Good food photography isn’t easy. It’s not as simple as just whipping up a plate of food and firing off a quick snapshot or two. You have to make it look fresh. You have to make it look inviting. And most of all, you have to make it look tasty–delicious, even. And if you’re shooting for a restaurant, you need to convey the feel the owners and chefs are going for with their whole establishment.
We’ve all seen those drab shots on the menu board of local takeout joints, often overhead shots under fluorescent lights that come out looking like a plateful of mush of a color your can’t quite describe. That is exactly what you don’t want.
That doesn’t necessarily mean investing in expensive cameras and lights. But it does involve skills, care, some tricks of the trade, and creativity. You have to start with attractive food. The lighting, of course, makes a big difference. And there’s also the styling, which is its own specialty.
If you’re looking to take tasty looking photos of food, whether it’s to shoot cupcakes for your baking blog or taking marketing photos for a high-end restaurant client, there are some great new food photography books to help. Here are some of the best.
Food Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Appetizing Images
by Corinna Gissemann. Published in July 2016 by Rocky Nook. 224 pages. The author is a professional food photographer.
Available in paperback and Kindle.
This one strikes a very good balance, offering practical and useful information in a clear wau without being overwhelming. A strength are the behind-the-scenes shots that are useful for visualizing the kinds of setups that go into getting a particular look, and the relative simplicity, using things you’ve probably already got on hand, is often surprising.
Bottom Line: While it’s pitched at beginners, this book does an especially good job of offering something for everyone and covers all the major bases. There are sections on lighting, styling, post-processing in Lightroom, and homemade props. Overall, it’s one of the best options whether you’re looking to add better photos to your food blog or wanting to pitch some new skills and services to local businesses.
I have a more detailed review of this book.
Focus on Food Photography for Bloggers
by Matt Armendariz. Published by Focal Press, September 2012. 208 pages. The author is a former art and advertising director in the food industry and is now a full-time food photographer and blogger. It’s aimed at beginner level.
As it says right there in the title, this book is aimed at food bloggers wanting to improve the quality of their photos for the web.
The book’s emphasis is on making use of what you have on hand and in using inexpensive, creative solutions. In camera gear, that could be anything from an expensive DSLR or your camera phone. With lighting, it might mean using wax paper or aluminum foil to modify the light. The book is written in a very clear way without unnecessary technical jargon, more like a blog than a reference book (oddly enough!). The side-by-side comparisons of approaches like different lighting angles, different white balances, different sized plates, are especially useful to quickly visualize the effects of different approaches.
It covers the usual basics, but also has some unique features, including a section on difficult foods to photograph with solutions, Matt’s top ten tips, and a chapter on photographing in a restaurant.
Bottom Line: It’s basic. That’s both a virtue and a disadvantage. It’s a very good option if you’re looking to improve the quality of you food photos on your blog and most of your photography experience to this point has consisted of snapshots–and that’s exactly the market this book is designed for. The explanations are straightforward and jargon-free. And side-by-side comparisons help quickly visualize the differences between different approaches. But if you’re looking for something more advanced or looking to do commercial work in the field, one of the other books on this page would be a better bet.
Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots
by Nicole S. Young. Published 2015 (2nd edition) by Peachpit Press. 272 pages. The author is a full-time commercial photographer.
Available in Paperback and Kindle.
The book is aimed at foodies and bloggers looking to take something better than snapshots. It’s aimed at beginner level.
This book takes the standard approach of starting with the fundamentals of your equipment and lighting before moving on to composition, framing, styling, and props. The photographer’s style is a very clean, commercial look especially suited to stock photography.
The author teaches Adobe Photoshop, and there’s a long chapter (about 50 pages) devoted to processing images in Photoshop. But, oddly, Lightroom and Aperture are only mentioned once each in passing. While many of the processing techniques apply to other software, if you don’t have Photoshop or prefer not to use it, that so much of the book focuses on that particular software might be a negative. Of course, the opposite is also true–if you do plan to use Photoshop, this section might be especially useful to you.
A unique feature of this book that I like is that it includes large blow-ups of some images with callouts to specific spots within the photos and shows the creative objective with each element.
Bottom Line: While aimed at foodies and food bloggers, this book is also very useful for those looking to take shots for selling as stock photography. If you don’t have or don’t plan to use Photoshop, the long section dealing with that software might be a negative (and vice versa). Overall, this is a good option for covering the basics.
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling
by Hélène Dujardin. Published in 2011 by Wiley. 288 pages. The author is a professional food photographer, food stylist, and former chef. This book has a target audience ranging from beginner to intermediate.
Available in Paperback and Kindle.
This book is probably the most comprehensive of all the ones here. The approach is fairly standard–starting with the fundamentals of your equipment and lighting before moving on to styling, composition, and after the shoot. There are also sections on setting up a makeshift home studio or shooting on location. There are excellent side-by-side examples of how to different choices in things like depth of field or white balance affect the result.
The photos in this book are beautiful and are especially good at illustrating how the whole frame matters, not just the starring food items (although one slight quirk of the book, probably reflecting the author’s work for magazines rather than the web, is that nearly all of the photos in the book are composed in portrait orientation).
One unique section I found particularly interesting relates to thinking carefully about the recipe of the dish you’re shooting and using that to help your creative decisions about composition, colors, and garnishes. In this, Dujardin calls on her experience as a chef, and it’s an especially useful way of thinking about it.
Bottom Line: This is a comprehensive guide for aspiring food photographers aiming to take shots that are a cut above the usual. It’s probably the best one-stop option here. The examples are beautiful and provide great inspiration, and the production quality of the whole book is very high. The author is very good about making her explanations clear and accessible without much jargon. So the book is useful for those just starting out. But if you’re after professional quality results and are looking to invest some time and effort to get them, this book is a great choice.
Food Photography & Lighting: A Commercial Photographer’s Guide to Creating Irresistible Images
by Teri Campbell. Published in 2013 by New Riders. The author is a professional food photographer.
Available in Paperback and Kindle.
This book is aimed at photographers aiming to make money from their food photography. It’s aimed at intermediate/advanced level.
This book takes a different approach to the others on this page. Rather dividing it up by the standard theme or technique, the book is divided into two sections, each roughly half the book.
Part one deals with fundamentals of the business of food photography. It assumes you know what you’re doing with your camera and lighting–it doesn’t spend any time explaining photography things like aperture or white balance. It goes into the business side of things such as negotiating a contract and fee with the client and working with art directors and other members of the creative team.
Part two is divided into a series of real-world assignments. The author walks you through the creative process and the problem-solving involved to get the shot the client is looking for. Some of the assignments include things like burgers and fries, ice-cream, splashing milk, and shooting for food packaging.
Bottom Line: This book is aimed at proficient photographers looking to make money from their food photography. It’s not especially suited to entry-level photographers or those simply wishing to improve their photos for their blog. But if you’re in the target audience (i.e.,. professional photographers or aspiring professional photographers), the real-world assignment approach is particularly effective.