Art Installation #24 – My Top Ten Food Photography Tips

#eatalberta150 Instagram contest by Alberta Food Tours, Inc. - photo by Karen Anderson of Savour It All Blog

This summer Alberta Food Tours, Inc. is involving as many Alberta food lovers as possible in an Instagram contest called #eatalberta150. Why? The goals are to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday and to compile a very visual answer to the question, “what is Alberta’s food story?” Alberta has a number of signature foods and this contest will show the world what a fabulous food travel destination the province is. Every winner also gets a piece of birthday cake in the form of a Crave Cupcake (see above) and great prizes from Alberta food businesses and hotels.

In my work as a food and travel writer, I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of great photographers. In this post I’ll share some food photography tips I’ve picked up over the last decade. Hopefully they will boost your bravado and increase your likelihood of joining in the #eatalberta150 fun.

opera cake from Rouge Restaurant Calgary - photo by Karen Anderson
Opera Cake Petit Four at Rouge Restaurant – photo by Karen Anderson

Scrolling through the photos submitted to the @albertafoodtours #eatalberta150 Instagram hashtag each day has me (full disclosure: I own Alberta Food Tours, Inc.) and my staff drooling like Pavlov’s dog. And, while all the photos are interesting and appetizing, some stand out more than others and quickly become the easy picks to win one of the 150 prizes from our fabulous Alberta food business partners.

If you’d like to work on taking photos that pop, here are my suggestions.

Carry your camera.

Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist Barry Staver said that, “the best camera is the one you have with you.” This is likely why most of us end up using our smart phones to capture our lives. For food lovers, life includes a smorgasbord of food photos to document our mutual “live to eat” ethos.

Turn the flash on your camera off.

Do this now. Don’t delay. Nothing kills food photography like the light from a flash. Do us all a favour. If you are out at night and the lighting is less than optimal, turn off your phone and concentrate on the person/s you are dining with. Nobody wants to see badly lit food. You aren’t doing the restaurant any favours and you aren’t doing your reputation much good either.

yam salad at Blake Canmore - photo by Karen Anderson for Savour It All blog
Look at all that natural light on this salad at Blake Canmore – photo by Karen Anderson

Download some photo-editing apps.

It’s great to use your smart phone for food photography (see reason 1 above) but last year I spent 24 days in the field in Southern India with photographer Pauli-Ann Carriere and witnessed first hand the power of her photo-editing apps. Snapseed and Adobe Lightroom are great because they teach you as you go.

Study light and use it effectively.

Light is fascinating. Once you are aware of it, you’ll marvel at its nuances. Beware of direct sun as it washes everything out. Use a diffuser to soften its glare (a white bed sheet can substitute). Don’t like the shadows on one side of your food subject? Use some white foam board to deflect the light and remove the shadows. I’ve even used tinfoil for the same purposes. When you are at a restaurant, try for a seat near the windows. The photo below taken at CIBO Calgary shows the beauty of natural light.

Cibo Calgary seafood linguini photo for #eatalberta150 - photo by Karen Anderson of Savour It All blog
Seafood pasta at CIBO Calgary – photo by Karen Anderson

Style your food, plate and setting – to a point.

The nice thing about taking photos in restaurants is that the food usually arrives at your table beautifully plated. There are no smudges or drip marks. The chef has expertly placed your food because all good chefs know that you eat with your eyes first and they want that first impression to invite you into the dish. When styling at home, create contrast so your food will pop. Beware of brown food and log shaped foods. ‘Nuff said. It’s amazing what a few scattered green herbs can do to enliven meat and make it more visually appealing. Collect white dishes in different shapes and sizes. Food looks good on white. Vary the napkins and place settings. Know when enough is enough. If you are extraordinarily sloppy in real life – like Nigella Lawson admits to being – then by all means there will be flour on your counter. But know the difference between sprinkling a few berries around versus arranging them in contrived ways that they’d never naturally occur.

Food photography tips by food writer Karen Anderson for #eatalberta150 Instagram contest
This is realistic. We all spill cheese all over the place when we grate it and it looks fabulously delish. – photo by Karen Anderson

Slow down.

This advice comes from my talented friend Jeremy Fokkens. He’s able to tease smashing photos out of his subjects because he’s relaxed and letting it happen — slowly — tweaking until everything and everyone around him is completely relaxed and ready.

Practice and all is coming.

This is a yogic mantra but it works for photography too. Switch up your angle. Try an overhead photo. Try one from a diner’s eye view. Try changing up the depth of field. Move your props around. Take lots of photos. Play.

Made by Marcus ice cream photo by Karen Anderson - Savour it all Blog
A different angle for this S’more sundae at Made by Marcus – photo by Karen Anderson

Follow some basic tenets of composition and vary that too.

Fill the screen – get up so close we can almost taste it. Leave some negative space – sometimes you can show off the form of a dish by showing where it is not. Use the rule of thirds.

Learn from others. Find mentors.

My photography has changed over the years. I’ve been fortunate to learn from great photographers in my life – Julie Van Rosendaal, Pauli-Ann Carriere, Jeremy Fokkens, Lorne Bridgman and Nicole Liboiron-Coles – to name a few. Find someone whose work you’d like to emulate. Look closely at their photography and learn from it.

offcutsyyc - Brown Bagging It Fundraiser - Savour it all blog
chef Dave Bohati and a great food photo by Jeremy Fokkens 

Perfection stifles creativity.

Because perfection does not exist it is fruitless to pursue. Taking photos of food is all about having fun. Reward yourself after you’ve taken your photo by putting away your camera and focusing on savouring the beautiful food in front of you. That is, after you’ve entered our @albertafoodtours #eatalberta150 Instagram contest with your gorgeous photo of Alberta food inspiration. Cheers and best wishes in the contest. This truly is an activity to help you savour it all.

Me enjoying a lovely dinner (phone nearby of course) – photo by – Pauli-Ann Carriere



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