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Tell a thousand stories with food this holiday season: Food photography with Jamie Oliver and David Loftus

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For many of us the holiday season is all about food, food… and more food! So to get you in the festive spirit, we’re revisiting Food Photography Master Class given by celebrity chef and D-SLR photography enthusiast, Jamie Oliver, and his collaborator – professional food photographer, David Loftus.

With 15 years’ of preparing and shooting food for countless cookbooks and websites behind them, we’re sure these two have more than a thing or two to say about the tricks of the food photography trade.

Zoom in, not out

Whether it’s cooking or in its raw state food is beautiful. It’s even more so when you zoom in. Capture the sheer deliciousness in detail by using the macro setting, apply a small depth of field to photograph just a specific area or zoom in to fill the frame. As Jamie explains, “If something is as beautiful and as delicate as this [a clam], you might just want to show how intricate it is.”

Taking pictures of food can become much more than simple point-and-shoot photography when using a D-SLR camera like the Nikon D3200. By using a versatile, all-round camera with a wide focal range and numerous shot settings, getting up close with a clam and then zooming out to capture the coiled spaghetti beneath it needn’t require a change of lens.

 

NIKON013 compressed 2Image taken with a D4 © David Loftus


Tell a story

Food alone is just half the story. When shooting, consider including busy hands chopping onions, fists kneading dough, someone stealing a bite or the remnants of food on a kitchen worktop. Also, embracing the way that food falls into position on a serving plate is something that Jamie reinforces on every shoot with David. Cooking is all about “the reality of mess” says Jamie, including the mess that you create when cutting, chopping, grating and slicing ingredients for a photograph or video. By slowing down shutter speeds, for example, you can portray the energy of the moment you crush a clove of garlic with the side of a knife, or crack an egg into a pan.

NIKON029 compressedImage taken with a D4 © David Loftus


Set the scene

The right coloured background can really enhance a one-dimensional food photo. When considering backgrounds, Jamie and David recommend using neutral colours like natural woods and brushed steels to bring out the texture of the foods. David carries a selection of stained wooden boards and rich cotton cloths to shoot lots of dishes in different colour combinations at any one time. According to Jamie, the average food photographer will shoot between five-eight dishes per day – he and David aim for over 20!

You can also keep moving around to frame the right backdrop that complements the food beautifully.

 

NIKON102Image taken with a D4 © David Loftus

 

Food has colour and personality – capture it

Every ingredient has a personality, and this needs to come through in a photo: tomatoes ooze juice; chips are both fluffy yet crispy; meat will ‘breathe’ as it absorbs the flavours it is cooked in. A meal is an assortment of ingredients, each jostling for position on the plate, and for prime position in your photography.

Jamie, more than anyone, advocates the creative use of modern, lightweight D-SLR cameras to push the boundaries of traditional food photography. As David attests, when cooking at home you’re equipped to capture high quality food photos at any time of day; “with a simple D-SLR you don’t have to use a flash, turn up the ISO settings and you can shoot in low light”.

 

NIKON045 compressedImage taken with a D4 © David Loftus


Speed is of the essence

When it comes to capturing tasty-looking images of food, the key message from David is “shoot lots and shoot fast”. Using a D-SLR camera like the Nikon D3200, you can keep your finger on the shutter to make sure you capture all the theatre of the creation of the dish, tell a story with your food and, most of all, make all your dishes look appetising.

According to David, the freshly prepared ingredients in a steaming hot dish have a ‘photo life’ of a matter of minutes. In Jamie’s words “the best shot in the world is 45 seconds of time… the boss in the room is the food”, and if a dish of piping hot Spaghetti Vongole will lose its vitality in 45 seconds then you have precisely that amount of time to capture its true beauty – moist pasta, tender clams and simmering tomatoes. So keep shooting and don’t over-complicate things as it can jeopardise how fresh the food looks on camera.


Food photography tips recap

  1. 1. Use neutral backgrounds to bring out textures in the food.
  2. 2. Embrace natural, ambient light to show off fresh ingredients.
  3. 3. Shoot quickly, especially when dealing with heat.
  4. 4. Shoot often, and capture the mess. Cooking is messy!
  5. 5. Take action shots using slow shutter speeds to portray energy.
  6. 6. Set the scene to tell a story and don’t be afraid to get your hands involved.
  7. 7. Use macro settings to capture stunning close ups.
  8. 8. Use colourful ingredients and off-white plates to serve up.
  9. 9. Get creative. Find an interesting angle, even if it means shooting from a height or leaning inside a cooking pot.
  10. 10. Adopt the point of view of the creator. The same applies before eating!

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Liz

    Great quick-tip, hot-tip list for improver food photographers among us. Not so easy if you’re the food prepper, cook and photographer (a.k.a. most food bloggers out there), but certainly a list to set sights on. I think the trick if you are cook and photographer is to get the camera settings (white balance, for starters) sorted out beforehand and have all the requisite pots and accessories to hand, in order. So there’s no second lost groping even in a cutlery drawer. One quick Q: David mentions that the lens he’s using here is ideal as can basically do macro-like shots and pan out for contextual shots. What lens is it? I’ve been using 50mm and bog standard kit lens 18-55mm zoom, so need to get another and am curious as to Dave’s. Tnx.

  2. Betty

    Hi Liz! Great tips, thanks for sharing. The lens David was referring to was the 3x zoom AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm VR. He was using the Nikon D3200 at the time so you can find that information under the ‘Kits’ tab on this page http://www.europe-nikon.com/en_GB/product/digital-cameras/slr/consumer/d3200