It takes a lot of effort to make it look like it took none. That’s sort of a defining principle I hold very dear, and in wildly varying aspects of life; from delivering speeches for my school, to dressing, and to photography, to name a few. The best speeches surpass the gimmicks or deliver them with such perfection that they come across as effortless in-the-moment thought, and dressing well, especially for men, means it looks extremely natural, but good.
This can tie into the other defining idea I keep in mind, in keeping with my deep interest in eastern philosophy, of Wu Wei, or ‘non-action,’ which essentially is having something come so natural that you are doing something without ‘doing’ it. Hmm, maybe that’s more Wu Wu Wei. Anyway, this all relates to photography because, to me, and to many, a good photograph is devoid of the gimmicks, and should come across as natural.
When the average person looks at a photograph, they shouldn’t think of how it was lit, just that it looks like a beautiful scene. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but generally the photograph should highlight the subject and not the photography. Skyler Burt of WeEattogether.com has put together a video for improving food photography composition, and this very idea of having something look natural, is key throughout. He speaks to the idea that in any photograph, the technique should be invisible, and food photography is no different. The thing is, as soon as the technique is noticed, the focus on the subject is lost, and he stresses that it’s even worse when that very obvious technique is executed poorly.
So what does he suggest? First, that you should take into consideration composition just as much as you would light. We are constantly told that light makes a picture, and this is very true. Equally true though, is composition. Frankly, without composition, you’ve got nothing. Part of good composition in food photography according to Burt, is shooting from the right angle, and that means typically a 45-to-90 degree angle.
Burt then goes on to advise using a tripod to lock your camera angle in, set it, set focus, and then build your scene around this. otherwise, each time the camera is put down, lifted, etcetera, your composition will have changed, so styling TO the camera becomes a time saver, and crucial.
What about adopting the rule of thirds? Well Burt uses this extensively, and uses the power points (where the grid lines meet in a rule of thirds grid) to place focal objects on. Having this in mind will help arrange the frame to appear natural, less staged and staggered, and help you to see how negative space can be useful for things like text, or just for leading the eye.
There’s a lot to take away from this video, not just by listening, but also by watching closely for the set-ups, the gear used, movements, and so forth. Seeing what Burt produces should have you trusting enough to actually take what he says as scripture, since his food images are very appealing. You can see the full breakdown on the blog, and don’t forget to whet your appetite on WeEatTogether.com.
If you’re looking to do more food photography, to get a better understanding of the things Burt doesn’t touch on in this video, such as camera settings, how to use and place certain pieces of gear, what lenses to use and a host of other things to make your food images look like they’ve come from a Food Network special, you may be interested in our Photography 101. It has a whole section on the subject, where Pye walks you through it, and shows you how to do it all, with less than you may think. Check it out here.