If you need food or drink imagery then you ‘need’ an ‘actual’, ‘real’, food photographer and nothing else will do. Why? Read on ….

If you needed a trade-mark expert to help you with an IP issue, I’d hope you’d go to a specialist for help and not just your local solicitor or a friend of a friend in the hope of getting some cheap help. Why? Because if you have an IP issue then you really need the help of someone who really knows their onions when it comes to IP. (Sorry for the food pun, but you know … it kinda comes with the territory.

Yet every single time I see someone asking for a food photographer, I see so many non-food photographers being suggested. It always makes me smile.

Lots of photographers are Jack (or Jill) of all trades. That may be great for them but is it great for you? Yes everyone is a photographer these days and phones take great images too. Except they don’t always, and they certainly don’t always take great food images AND there’s an awful lot more to food photography then many would be photographers realise.

It’s said that food is one of the hardest genres to shoot, I think that may be why I love it so. There’s always another challenge waiting.

Food and Drink Photography IS different.

While any photographer can use a camera and take great images, if their forte is brand photography, portraits, sports, weddings … etc then they won’t have the very specialist knowledge that comes or should come with food photography.

Scotch Egg beautifully styled on a white plate.

Styling and composition are really key in creating great imagery – another reason you need a specialist food photographer.

Food can come from the kitchen looking beautiful, but the camera sees differently to us. To us that plate of food will continue to look epic while we eat it. For the camera, the same plate of food starts to die right away. What do I mean?

Let me explain.

When we look at something our eyes focus on one small area of what we can see at a time, everything else is there but not sharply focused, so we don’t see the bigger picture in all it’s detail. The camera however, it sees the whole scene just as it is and it records it in full technicolour right then and there. It sees everything with equal clarity and anything that shouldn’t be there or that detracts will stand out in the image like a sore thumb – even though our naked eyes may have missed it.

With Food, meat begins to dry out, salads wilt and bread begins to curl up or look dry, sauces disperse, stews and custards get a visible skin and don’t look so great and the list goes on. You can’t shoot cold food and expect it too look hot – try it!! Mostly it will look rubbish.

So you have to have the scene set and tested with lighting before the food shows up. That is so important. I don’t know how many times now I’ve cringed passing a restaurant where the poor photographer inside has a line of plates queued up waiting to be shot and you just know the end result is going to be sub parr.

Lighting and Food

We’ve also all seen ghastly food photography where the food is bathed in yellow light that makes it look quite the opposite of appealing!  Lighting for food is so important and that’s where being able to use studio lighting is imperative.  Yes natural light can be beautiful.  But you try shooting a full product range in one day in natural light here in the UK and achieve the same lighting right across the shoot!  It can’t be done! That is because our light and weather change so frequently to the point of having 4 seasons in one day which means the light is constantly changing and cannot be relied upon.  The different seasons, direction of the sun in the sky and the time of day all impact on the light too.

Studio light on the other hand is constant and can be altered to suit the mood of a particular shot.  So if a photographer tells you they only use natural light, what they probably mean is that they don’t know how to shoot with studio lighting.

Styling

Food needs styling, it is as simple as that. Maybe your chef or you are great at this, super. If you aren’t, then you have an issue as it can make the world of difference to an image. I not only style food I have access to food stylists for larger jobs where I can’t possibly do it all. Food styling sets the scene and tells a story, it makes the difference between a show stopping image and one you won’t remember or worse still one that you remember for all the wrong reasons.

As a food and drink photographer I have a food styling kit that is with me on every shoot. I’d not dream of shooting without this as I don’t think anyone can do a great job without that precious little kit bag that will allow you to place items ‘just so’ on a plate, distribute items just where you need them, prop them up and a whole lot more.

Raw Venison Haunch in a copper pan with herbs, peppercorns and onions. There's a pile of vegetables to the right; carrots, cavolo nero and onions. To the left you can see cloves of garlic and a small white bowl filled with black peppercorns. Everything is sitting on a brown rustic board.

Some foods such as raw meat and stews are tricky to capture and don’t always look attractive so styling is very important here.

Food Knowledge

I’ve come across food photographers who don’t cook and aren’t into food, I’ve no idea how that even works. Food knowledge and the ability to cook and understand how food cooks is imperative in my mind. You might muddle through without it but that’s all you will do. Knowing how a sauce will pour so you can catch the right moment as you want it. Knowing where and how to cut into something and what to use for best effect. This is all crucial stuff but it’s not knowledge that each and every photographer will have because its very specialist.

For instance the head on a glass of beer will disappear quickly so you won’t pour it till the last minute before you take the shot so that it looks it’s best. Yes you can revive it once or twice if you know the tricks of the trade but ….. it’s all the supposedly little things like that, which make a huge difference to the outcome of a shoot.

These are just some of the things that need to be taken into consideration, composition, story telling and a host of other things are also important but this is a starting point for things to think about.

What to consider when hiring a food photographer

So if you are looking to engage a photographer to shoot your food or drink:

✅  Are they actually a real full on food photographer? Or is it just something they can do?
✅  Are they a foodie?
✅  Do they know about food styling?
✅  Do they have a food styling kit? If not how are they going to manage?
✅  Do they have lighting?
✅  What food have they got experience of shooting?
✅  Can they deliver what you need in way that suits your brand?

REMEMBER – cheap is generally cheap for a reason! A food shoot for your brand is something that you absolutely vitally must get right! Your reputation depends on it!

If you want to learn more about food photography then you could hop onto to one of my FREE Workshops in July, OR you could have a chat with me about having a 1-2-1 session with me.

For more hints and tips, follow me over on LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook.