Oct 152011

This is about taking great snapshots of beautiful food on a plate when you are eating out (or maybe your own masterpiece). The examples here are taken with a little Canon SD4000 point-and-shoot, 10MP, with a f2 lens, and as jpeg files. Great little camera, but not pro equipment. Who wants to whip out a massive 5 pound pro-grade DSLR when you are just enjoying a meal.

I tend to take a few shots of each meal, from different angles (above, from the side, close-up, and whole plate), then later choose the one that works the best for the dish served, and what I want to show. Back on the computer, I enhance carefully to perfect the image, and add a little delectable feel to the food. Each shot needs a different treatment, when you take the shot, and when you enhance it. In this post, I talk about taking the shots.

Where you see a set of small dots at the top left corner of an image, it means that there may be additional comments. I am beginning to test a new plugin from thinglink.com to allow me to add additional written tips and audio comments to the images. At this stage, only a few images have comments embedded, and only on this post. Roll over the image and see little circular buttons. Roll over the button for a written tip, or (on some images) a pop-up media player.

Here first are my general rules, and the specific techniques are then described with each image. These rules and techniques are for the average picture-taker, and not intended for pros. There is a whole array of techniques and equipment used by pro food photographers that can make even a MacDonalds look enticing.

  1. Recognize the key elements in the dish, what the chef is going for, and what is the “star” of the show on the plate.
  2. Use the lighting that is available whenever you can. Avoid flash – it creates shadows and too much contrast. It also lights up the closer parts too much.
  3. Use a low ISO rating for least amount of noise (grain). This means you need to use a large aperture (if you can choose Aperture Priority). Otherwise use the Portrait Mode (it does the same thing). If you are going in close, use the Macro (tulip icon) Mode. A large aperture gives you the fastest shutter speed possible under the light conditions.
  4. Remember that blur of a food shot is a big no-no.
  5. Hold the camera firmly and gently squeeze the shutter to avoid motion blur. This is also why you need the fastest shutter speed you can get.
  6. Frame the image to fill the frame as you want it to look: from above to show the whole plate and layout; at an angle from the side to show dimensions; right in close at a low angle for an intimate feel. Try the plate from different angles (like a portrait) to show the meal at its best.
  7. Do your autofocus on the most important element, and try to have it in the middle of the plate somewhere. Since you are using a wide aperture (or Portrait Mode), your depth of field (how much is in focus) will be limited and must be perfect.

For enhancing these images on a computer, I worked in Photoshop Lightroom. The same rules apply (each a little differently) for Apple Aperture, Photoshop, or other image management tools.

You need to try adjustments like Auto Levels, Color Temperature, Tint, Brightness, Fill Light, Vibrance, Clarity, Sharpness,Vignetting, selective Saturation, Brush Tools, and more. All that for another day.

Tornedos with Salsa

This one is best from a high angle, to show the arrangement on the white plate, and the contrast between the meat and the greens. Also, the salsa topping is an important feature to include. The angle gives the feel that the diner would get of this meal, and feel like it is ready to eat.

Click on the image at right to see full size.


Carpaccio with Sprouts and Pomegranate

On overhead shot of this delightful meal shows the spread of the thinly sliced tuna carpaccio topped with the sauce and other items. A tight zoom and crop shows the textures and colors best. I have included the edge of the toast to give texture and contrast. For this one I wanted details. One of the many adjustments I did in Lightroom was to saturate the Orange to bring out a richer and more natural look on the carpaccio.

Click on the image for the large version. Tip:  Get the toast looking crispy

Salmon on Potato and Salad

I wanted to show dimension, ingredients, the sauce topping, as well as the sectional texture of the salmon. So I chose a tight shot from a low angle, paying close attention to the focus. The bright spotlighting in the restaurant adds some natural highlights. I also did quite a lot of enhancement in Lightroom, including brushing on some Brightness to the face of the salmon and the potatoes, to give a slight look of translucency for depth.


So, I hope this has given you some ideas for capturing your next special meal, as a work of culinary art. If you post your images, please share these with URLs in the comments section.



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