How I (mostly) beat my fear of food photography
I can’t do this, I can’t do this.
This would repeat over and over in my brain whenever I was assigned to photograph food, and, for years, I couldn’t shake the doubt.
I’d just fumble my way through the photos, stressing and sweating, reeling off frames, hoping that somewhere, in the hundreds of pictures, my editor would find one he didn’t completely hate.
It’s fair to say that food photography scared the heck out of me.
So I did what any sane photographer would do.
I tried to shoot as much of it as I could.
I’d beg, borrow and swap on to any food-related assignment I could, hoping that if I shot enough frames, A) the fear would eventually go away, and B) someday, my food photos might not totally suck.
And boy did I spend some frames on food jobs. Like, 400-500 pictures of a single plate of food.
I’d shoot available light, strobe light, constant light, reflectors, candles, high ISO, low ISO, handheld, tripod, shallow depth-of-field, deep depth-of-field, long lens, wide lens, prime lens, and even fisheye.
I’d shoot until the food was cold and my camera was too hot to hold.
Frantic, I’d rush back to the office, plug in my memory card and restart the hysteria, again, lost in a sea of mediocre pixels.
Then, my mate Grant happenned.
“Just tell it’s story,” said the curly-haired oracle.
“Find it’s story,” he insisted. “Is it a light dish, or dense and dark? Is it warm winter food? A bright summery dish? Does it have hero ingredients, or is it an ensemble of flavours?
"Look at it or ask the chef questions. Then you’ll know what to do.”
For this food photo above, the chef told me it was a complex and mix of roast vegetables. It looked so precise, clean and cool, that I popped it on a rustic board near a window and overexposed my shot until the plate went white and the food looked really bright.
For the photo of the chef, I found a spot in the restaurant where the natural light looked cool. I popped a flash up on a stand, then locked the exposure so the bright parts of the frame had detail, then called the chef in to sit down.
He was busy preparing food in the kitchen so I did as much work as I could do without him before I bothered him. He sat down, and I moved the flash to camera left so it would fill his face.
I did a test shot, adjusted the flash, tested again, adjusted the flash, and tested one last time.
With the light looking nice, I got to work cajoling a nice smile out of the chef.
Do I still get nervous before a food shoot? Heck yes.
But thanks to Grant, I can troubleshoot my way through the cold sweats.
I shot this recently for The Border Mail’s Fresh lift-out, which prints on Fridays.
If you’d like to know more, please ask.