Photography — By Ben on 04 August 2009
Food Photography Composition Pt.2

I want to thank everybody who left a comment on the first part of this food photography composition series of posts. It really proves the point that composition is probably one of the aspects of food photography that most people have trouble with. I was trying to convey a feeling of lightness and fluffiness with those “flying” (they were actually dropping) pancakes. But it got very different reactions from different viewers. That only means that I need more practice with composition, which is fine with me. I really love taking pictures of food.

This second installment of the series will focus on a more technical side of composition. After reading Lou Manna’s book, Digital Food Photography, I have been trying to be more technical when framing my shots. The following information and shots are based on the information written in the chapter Composition of Manna’s book.

One of the most important things to remember when shooting a picture is that the camera and lens play a crucial role. Most of my food pictures are taken with a 50mm prime lens (a non-zoom lens) so I don’t worry about proportions too much. But if you are using a wide angle or zoom lens (or in the case of point and shoot cameras the wide or telephoto setting) you have to understand how the proportion of the image will be affected by them. Take a look at the following shots:

stuffed_tomatoes_wideangle

This first shot was taken at 28mm (the wider setting on that particular lens). The tomatoes look so distant from one another and the real size of the tomato in the back is distorted. This is because wide angle lenses and settings exaggerate perspective. Just think of the “leaning” buildings taken with fisheye lenses or with your point and shoot in the wide angle setting.

stuffed_tomatoes_zoom

The tomatoes on the second shot, taken at 90mm (the telephoto setting on that same lens), have a better proportion and look closer together. The reason is that the telephoto setting of your lens compresses distance. The lesson to learn here is to use the telephoto setting, even if you have to back away from your food, to have a better proportion and perspective of the foreground and background elements in your pictures.

stuffed_tomatoes_line

Next, focus on the way you hold your camera. A straight angle works in many cases, but many others a little tilt will give a shot the perfect perspective and composition. Play around with the angle and the distance you hold your camera when aiming at your subject. In this case I wanted to give the shot above different approaches:

stuffed_tomatoes_tilt1 stuffed_tomatoes_vertical stuffed_tomatoes stuffed_tomatoes_tilt

In this case, I think the third picture works best because of the angle of the glasses and because picture 2 is too straight and pictures 1 and 4 make the tomatoes look like they are going to fall off.  Which is another point you have to pay attention when tilting your camera. Is it going to help composition by placing the subject slightly off-center? Or is it going to make the viewer wonder when the food (or drink) is going to fall of the plate?

Next time I’ll talk more about composition (maybe the last post on the series), but for now I hope this little iformation and shots I am sharing here help your food photography. It sure has given me some very good pointers to improve my shots. But remember that the best way to improve your photography skills is by playing (practicing and experimenting) with your camera.

About the subjects for this post: I used tomatoes stuffed with sauteed onions, zucchini, corn kernels, jalapeno peppers and tuna. The best part of this ordeal is that I get to eat the subjects afterward. That’s an arrangement I can live with.

¡Buen provecho and happy shooting!

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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.

(26) Readers Comments

  1. Your photos always amaze me! Thank you for the tips. Keep them coming!

  2. Great ideas to think about when setting up shots! I never go for the tilt, so I’ll have to practice with it. The salad stuffed in the tomatoes looks delicious too by the way.

  3. Brilliant Ben,,,just WOW!! I have a telephoto lens. U referring to that or is there a regular camera setting? Pardon my ignorance….

    • I am referring to the setting on your camera lens. Most point and shoots have the zoom feature, my suggestion is to zoom in even if you have to step a couple of feet back. Just remember that with that setting you have to keep the camera very still.

  4. Ben, I said it before and I’ll say it again. Your photography is superb. I absolutely love the composition, the lighting, the “point of view”. Kudos my friend. I’m going to start calling you Mr. Bigshot from now on. :)

    • LOL Thanks Teresa. Comments like this keep me going :D

  5. Thanks so much for sharing. I am a writer and cook, not a photographer, but I am trying to learn and get a little better. Your tomato shots are really eye-catching and appetizing–yum.

    • The time and energy invested in it are really worthwhile. I hope this pointers help you with your photography :D

  6. This was all such great information! thanks for all the inspiration!!

  7. Great post. I love this! Now…for me to get a SLR to be able to change lenses in the first place. But I do love the tips for composition. Makes a difference!

    • Hi Alta,

      You don’t need to get a SLR. My suggestions about the zoom apply also to point and shoots. Just zoom in and step back a a couple of feet. That for me worked great when I was shooting with a p&s

  8. I like tilted angles, etc., too.

  9. Stunning photos. Would love to see some behind the scenes photos of the next shoot.

  10. THANKS BEN!!!!!
    I really appreciate you taking the time to write these instructive posts so much!!!! All your photos are gorgeous, but I agree, that third one with the glasses has the most interesting composition!
    Thanks Ben!

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