Looked at photos of food on menus and noticed how it seems so much more delicious than the real thing? The reason for that is food styling and photography skills, of course!
In food photography, there’s something called mise en place. It translates to ‘putting everything in its place, which tells us how food is styled and the importance of what’s around the food!
It’s perfectly fine not to style your food during food photography, but let’s be honest, it lacks a certain oomph, and you don’t want that! There are countless ways to move away from boring plates and make the dish look appetizing, mouthwatering, and completely Instaworthy.
Capturing the harvest season in a single image
For a season filled with rich colors of crimson red, burnt oranges, cinnamon browns & mustard yellows and an abundance of harvests, you’ll want to do it justice by really capturing the entire season in one photo.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Styling the Scene
Autumn Caramel Apple Pecan Cheesecake by jenifoto, 123RF.
Props, props, props!
Props make a huge difference. The props and different textures in the background provide crucial context that helps link our psyche to a deeper understanding of the dish.
For example, using the same ingredients found in the dish can leave the impression of freshness and authenticity and give a work-in-progress appearance. For harvest foods, in particular, common ingredients you can use as props are pumpkin and cinnamon.
Hot cherry sangria with cinnamon, anise, wine and spices by bondd, 123RF.
Utilize non-food items you have at home to turn them into a feast for all five senses! For example, patterned napkins, placemats, and cozy items such as blankets and knitwear can create an exciting contrast of layers and textures in the photo.
You can also style it with seasonal foliage gathered from your garden to tie the season together.
Props aren’t only crucial for making it look pretty, but it also serves a huge purpose in connecting you to other emotions and feelings associated with them. For example, a soft knit blanket next to a bowl of hot soup might remind you of your cold Autumn nights where you’d find warmth and comfort from the hot soup.
Winter soup with sweet potatoes and carrot by molka, 123RF.
Harvest food styling prop must-have:
Bowls and plates
Have a themed feast? Get the props for the appropriate occasion! For example, reuse the decoration or themed bowls and plates from your Halloween party to style the photo.
Halloween Party Cupcake by tavanamon, 123RF.
For game nights like football parties, try looking for some toothpick flags and no-nonsense props like bottle openers, a steel drink bucket for the booze, and napkins. Practical and inexpensive.
The color of your prop can’t be overlooked. Imagine a purple napkin and a green fork alongside a pumpkin pie. Most would agree that it doesn’t look the most visually appealing (unless you’re going for a fun, graphic vibe).
The solution is to pick props that go well together with the dish or backdrop.
For example, deep shades of red in a cranberry sauce will look appetizing in both a rustic wooden bowl or a simple white dish.
Delicious galette with plums and blueberries by 052162, 123RF.
The ones that usually can’t go wrong are white, beige, and wood colors. As a simple rule, have no more than three color shades in a single photo. That way, it can be kept in a monochromatic color palette, and nothing is too distracting. Remember, any color you add to the image should aim to enhance, not distract.
Don’t be afraid to get messy! The scene doesn’t always have to be prim and proper. Sometimes, mess creates realism, and that’s exactly how a kitchen usually is! Throw in a few crumbs and splatters here and a dusting of flour there, and it’ll work great as a prop.
2. Taking the Photo
Traditional apple strudel with cinnamon and raisin by sarsmis, 123RF.
Find Your Lighting
Lighting is a photographer’s best buddy. A beautiful composition alone will not make a photo good without good lighting. For autumn dishes, natural lighting is recommended. For natural lighting, your best bet would have to be outdoors in the morning light or by a window during the day.
If you don’t have large windows for the natural light to shine through, consider using a single strobe light and reflectors to ensure light hits all the right spots. Different lighting might convey a different vibe to your photos. For example, harsher side lighting might seem more luxurious and expensive.
Framing and Composition
Can’t really get your photos to look good despite having props and great lighting? Check your composition!
Think of the rule of thirds. A single frame is divided into three parts horizontally and vertically; place your object on one of the intersecting lines, don’t place your main object in the center of the frame.
Notice how in the photo below, the pumpkin spice latte is placed closer to the right?
Pumpkin spice latte by anaumenko, 123RF.
Frame your shot to focus on the food. The backdrop and the props are there to be exactly what it is – a backdrop and props! Those are meant to add color and texture to the photograph; they don’t need to be fully in frame.
Take shots from as many angles as possible. The worst thing that can happen is finding fault in your photos taken from just one angle without exploring other angles and perspectives. You’ll want lots of different options to choose from. For an interesting point of view, try a flat lay.
Flat lay of a tray of baked pears with caramelized nuts by anyaivanova, 123RF.
You’ll wanna pick a good one. Decide if you want to shoot indoors or outdoors. The lighting, backdrop, and the look you want to go for will determine the location.
For outdoor shoots, go out to a park bench to enjoy a warm mug of cranberry juice. Having a natural environment as your backdrop with leaves might give a crispy and fresh look. But be sure to account for harsh outdoor lighting that might overexpose your food.
Pumpkins and falling leaves on rustic wooden plank by alexraths, 123RF.
For indoor shoots, you’ll be free to manipulate the backdrop and lighting completely, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can even build the set from scratch.
The first half of photography is taking the shot; the remaining half is in post-production. Don’t be shy to edit the photos to truly enhance the stunning colors of the harvest season. Here’s our really nifty guide on how to do that!
A simple tweak in the vibrance, saturation, highlights, and shadows can make the photo much more expertly done.
Hey, that looks scrumptious!
A quick recap of the most important details – use a variety of props, color matters, lighting, framing, and composition, pick a location, and don’t forget to edit the photos. Just like that, you’ll have upped your photography styling game.