Food & Drink Photography

This is a subject that annoys the ever-lovin’ !&*$#@^ out of me.  I love food, I love drink, and I love photography, so why the bloody hell is it so hard to get them all together in the same place and cooperating nicely??

Ahem.  Calming down now, deep breathing, kum by ya-yas, and all that rot.

This is one that really does irk me.  Essentially it’s a matter of still life photography, with some particular tweaks, most of which I’m not too great at yet (hey, room for improvement!).  As best I can gather, the following are all highly important.

  • Controlled artificial lighting. Including source type, angle relative to subject and camera, and intensity.  And possible use of multiple sources.  Studio lighting, in other words, which is not my strong suit.
  • Vessels (plates, bowls, and especially stemware) with atypical reflective properties – read: shiny things.
  • Making the subject appealing; see also: Food Porn. The use of things like olive oil or water misted onto food to make it look more moist, use of obviously decadent ingredients like truffles, chocolate, wine, well-marbled kobe beef, gold dust (no joke!) and so on.
  • Composition, otherwise translated as “presentation” in the food world. Go turn on Food Network for an hour or two and you’ll hear all about it.
  • Controlled backgrounds. You can’t go having, for example, a cat litter box behind a shot of steak and potatoes.  Because, ew!
  • What stage of the cooking process you want to photograph. Raw ingredients?  Prepped but not cooked?  Actively cooking, complete with slick moves and twirling liquor bottles?  Finished product?

A few examples are probably in order.  First up: mojito time!


Getting the reflections right was a real nuisance on this.  It took me about 10 shots, all on tripod, before I got one I liked.  Also a nuisance was the fact that the light inside was incandescent and outside it was daylight, so I ended up needing a flash to balance the exposure of the two (couldn’t use a grad ND filter since the shot’s vertical like this with one subject running throughout).  But after tinkering with settings, it all came out OK.

Next, your more classic still life.

Asian Staples
Asian Staples

The biggest trick here was hiding the background (TV stand and wine rack, if you look close enough).  I had to use a flash coupled with a flashlight on the bowl, and use a really short shutter speed to get what I wanted. 

Now a less successful version of doing the same thing:

Five Harmonious Foods
Five Harmonious Foods

The composition of the food and drink is OK, but the background is a mighty distraction. 

And last, just something I stole from Jacque

Horseradish Cod a la Pepin
Horseradish Cod a la Pepin

So that’s the very basic on food photography.  I’m going to try and do a better job of this.  Studio lighting is not one of my strong suits, but obsession with food and drink will probably help me along this path. 

Got any ideas how to improve?  Other tips on taking outstanding photos of food and drink?  Sound off in the comment section.


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