There is way more to food photography than fiddly studio shots. Claire Gillo shares food photography projects to try during lockdown, using images from the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year contest

If you’re stuck at home a great way to keep yourself entertained is to immerse yourself in food photography projects. You may think you need lots of fancy kit, but this simply isn’t true. As long as you have some food, a camera and lens you can have a go at this great genre, and the creative opportunities will stretch as far as your imagination can go!
Some of the images in this feature have been shortlisted for the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year competition, who have also just announced the winners. For further details, see www.pinkladyfoodphotographeroftheyear.com.

Food photography projects

Ready steady throw!

Throw or drop food - food photography projects

Throwing or dropping food into the frame is an effective way to create an interesting result. This image was taken using one external flashgun, a reflector, a black background and a few props. When it came to dropping the crisps and firing the flash we found it was simply a case of trial and error to get the crisps in the right spot.

Backlighting beauty

Backlight food

© Stuart West, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020

This image titled Edamame was shot by highly acclaimed food photographer Stuart West (stuartwest.co.uk) and has been shortlisted in the Production Paradise Previously Published, a category of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020. Stuart shot this image for Waitrose as part of a New Year health campaign. Stuart tells us, ‘They wanted the images to have this scientific look. I backlit the edamame beans to give the image texture and this punchy appeal.’ Stuart had to combine two images together to get the final effect. ‘You can’t always shoot it all in camera,’ he says. ‘As the client wanted a slight vignette around the outside with a brighter centre I shot the background and edamame beans separately.’

Stuart also relays the importance of making your chosen choice of editing software work for you. ‘I use Capture One for the majority of my image processing, and find it gets great results for what I want to achieve. It’s important to develop your own style to make your images stand out.’

One light

Photographer Stuart West says, ‘Keep it simple. Food should look natural and beautiful. I often only use one light source for my images. If you are just starting out it’s best to experiment and move the light around so you can see what works.’

Perfect colours

For capturing perfect colours we recommend you shoot in raw so you have more flexibility at the editing stage. That way you can really make sure that red apple is as red as you want
it to be, or those orange carrots look punchy. Avoid using lights that will cause a colour cast such as household lamps.

Tell a story

Photo story - food photography projectsPhoto story - food photography projects

Photo story - food photography projectsPhoto story - food photography projects

Home baking provides you with the perfect opportunity to get out your camera.

If you have little ones you can capture some momentous messy moments, although you may have to do some major cleaning up afterwards! If on the other hand you are home alone you can always use a tripod and the self timer to take the shots. When it comes to presentation it can help to use multiple images to tell a story. Here we’ve arranged four photographs to show the bake from start to finish, but also by converting the images to black & white it helps with the storytelling element, and showing the family dynamic.

Pay attention to the details

Pay attention to details

© Maison Onigiri, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020

This collaborative image called Apple Pie between Eri Hosomi (hue-hue.com) and Kaori Yuki was shortlisted in the Pink Lady Apple a Day, a category of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020. If like Eri and Kaori you want to take scrumptious-looking images then you need to have some fun with it. Eri tells us, ‘Through this image, we wanted to tell the joy of cooking and tasting food just like we enjoy fashion; after all, you are what you eat. To recreate a handbag using an apple pie, we paid attention to every detail of a handbag. In particular, we wanted to make sure that the latch didn’t get lost within the texture of the pie. So, we emphasised the dropping motion of syrup using high-speed strobes.’

In a galaxy far far away

Food solar system

© Gareth Morgans, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020

Photographer Gareth Morgans (garethmorgans.com) has been shortlisted in the Fujifilm Award for Innovation, a category of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020. ‘I love macro photography and specialise in food so I’m always coming across interesting textural ingredients!’ Gareth, a self-confessed space, astronomy and Star Wars enthusiast, tells us. To create the final effect Gareth photographed each seed and spice individually at the maximum magnification. He used a Phase One XF camera with an IQ3 100MP medium format digital back on a 120mm Schneider Macro lens at 1/250sec at f/8. ‘This amazing camera allows you to auto focus stack an image by selecting the furthest and closest surfaces of a subject. It then takes multiple files at different focus points, which I then exported via Capture One to Helicon Focus. This builds a single TIFF file from all the focus stack points. Each seed required between 30 and 40 exposures. The seeds were lit by a single Profoto D2 1000 flash head. We then built the space scene compositing in each seed/spice as a solar system, dropping in a Sun and star system to add depth.’

Natural light

Natural light

© Maja Danica PeCaniC, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020

You don’t need lots of fancy kit for professional-looking results. Making the most of the natural light is an effective lighting technique for many food photographers. This image called A Fish Ring, shortlisted in the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year, InterContinental Food at the Table category, was taken by Croatian photographer Maja Danica Pečanić (www.majadanica.com). The image shows artistry from both the photographer and chef. ‘I was taking images in a venue in Croatia called Boskinac,’ she says. ‘The location is a blend of a boutique family hotel, winery and a Michelin guide restaurant. Boskinac acts as a peaceful Mediterranean oasis where the head chef crafts small symmetrical sculptures from fresh Adriatic fish, trout roe and dried octopus, which are as tasty as they are beautiful. My aim in this image was to capture the beauty and sparkle of the golden crispy skin, and the transparent shimmer of the roe using just the soft delicate natural afternoon light.’

Creative angles

Creative angles - food photography projects

Explore your subject from different angles to come up with an effective composition. This product image taken for Darling Spuds crisp company is a simple yet compelling setup. Using layers in the composition such as the basket in the corner of the frame brings another element of interest to the image without it being overcomplicated.

Make a hero

Use props to draw the eye to your main subject, however remember not to let them upstage the hero of your image. Items such as metallic spoons and cutlery or wooden items are preferable over brightly coloured items as they may distract the viewer.

Make a mess!

Make a mess - food photography projects

This can be done with a young or older model, however younger people are usually willing to get messy and may find it more fun! Throwing flour into the air using flash photography will get you fun and excellent results. Remember to protect any kit such as your lights by placing a clear plastic bag over the top and taping around the bottom, else those fine bits of flour will find their way in and destroy! With this type of shoot count your model in to throw as you fire, and experiment in both throwing and clapping the flour.

Let it decay

Let it decay - food photography projects

© Anne Mason-Hoerter, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020

Anne Mason-Hoerter (www.aine-photography.com and follow on Instagram @annehoerter) shortlisted in the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year, OVI Cream of the Crop category, took this image of a purple cabbage as part of her continuous project. A couple of years ago Anne discovered large amounts of discarded food, which was too old to be sold at the local supermarket. ‘Although it was considered unsellable, I found that through the ageing process, the food started to show their wonderful imperfections and vast variety of colours,’ she says. ‘My aim for the project through the images is to bring attention to the beauty, strangeness and unique structure of discarded pieces of produce. I have always been fascinated with the intense variety of structure and colour of natural objects in their process of decay.’

The final touches

The final touches - food photography projects

© Stuart West and Tanya Sadourian, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020

Food photography is often a collaborative project between a photographer and a food stylist. This image was shot by photographer Stuart West, and styled by food stylist Tanya Sadourian (www.tanyasadourian.co.uk). Tanya tells us, ‘The main aim was to create a delicious and beautiful shot of clams cooking in a pan. For the food styling I took a relaxed, and natural approach. With the image being close up, and quite simple, I decided to bring as much colour to the dish as possible, with pops of red, purple and greens. To help create the feeling of the clams cooking, I melted the herby butter on set with a torch, just before we took the shot. We had a version without the butter and with, and it definitely added the finishing touch having the melted herb butter.’

Minimise clutter

Less is more and the background and surrounding objects in your image are just as important as the main subject. Ensure you remove clutter, and keep it simple. Mount your camera onto a tripod to help you work up an effective composition and experiment removing/adding components to your image.

Food picture

Food picture - food photography projects

Create a picture from food you have already on your shelf and in your fridge. A watermelon, rice grains and banana have been arranged in this setup to create an umbrella and rain clouds with the sunshine poking out behind. To add the final touches the clouds were drawn onto the green background (which is a piece of A4 paper) using chalk.

Open your aperture

Open your aperture - food photography projects

By using a wide aperture you can create a dreamy and effective result. This image was taken on a trip in India and shows a young boy’s hand holding some bora berries. The grey background, and neutral tone of the boy’s hand makes the berries pop and become the star of the image. The softened effect of the fingertips also helps draw the eyes back into the berries.

Try these using these in your food photography projects

100mm macro lens

For close-ups try a macro lens with a 1:1 ratio aspect; it doesn’t have to cost a bomb. Third-party lenses like the Tokina AF 100mm F/2.8 Macro AT-X 100AF Pro D are a good option. Try second-hand lenses from trusted firms too.

5 in 1 Reflector

This handy piece of kit will come to the rescue on many occasions. From bouncing light back into the shadows to brighten your image, to flagging the light with the black side to enhance the shadows. Whatever the result you’re after, this will help you achieve that result.

Flashgun

Studio lights are pricey so if you can’t afford one of these then an excellent substitute is an external flashgun. Not only can you use these remotely you can also set up multiple flashguns although for the majority of the time one will suffice.

Diffuser panel

A softbox or diffuser panel is an effective way to create a softer and more workable light source. They can also be used with natural light where the light is too harsh to create softer shadows.

50mm lens

For those wider-angled shots a 50mm lens will do a great job. If you go too wide it can be harder to fill the frame when shooting at a closer distance.

Tripod

A tripod is an essential piece of kit for any food photographer. A tripod head that can make minor and accurate adjustments is preferable.

Extra props

Kitchen knives, sieves, spoons, rolling pins just to name a few. Have a collection of food props that relate to your subject to enhance your image.

Final food touches

Whether you need some extra icing sugar to dust on your cake or some melted butter to make your food look glossy, by paying attention to the small details this will enhance the end result.

Cloth

Food photography can get messy (especially if you are throwing food or liquid around). For that reason have a dish cloth or two to hand! They’ll also be useful to clean the edges of a plate or remove that unwanted and distracting flake of food.


Mark Benham Flour Frenzy

Photo insight: Flour frenzy

Mark Benham, winner of the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition 2016, explains why you don’t need perfect…

Home lighting

DIY home-lighting solutions

You don't need to spend a fortune to get professional-looking results. Claire Gillo shares her DIY home-lighting hacks for those…