Food photography essentials: First the setting, then the cooking

Food rarely looks as good on a photo as it does on the plate. Photographers say you need to do three things to make a dish look delicious: have fun with food, have fun with photography and have fun with arranging. — Photo: gpointstudio/Westend61/dpa

BERLIN: Drops of water are pearling on the lettuce leaves. The viewer's mouth waters even though it's just a photo.

Skilled food photography perfectly captures food and eating, whether as a social media post or simply a beautiful memory. But well-crafted food photos take practice.

For Thomas Sixt, a chef and photographer, having fun while taking food photos is crucial to achieving good results. He has been cooking professionally for almost 30 years, and photographing his dishes for more than 20 years.

"Those who are passionate about taking photos, who are constantly inspired and ask themselves how they would have photographed something themselves, are constantly developing," he says.

The importance of arranging

Photography journalist Christine Bruns considers three things to be crucial in food photography: having fun with food, having fun with photography, and having fun with arranging.

"The rest comes on its own when amateur photographers deal intensively with the subject, allow themselves to be inspired, have patience, and also accept suggestions for improvement," she says.

Bruns explains that in addition to the actual food, a good food photo is also made up of proper photo craftsmanship. The lighting, the aperture, the shooting angle, the background, the image composition and layout, the colours and contrasts, how the photo is cropped, all are important.

Sixt recommends taking a close look at the food before photographing it to consider how it might be best presented.

"The photo trend is towards detail, but with surroundings such as the table, tablecloth, decoration and cutlery, a food photo can express even more," he says.

The number of items in the photo is also important. "It's better to position three items on the plate, such as muffins or potatoes, than two or four. An odd number corresponds more to our vision, we perceive it as pleasant," says Bruns.

What angle the photo is taken from also counts. "It has to fit the food and the statement. A piece of cake on which powdered sugar is just falling, I set the scene better from the front, a hearty stew in the cooking pot rather from above," Bruns explains.

Prepare the setting first

Sixt first prepares the table with a suitable background: china, cutlery and fabrics. The decoration should match the dish. For cupcakes, for example, it could be more colourful, for sushi more restrained.

Bruns also recommends thinking about and decorating the setting carefully before taking the photo. A suitable arrangement of the tableware, the various accessories, and the lighting are all part of this.

"I prefer soft, natural light from the side so window locations are ideal," she says.

Once everything is prepared, Sixt photographs the food as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence.

"A pink-roasted steak only ensures an optimal result in front of the camera within two to three minutes after cutting," the chef explains. "Beautiful colourful leaf lettuce reacts with vinegar and starts to deteriorate after 10 minutes."

What about photographing your food in a restaurant? "There are restaurants with photo bans, but in most, photography is allowed," says Sixt. "I recommend asking beforehand and taking photos discreetly so that other guests are not disturbed.”

Bruns says it’s important that your photo doesn’t show the other diners. Understandably, they just want to enjoy their meal.

How about smartphones?

Sixt says he uses his smartphone only for souvenir photos. The chef takes his professional pictures with proper equipment with a fixed focal length lens and a tripod. However, he adds that a smartphone is ideal for learning food photography.

One advantage of a smartphone is that it comes with image editing apps, including filters, and has direct access to social media platforms.

"For the quick photo, the quality is enough, but for high-quality photos, hobby photographers should get camera equipment and take the time to learn," Bruns says.

For the best food photos, Bruns recommends system cameras with fast 50- to 90-millimetre lenses. – dpa

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