Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Martha Stewart doesn't know about Food Photography.


Recently Martha Stewart posted a series of really bad food photos on Twitter and people started bashing her photo tweets.  Why? Well because the food looked like some tired chef just tossed food in a rush on a plate and then Martha took a fast pic in bad lighting showing that same food.  Martha Stewart may be the Queen of Entertaining but she has a lot to learn about food photography and what looks good in a picture.  We can't all be perfect in everything.  While I myself have taken a lot of bad food photos I have also taken a few good ones just with my Ipad or a simple point and shoot camera.  The most important thing in taking a good food photo is LIGHT.  That's the most important thing in photography and the most important thing to make food look good.

Some of the Golden Rules of Food Photography:

  1.  Use natural daylight if possible
  2. Try and make sure the light isn't too bright to washout the contrast of the light on the food.
  3. Don't ever use the flash on your camera straight on your food unless you are sitting in a pitch black room but even then your food won't look good.
  4. Think about composition and framing and read up on the law of thirds if you don't understand that.
  5. Make sure there is contrast in color on the plate.  Example of what won't work ever is White plate, white food and bright light.  It will just look like a plate of snow.   Same thing goes for black plate black food etc.   You get the picture*  black food on a white plate will give you excellent contrast but you have to know about lighting to make it look really good.

Here are some photos of Bad, Good, Better and Best in some of the shots I took recently and the differences in lighting.

1.  BAD

This photo was shot using my IPAD in an artificial lighted restaurant.  It's out of focus and kind of boring.  There is a bit of color but I couldn't have made this look a whole lot better with better lighting and more time paid to the way the Calamari were plated and the composition of the food.  It was a quick shot and not even as bad as some of Martha Stewart's photos of puke like looking boring dark food.

2.  Here's where the different lighting sources really shows the difference in how your food would look with different light sources.

The first photo of Martha Stewart's Biscotti recipe that I made plated on a white plate with silver pattern was shot after I made them and it was at night in my dark apartment so I tried to turn on a desk light to add more light  You can see the that it's too bright on the right where the light is coming from and then there is a huge dark shadow on the left.

This second photo was shot in my kitchen with the biscotti just placed on a white cutting plastic cutting board on top of a red one.   It looks flat and the color is bad because the lighting was the fluorescent ceiling lights in my kitchen.  The worst lighting for everything.

 This is the same photo but I used an Instagram filter to bump it up a little bit and it cropped it.  Better but not great.

This last photo was shot the next morning when the natural sunlight comes through my northern facing apartment.  I have limited times where I get maximum light quality and I got lucky that I had these 2 beautiful rays of light that just hit a nice spot on the biscotti.

What I also did was place the biscotti on textured boards.   First on the wooden cutting board and then on a slate board.  I moved it around until I liked the placement, the composition and the light that was coming through the window.

Now compare the first photo to this one and you can really see how a simple biscotti photo can go from a cookie that looks eh.. to a biscotti cookie that you want to eat.


I think Chefs should take photography and food styling classes before opening their restaurants and maybe some other arts classes so that they can really maximize the way their food looks on the plate so that people can eat with their eyes first and really have the brain wake up to what they are about to eat.

I always love it when I go to a restaurant where there is beautiful lighting,  beautifully plated food and the taste of the food to match.   That's food perfection and a dream for any food blogger or foodie.

Chef's and Restaurant designers take note.    A restaurant trick many restaurants use is to serve on white plates so that the food colors stand out..  see back to beginning when I mentioned white food on white plates.   You can only do this if you toss on something extra with color, even if it's just parsley or paprika to break it up.

Oh by the way,  this last photo was just shot with my ipad and I used the Lo-Fi Instagram filter which is my favourite food filter.   No photoshopping or any other special lighting or correction.

I am constantly striving to make the food that I make look and taste better and try and find ways to experiment with taking the photos in the use of different backgrounds.  I use plates, platters, cutting boards, place mats and foam core or whatever else I can get my hands on that I can use to change up my photos.

So this post is for you Martha Stewart or all of the rest of you Martha Stewart wannabees or food loving photography challenged people.

I hope some of my quick tips help you eat with your eyes first from now on.

Happy snapping and eating.

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