23-year-old lifestyle and food photographer, Issy Croker gives us a lesson on how to boss food photography. As one half of ‘The Curious Pear’ and a contributing food editor at Suitcase Magazine, she is our ultimate food guru. From learning to play light to your advantage to dressing a table, experiment with her top tips to become a pro at ‘gramming and snapping your culinary adventures.
Let there be light
Courgette with homemade almond pesto & edamame beans
Every photographer knows that light is your best friend, and it can make or break a photo. Not everyone has the luxury of a light flooded, open plan room, so the key is to position yourself near a natural light source, like a window. If you find yourself battling with heavy shadows, track down a piece of white card so you can reflect the light and inject some brightness into your shot. I buy mine from a local art shop, and they’re always pretty cheap. Unless you want to win the award for most unsociable person in London, you obviously you can’t do this in a restaurant. So if possible, ask to sit near a window or even the door to gather as much light as you can.
A common misconception is that sunlight makes for great photos, when actually the opposite is true. Glaring light can ruin a picture, so if you are outside you should aim for being in diffused light. Avoid any overhead, fluorescent lights. These can make food look artificial and unappetising, and no one wants to eat a salad that looks radioactive…
Think beyond the food
King prawn & lemon ravioli with dill
Radishes on rye
Take a minute to consider what could bring out the colours of the food you’re shooting. Layered material, textured woods, interesting ceramics and cutlery can bring out the details of food and turn the picture into more than just a snapshot of a meal.
Keep an eye out for good quality but neutral-coloured bits and pieces that can lend another dimension to your images. I love what linen can do to a photo, even if it is in a really subtle way. Flea markets, charity shops and vintage warehouses are good places to pick up linens, plates and table accessories. Or you could do what I do and rummage in the odd skip for old pieces of wood.
Don’t aim for perfection
Flourless chocolate cake
Lamb’s lettuce salad with radishes, walnuts & pistachios
If ever there is a time to embrace mess, it’s when you’re shooting food. Crumbs and smudges can make a dish look far more appealing and edible, because perfection is often boring. Pristine plates are all well and good, but overthinking a shot can ruin the natural beauty of the food, and can make it feel and look staged. Allow the chocolate to melt, take a bite out of the bread, and let the cookie crumble.
Set the scene
Croissants, coffee & jam
Greek yoghurt with golden linseed, blackberries & pistachios
Though food should be the central focus of your shot, giving it context can make all the difference. People like to feel that they’re catching a glimpse of someone’s day, so getting in a magazine or a book (for example) can make things a lot more homely and interesting. Introduce hands into your shots, people like to see interaction with food. If you’re shooting breakfast, have the morning papers spread out on the table, or if you’re capturing a dinner scene, get the cocktails being poured. I love seeing tables laden with food, and photographs filled with colour and texture are a lot more striking. Arrange food to look like a feast, not a fast.
Rosie Birkett’s (@rosiefoodie) Mexican Ceviche with Avocado Crema
Give your thumb a workout and spend some time exploring other people’s work. As we all know, places like Instagram and Pinterest are brimming with incredible photographers with plenty of inspiring ideas. One of my favourite Instagram accounts is my Danish friend and amazing photographer @lachristus. I’ve learnt a lot about light and colour just from following him; it is amazing what you can absorb and apply to your own photos. You cab also find great recipes to make, like this one from @rosiefoodie. Only follow the people whose work you really admire, and consider which parts of their photographs really grab you. Magazines, supplements and cookbooks are also packed with beautiful, interesting photography. Head to your local bookshop and spend an hour perusing the food section, writing down the photographers who grab you. The amazing thing about the world we live in is that people’s talents are shared, and you can constantly borrow techniques from the work you like.
Work in circles
Dark Chocolate dipped Stem Ginger & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwiches
I find that when I’m shooting overhead, which I often do with food, there is something incredibly satisfying about circles. Smartphone cameras are slightly wide-angled, so things around the edge of the frame can look as though they are falling off the table. If you struggle with this, bring everything in to the centre slightly and then crop the photo so you control the perspective more.
Learn your angles
Coconut milk cheesecake with frozen berries
Ceviche with avocado crema
I particularly like shooting from above or directly on. I’m always stacking things and making use of the negative space of the shot. Play around with framing photos, too. If you’re shooting a feast, arrange some of the shot to cut off the edges to suggest there is more to the scene than pictured. Half a plate here and quarter of a table there can turn a simple arrangement into a banquet.
It’s all about using the frame and being a bit deceptive with the lens. Most importantly, have fun when you are shooting food, and shoot food that you actually enjoy eating. It doesn’t have to be serious, and you can always learn from any mistakes that you make.
See more of Issy’s food snaps here