some thoughts on simple food photography

Salt & pepper shakers.

Gotta face it; restaurants are likely terrible for photos, unless you own a $4000 camera with unreal ISO performance. Or strobes and reflectors. The truth is that, the ambient is dim, and many spotlights cast harsh and unwanted shadows over your food. Even you taking a picture will probably cast an undesirable shadow. The only way you are going to get a sharp and well exposed photo with a typical point & shoot/phone is if they turn on the floodlights, which I suspect wouldn’t retain many customers.

I’ve shot with flash before; however it isn’t ideal and I was probably ruining the ambience for some diners.  Well on this day out I have my manual compact camera (one of those days I didn’t felt like lugging gear around), and I do love to shoot food. Never did say these are of jaw-dropping grade, but rather ones I would retain for keepsakes. It’s not terribly hard; you gotta work around the limitations of your equipment and environment.

Shoot flat: I had the aperture opened to the widest; you would expect depth to be really shallow but it does not really matter on a compact camera since the sensor is very close to the lens. Seafood marinara pasta.

Again, there will always be points out of focus because you do not shoot flat and dull subjects (ie. freaking brick walls) typically. In this scenario the points of focus were the greens that gave a nice touch to the presentation of the pasta draped into rather gaudy looking sauce. At the widest aperture to maximize available light, this also throws the distracting background out of focus.

Try different takes and angles on a subject; I had this shot as I was trying to get my shadow out of the way. You can use your camera as a quasi-steering wheel, turning and framing your subject until you obtain the ‘ar ha!’ look.

A chicken pattie, mash and salad greens.

The dessert joint actually had worse lighting. Again, nobody wants to eat dessert under bright clinical light.

Mango, pomelo, sago with silky bean-curd. The widest aperture was going to be my preference yet again; unfortunately this throws the spoon out of focus. There are trade-offs (ISO & noise, shutter & blur). However the table serves as good contrast against the dessert, which was a boon.

Going a little closer to showcase the texture of the dish.

And the final picture of the day. Kiwi, mango and mochi swimming in coconut milk.

Well, I sure had fun shooting as much as savoring them. On a personal note, I can’t crunch mathematical numbers of f stops, depth, so on and so forth. I am frankly nowhere on that level, or think I will ever be. Intuitively though I know that it isn’t impossibly hard to turn out acceptable snaps. Things that have helped me are possibly the below:

1. Get available light in.

2. Note contrast and shadows.

3. Note white balance.

4. Shoot raw.
Till then!


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