12 Important Tips for Excellent Food Photography

I have a lot of respect for food photographers. Until you have attempted to photograph food you have no idea how difficult it is to make food look edible. Making food appear savory is even more difficult. Because the camera fails to see the range of light which our eyes can see, we need to work overtime to to set up a food photo shoot using advanced lighting techniques and propping.

Food photography fit for a menu or a magazine is difficult work. But knowing how to set up our lights, and learning a bit about food styling, will allow you to greatly improve your food photography. Today we bring you our 12 most important tips for creating excellent food photos.

1. Light from behind. Place your most powerful light source so it comes in from a slight angle behind the food subject. The light source can be a window, or it can be a strobe. But the bottom line is you don’t want the main light to come in from the front, as it will mask the texture of the food item and make it appear flat.

2. Use Small Lights. Large light sources create a nice, even light and are generally more forgiving. However small light sources allow us to emphasize texture and moisture to a much higher degree. A small light is easier to control and direct.

3. Move in Close. Moving in close to your food subject invariably makes it look more savory. A wider shot is good when emphasizing the food subject’s role in a larger meal (for instance the turkey on a Thanksgiving Day table). But a close shot gets the viewer close and personal with the texture of the food.

4. Use Props to Combine Colors. Often times a so-so food photo can become a striking, vibrant food photo just by adding a splash of color. For instance aqua blue glasses in a blurred background can cause red meat in the foreground to pop with color. Professional food photographers spend a lot of time placing plants, colored glasses or plates, and other colorful items in the shot to emphasize the main subject. You should too. And don’t forget you can use the environment as your propping, cominining the soft blues of the sky and the ocean, and the natural greens of plant life, as compliments to your food item.

5. Use a Shallow Depth of Field. The more shallow, the better. The main focal point on your food subject should look nice and crisp, but otherwise you will be better off with the majority of the image out of focus. Not only does this help create emphasis for the main portion of our food item, it also creates wonderful blurs of color, light, and bokeh in the background.

6. Target Harsh Shadows. Soft shadows are great for emphasizing food texture and making a plate of food look tasty. But strong, harsh shadows completely destroy the image and are a nasty distraction. Use reflectors or additional light sources to fill in the shadows.

7. Collect Small Mirrors. Stop by a craft store and buy a bunch of small mirrors. The smaller, the better. Use the mirrors to reflect small light sources back at the food item, especially toward moist areas to create specular highlights. For instance, the glaze on a turkey or the filling inside a slice of pie. You can also use the mirrors to fill in the inevitable shadows.

8. Brush on Some Vegetable Oil. A little splash of oil brushed onto a food item can make a huge difference. The added moist look is great for making the subject appear more juicy and savory. One caveat. It is easy to go too far with this tip. Just brush a little oil onto the food, compose your shot, and evaluate.

9. Employ a Food Stylist. A food stylist knows how to present food in a way which makes it look as savory as possible. Small changes such as building up the vertical structure of the food, or adding a splash of color from sauce or garnishment, can make all the difference. If you don’t feel you have the skills to style food properly, contract someone who can bring out the best in your food subjects.

10. Lower the Light Source. This is another trick which will help you bring out the texture in your food sources. Lowering the light can make a big difference in emphasizing moisture and glazing. However it also creates more shadow. Soft shadows will add interest to your food and make for better quality food photos, so the more the better. However be on the lookout for strong, harsh shadows created by low light sources, and fill them in.

11. Lower the Camera Angle. I like to keep the camera between 15 and 40 degrees above the table for my initial shots. I will go higher or lower depending on what a client is interested in for the final product. But somewhere between 15 and 40 degrees is a nice place to start. I almost never consider an overhead shot. Doing so makes the food appear two dimensional by hiding its vertical structure. How low is too low? When you start to lose the top of the food, you are going too far. Otherwise, emphasize the height and three dimensionality of the food as much as possible.

12. Scrape the Light. If you are familiar with lighting, then you already know about scraping. Scraping the light in food photography is when we position the light source so that it just barely scrapes the front of the food surface. This lighting technique preserves the texture of the food, and it is my secret weapon for bringing out the best qualities of the food item.

Conclusion

Food photography is not a beginner’s photography or lighting topic. It is an advanced skill.

Employing these 12 tips will get you up and running immediately, and will make a big difference in the quality of your food photography. But like any advanced skill, you will need to be patient as you slowly perfect your craft.

Good luck, and enjoy the very rewarding topic of food photography. And don’t forget to eat your subjects!

Daniel Padavona is the founder of Warmpicture Royalty Free Images, and is an avid food photographer. He lives with his wife Terri, and their children Joey and Julia in upstate New York. When he isn’t taking his own photos, you can find him online helping others learn how to improve their photography skills.

Image Credits:

Photos provided courtesy of Warmpicture.com Royalty Free Images.

5 Basic Cooking Techniques for Students

Students don’t have to live on cold pizza and peanut butter sandwiches. Learn a few basic cooking techniques to cook for yourself while in school.

1. Roast

Roasting is a simple technique of cooking foods uncovered in the oven at a high temperature. This can make meats tender and vegetables soft and caramelized. Roasting works best with firm vegetables such as squash or sweet potatoes, as well as larger cuts of meat like whole chickens or a roast. To roast, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place vegetables in a large roasting pan and put meat on top. Season with salt and pepper and bake approximately 45 minutes.

2. Boil

Boiling is bringing water up to a high temperature, thus its boiling point. Most often, pasta is boiled. To boil pasta, fill a pot about two-thirds full of water and add about 1-2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil on high heat, then add the desired pasta and cook for about 8-10 minutes.

3. Grill

Grilling is a popular technique used to cook just about anything. While traditionalists require a charcoal grill, a gas grill or even a cast iron grill pan for the stove top can do the job. The grilling surface should be cleaned, then preheated before placing food items on it. Be sure to coat the grill or the food with oil prior to placing on the hot grill to keep it from sticking. For a comprehensive look at how to grill different foods, check out How to Grill Almost Anything.

4. Saute

Sauteeing is a way to cook something in a small amount of liquid, most commonly boneless chicken breasts or thin-cut pork chops. To saute, heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan or skillet on medium heat. Next, add meat and allow to cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. (Note: a good indication of when the meat is ready to be turned is when it no longer sticks to the pan.)

5. Fry

Frying is a technique of cooking items quickly in hot oil. To fry, begin with a large skillet or pan. Add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan by about half an inch. Heat oil to medium heat and coat the items you plan to fry with flour. To test if the oil is hot enough, toss in a pinch of flour; if it sizzles, the oil is ready. Slowly and carefully drop in the items to be cooked, ensuring that there is enough room for them to float in a single layer. When they begin to brown, turn them to cook evenly. When finished, remove the pieces and allow to cool for a few minutes on a paper towel before serving.

Louise Baker is a freelance blogger who usually writes about online degrees for Zen College Life. Her most recent article ranked the best online schools.

How to Choose an Indoor Grill

Grilling is one of the most healthy cooking options. It lets any grease drain away from the food, cutting down on your fat intake and total calorie intake.

Almost anything can be grilled, from fish to steaks to veggie burgers. What you cook on your grill is limited only by your imagination.  Unfortunately for those us that don’t live in Hawaii or Florida sometimes we have to grill indoors. So the question is how to choose an indoor grill?

The first thing you’ll want to consider when choosing an indoor grill is if you want a stovetop model or a countertop model. There are benefits and disadvantages to both.

  • Countertop: A counter top model is a great cooking option. You can find countertop grillswith a heavy lid so that the food cooks evenly on both sides in much less time. You can find countertop grills that are set at an angle so any grease drains away from the food and into a grease

    trap. The only real disadvantage to a counter top indoor grill is the space you will need for storage when it isn’t in use.

    Stovetops: A basic stovetop grill is more commonly referred to as a griddle.  You’ll want a heavy cast iron grill so you can use the highest heat possible on your stove. The only disadvantage of a stovetop model is that grease doesn’t drain as easily as with a counter top model. Although ther are stovetop grills available that have a raised cooking surface which helps to eliminate this problem.  The best benefit of a stovetop grill is the high heat you can use.

How to choose an indoor grill basically boils down to whether or not you want to cook on the stovetop or use a separate countertop model. Both are great choices when you’re forced to move the grilling back indoors in the dead of winter. With an indoor grill you can enjoy that great grilled flavor all year round.

Not All Olive Oil is Created Equal – Award Winning Apollo Virgin Olive Oil

Mastri Oleari Award Winning Extra Virgin Organic Olive OilSome interesting facts about Olive oil that you may not be aware of.

  • In the United States olive oil is graded differently from the rest of the world as they are not part of the International Olive Oil Council which defines the standards and monitors production of olive oil in most countries around the world.
  • This means that the IOOC grades do not apply in the US which has four grades of Olive oil – Fancy, Choice, Standard and Substandard. The quality is determined according to acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor.
  • Extra virgin may appear on labels for any grade of oil so it is no guarantee of the quality of oil you are buying in the US.
  • Olives need to be ground within a day or two of being picked to avoid oxidation.

So it pays to buy quality olive oil such as the Apollo – Mistral Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Mastri Oleari who has been named as one of the top 10 oil producers in the world, the Apollo range of olive oils are made right here in California.

This olive oil is certified as being extra virgin organic and is made from 100% first crush, cold pressed olives. Apollo olive oil is the only vacuum milled olive oil in the US .

You can make your choice from three different varieties of olive oil – Sierra which is complimentary to meat dishes, medium light Mistral which is perfect for sauteing or grilling and Barouni which ideal for red wine dishes, lamb and couscous.

How Long Does Olive Oil Keep?

  • Olive oil can go rancid so keep in a cool place and ensure that it is sealed properly.

  • A good olive oil should last between 12-18 months however it is best used within 3 months.

For more information about olive oil why not read our post on: What you need to know about Olive Oil

I Want to Make My Own Yogurt…Which Machine?

If you love yogurt and eat a lot of it, it’s a great idea to buy a yogurt maker.  There are many models available so how do you choose the one that’s right for you?  Let’s take a look at the features available to help you make the right decision.

What Is a Yogurt Machine?

Most yogurt makers have a heating unit.  This is rather like an enclosed incubator and keeps the yogurt at an even temperature.  This heating unit hold the jars in which you put the raw ingredients for the yogurt.  The most common kind are simply plugged into a power source, although there are a few exceptions.

Some models require boiling water to be added to an insulated incubator at the beginning of the fermentation process.  The insulation means that the boiling water retains its’ heat without the need for – or cost of – electricity.

How Many Jars?

You’ll need to think about how many jars your yogurt maker will hold.  Some machines hold 6 or 8 small jars and others have one single, large container.  The smaller jars are usually around 6 ounces each, which are a single serving and perfect for lunch boxes, snacks and trying to make different flavors of yogurt in one batch.  It also means that you could use different starter cultures in one batch. This can be handy if the members of your family have favorite flavors, so that you can make several flavors instead of one.  However, the reality is that most people with yogurt machines only make one flavor at a time.  Making several becomes fiddly and negates the point of having a time-saving machine.

A problem often mentioned in review of yogurt makers that use smaller jars is that sometimes the heat is not maintained evenly across all of the jars. With a single container, this should be less of an issue.

If you’re not sure whether to go for a multi or single jar machine, you may like to look for a model that takes both 8 ounce and 16 ounce jars.

How Much Does It Make?

Most yogurt makers will churn out between one and two quarts per batch.  Try to work out how much yogurt you or your family will realistically eat and also how frequently you will want to make it.  This should help you to decide whether you need a large machine or a smaller one.

Time is of the essence…

If a machine features a timer, do be careful to check out exactly what sort of timer it is.  Some have a  digital timer which counts down through the fermentation time and then beeps when it is completed.  This is a very useful feature as yogurt can take twelve hours or more to ferment, by which time you may well have forgotten about it!

However, others only have a dial or other system to allow you to set the time you put the yogurt on.  With these machines, the timer is just a reminder and there is no countdown or alarm.

Automatic Shut Down…a pro or a con?

Some machines also have an automatic switch-off, which turns the machine off for you once the yogurt has fermented and is ‘finished’.  This sounds like a good idea but in practice, you really need to be available once fermentation is completed so that you can put the yogurt into the refrigerator.  Even with the power off, the machine would maintain the heat that it had already reached, which would mean that the yogurt would continue to ferment.  This is not dangerous but may lead to the finished yogurt having a tart taste, which you may not enjoy.

The Big Freeze

If you love frozen yogurt, you will need to check if the containers in your new machine are freezer-safe.  Quite a few models have this feature but you must always remember to let the containers cool before transferring them to the freezer.

Remember that the best yogurt maker is the one that will fit your needs and actually get used.  Take your time choosing and then enjoy your own home-made yogurt!