, all I had to do was set the bowls in place and then click with the camera.  Less than two minutes later, my husband and I were enjoying piping hot bowls of French onion soup.

French Onion Soup, Gluten Free and Vegetarian French Onion Soup, Gluten Free

Ok, in that minute or two I did take a couple more just for fun.  And yeah, I totally burned the bread.  Oops.  But the point is, I didn’t have to spend a lot of time fussing around with the food trying to find a shot while it was getting cold.  I planned ahead, and took my time.  Often, the photos that I am most disappointed with are the ones where I rushed.

And the way to keep from rushing is to find your zen with the shot.  Before the food comes to the table.  Play with the arrangement of the elements in the scene.  Play with the light.  Use stand-in plates while your food is cooking and try a bunch of angles and perspectives ahead of time, so that when the plate arrives, you already have a plan.  A well-thought out, put together plan – even if it is a little rough on the edges or doesn’t have any fancy equipment.

This week my suggestion for you is to plan your shot ahead of your food.  You can take your time while you make all of your photography decisions.

It will make all the difference.

Need to catch up? Read the rest of the posts in this series:
1 – Amateur’s Perspective on Food Photography – A New Series
2 – Food photography is about celebrating light