One of the most difficult areas of product photography is food photography and as a result, we often see people searching for how to improve their food shots and what to avoid when taking on this kind of job as a packshot photographer. In this industry, one of the most important requirements is to make food images reflect reality, as the goal is to make people want to jump into that image and eat up the delicious food on offer.
We’ve put together three key things to avoid that we think will help elevate your food product photography.
By using front lighting, you immediately fail to show the depth and quality of your subject and it is something you should avoid at all costs. When it comes to food photography, you want to get creative with shadows during the shot as any added in editing will just look too fake. Another tip with regards to this topic for anyone in product photography is to try to underexpose images when shooting. The reason for this is that it helps preserve the shadows we mentioned above, that you will then work with, in the editing phase of your shoot.
Once more the focus here is on what not to do with lighting and in this scenario, our advice is to avoid using multiple light sources when working with food. There is actually some interesting psychology at work here because if you can create a direction of light that replicates the sun during when we would normally eat a meal, it can improve engagement in product photographs. Likewise, adding depth and specular highlights in this way also helps the viewer’s brain signal that the food in the picture is delicious and something they want.
Go for a single light source, placed anywhere from 9 to 3 on a clock face and in terms of angle, go for between 0 degrees and 45 degrees.
Many will use dodge and burn as part of your box of tricks in editing and there are certain situations when this is useful. However, when it comes to food product photography, a packshot photographer should avoid this where possible. That is because our brains will more likely think food is fake if overly edited in this way. With a bit of effort and research, you can utilise the editing tools to make minor edits to depth and dimension without losing the feeling of real, delicious food.
One of the ways this can be done involves lifting shadows and white, then dropping highlights and blacks. After this, you can then dehaze and add any clarity and texture that you feel is important. There are some fantastic guides out there on using particular software such as Photoshop and Lightroom and taking the time to learn will add a great deal of value to your proposition as a product photographer.
Ultimately, food photography is all about creating believable, mouthwatering product images that will not only draw attention and engage with viewers but make them want to jump into the photo and start eating. If you use lighting in the right way and be smart about the way you edit your shots then you can achieve fantastic results.