I had the pleasure to hear Beatrice Pultre speak at Boston University last week about food photography. Bea is a food stylist, cookbook author, and general foodie. She has a deep passion for food, especially True Food Movement kind of food.
She gave a lecture on how to take great food photos. Below are some of her tips, which I’m already putting to good use.
Be passionate about food. If you want to become a good food stylist/photographer, you’ll need to be passionate about food. Both cooking it and eating it. You should devour cookbooks, cooking magazines, and your Mom’s cooking. You should savor bites at fancy restaurants, but also at your neighbor’s house when he presents a homey and yummy plate. Inspiration can happen anywhere, after all.
Understand natural light. Food just looks better in natural light. No matter how much you try, you’ll never get the same shot using studio lighting. Take the time to explore your home for areas that provide good light and practice taking pictures there. It doesn’t have to be a fancy set up … often food photographers use a board on the floor and shoot from above.
Never use direct light. Although natural light can cast a warm glow, direct light will be too harsh. A sunny day might not be your best friend. You’ll need indirect and/or diffuse light to take your best food photos.
Look to food magazines for inspiration. Flip open a food magazine and see what photos draw your eye. Is there a way you can recreate that shot? Try it and you’ll learn a lot about lighting, food props, and how to compose a shot.
Let the food guide the props. What is the predominant color in the dish? What props do you have that will complement those colors? Do you want a photo that is sophisticated or homey? Urban or country? How do you accessorize to convey that story to your viewer? Think about all of these things when you’re putting together your shot.
Dress your set before you finish cooking. You only have about 10 to 15 minutes when food looks its best. After that you’ll be struggling with the look of freshness that we all crave. Have your lighting and props ready to go as soon as the food is finished so it will look its best.
Spray water bottles and olive oil. To make food sparkle have two things ready: a spray bottle to create water droplets (say on a salad) and olive oil to brush on food to make it glisten. These are the only two tricks that Bea uses and they leave the food perfectly edible.
Play with your food. You’ll want to play with the food a bit to create the best food photos. Try different angles, different props, perhaps some microgreens to dress up the plate. Keep playing with the photos until you find what you’re looking for.
Look for cheap props. The view from the camera is different than the dining room table. A scrap of fabric can look like a napkin, a rustic table top might only be a few boards nailed together. Scour yard sales, bargain bins, and fabric stores for items you can use for your shoots. If you open your eyes to new possibilities, you’ll find more creativity in your pics.
I learned so much from Bea that I’ll be writing another post soon about picking specific props for your shoots. To help support her as an artist, I picked up her cookbook, which is just simply gorgeous. I can hear her lilting French accent as she talks about the French food she cooks for her family. The great thing about her cookbook is it’s gluten free! Using a combination of different flours, she recreates many French mainstays in a healthier way that are just as tasty. I’ve already cooked her sweet potato nests and I’m planning on trying lady fingers next.
Bea’s book and her blog are called “La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life“. I highly recommend you pick it up! (Amazon affiliate link).