Join Joseph "PhotoJoseph" Linaschke for an in-depth discussion in this video Food and tabletop, part of Small Business Photography for Non-Photographers.
- Aah, food photography. Who doesn't love a good picture of a delicious dish? Food photography is unique in that not only do you want people to see the picture and enjoy that and like the photo, but you want them to want to eat it. You want them to enjoy it, to love it so much that they look at that picture and think, ooh, I need that. That's the whole point of it. Whether you have a bakery, a restaurant, a cafe, whatever it might be, if you're promoting food, if you're putting food on your social media stream, then you want that food to look delicious. Think about it. If you look at a photo of food in an ad, and the camera angle is not very interesting, if the surrounding subjects, the surrounding objects just really either aren't interesting, or even worse, put you off, or if the lighting is bad, or if the white balance is off, it's horrible.
You've lost it, right? The whole photo is just pointless. And you're gonna be focusing on what a bad photo it is, and not on how much you want that piece of cake. So what we're gonna do here today is build up this set, starting off with a simple piece of cake on a white plate on a white table, starting with the iPhone in the existing light, and then we're gonna add to it. We're gonna change the lighting, eventually we're gonna change the camera, and then we're gonna add some props. And we're gonna try and see just how delicious we can make this cake. So let's get started with it exactly as it is. I'm not gonna change a thing, but we're gonna take a look through the camera here.
Now I have in this lighting situation here a whole bunch of lights here and not any behind me. So right now, from my angle, from my perspective, the cake is not lit very nicely. If we take a look at it through the iPhone, and let's go ahead and zoom into that second lens there, that zoomed in lens, it doesn't look very good, does it? The light is from the wrong side. So this is an obvious, easy fix. All I have to do is move the camera around. So let's go to the other side here, and yep, sure enough, pretty quickly it looks a lot better.
Having your subject backlit is almost never gonna be good. Think about this. If you're just out with your friends, you wanna take a picture of them, if you have the sun to your back as the photographer so that they, your friends, are being hit by the light, they're gonna look great. If you flip that around so that the light is shining onto you, the photographer, and all of your friends are backlit, probably not a very good photo. So it's the same idea here. Just be aware of where your light is coming from. When you have a room like this with lots of light all around on one side and nothing on the other, get on the side of the light. Put the light to your back.
But maybe that's not always an option. So let's talk about enhancing this, by adding our own light. We're gonna start with something really simple, a floor lamp. This is not particularly interesting, but it's a very common lamp that we'll find, a little paper lamp here. It's got a very warm color light in it, and as you can probably imagine, this is in no way able to compete with all the lights around here, so let's do a little bit of lighting switcheroo here. Gonna turn off those lights and those lights, and turn on a spotlight so that you can see me, there we go.
And now we're back in business. Okay, let's get the iPhone around here on the side of the light, so again, making sure the light is shining on the subject. And we'll get in a little bit closer there, and we have some, you know, warm, decent light, I'd say that we are definitely getting some spill from the light there, so let's incorporate our handy gobo, remember, the go-between, use something to block the light from hitting an area that you don't want it to hit. So as I bring this in, there we go, now that light is no longer hitting this, only this light is. And, you know, it's maybe a little bit better.
The warmth is kind of interesting for this. If, looks like I've got a little bit of a hot spot on one side of it, so I'll tap on that on the iPhone screen to expose for that, and it's okay. We're getting somewhere. And if we added a couple more lamps, we might be able to get somewhere better. I have actually in hotel rooms before taken every table lamp, every floor lamp in the room, taken the covers off of them and moved them around to be able to light a set. If I wanted to photograph something or even do a video of myself and I needed lighting which I didn't have with me, I would just strip the hotel room bare, pull all the lights in, and incorporate the lights that way.
It's pretty impressive what you can do if you get creative with your available lighting in there. But in this case, that's not really quite cutting it. So we know that we have some additional lights, so let's play with them. Let's start with our tiny little pocket light, the little LED here, and I'll turn this guy on. And let's take a look at this. Well, we are, we're getting somewhere. We have a better quality of light. It's a very nice, pure, white light. That's looking good. But you know, it's casting some pretty hard shadows. I mean, honestly, if I get really close like that, that's not too bad.
The background is a little bit too dark, it's a little bit too dramatic for this piece of cake. I think that the lighting is looking halfway decent here, but we really could be doing a lot better. And given that I have this one light source and if I pull it back at all, we're gonna get some really hard shadows from that, it's probably not ideal. We're making progress, but we're not quite there yet. So let's try something else. Let's add in another, larger LED light, the same one we saw earlier. Let me bring this guy into set. And this one's on a light stand which makes it really, really easy to position exactly where I want.
Go ahead and turn this on and set the brightness about there. And now, all right, now we're starting to get a little bit more interesting. Now we can see, let me rotate the cake just a little bit there. We've got a definite bright side of the cake over there, and a dark side on the other side of it. That dark side might be a little bit too dark, so maybe you want to reincorporate the smaller light, so let's turn this guy on. And if I bring it in too close, see what happens here how the kind of off side of the cake, let's rotate it a little bit more, the shadow side of the cake has suddenly become the bright side of the cake.
That's not working. If I pull back and find just the right position, well, if I pull it back to about here, now both sides are lit the same, so it's a little flat looking. We want it to be brighter on one side than another, so it's a case of finding where that is. In this situation, I'd say somewhere around there is not looking too bad. Let me actually bring this light in just a little bit closer. Take the intensity down on that just a little bit, and I'm gonna bring this smaller light over here, let's bring the brightness down on that, since, again, I can control the brightness on these individually.
There we go. We're startin' to get somewhere. Angle that a little bit differently, rotate the camera just a touch. Okay, we're starting to get somewhere. We still just have a piece of cake on a white table and a white plate, but at least the lighting is starting to look a little bit more interesting. We can change up the camera angle by simply moving this around and looking for a different position. You know, maybe you want to go top down, or get up really close to it. There's a lot of different options that we have in here. But before I move on to really playing with the camera angle options and moving up to a bigger camera, I do want to point out one more thing here, and that's white balance.
Now in this particular situation, the white balance is easy. I have really nice, high quality lights here. They're emitting a very quality, daylight balance light. The camera in here is automatically picking that up and adjusting for that, and it looks fine. However, you may find yourself in situations where the camera's white balance just doesn't look quite right. There's something off about it. Now I can't adjust the white balance in the built-in camera on the iPhone here, but what I can do is launch Lightroom's own camera, and Lightroom's camera will actually allow me to control the white balance manually.
So I'm gonna show you two things. I'm gonna show you what a bad white balance looks like, and then I'm gonna show you how to manually set a custom white balance for any scene, no matter where you are. So let's start by getting out of the auto mode. We'll go into the professional mode here. And then if I tap on WB for white balance, you can see that it's in auto white balance right now, so that's fine, but then as I tap through the different white balance settings, that was tungsten, that's fluorescent, you can see how the lighting, the color just doesn't look right in there. So again in this case, auto's working out pretty good.
If it had chosen a tungsten, it would definitely not look good. It'd be very blue. You might see it looking too warm. There's cloudy day one, definitely too warm on there. But there is a custom setting. So the eyedropper on the right will allow me to create a custom white balance setting by simply point the camera at a neutral surface, in this case white, tapping the OK button, tapping the check box, and it has now created a custom white balance for this environment. So if I had different colors of light, maybe I had a daylight balance bulb along with a tungsten bulb that's sitting overhead somewhere, or maybe just a faded fluorescent, and they kinda get all weird in their colors.
This will take the mix of that and automatically create a white balance profile that is specific to that environment. So now that I've got that set up, I can go in here and set up my shot and know that I have really nice, clean white balance in there. Not lookin' too bad. Okay, so that's white balance. I wanted to make sure that we understood that before we moved on. You can of course do that on a professional camera, but I wanted to show that you can do it on a smartphone if you use an app that adds that as a feature. And if you're using Lightroom Mobile, then that has it built in. Okay, let's move on from this camera and start using a bigger camera.
It's time to bring out the Lumix again. So this is my Lumix G9, and one of the really nice advantages of a big camera like this, other than, obviously, better quality, nice lens choice and so on, is the articulating LCD. The fact that I can angle this LCD so that I can hold the camera down low, get it up high, hold it over my head, get it into a position and still be able to see through the camera without having to climb up on a ladder or lie down on the floor, it's pretty awesome. So in the case of the cake here, for example, if I wanna do a top-down shot of the cake, I can see very clearly in here what it's gonna look like without having to climb up on a ladder and get it.
So let's find a nice angle for this cake shot here. I think we were onto something before, but I wanna get a little bit higher than we were, say right about there. And look at how much better it already looks. One of the huge differences here is depth of field. With the iPhone, everything was in focus. But with a full-size camera, we're getting a shallower depth of field. We're able to see that part of the image is in focus and part of it is out, and that's one of those things that when you see it, in your brain you go, that's a professional picture. It's just one of those subtle little differences.
And it makes a huge difference in here. It brings the focus of our attention to the front of the cake instead of the whole scene fighting for attention, because you don't really know where you're supposed to look. So that's pretty good there. I'm actually gonna put this camera on a tripod, because using a tripod certainly makes it easier to get the camera into position and hold it in the exact same spot while we move it around and try different ideas. So let's get that positioned right about like so. Maybe I'll angle the cake a little bit differently.
We're gettin' somewhere. Okay, so now I've got the cake. The cake is reasonably nicely lit. It's still on the white table. I am now photographing it with a better camera. So it's looking pretty good. We're off to a pretty good start here. The lighting is looking pretty decent; we've got a beautiful piece of cake, delicious, can't wait to eat it. But it needs more. So what can we add to this to really enhance the scene? How about we add something that helps tell the story of the cake? Remember, every photograph is a story.
What story are you trying to tell here? Well, the only story we have right here right now is it's a piece of cake. Come eat it, it might be tasty. Okay, not enough of a story. Let's add something to it. What kind of props go along with chocolate cake? How about more chocolate? I like chocolate; do you like chocolate? Let's add more chocolate. I just happen to have here some chocolate bars. So here's what I'm gonna do. I am going to take these chocolate bars and build a set using these as a platform to hold the cake. Why should your cake be served on a plate when it can be shown on a bar of chocolate? (suspenseful music) We're gettin' somewhere.
I got a mess to clean up, but that's okay. I think I'm gonna enjoy it. Look at what we've made so far. This is starting to get interesting. Now we have this beautiful platform of cake. I may or may not have eaten a piece of chocolate along the way. And this is starting to look so much more interesting. Let's get this camera back off of here and check out some different angles again. Get in nice and close. Yeah, this is starting to look really, really tasty. We're getting somewhere. Okay, let's add just a little bit more to it.
It's a coconut cake, at least I think it is. Let's add some coconut pieces to this as well. Now it's a coconut cake, there we go. It's just an idea. It may not work, but I think it does. I think we're really getting somewhere. Okay, I think it needs one more thing. I think it needs that fork, and a bite taken out of it. Things I do for my craft.
(dramatic music) Let's get the fork back in there. Yeah. Now we're looking at something delicious. Okay, so let's explore the angles again. Let's go for a top-down, see if that could work for this shot. Kind of interesting, but maybe a little bit hard to see exactly what it is. Let's go in real close, we'll go close and wide.
That's kind of fun. I like how the background's really dark, really sets off the white part of the cake. Maybe we go in super close on there, get just the fork in there, with that bite taken out of the cake. Pretty nice. Lots of different ideas. And don't forget, you can continue to manipulate your light. Continue to move the light around. Keep looking for different angles. See what works, see what enhances the set, see what takes away from it, figure out exactly how you want that to be. Keep looking at different angles, different camera angles, different lighting, different props, and work on that shot to make it look absolutely stunning.
Over time, you'll get really good at this, and suddenly your social media feed's gonna be full of unbelievable photos. That's what it's all about. Now don't forget, let's say that we've set this whole thing up in here. And I've got this great set, and I get all decided that that's the shot that I want, so I get in there and I go, right, there's my photo. Gonna post that. That's one photo. I just put a lot of effort, and frankly a bit of money into making this scene, but I only got one shot out of it. Don't forget to go in for the closeups. You build a set like this, but now shoot a series of smaller detail shots, close-up shots that we can then use throughout the social media campaign.
Maybe, depending on what your product is, you can even do a reveal. On a chocolate cake, it's probably pretty obvious that it's chocolate cake, but maybe you have something else where if you look at it really closely, you don't quite know what it is, and so over the course of a week, you post photos of that subject up really close. The details of that, a detail here, a detail there, until at the end, you step back, and you reveal the whole photo. So let's take a look at that idea. I'm going to pull the camera off of here and put a different lens on. Adding a macro lens to your kit can really enhance your capabilities.
If you're doing any photography like this at all, I would say that a macro lens is probably the second lens that you're gonna want to add. So let's get in here now, and let's go for some closeups. And you can see that I can get really, really close in here. Go for some delicious, delicious closeups that, again, on a cake here, it's pretty obvious, this is obviously a piece of cake. But for something else, it may not be quite so obvious. Now, one of the things with macro photography is it can be quite a challenge sometimes to get it to focus on what you want it to. The camera doesn't necessarily know what tiny little element you're trying to get into.
So don't be afraid to go manual focus on there. Go manual focus, find the tip of that fork. There it is, perfect. There we go. So don't be afraid to get in close. Get those detail shots. Make it look incredible. And what else could we add to this? Well, so far there's no human element. I'm sure there's the bite taken out of it, that's a little bit of a human element, but there's no people. Maybe you want to photograph it with people. Maybe you want to photograph someone eating that cake, you get that, that delicious, oh, that moment of pleasure when they're taking a bite out of it.
That's a great shot. Or maybe it's a romantic meal, and you want to have one person feeding another. That can be an interesting photo. Or just have people in the background. If I shoot this in my restaurant and I've got this dessert sitting on the table, and there's a restaurant full of people back there, not only am I showing how yummy the food is here, I'm showing how many other people are already here enjoying it. And they can be blurry, out of focus in the background. Just a subtle, subtle little hint to the fact that there are people here who are enjoying this food. Hey, you know what? You should be here too. So think about all the other things that you can add to it, what's gonna enhance the situation, what's gonna make for a better photo.
- Camera selection and settings
- Lighting tips and techniques
- Taking advantage of natural light
- Flashes and strobes
- Composition and props
- Image storage
- Editing tools and techniques
- Optimizing images for various services
- Publishing on a schedule