3 Quick Meat & Food Photography Tips
Want to easily improve your food photography for your farm products? Here I’ll share 3 quick tips of what I do during a photoshoot that make a big difference in my food photos. If you follow these 3 rules, your food photos will look way better!
Tip #1: Natural light, natural light, natural light!
The more diffused natural sunlight you can get into your shot, the better it’s going to be.
What do I mean by diffused? I mean indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight creates harsh shadows and is definitely harder to work with. It can be made to work (for example, I used direct sunlight to create the dynamic, dimensional light in the salmon shot below), but as a general rule, avoid photographing your food in direct light, whether that’s outside or next to a window that the sun is shining directly through.
Luckily, getting indirect sunlight is easy. Just position your shot very close to a large window that’s not facing the sun. So, in the mornings I generally avoid east-facing windows, but east facing windows give great light in the early to mid afternoon.
The shot below was taken next to a west-facing window in the early afternoon. It was a cloudy day out, so I had really nice naturally diffused light.
I was going for a moody look in this shot so I kept the shadows dark. If you want to brighten your shadows up, you can put a white board (cardboard or foam) on the side of the shot that is opposite the light. This will “bounce” the light back into the shot and create a less shadowy look.
Tip #2: Color Contrast
When photographing meat, you’re usually dealing with a lot of yellows and reds. When taking pictures of vegetables, you’re often dealing with green and possibly some other bright colors.
Regardless, the rule you want to remember is to use complementary or contrasting colors. Check out the color wheel below:
So, 2 safe rules to remember when looking at the colors in your shots:
- Opposite colors make each other stand out. So for red meat, I’m going to use green (eg., rosemary), to contrast against the red and bring it out. For a yellowish meat like chicken, I’ll often go with a blue napkin as well as the green of an herb (see what I mean in the chicken shot below).
- Analogous (side by side) colors complement each other, but you want to pick just one to stand out. So, for example, you can use a couple shades of red, but one of them has to be the star. See, for example, the chicken shot below. I used yellow lemons and red paprika to pair with the mild yellow-pink of the chicken. It works because the touches of bright yellow and red are very subtle–they don’t steal the spotlight.
Tip #3: Background
The background makes or breaks the shot! Even though you don’t notice it, it’s very important. Most of my backgrounds are some shade of neutral, ranging from neutral white to light gray, brown, and all the way to black. I’ve also got a couple blue ones because blue pairs well with most yellows, browns, and reds.
I prefer darker colors, so that’s the direction I take, but that doesn’t mean a white background doesn’t work and completely change the mood of the shot. For example, check out the two shots below. One has a white background, one has a dark. The mood is completely different as a result.
One thing to note about why I go for darker colors, especially for meat, is that most meat cuts tend to just look way better against darker backgrounds. White backgrounds can sometimes wash them out or make imperfections show up more prominently. A darker look, however, conveys a sense of quality and also looks a little edgier–both of which are good in a meat shot, especially raw meat .
So, if you prefer a moodier look, look for darker backgrounds. Remember to keep it fairly neutral in order to let the meat be the star of the show. I’d suggest dark brown wood, blacks, grays, or slate. You can usually find these online or make your own out of old wood and stain them.
If you prefer a brighter, cleaner look, search for lighter backgrounds. For these, you can paint a board white, stain it light gray, or purchase a fake marble paper background (generally the prints of these are surprisingly good, and it’s hard to tell that it’s fake. The photo of the panna cotta above was taken with a paper background that had a white distressed print on it. But since no one ever looks too closely at the background, no one will ever know.
Bonus Tip: Avoid Reflective Surfaces
And as a quick extra bonus tip, I’d recommend looking for props, plates, and backgrounds that are not shiny. Shiny and reflective surfaces tend to catch the light in a weird way, create glare, and overall make your job harder. If you go for matte surfaces, you’re not going to deal with this annoying shine.
Above is one of my favorite pewter platters on a background I stained dark brown with a burlap cloth I bought on Amazon a while back. These pewter platters are great for photography because the surface is fairly non-reflective. The gray is also a nice neutral color. No matter what I put on this, it’s probably going to look all right because the background is neutral.
And that’s it! 3 quick tips to instantly improve your farm or ranch product photography! Thoughts? Questions? Comment below!