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.


Today, I have a quick starting point for food photography for you.

Food Photography

Food Photography

  • Lighting: small speedlights are good.
  • Use one umbrella on top, and one gridded light from behind to add accent (and to light the steam. If there is steam, try to use a dark background)
  • You may want to shoot from a low angle.
  • Blur out backgrounds.
  • These backgrounds can contain a cup or glass, cutlery, etc.
  • Prepare the food: If you have no food stylist, you are it. Every detail counts. Make it look great. Add some “green stuff”. Use a brush with oil to make surfaces shiny and yummy.

And do not forget to eat the food, afterward.

Indian Food Photography

Indian Food Photography

(Although you would be surprised how many food shoots use fake food. Ouch!)

One more, for good measure (I shot these for West of the City magazine early this year).

Indian Food Photography

Indian Food Photography


OK, do not eat quite yet.

I shoot events. All the time. It is what I love to do.

And these events are organized by corporations, or wealthy people, or governments, or charitable organizations. You name it. People like to get together. And all these people have paid a lot for the food – or sweated, making it.

And food is ephemeral: it’s there – then it’s not.

This is where photographers do a very useful job. One good photo, and that food exists forever. Like beauty, or youth.

And like these delicious strawberries, which I shot at a very nice private event in Toronto on Labour Day:

Strawberries, by Michael Willems

Strawberries, by Michael Willems

There. And this too:

Food Shot, by Michael Willems

Food Shot, by Michael Willems

The way to do this:

  • Set your camera to manual exposure mode.
  • Expose two stops below ambient (choose aperture and shutter so that the meter reads -2. This might be 400 ISO, f/4, 1/60th second).
  • Make sure your aperture is fairly open (that’s the “f/4”).
  • Bounce your flash off the ceiling/wall behind you.
  • Focus on the closest part.
  • Tilt as needed.

Your images will be loved by your client. The book can now include food shots as background or detail shots. The food is now good forever. The investment is secured for all eternity. And the story is a better one: not just grip-and-grin images, but also “background”.

Capture the detail

When shooting anything, including events, always make sure you catch little details, not just the big overview pictures. Like this, from a recent corporate event shoot:

Snacks at an event: a food shot by Michael Willems

Snacks at an event: an impromptu food shot

Wide open aperture, bounced flash, camera to manual: grab shots like this and you add to the story.

Shooting an event: choice of shots

A few tips, on and off over the next few days, about shooting events. Events such as parties, clubs, openings: lots of people and they are camera aware.

Today: What to shoot. I recommend that you shoot “all three views”:

  • Overview shots, showing “the whole thing”: wide shots with the entire venue, entire room, and so on.
  • Medium shots, with one or two people
  • And finally: detail shots. An aspect of the room. The stereo and a CD that’s playing Notes on the fridge. Or like in this shot, the food:

(Can you see that I bounced the flash off the ceiling behind me?)

If you shoot plenty of all three views, you will have plenty of material for a great album. And people remember the details!