5 Tips That Will Make Your Food Photos Stand out from the Crowd

1 Cornish Game Hen

Food photography may be more popular now than ever before. The blogosphere is exploding with pictures of food, and social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram are flooding you with never-ending streams of food photos 24/7. Creating food images that stand out in this massive sea of content is a difficult task. Here are five tips to help you get your food photos noticed.

#1 Don’t be afraid of shadows

Shadows make a scene look realistic, give your food texture, and create mood, so don’t hesitate to make them part of your food photo. To create nice, dark shadows let your light fall onto your food either from the back or the side at a fairly low angle, from just a little bit above the surface of your set. Use reflectors sparingly, or not at all. Reflectors bounce light back into the areas of your photo that your light source doesn’t reach, in other words, into the shadows. So to keep the shadows dark, don’t reflect the light.

1 Salted Caramel Candy

In the salted caramel candy photo above my light was falling onto the set from the back at a low angle and I didn’t use any reflectors.

#2 Imply action

Action makes your viewers feel as if they are part of your scene; that kind of engagement is always a good thing. Action can be literal, such as a hand holding a hamburger or pouring syrup over a stack of pancakes, but there are other (and actually easier) ways for you to suggest that something is happening in your photo. One example is a glass of freshly poured beer. Your viewers likely know that the lifespan of the foam top on a beer is only a minute, so seeing a fresh beer tells them that someone must have just been at the scene to pour it.

2 BBQ Ribs

#3 Point your lens up at food that is tall and stacked

Shooting up from slightly below the food is an unusual angle for food photography; but it can create really compelling images of tall items such as cakes, and things that are stacked, like burgers or, as in the example below, shards of toffee. The food will be towering above the viewer which makes it look big and impressive. Needless to say this angle doesn’t work for flat food, so don’t shoot a pizza with this method.

3 Toffee

#4 Create visual contrast

Contrast comes in many varieties and helps make your food photo look interesting. You can create contrast by incorporating different shapes into your photo, such as round and rectangular (or square). You can also create contrast by including colors in your photo that are on opposite sides of the color wheel (complementary), like red and green, or blue and orange. The lettuce cup photo below illustrates both of these concepts, the square dish contrasts the round lettuce cups and the red sauce provides contrast to the green lettuce.

4 Lettuce Cups

#5 Leave negative space in the image

Don’t feel that you have to fill every square inch of the frame with food or props. A little negative (empty) space gives the food room to breathe, and will keep your viewers from getting overwhelmed and feeling claustrophobic. There are no hard and fast rules that dictate where to leave negative space in a food photo but the rule of thirds is always a good place to start. Imagine your photo dissected into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and place your subject on or near one of the four points where those lines intersect. Leave the rest of your photo empty and take a test shot. Does the scene look good to you or is it too barren? If it looks like it’s missing something, add more elements to the frame, one by one and along the imaginary lines that dissect your frame, until you have a composition that looks pleasing to you. That’s how I went about composing the Thai curry ingredients shot below.

5 Thai Curry Ingredients

I hope these tips give you some new ideas for your food photography. If you have any others please share them in the comments below.

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Creating an HDR Panorama with Lightroom 6

Many times in my travels I’ve happened upon a beautiful scene spread wide before me with a huge dynamic range that just begged to be photographed. It would require HDR to capture the range but also need to be stitched together as a panorama. I’d set up my tripod, snap the sequences, then get home and say “Verm, it’s time you give HDR another try.” Which would last about two minutes until the first bracketed set of shots made it into Photoshop HDR Pro and gave me a result that looked like someone painted a coat of gray primer over it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.24.50 AM

I’d look at the slider panel and have no idea where to start.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.25.02 AM

I’d randomly play the sliders until I felt the stomach contents crawling up my throat then give up in disgust.

Those files languished about until now. Enter Lightroom 6.

For me the biggest new addition with Lightroom 6 is its HDR and Panorama features. Both are very basic and easy to use. But do they yield good results? Let’s drag some of those old files out.

Verm-sunset-Grand-Canyon-8953

Nikon D810 + 24-120mm f/4 @ 31mm, ISO 125, 1/30, f/5.6

Ah, sunset over the Grand Canyon. Bright sun, deep dark canyon, huge dynamic range. As you can see, capturing the glory in one shot is a losing proposition. The above was shot at 31mm with a 24-120mm. The sky’s blown out in parts and what you can see of the canyon doesn’t look all that grand. So I set up a tripod, leveled the head (bubble level in head), then took five sets of bracketed shots, each set having five exposures a stop apart for a total of 25 shots. I panned between each set of brackets yielding about 50% overlap, which in this case was overkill (30% would have been fine).

Back on the computer I opened the 25 shot group in Lightroom 6 and went through the following steps:

  1. Select all 25 files, go to develop module and check “Enable Profile Corrections”:

    Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.43.56 AM

    This straightens out any distortion. Click “sync” at the bottom of the window:

    Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.44.14 AM

  2. Select first set of five bracketed images:

    Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.03.15 AM

    Go to Photo>Photo Merge>HDR and click HDR:

    Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.17.53 AM

    You can do this straight out of the library module if you wish.

  3. In HDR mode you will get this screen:

    Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.18.09 AM

    Even though I was shooting from a tripod I leave auto align checked in case there was some subtle shift between exposures. Note: I have tried auto align with some handheld HDR attempts and it did a good job lining up the shots – handy to know if you leave the tripod at home or don’t have time to set it up. When it comes to auto tone, sometimes I like the result, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t hurt to leave it checked because if you don’t the result, just take the HDR file into develop module and hit reset. This will remove the auto tone, but leave all the data to work with giving you the same file you would have had if you didn’t check the box.

  4. Choose how much deghosting if any. Deghosting tries to correct for the presence of moving objects. For example, if there is a person in the sequence who doesn’t stay perfectly still or if there is wind blowing leaves about. If no moving objects, click none. Click low for slight movement, medium for medium movement and high for lots of movement. Checking the deghost overlay box shows a light red overlay on the image where deghosting has done its magic. This red overlay does not show in the final HDR file so it doesn’t hurt to check it and it’s kinda cool to see how the program picks out data to merge into the final file.
  5. Click merge, wait about a minute, and out pops your first HDR file.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 5 for the other bracketed sequences.

After following the steps above, I’ve got five HDR files to stich into my pano. Here’s one.

Verm-sunset-Grand-Canyon-8953-HDR

Nikon D810 + 24-120mm f/4 @ 31mm, ISO 125, 1/125, f/5.6

What’s great is these HDR files are DNGs, meaning they are still RAW files I can nondestructively edit to my taste later. Had I created my HDR’s in Photoshop, I would have ended up with TIFFs which would be huge and cumbersome to deal with or JPEGs I couldn’t tweak nondestructively.

Note: at this point, if I forgot to apply lens corrections I still can to the HDR DNGs.

  1. Select the five HDRs.
  2. Go to Photo>Photo Merge>Panorama and click “Panorama”

    Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.09.54 AM

    Again this can be done from library module.

  3. You only have a couple choices to make. Insert screen shot. Going with auto-select projection usually yields good results but let’s learn what the other choices mean. Adobe’s website explains them thusly: “Spherical: Aligns and transforms the images as if they were mapped to the inside of a sphere. This projection mode is great for really wide or multirow panoramas. Cylindrical: Projects the panorama as if it were mapped to the inside of a cylinder. This projection mode works really well for wide panoramas, but it also keeps vertical lines straight. Perspective: Projects the panorama as if it were mapped to a flat surface. Since this mode keeps straight lines straight, it is great for architectural photography. Really wide panoramas may not work well with this mode due to excessive distortion near the edges of the resulting panorama.” Shortly I’ll show examples of how all three look with our Grand Canyon pano. Before that we need to decide on auto-crop. Again you can check this and change your mind later (to do this don’t hit reset as this will reset any other changes like auto-tone – just go to the crop tool and you’ll see the entire uncropped file). I leave it unchecked in this case because it looks like my tripod is a degree askew and I’ll need to go into the crop tool anyway to straighten it later.
  4. Click merge.

A couple minutes of computer crunching and out pops this.

Verm-spherical-Grand-Canyon-8953-HDR-Pano

Looks pretty good and it appears auto-select chose spherical projection this time. From step one through step ten only took 10 minutes.

Here’s what cylindrical projection looks like:

Verm-cylindrical-Grand-Canyon-8953-HDR-Pano-2

And here’s as close as I got with perspective:

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.35.54 AM

Super stretched and distorted at the corners and when I tried to save an uncropped version it crashed Lightroom each time.

So both spherical and cylindrical gave great results but a different feel. For the feel of the wide-open expanse of the canyon, I like the spherical projection. However, the cylindrical projection gives the canyon depth and that vertiginous feeling you get leaning over the lookout railing. Either way it comes down to a matter of taste.

Now we get to the part I really like about how Lightroom 6 handles HDR and DNG. The HDR-pano it just cranked out is also a DNG file, so I can mosey over to the develop module and fondle my beloved sliders as much as I want.

Add a little contrast, a nip of vibrance and a dash of saturation to get rid of the RAW blah and voila:

Verm-auto-sph-Grand-Canyon-8953-HDR-Pano

Verm-cylindrical2-Grand-Canyon-8973-2-HDR-2-Pano

Photos all © John Sherman. Text © John Sherman except as attributed elsewhere.

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Nikon D7100 24MP DSLR 4 Lens Kit $950 at eBay

Ends 7/1 at 8AM PT. eBay with photovideo4less has the Nikon D7100 Digital SLR Camera + Four Lenses (Black) for $950 with free shipping.

Includes the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens, Nikon Zoom Telephoto 70-300mm f/4-5.6G Zoom-Nikkor Autofocus Lens, 52mm 2X Professional Telephoto Lens, and High Definition 52mm Wide Angle Lens as well as a backpack, two SDHC Class 10 cards, 50″ tripod and a three piece filter kit.

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  • Pentax K-50 16MP DSLR 2 Lens Bundle for $421 at Amazon

    Amazon with Midwest Photo Exchange- MPEX has the Pentax K-50 Digital SLR Camera with Pentax DA L 18-55mm WR Lens + 50-200mm WR Lens (Black) for $421 with free shipping. Weather-sealed, dustproof, and cold proof design and is completely compatible with Eye-Fi wireless SD cards.

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