1. Set the Scene and Move QuicklyWhen holiday food has just been served, you can be sure it won’t stay pristine and untouched for long. Hot dishes in particular should be photographed quickly and efficiently. The moment you spot a dish you want to document, begin envisioning angles and approaches, and start shooting. Better yet, consult with the cook and find out exactly when that hors d’ oeuvre tray, turkey, ham or gourmet green bean casserole will be coming out of the kitchen. Set up a tripod near the dinner or serving table and have ready any garnish, props or added decorations you might wish to incorporate in the shots. Garland, holly, evergreen branches and pine cones are all possible ways to enhance the holiday effect. Bring along several tabletop backdrop options in case your host’s tablecloth doesn’t work for your vision and creativity. These shortwidth paper rolls are extremely affordable and perfect for photographing food dishes, plates and other small items. Choose several festive colors to bring along so that you can enhance a specific dish or chosen theme.
2. Creative CompositionComposition is key in every area of photography, but its importance in holiday food photography cannot be overstated. Play with different angles and elements at the holiday table. The artful placement of a cloth napkin and piece of silverware, a wine glass, a dish in relation to the centerpiece, or some unexpected props and accents can all enhance composition. Work with shapes, colors and textures to keep your shots interesting and engaging. Amplify contrasts in your shots among the different elements at the holiday table.
3. Treat it Like a PortraitFood is not a person, but each dish does have a personality and essence all its own. Strive to capture this in your food photography, from your composition to your background choices. Zoom in close on individual food items, but also take some “group shots” as well of the entire spread, the appetizer table, the kids’ table, etc. Experiment with different angles that bring out the best in each dish. Just as you strive to capture the essence of your human subjects, find the equivalent for your food portraits.
4. Lenses and Lighting EffectsThe right lens is also key to food portraiture success. The ideal choice will likely be somewhere between a wide angle and long telephoto — around a 35 to 100 mm lens. You’ll want the flexibility to do both wide shots and close-ups, to zoom and highlight the dominant texture or color of the shot. You can edit things later, but it’s important to have solid images to start with. Front flash is not ideal for food photography, as it will create lots of hot spots and blow out that succulent detail and texture. Natural lighting is always best for food, but if the party is after sunset, opt for simply lit scenarios. Bounce light from white walls and ceilings and play with ambiance as well; Christmas lights and candles can add warmth and compositional interest. Consider bracketing your f-stops on the last few shots before every one digs in.
5. Those Priceless “Extra” ShotsLastly, don’t wait until the meal or dish is served to start shooting; photograph the chef in varying stages of work and preparedness. Show her adding garnish or some other crucial element. Catch some photos of the kids (or grandpa) sneaking a taste of a dish ahead of time when they think no one is looking. The interaction of people with holiday food can make for some priceless photos that complete the tableau of the event. Of course, when your work is done, you get to sample the very dishes you’ve photographed — and perhaps that’s the best reward. Bon appetit, and Happy Holidays!
Will you be setting up your gear for some professional Christmas dinner photos?
-Backdrop Express Photography Team
Interested in reading more holiday photography tips? Check out: How to Take Great Pictures of Your Christmas Tree!
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