Lessons from the Scene: Top Five Food Photography Tips for Your Thanksgiving Holiday



So what makes food shots appetizing?  Here are some food photography tips for the holidays. 

After all the hard work of cooking and putting the food on the table, grab the camera for some great food shots, before it's all devoured.  And of course, take some food prep shots of those hardworking chefs in the kitchen or the kids sneaking some fresh-cut carrots.

1. Composition

Food shots during the holidays are fun, entertaining, and challenging and composition is king. One approach is to arrange the food for a cornucopia still life.   Another is keeping it simple and make just the turkey or ham the feature in the photo.

Whatever your choice, make sure you chose interesting angles. Shoot from the tabletop or straight down at the food.  Be mobile and chose your composition very carefully. Make sure you stay aware of empty space between dishes, because they are magnified if not filled with interesting subjects.  Don't worry about moving some items close into each other, while moving some out of the frame.  Just make sure it isn't your favorite pumpkin pie from Aunt Ethel!

It may be extra work finding the right composition, but well worth the extra effort. Contrasting color, shapes, and textures will make the table appealing.  Look for brown vs. yellow, red vs. green, round vs. triangle vs. square, smooth vs. rough, wet vs. dry, etc.

2. Lighting

Front flash does not lend itself to good food photography, because it creates too many hot spots and blows out the texture. Food photography is all about texture.

Natural lighting is your best choice, because it brings out all the natural textures and tones of the food.  Simple lighting usually creates a festive, holiday mood.  If you are laying out your food for the shot, pick a side that’s near a window.  White curtains are preferred to filter any direct sunlight on the food.  Trust me...you will see the difference.

Want ambiance?  Candle light (or combination of natural light with candle) is a great way to approach the shoot. The food should be set for the strongest light source, then place with candles for composition.  Yes, candles by themselves as your light source is difficult to achieve, but it is not impossible. Candles will give a warm glow to the food (which is not a bad thing).  Use a wide-open aperture and the fastest shutter speed for a correct exposure.

Lastly, bounce the light from a white ceiling.   It’s another way to create a natural light effect.

3. Set the scene

Capture the moment the food looks most delicious.  There is little time for retakes.  Pre-planning is in order.

Before the food is done, make sure you set the area where the Ham or Turkey will be placed right out of the oven.  If it is going directly to the table, get the platter ready with your decorations and garnish—edible flowers, artichokes, etc.

A tripod may be necessary to keep the camera in the right place for the shot. If there are too many youngsters running around, you may need orange cones to set around the camera (just kidding - this may be asking too much). In any case, advanced preparation is needed for the perfect shot of steamy, moist turkey, fresh from the oven.

The setting is as important as the lighting. Hopefully you've found the perfect spot. Don't forget to take the shots of the chefs and/or tasters. There is lots of material for an opportunity to take some special moments. The ultimate food photographer's secret: take the shot that makes your mouth water.

4. Chose the right lens

Doing closeups of food is a great way to capture the character of the dish.  Choosing the right lens for this makes all the difference. Something between a wide angle and a long telephoto in the neighborhood of a 35-100mm with macro capabilities.  Food close-ups are extremely appetizing if captured from the right angle.

There are a number of lens choices. You need the flexibility to zoom in and out, to control composition, and capture the dominant color and texture.  You will want to take a variety of closeups and wide angles for editing later.

ISO speed is also important for indoor photography.


5. Color

Holidays make great food photo opportunities. Take advantage of the seasonal colors and decorations. You do not want to over-power your food shot with busy or wild combinations of color.

Be selective.  Add or remove props to compliment the food. Consider the background color too. Natural light gives the food a natural, appealing look.  Don't be shy about adding extra garnish and moisture to finish with accents of color and freshness.

Bonus Tip: Take lots of shots (bracket fstops on the final shots), and don't forget to enjoy the food after you've captured the moment. Most importantly, be sure to get your shot before you are inevitability booted out of the kitchen. Good Luck!