Do you want to make ugly food photography? Are you trying to create photos so bad that even your mother doesn’t like them?
Of course you don’t, but the world is full of photographers unintentionally answering “yes” to these questions. If you’re a beginning photographer looking for a little help, here are some simple food photography mistakes to avoid.
Food Photography Mistakes
1) Lighting From the Front – This one is a killer. It’s the most common mistake make by photographers who use their on-camera flash. This is a cool look if you’re Terry Richardson, but for food, it doesn’t work. When lighting food, it’s best to light from the side or the back.
If you’re just starting out, try using natural window light from a north facing window. If you’re a little more advanced or stuck with lousy light, check out my tutorial on bounce flash.
2) Ignoring White Balance – Nothing ruins great food photography like a funky color cast. The Auto White Balance usually does a good job, but it isn’t perfect.
The most frequent problem comes from window light that turns everything blue. To correct for this, either perform a custom white balance or fix the white balance in Lightroom.
3) Missing Focus – This is a problem created by extremely shallow depth of field.
A lot of photographers will tell you to open up the aperture to f1.8 or larger to create a dramatic effect, but this throws way too much of the table out of focus. It looks especially bad when shooting from the top down.
Compressed depth of field can be dramatic, but it works best when the plane of focus is controlled with a tilt/shift lens.
If you look at food magazines and advertising, the focus tends to be deep, not shallow.
4) Centering Everything – When I first started shooting food, I would get low, get close, and center the object. This looked good, but it was boring and unimaginative. I still shoot this way for clients who need menu shots, but for editorial work, I try to pull back and move the food out to the edges.
At the bare minimum, I attempt to create a composition with depth by placing an element in the foreground, middle, and background.
5) Shooting Hand Held – If you’re photographing food without a tripod …. Stop it! By placing the camera on a tripod, you’ll slow down and build out the shot.
When you shoot handheld, the emphasis gravitates towards angle, not composition. The easiest way to set your composition and lighting is to place the camera on a tripod and work the shot. When you get something good, pull the camera off the tripod for a few final pick-up shots.
Lastly, the most important thing is to shoot a lot. If you’re really crazy about food photography and learn the art as well as the science, most of this stuff will naturally fall into place.