The launch of Instagram back in 2010 gave birth to an almost entirely new style of photography. Prior to photo-sharing sites, quality shots of food and drink were limited to menus and cookbooks. Since then anyone and everyone have been taking photos of their meals and sharing them with the world. Whether it’s a fancy meal in a high-end restaurant, a fast food binge or sampling a local cuisine on holiday people want others to know what they’re eating.
So, what is it that makes a good food photo? We thought we’d ask someone who knows…
William Reavell is a food photographer who has worked on cookbooks for celebrity chefs including Mary Berry and Rick Stein, on cookery shows like Master Chef and has also done work with organisations like Leith’s School of Cookery and The Guardian’s Master Class series on food photography. So it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about capturing cuisine.
Hi Will. So, how and when did you first get into food photography?
I was fortunate to be offered a job as a full time assistant to a food photographer in London, way back when before Instagram, or even social media was a thing. It was there that I met food stylists, chefs and other people passionate about food.
What is your favourite style of food to photograph?
Asian and Indian, when in front of the camera, it reacts magically with lighting and focussing into something special. The ingredients used in Asian and Indian cooking are very visual and iconic. A wonderful palette to work with in creating and image. Whether it’s a good curry or a beautiful noodle dish eastern cuisine is so packed full of colour and texture, making it perfect for a great shot.
Is there any type of food that’s difficult to take photos of?
For me, tortilla wraps, I love Mexican food but a wrap is a challenge to photograph well. A wrap is essentially a round cylinder shape which always looks a bit uncomfortable in front of the lens. Opening up the wrap or cutting through it can be a bit of a compromise. The colour and vibrancy is all in the filling, packed tight inside a relatively bland outer shell. To get a yummy shot your focus and attention to detail has to be really well manipulated in order to capture the best textures.
What’s the most interesting food photography shoot you’ve ever worked on?
Recently I worked on a project for P&O cruises on a ship called The Aurora. I was asked together, with a talented food stylist who I worked with, to photograph the signature dishes for their restaurants. Because of the size of the ship and the different styles of cuisine there were just so many types and varieties of food to capture.
And the worst?
It’s hard to pick a particular one, but it’s very much a team effort photographing food, so it’s difficult when teams don’t gel or a situation arises which causes tension, this is rare but challenging when occurs. Also, practically speaking, computers and cameras breaking down is a nightmare.
Do you require a particular kind of light when photographing food?
I love working with natural daylight, for me it’s the best. Overall a soft diffused light with a dash of a spotlight just helps to create the most beautiful photographs, particularly when focusing on a specific point on a plate. Soft diffuse lighting is used generally in commercial photography helping to show off the subject. Whether a model, car or smartphone a diffuse light is a good starting point. When shooting food the quality of the light in how it is diffused and its direction are used to create texture, and form in the food or dish.
Should the food be arranged in a specific way?
Yes and no, I encourage and look for spontaneity and happy accidents in food styling. However the food is being photographed from one viewpoint, so an element of presenting to the camera is required. Layering up your food often works well.
Do you ever put anything on the food to enhance how it looks in photographs?
The food has to look appetising, so anything can be used to enhance its colour and texture. Light oil, water sprays and even as strange as it may sound marmite. The cooking process has to be controlled, marmite, gravy browning natural food juices are used to add or reduce colour and texture in the cooked food. For example a roast chicken once cooked can wrinkle very quickly, although still edible can “look” a bit old and tired in front of the camera. Undercooking the meat and then carefully applying a browning substance e.g. marmite will give it a cooked look but keeping the skin tight and fresh. However as a general rule for cookbooks and magazines very little is manipulated and what you see is the real thing.
Do you take photos of your food when you’re out for dinner with friends and family?
I love photographing people with their food, so I will take a picture of the dish with the person tucking into their food. Rather than the plate only as a lot of people seem to enjoy doing.
What kind of camera would you advise a beginner to use?
Whatever your budget is get a camera that has straightforward and clear functionality. Controlling the aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity and focus are your only tools, which you use in operating the camera. So choose a camera that allows you to easily control them manually. Look for easy to use dials and buttons on the camera body rather than a complicate menu system, which takes you away from actual, picture taking.
What are your top three tips for a mobile food photographer just starting out?
By Mobile I assume you mean smartphone user, whether using a phone camera or professional camera, the same tips apply.
- Practice so using it becomes second nature. This allows you to enjoy the creative process of taking a picture and not get frustrated if the picture is simply the wrong exposure.
- The food is your palette to create your picture. Don’t be a passive onlooker but engage and get involved in some way with food.
- Go to art and photography galleries. Try to understand how artists use their medium in creating their pictures and photographs.
Do you have any upcoming exciting projects that you’re working on?
I am working on a project to create food pictures for hanging on walls, at home or in communal spaces featuring individual images of iconic food and recipes. I’m also running a workshop lab on food photography at this year’s food bloggers connect conference in Sept 2015 ( http://www.foodbloggerconnect.com/), so I’m very excited about that.
Well that’s all from Will for now but we’ll be sure to check in with him later in the year to find out all about his recent exciting projects. For more of Will’s work and food photography courses see below:
Don’t forget to upload your amazing food photography to CoinaPhoto too, we’ll be on the look out to reward some of the best images.