Recently I’ve been on a quest to learn more about food photography. Unlike most travel photography, which by nature depends on serendipity, food photography involves more staging and premeditation. Food photographers must ask themselves, “What can I do to this food to make it look irresistibly delicious?” They then use their mysterious powers of manipulation to make me salivate.
But really, what do food photographers do? I spent some time looking at a slew of food photos and made some observations which I would like to share with you. (The photos below come from the magazine, Edible Nashville, for which I have so far written two articles and am working on a third. Check it out!)
- White outs.
I’ve noticed many food photos that overexpose backgrounds purposefully so as to pull all attention onto the food. In the photo below, the pork seems almost haloed by light, making us feel like this glowing scene really does have touches of the divine. It also looks nice and sanitary and safe.
2a. Color Matters: Complementary Color Pairing
I am ashamed I never noticed how critical color is to food photography. On the one hand, the need for color is obvious; we all want our food to look fresh and colorful, so food photography naturally would enhance these characteristics. But my epiphany goes deeper than this. Food photographers make use of color theory, and often pair together sets of complementary colors, meaning colors that sit on the opposite ends of a color wheel (purple and yellow, red and green, blue and orange). These contrasts really make the image pop and prick our curiosity for how those colors must taste.
2b. Color Matters: Analogous color pairings
Continuing with this color theory epiphany, food photography often exhibits ranges of similar colors, or analogous colors, meaning colors that sit next to each other on a color wheel. In the photo below, see how nicely the frame pulls you in with the color progression from cream to yellow to orange to red.
3. The Power of a Neutral Background
Another pattern I saw across many food photos is the use of neutral colored backgrounds: creams, browns, and steely grays. These backgrounds make an excellent stage upon which the colors of the food can dance freely.