Whether you have your own blog or just want to wow your Instagram followers, see food stylist Nicolas Ghirlando's top tips for how to upgrade your food photography.
Tip 1. Daylight is really the best for food
Always try and shoot by a window in diffused light if you can. Harsh sunlight produces strong shadows and interior house lights give the food a horrible colour cast. Try and keep it as natural as possible and reflect light into too dark areas with some white card or even, as I have done on occasion, a white chopping board. Make the food again solely for the picture if needs be. Sometimes I’ve cooked a really lovely supper and made it the next day to get a good image to do it justice for the website. Also, don’t forget shadow and reflection.
Tip 2. Props and backgrounds
These can make or break the shot. No food is going to look good on awful props and a bad background. If you have to shoot on a kitchen table or bench, try and avoid showing anything distracting like plug sockets behind the food or mess in the room. Don’t use massive rimmed bowls, where the rim takes up lots of the image and the food appears tiny.
Tip 3. Composition
Try and think about how you see the food in the frame. Remember the rule of thirds where you cut the frame into three sections horizontally and vertically. Where those lines intersect are ‘golden points’ that the eye is drawn too. Use them well.
Tip 4. Structure
Think about the structure and form of the food on the plate. Think of it as a sculpture. If it doesn’t have much height or body, for example a curry or lasagne, think about how you can show it in an interesting way. Sometimes, overhead and graphic setups work well in these situations where you can use plates and boards as shapes and colours to give the food a setting. Try and make strong shapes to make the image striking.
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Tip 5. ‘Mess’
It’s rare that I bring a plate to the table or serve a portion of food without a little spillage, the occasional crumb or herb falling off the plate. These things add to the story you’re telling and show a little human presence. A spoon with sauce on in the shot where you have used it to serve some crumble for example gives a nice narrative.
Tip 6. Keep it real
As real as possible when creating an image, that is (see 7). Don’t overdo things and make them look as though they’ve been produced in a factory. As long as things aren’t burnt or a soggy unrisen mess, it doesn’t matter too much if your cake is a little cracked on top or your chicken legs are a little wonky.
Tip 7. Freshness
Make sure that, just as you are about to shoot, everything is looking perky and hasn’t dried out or collapsed. Replace wilting herbs (especially coriander, the herb that wilts in seconds) and give meat a little last second saucing if it needs it.
Tip 8. Plan ahead
Set the shot up in advance so you can get positioning right and decide little details, like if you want a spoon in or out of the shot, for example, or if it needs something else like some bread or salad in a bowl, just to set the mood. Don’t overdo it though, you don’t want to be cramming too much in which takes away from the main event.
Tip 9. Post production
Digital is not as ‘contrasty’ as film was so needs a little help here and there sometimes. A little brightening and darkening in parts, a little sharpening here and there. Images present a kind of truth that has been manipulated so don’t be afraid to use things such as Photoshop or the Snapseed app. if you’re using your phone to shoot.
Tip 10. Simplicity
Shots of the ingredients you are using in the dish can be more interesting than the finished meal. Sometimes that suffices (think curried spelt with salmon or beetroot curry). You can play with making still lives and, often, that gives you a lot more time to make the image. I include both on my site. Try not to overload the plate with the final dish. Things can look heavy and cluttered in an image more so than they do in front of your eyes. It’s easier to add than remove, so start delicately but with confidence. You are making a 2D image out of three dimensions so think about how that translates.
To celebrate the launch of Heinz [Seriously] Good Mayonnaise, Nicolas Ghirlando is working with Heinz on their Seriously Good Spoonfuls competition. For more information visit seriouslygoodspoonfuls.co.uk