We all love food as a society and even more as photographers. We can always find an interesting way to photograph food and share it over various social platforms to share our experience. As photographers we have all had to capture food at some point, usually at events if you do event photography or weddings. But what about commercial food photography?
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When I started photography I covered live music, events and then I did a natural progression to wedding photography and from there to commercial photography. I almost exclusively do commercial photography projects now. I say almost due to the fact that if you are a photographer you always get roped into many facets of the industry and end up photographing things you don’t usually, which is really great as it keeps you evolving as a photographer.
I was lucky enough to come from a graphic design background and through my career so far in photography was able to develop into a commercial photographer. My favorite facet of the commercial industry is food photography and this is what I am going to talk about today. So to anyone who wants to take their food photography from natural light to the studio this is for you.
When we photograph food at events or weddings we look for a naturally lit area to set up the food/dessert dishes to be photographed. We try get some delicious bokeh in the background which works really well. Taking your food dishes into the studio is a bit different as we try to eliminate all natural light. We then use artificial light to light specific aspects of the dish to create our look and feel. Don’t get me wrong each brand and product has its style and requirements but today I will be specifically talking about studio food photography.
I have recently finished photographing a project for a South African brand called Butcher Block. I was required to create a mood and lighting style that suits the brand and the only way I could do that was through studio lighting. This does not mean you need the most expensive photography gear, you can get great results with basic gear.
Here is what I used for the shoot :
- Canon 6D
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
- Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens
- 500 Watt Menik studio light
- 2 x 250 Watt Menik studio lights
- Brolly Box & Soft Box
All the backgrounds that we used don’t have to cost you anything either other than some time and some fuel depending on how far away from a tile store you are. Buying sample matt tiles from your local tile store is great for food photography backdrops and you can just return them afterwards and get your money back. The nice thing about getting sample tiles is that you don’t have to take up all the space in your house with backdrops from each shoot that you do. Simply use it, return it and use a different one for the next client/project. It is also important to note that working closely with a food stylist is crucial. A good food stylist will know how to prepare the food that works well with your lighting as well as tricks to make sure your food photography looks as good as possible.
So we have the gear and the stylist next is where are you going to photograph the food. This depends on the client. I have a good relationship with my stylist so we prefer to shoot at her studio as it gives us space. Some clients have a test kitchen where they create their sauces and design new dishes to go on the menu so this is also a good option. My least favorite option is shooting in the actual store as this can get messy with sharing the kitchen and trying to work around customers.
For my Butcher Block shoot we photographed in our studio on a table top with a beautiful view of the ocean. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Butcher Block is a franchise that does bold meat dishes and we came up with a dark theme for the photographs to keep it elegant and classic. The lighting set up that was used was intended to create a soft light that would blanket the whole dish but keep the edges dark with a brighter light from the right to highlight certain aspects of each dish so I could pull out the colors and tones when editing. The side light was also there to exaggerate the highlights on the sauces and meat to make it look juicy. The rest of the set up was to block out light coming from the outside that could change the feel we were going for. Because we are shooting in a studio set up with our own lighting we can make sure the light falls exactly where we want it to so when it comes to editing all that is required is some basic color grading/contrast adjustment and shadow/highlight increase or reductions.
When you are planning your light set up for a project always keep in mind what products you are photographing and what story or idea you are trying to portray. If I were shooting a fresh juice bar that uses vegetables and fruit then I would have to go for a light and bright concept and set up. For the Butcher Block project it was all about the meat and highlighting that with light in a elegant way that can be used on their menu and poster work.
Another important tip is to make sure you create a shot list or cover a range of different angles of each dish so the design agency or even just yourself have different options to work with as each dish has a different structure and a simple angle change could make or break the dish.
Here are some of the final images from my shoot for Butcher Block.
About the author:
Tyler Dolan is a Durban based commercial photographer specializing in hyper realism and editorial styled photographs often resulting in colourful and energetic imagery.
In 2012 Tyler became internationally recognized when he travelled to the UK exhibiting his http://www.tylerdolan.com/walking-the-streets in the AfroVibes Festival which consisted of dramatic portraits giving the viewer a powerful insight into his subjects’ lives. Tyler has exhibited various series of his work in the UK and the Netherlands from 2012 – 2014.
Since then Tyler has been concentrating on commercial photography working closely ad agencies creating content for South African brands.