Getting that YUM factor

November 15, 2010

Try this exercise:  close your eyes and imagine something really really delicious, something that makes you crave.  Write down the specific attributes of that mental image.  Then cross out everything on your list that relies on senses other than sight.  Whatever you finally come up with, those are the things a food photographer has to work with in making an effective image.

What’s on your list?  I came up with color, texture, glisten, moisture, and so on.  Those are the obvious ones, but there are others.  Point of view (where is your eye?), scale (how close are you?), composition (does your eye know where to look?).  What about implied motion – like a drop about to fall, or anything just on the verge of happening. Light itself can sometimes imply motion.  Let’s go on … what else is on the list?  Mood, which is a broad term, can definitely affect whether something is mouth-watering.  Mood comes from a combination of lighting, camera point of view, color, and surroundings, surfaces, and props.  And of course, there is styling.  The presentation of the food, often done by a food stylist,  is a huge factor in appetite appeal.  Think of a muffin whole, compared to a muffin broken open with butter melting and some crumbs on the plate.  This line of thought leads to lots of new things for our list … seeing inside something, seeing the bits and ingredients, and presenting a plate with the invitation to dig in.

Here’s yet another aspect of getting appetite appeal — authenticity.  Does what you’re looking at look fake?  Does it look too perfect?  Is it a Disney world simulation of some “ideal”?  These are all unappetizing. Looking real means seeing the imperfections, the personality, and celebrating the fact that a dish looks different every time it comes out of the oven.

No picture this time.  More coming!

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Well, since this is going to be a series, I decided I better get organized.  Here’s a list of topics – it will probably change as we go.  I hope this will be useful not only to interested amateurs and  professionals, but also those who use food photography in their work.  Some people will find this too basic, others too advanced, I know.

  • What makes a shot mouth-watering? The “Yum” factor
  • Styles of photography – Visual language – composition etc
  • Equipment – in the kitchen
  • Equipment – photo and lighting gear
  • Practical working methods
  • Use of props surfaces and backgrounds
  • Thinking and working digitally
  • Lighting
  • Specific camera info – hardware etc.
  • Software – cropping and sizing for the web

Here’s a commercial shot I did for Dunkin’ Donuts.  Does it have the “Yum” factor for you?  Let’s discuss.

OK, I lied.  Back in September I said I’d start a string of posts on food photography, and here it’s already November, and — nothing!  Sorry.  Anyway, here we go. We’ll do myths, tips, and FAQ’s on food photography, and I’ll include various images that may be interesting even if they’re unrelated.

When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, I often have a feeling of dread because I pretty much know what’s going to happen.  Oh, you shoot food? Do you use mashed potatoes for ice cream?  Tell me about those hot lights!  And what about all that varnish you put on the turkey? etc., etc.

If you’re reading this you probably already know these are popular misconceptions.  And they’re so persistent!  So in this first post of my series, let’s start by emphasizing the word natural.  These sweet and white potato fries are real, and we ate them soon after they were shot.  They were photographed with natural light, coming in from a window.  This kind of light has an “open” quality and doesn’t call attention to itself (as in: gee, how did he light that?).  The food is the main attraction, the only attraction.

More coming, so please stay tuned.