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. Nice! The more I play with the camera the more I learn. However, you are always there to teach even more.

    I have the Tamron 90mm and am loving that lens for everything. I definitely need to pick up a better lens for outdoor stuff. Actually I will tweet you about this tomorrow.

    I do like the composition in #3 the best although for some reason the angle in #4 is really cool to me.

  2. Those posts are my favs. I learn so much. I always want to improve my pictures.

    I have couple questions:

    -How do you get your 5th pic to look tall? Do you take the picture turning the camera?
    -Was the last picture taken with a 50mm lense?
    -Do you sometimes take pictures of food outdoor in order to get natural light?
    -I now try to take my pics with my new 50mm lense. Do you recommend any other lenses for food photography?
    -I do like to use Photo Manager 2009 for editing & Picasa. What software do you use?

    I really like the two last pictures because of the angle but they are all beautiful.

    • Hi Helene!

      -It helps that the glasses were tall, but it has to do with the angle I take them. I try to get as level as possible with my food, meaning that I don’t do too many overhead shots. Also you could try to shot from a lower angle. I am sure that will make anything look tall.
      -Yes, all the pictures were taken with the 50mm lens except the very first two.
      -My recommendation for almost any kind of photography is the 50mm lens. It is such a great lens for the price, Many photographers call it the miracle lens. I would recommend any prime lens for food photography, like the 85mm f/1.8 or the 30mm macro lens. They are, however, more expensive but the results are very good too.
      -For my picture editing I only use Photoshop. It’s such a powerful tool and I am getting comfortable with it. If you are looking for an open source software I recommend GIMP. It is also very powerful and not too complicated.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by!

  3. Excellent pictures and post, Ben. Looking forward to all the other posts that are yet to come.

  4. I never tire of food photography posts. From lighting, styling & composition to camera, settings & lens, I find these sorts of posts fascinating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Thank you so much for this post..This is something that I really need

  6. thanks Ben…love these too..being a vegetarian I should try this recipe without the tuna…love the photo….i should take some tips on how to go about clicking that damn camera…m so bad at it! :(

  7. Talking about the PERFECT picture!!

    Angie’s Recipes

  8. A very informative and very helpful post, Ben. Thanks a lot. Keep ‘em coming.

  9. Thank you guys for your comments and questions. These are what keep my blog going :D

  10. Wow!… me encantaron tus fotos!!! Le voy a dar tu pagina a mi esposo… es amante de la fotografia!!!

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