Photography — By Ben on 20 July 2009
Food Photography Composition Pt. 1

Blueberry pancakes

I’ve put off writing this post for some time because I still have a lot to learn about composition. But now I feel comfortable enough to talk about the basics of composition. What is that exactly? Trying to put in simple words such a huge concept: it is the placement and arrangement of your food inside the frame of your picture. In other words, it is the way the food will “come together” in the picture.

In the professional world of food photography, food styling and composition are jobs done by two different people, the food stylist and the photographer. In a past post I already talked about the art of making your food look pretty for the camera. But composition, in the other hand, is a job done mostly behind the lens.

There are several rules and guidelines that apply when composing your picture (I will talk about them in future posts), but it is worth mentioning that food photography, like in any other art, will be perceived differently by different people. This is because our experiences, cultures and backgrounds are different thus affecting the way we perceive the world. Most of us have experienced this first hand when submitting pictures to two of the most popular food porn sites on the blog-o-sphere. I’ve heard so many people wonder why one site will accept a picture while the other rejects it and vice-versa.

That is also the reason why composition is so difficult to understand and manipulate for many people (I include myself here). But like in any other aspect of food photography, it takes some time, practice and patience to get a hold of. I didn’t even know the whole meaning of the concept until I read Digital Food Photography by Lou Manna, an excellent book that covers the basic principles of food photography.

Blueberry pancakes

But before I go into details about the mechanics of composition, I want you to look at the first two pictures of these yummy blueberry pancakes (the flying ones) and tell me what you think about the way they are presented within the frame of the picture. Does the picture work for you? Is the subject centered? Does the placement of the pancakes draw your attention to them? Does it convey a sense of movement or stillness? In other words, I’d love to know the way you perceive the subject within the frame.

After that, and if you are game, you can come to the forum and have your pictures commented by other members. Share them with us to know what other people think about their composition. I think that before going into detailed techniques and mechanics it is a good idea to think about how the placement of the food inside the frame can draw attention to the main subject (or drive it away from it).

For now I leave you with this delicious blueberry pancakes (which I made the same way than these mango pancakes only replacing the mango with blueberries). I know mapple syrup and pancakes is a well-established marriage, but I like been disloyal by eating my pancakes with sweetened condensed milk. Trust me on this one, this is something you’ll want to do over and over again.

Blueberry pacakes

This last image is my entry to Click, the monthly event dedicated to food photography. This month’s theme is bi-color and although there are more than two colors, with this picture I was going for dark and light. Hopefully it fits the theme.

¡Buen provecho!

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About Author

grew up around food. His family owned a restaurant in Mexico City and he spent a big deal of his childhood helping and learning after school the art of creating delicious dishes from simple ingredients. He created this blog to share his kitchen adventures with the world.

(23) Readers Comments

  1. You rock Ben. How in the world did you make the pancakes (the top one) look like it was flying, or falling into place? That is so cool. Food photography is a very specialized craft. I am so thrilled that you ave taught yourself to be so professional. Love your pictures chico.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us Ben. You’ve accomplished so much by reading and your photos are now perfect and very professional.

  3. I like the final pic the most (and heck yes on the condensed milk). The floating pancake pics look cool, but as photos of food they don’t grab me as much. I personally can connect more and get more excited about food in photographs when the food is behaving like food. Or rather, when I’m craving pancakes I’m seeing a mental picture of a stack with syrup dripping over them rather than levitating.

    Still, how did you do it? :)

  4. Te be honest, I don’t like either flying pancake picture because there’s no context for the movement. I had a “huh?” moment. If the other pancakes were in motion, I think the concept would work better.

    Other than the flying pancake, the photos are beautiful. I like the third pic the best!

  5. These series have been really interesting, Ben. I love all your photos today. How on earth did you get the pancake flying up?

  6. Good tips and great advice as always! I prefer the last one as it really makes me hungry looking at it! And today I discovered something new! Condensed milk on pancakes…delish!

  7. I’m looking forward to part 2 and have been loving your series on food photography. Just thought I’d say that now.

  8. Excellent and informative post Ben!! I struggle with the food composition and shots every time I take a picture. The blueberry pancakes look fantastic :)

    Cheers,

    Gera

  9. Ben, these photog posts are always full of sage advice, thank you. I wonder if some of your pics get rejected? They must be nuts!

  10. Pingback: CLICK: Bi-Colour. The winners are … | jugalbandi

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