Food photography is not for every photographer, it is a specialty and can be a full time gig all by itself. It takes a certain amount of patience above and beyond other types of photography and the ability to stage and sometimes cook foods to look award-winning. Not to mention, food photography has its own unique challenges besides just making it look good.
Food Photography Challenges: Sassy Cow Ice Cream Shoot
As mentioned above, food photography takes a degree of finesse, but this particular photo session for Sassy Cow Ice Cream brought to mind one of the food types that patience cannot be used for or your subject may disappear before your eyes. This type of food photography requires a high degree of pre-planning, testing and learning. As a food photographer shooting melting subjects or other fleeting foods, I spend a great deal of time planning out the shots beforehand. Actually choreographing them before I ever arrange my set and props. This planning period takes hours while the actual photo shoot takes only a few seconds.
There are many types of foods that just don’t hold up longer than a few fleeting seconds to be photographed. Ice cream is one of them. For this shot of Sassy Cow’s Cherry Chocolate Chunk, I was just on the verge of running out of time to get my glory shot before the product was a soupy mess all over my shooting table. I took a series of shots in succession to see if it would look better mostly frozen or just a little melted. It turned out just a little melted was just right, as it revealed more of the cherries and chocolate as it melted and gave the overall look of the ice cream a nice glow. I planned the props I would use, the angles, and the lighting before every dishing up the ice cream. I also, much to my dismay, had to sample quite a few bowls of ice cream to get the right mix of cherries to chocolate chunks. Having already been familiar with ice cream and approximately what my shooting window would be made things a little easier to plan. One very disappointing aspect of food photography is when you are not familiar with a particular dish or food and thus have no idea what your timeframe to shoot it will be. There have been a few cases in which the dish I was photographing was fading before my eyes so quickly I had to prepare it over and over until I learned what it would hold up to and what it wouldn’t. Don’t forget, you are also subjecting the food you are photographing to intense heat from studio lights, so your timeframe is even shorter than in real life. Also keeping food looking freshly-made after possibly hours of sitting out is something to consider as well.
Food Photographer Tips
Another challenge with this ice cream shoot was trying to maintain the pink color of the ice cream under the white studio lighting. Obviously a food photographer has to use studio lighting to shoot most if not all of their subject material. The pink of the ice cream was so subtle that I had to be conscious of the white lights not washing it out to the point where it actually looked white instead of pink. I also wanted the chocolate to hold its color and not look like black chunks of pavement in the bowl. Preserving the color of food while you are photographing it is one of the biggest challenges overall. Harsh studio lighting, the wrong type of lighting, or inaccurate exposure times can all whittle away at the vibrant color of most foods and dishes. There is probably no other genre of photography that requires such attention to the appearance of the subject as food photography. It has to be as appealing as humanly possible. There is not any room for error here, for if the photographer does not pay constant attention to what is happening to the food while he/she is photographing it, the entire photo session will be a waste and have to be redone.
Food photography takes a high degree of attention to detail, more so than other forms of photography. It also requires knowing your subject extremely well before you photograph it. While photographing ice cream is a challenge mostly due to the timeframe you have to work within, the most challenging food shot I have had to make to date was trying to get that head of foam on a glass of beer just right. But that’s another blog post. (See How I shot a Spotted Cow.) Most food photographers will tell you that they didn’t choose to be a food photographer, it chose them. The same was for me. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Hey, I’m going to be a food photographer.” I was doing product photography, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was a food photographer. I just seemed to have a very good knack for it, and that is what it takes to be a good food photographer. You have to have a knack for it, the touch if you will. The finesse. But food photographer wanttabees beware, the biggest perk to being a food photographer is being able to eat your props after the shoot, and I have yet to see a skinny food photographer