An essential ingredient in any food photograph.

What makes a food photograph good? It is very simple to answer but not always easy achieve. I call it the missing ingredient the yum factor. For me a food photograph needs to do what any great photograph does, it needs to evoke an emotional response.  When I show people my portfolio their reaction  is “now I am hungry”. That is it. That is the response I am looking for. My job is to make you hungry, make you want to read the article it’s associated with or buy the product it’s pitching.

How do I do it? Over the years I have developed my own personal style, a common thread that makes my work unique. I do it through my point of view and lighting techniques and experience. Easily said now but it wasn’t always the case.

I faked my way into my first food assignment. I had assisted Bill Helms a long established food photographer. When I met Bill he was in the twilight of his career. He was not really shooting food but product shots for A&P. My experience with him was awesome but it really did not teach me what I needed to know about food photography. We did a couple of food shoot’s but not a lot.

When Bill retired, I was approached by the agency that worked with him to take over the account. I basically bullshitted my way into the gig. When the opportunity presents itself in life you can either take or regret not taking it. I mean really the worst that could have happened was I would have failed and then I would be another kind of photographer now. But I didn’t I was actually good at food photography. Better than other types of photography I had been doing.

They key for me was to overshoot everything then edit out the mistakes. There were plenty of mistakes but I never showed them to the client. The client was lazy and never came to the studio (at the time my apartment). I was also a great retoucher and after the shoot, which I over delivered on in volume, I would retouch. I would bring a disk with 15 finished shots to the client and they would love me. Back then most food shoot’s produced about 4 finished shots. Digital technology played a big part in my being able to produce so much. I would set up the main shot, get it then move the camera closer, change lenses, angles and so forth. I would turn 5 sets into 15 shots and the client was thrilled.

What happened next was I was able to hone in on what I personally liked and thought worked. I found that getting closer to the food made it look delicious. There are photographers that like big sets and a larger view but for me the closer the better. I love food up and in your face. You can count the seeds on the bun close.  Not always applicable but that’s what I like. I think it makes the food look yummy.

Composition and lighting play equal parts. I already knew how to light so I was ahead of the curve. I knew how to compose a photo I have been taking pictures since I was 8. I have studied photography ever since I was a kid. I found my niche with food. The opportunity I was given was perfect. I essentially got paid to learn how to be a food photographer.

Look at Flickr. There are groups focused on all types of food. Study the pictures. You will see a lot of really bad food photos. Poorly done stuff but that’s where you can learn. Study what really does not work. There are simple lighting techniques that you can use while you are developing your eye. Just backlight everything with diffusion and use bounce cards.  When you go to shoot your food remember the goal of every food photographer, the essential ingredient if you will, it has to make you hungry. Oh and have fun.

Photographer Bill Brady