Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I suck at food photography

There, I said it. Which is a shame, because my wife is into making really awesome cakes. She makes a lot of other great things too, but making ridiculous cakes seem to be her favorite pastime as of lately. Well, I guess it’s not just lately: She really started about five years ago with a “first birthday” cake for our niece. That cake was just a giant sheet cake with some cool icing work, which seems so simple when compared to the cakes she makes now. And as she gets better at working with icing and fondant and gum paste and piping bags and food dye, I have made pretty much no progress in the art of food photography.

[Above, some small gift-box cakes she made for a friend’s engagement this week. Since it was night time, I used a big softbox and a reflector. The cakes were great, but the pictures were not.]

I don’t really understand how to light food. I have trouble finding a good camera angle. I can’t make a realistic looking background or table scene to save myself. All the colors look weird. Sure, I can document food with my camera, something like “Look, this food was there and I saw it and now have proof with this picture.” Kind of the equivalent of those disposable camera snapshots at a wedding. But I lack the skill to make food look artistic or interesting, let alone appetizing. I think this is the main goal of good food photography: to make the food look irresistible and to make the viewer hungry. Good food photography says “I don’t care if you’re watching your calories, you wouldn’t be able to resist eating me!”

[What kind of lighting setup did I use for the above picture? Not one that you should copy, unless you want mediocre results!]

So what am I going to do about this? Well, this is a team approach I guess. My job in the upcoming months is to read about food photography with as much interest as I read about people photography. I want to gain a basic understanding of the use of lighting and staging and what apertures and angles look best for certain shots. Since I believe that the best way to become better at something is through practice, my wife’s job is to keep making awesome stuff for me to photograph. Seems like a win-win situation for us both (well maybe for me a little more, since I will be the one eating all the “extra” food!) Furthermore, this is a great time to learn food photography since it’s going to be cold outside for the next three months or so. In the dead of winter, there is no better place I can think of than inside my warm apartment with my lovely wife, some good food, and my camera!

[Maybe I will learn from this guy!]

Anyway, I will be posting my results along with some how-to information (as soon as I get better at the “how-to” part!) I think I’ll try to do this in some type of organized fashion, maybe I will try to learn one technique per week or so and go from there…


  1. Dear GWC:
    As you probably already know, food that is meant to be eaten is not meant to be photographed. I remember hearing some fast-food fable that the sesame seeds on a big mac photo were glued on to the bun, and that the bun was made of paper mache. (I wont mention what the burger was made of.)
    Anyways, prepared food that tastes good usually is not such a spectacle. I mean, I just had some amazing steamed pork dumplings, but the inside of the dumpling looked like baby brain. C'mon now, you cant photograph that stuff and make it look tasty no matter how many flashes you use. (Yes, that's a challenge for your next blog entry)
    Now, if you want to photograph food, make sure that its inedible. Try putting some crazy glue on those cupcakes -- the buttercream will behave for you. Consider furniture polish to get that perfect shine off your strawberries. Its not that you're a lousy photographer -- its that Mrs. GWC is not a fake chef. Glad I could help!

  2. Anonymous is right, that Anonymous, not this one. Well, I guess by agreeing with that Anonymous, this one is right too. Cool.

  3. If you follow that guy's technique, I hope you will wear a pair of pants that don't show your crack!


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