They say that we eat with our eyes first and that food must look and smell good in order to taste good. Food photographers can only work with our eyes, but they do their best to get our sense of smell and taste going too.
Let’s take a look at a few examples and why they work.
One of the most important ways of making food look inviting is to ensure that it appears fresh. The water on these apples has probably come from the photographer’s sprayer, but the impact is that the apples appear to be freshly picked and they are either covered in dew or newly washed, ready for eating. The droplets have the added benefit of adding a little sparkle to the scene.
The main light source for this shot is off to the left and the shadows it creates help bring out the shape of the fruits. This side lighting also helps convey a sense of low sun, perhaps through a barn door or the window of a store, giving that important farm-to-table feeling. Crucially, the light is also soft so that the shadows aren’t impenetrable-black.
Many of the best examples of food photography look very simple and clean, they avoid lots of clutter. Low-level shots like this one that look across the subject are also popular, perhaps because they resemble the view you have as the food makes its way to your mouth. The shallow depth of field (sharp zone) also mimics how we would see the tart close up as we move in to take a bite.
The jelly over the berries in this shot creates a nice shiny surface to reflect back some of the light, making the fruit look extra juicy. Again the main lighting is to one side to help bring out the shape of the berries, but there’s very little shade on the opposite (right) side which indicates that some fill-in light, probably from a reflector has been used to make the whole image seem bright and airy.
It’s also worth noting how carefully the tart has been sliced and there’s not a drop of jelly or berry juice spoiling the clean background.
As the nights draw in and temperatures begin to dip during autumn we start to appreciate comfort food like bowls of warm soup. During summer we might be more willing to look at a light salad, but during in autumn we expect to see harvest products and warm food. The warmth of the soup has been accentuated here by the warm autumnal tones of the image.
Meanwhile the soup’s texture and thickness conveys its heartiness and placing a spoon next to it with the handle extending towards the viewer invites them to dive right in.
While we might be happy to eat misshapen biscuits and imperfect cupcakes, they are not a recipe for successful food photographs. These gingerbread men and women are absolutely perfect and beautifully decorated. Tying the string to them goes the extra mile, adding interest and suggesting that they could be used as Christmas decoration. Likewise the snowflakes around them give a seasonal note while the rough wood background adds some rustic charm.
Like many successful food photographs, this shot also crosses into lifestyle photography. The perfectly manicured hands cupping the mug and the long sleeves help give the impression of enjoying a hot drink on a cold day.
The photographer has chosen light colours to create a bright image and the thyme in the mug has ‘just-picked’ freshness while the lemon has clearly only recently been sliced and slipped into the cup.
06. The ingredients
Sometimes you need to let the ingredients speak for themselves. These species look more colourful and enticing than the average bowl of brown curry. The fact that they are in an assortment of different jars and bowls gives the image rustic appeal, while the soft, warm light helps create a cheering picture. You want to eat whatever is made from these ingredients even though you haven't seen the final result.