Bon appétit

Since I am hungry, I think a quick Food Photography recipe is in order. Here’s food, from the other day:

My way of shooting food:

  1. I shoot from a 40 degree angle, roughly.
  2. I use selective focus
  3. I use one soft light, and a back light. This can be natural light, or flash.
  4. I crop tightly.
  5. I like to make it look natural – with cutlery, etc.
  6. I arrange things as carefully as I can, and clean plates etc. after arranging.

If you use flash, here’s what you need: a table, the food, a flash with an umbrella above the food, and a flash behind the food aiming at you, possibly with some kind of modifier too, to provide what in portraits I would call “shampooy goodness”, and in food “yummy goodness”. That is all (well – that and the camera).

That’s what it looked like the other day, when I helped a student do some food shots.

And the shots looked like the one above, and like this:

Student Rhonda was kind enough to leave me the fruit cakes, and I ate them. Yum.



Excuses, excuses. Eat!

Every time I have dinner, I try to use that as an excuse to do some food photography, before I eat it.

And often I can. In those cases, as on the evening of August 10, I do the following:

  1. I whip out my 35mm or 50mm prime lens;
  2. I go to manual or aperture mode;
  3. I set a very large aperture – a small “F”-number, like f/2.0, or in this case, f/2.5;
  4. I compose carefully, to remove distractions. So I tilt, get close, move things, and blur out backgrounds, all to get a simple image;
  5. I get close! Cutting off half the plate is good. Fill the frame!
  6. But I include some of “plate, fork, glass”: things to indicate that this is food in a nice setting.
  7. I expose well, ensuring a fast shutter speed;
  8. I turn the plate, or reposition the food on the plate if needed;
  9. Ideally, I want open, soft light, and backlight. So I reposition the food to obtain that, if at all possible.

If I do this right, I now get this:

Pork Tenderloin ( ©2011 Michael Willems Photography)

And then I eat (Pork Tenderloin – yum).

And while the food lasts mere minutes (knowing me, seconds), the image lasts forever. I thus see restaurant food as an investment. I eat, and I get a stock photo into the bargain.


One more food note

Another note about that recent food shoot (see post of 29 July).

How do you get a shot like this – what are the important factors?

  • Good lighting: diffuse from front, hard from back. That gives it that lively, alive, shiny, yummy, vibrant, fresh look.
  • Good colour – white balance correct.
  • Good colour – add green to red, if you like – the garnish is essential here.
  • Good exposure – “to the right”.
  • Good composition.
  • “Food make-up” – again, that garnish. If food is older, use a brush with olive oil – that sort of thing.

Oh and that was a hurried shot – high-pressure shoot, no prep time. One reason you hire a pro is to ensure that he or she shows up, and that the shoot gets done as well as possible even if conditions are adverse.

Note that I teach specialized subject like this to interested individuals all over the continent. And also note, Joseph Marranca and I will do a “preparing and eating food” workshop this year. Stay tuned!


I am glad that I always carry everything in the car. Lights, light stands, umbrellas, pocketwizards, cables, lenses, and so on.  So that when a restaurant shoot yesterday involved food instead of interiors, there was no problem.

As the restaurant set up a table for the food (which was long enough so I would not need a backdrop), I prepared the following:

  • My Canon 1Ds Mk3 camera with 100mm macro lens;
  • A tripod;
  • One stand-mounted 480EX flash fired by pocketwizard, with an umbrella above the food.
  • One stand-mounted480EX flash, also fired by Pocketwizard, behind the food, firing forward;
  • On the second flash a Honl Photo speed strap and a 1/4″ grid;
  • I set the flashes to half power and quarter power, respectively. This is convenience and experience.
  • I set the camera to 200 ISO and f/8.  (and 1/125th second, but this was almost irrelevant).
  • I slightly adjusted the umbrella position.
  • I checked an image’s histogram: great. Highlights in white table blowing out slightly, none of the food blowing out: perfect. This is experience – I could have used a light meter but this was a hurried, high-presure shoot (the restaurant was about to open).

All that looked like this:

Food (Photo: Michael Willems)

And it got me shots like this:

Food (Photo: Michael Willems)

Food (Photo: Michael Willems)

Food (Photo: Michael Willems)

Straight out of camera that is not bad, what?

Take the above recipe and copy it if you like – see how you do with food!



…delayed post. Things in my life are intervening, but here is a snap: a food shot. Inspired by the feeling that at 2am, I am hungry.

How do you shoot that?

  1. A soft light above the food (a flash in an umbrella).
  2. A back light from behind the food, to give it that extra sparkle (and to light up the steam).
  3. A simple composition.

Simple once you know, as always.