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:


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.


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.


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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