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Food Photography Tips: Going Pro

Avid photographers would know that the perfect picture is an elusive one. Any number of issues, ranging from technical limitations or ambient factors could affect the quality of your photographs. It is the know-how and best practices to work around such kinks that separates the professional from the trigger-happy, budding photographer.

Professional studio environment and heavy duty lighting equipment aside, we compiled a list of common problems (especially in food photography) and sought expert advice to circumventing these issues. As they say: learn from the best, beat the rest!

White Balance

Seeing the (white) light

Problem: Different hues of ambient lighting giving the impression that your food (and the restaurant table) went for a session of indoor tanning.

Solution: Always shoot in RAW. Use natural sunlight if it is available, but taking photos in RAW format would at least allow colour correction at the editing phase, removing the yellow hue from tungsten bulbs or the greenish hue from florescent lamps.


Tiptoeing the fine line between white or "going over to the dark side"

Problem: Taking 5 minutes over that single photo and having it turn out whitewashed or dark and gloomy.

Solution: If you have always been shooting in Auto-mode, it's high time you tried going manual with manual exposure. Aperture Width, Shutter Speed and ISO are the trifecta to improving photo exposure.

'Food is not camera shy and will not run away. Take your time'.

Exposure problems are most prevalent when shooting into the light or against light/dark backdrops. In cases like these, try spot metering.

Available only in selected modes*, spot metering enables you to focus over an area of the food photo where you wish to set as a mid-tone and generates exposure levels accordingly.
* Program, Manual, Auto and Shutter Speed.

The Way of the Flash

Using flash effectively and correctly

Myth: Using flash in food photography is a big no-no.

Reality: It's all about the angles. Using flash on food photos indiscriminately, destroys the atmosphere of low-light scenes, which sometimes makes the photo appear flat.

Lighting coming from the rear at an angle, or the sides of the dish however, can at times add texture and create a better contrast.

The Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) supports multiple photographic flash units seamlessly controlled by the camera via wireless. When used in tandem, the added lighting creates a perception of depth and more smooth-rounded tones to your subject, while balancing background/foreground exposure.

Some product examples include Nikon Speedlights SB-910 and SB-700, both fully compatible with the Nikon CLS.

Example: A Nikon D7000 with a Speedlight SB-910 attached at the hot shoe.

Takeaway Tips

RAW is good

The format gives that additional range and tonal detail, allowing increased flexibility in the editing phase to burn (darken highlights) or dodge (raise shadows) and properly tone-map your dish photo.


Is there a winning combination of aperture width and shutter speed?

Sadly, there is not really a one-size-fits-all solution. But when it comes to food, an aperture of f/2.8 works out well most of the time.

For budding photographers, open the aperture on your cameras to its widest, go up close and personal, focusing on the primary/most tantalizing looking ingredient. This is where plating skills come in handy as well, especially for hawker food.

Pen Chai: Shot with Nikon D70S & Nikon AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED



More Food Photos from Jack Yam

Jack specializes in shooting art performances and events. His arsenal: 2 Nikon D700, 1 Nikon D600.

This article was done in collaboration between OpenRice Singapore and professional photographer, Jack Yam.

It was first published on OpenRice Singapore (Read Article).


© Jack Yam