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Food Photography 101: Part 2

Food Photography 101: Part 2

Part 2 in a series of articles about the techniques onsite foodservice professionals employ to shoot their own, high-quality plated food images.

David Martin

National Director, Culinary & Retail Development, Sodexo Healthcare

David Martin has had a long career in onsite culinary and operations management, beginning with Saga in the early 1980s. In his current role supporting Sodexo healthcare accounts across the country, he has added photography to his skill set in order to help accounts better merchandise and promote their menus and culinary creativity.

“Always determine how a picture is going to be used. If it is for instructional use in the back of the house, your angle may be almost 90° straight down. Flat and boring, but with no shadows and clearly delineating all of the components of the plate and where they go.


“For marketing purposes, you want to play up the qualities of the product. If the plate presentation has height, you want to shoot low to show that height. If you want to show plate coverage, use a higher angle, 45° to 60°.

“Lighting is critical. If you're a beginner, turn off any camera flash — it gives a flat, washed out look to the picture. Natural light is best, but hard to come by in kitchens — usually you can't be far from a production area. Next best is a quartz light diffused through an umbrella.”

“I often use a gold reflector as a fill (secondary, less strong) light (an umbrella light and reflector are shown at left). I set the main light on a 45° side angle as a starting point. You want the reflector angled to give some light on the dark side, but not cancel out the shadow. Occasionally I'll use a third light to wash out a background or to rim light the food. Manipulate your lights to change the picture, but remember there can be too much light. You also need to manipulate the shadows.”

Salmon en Croute

Salmon en Croute (left): Shot for a high end catering application, the china was higher end than typical for onsite. Lighting was subdued for a more conservative, refined look.

(Below) Beef Bourguignonne: “I’ve been criticized on this shot because I placed the chicken image in the background. It is somewhat distracting. But if you take it out, the picture is much more boring. The colorful plate helps offset the brown of the food. In this case I used a main light, a reflector, and a second light with barn doors pointing to the wall behind the sculpture.Beef Bourguignonne

“You want the focus to be on the food. Your staging should be simple and not distracting. The food is the painting and the decor is the frame. You don't want attention drawn to the frame, but there can be exceptions.”

“Pay attention to plate layout. The center of the plate is the center and the sides are the sides — they should provide an accent, or be in the background if possible. To finesse a presentation, I use a pair of 10-inch tweezers, for example, to pull up an item from a jambalaya so it is more visible.

“Finally — evaluate your results. You should immediately be able to tell what the item is. The picture should be appealing and make you want to order an item and try it.”

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