Behind the Scenes of a Food Photoshoot

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Food photography is a whole world of its own. I’ve had a bunch of fun exploring this style over the last few months! Working in my home kitchen and in restaurants, my love of food has grown immensely. Food and drinks are an amazing conduit to bring families and friends together. Food also helps us express our culture, our personal tastes, and our loving nature.

Through cooking and shooting images of food, I’ve gathered such a deep appreciation for everything that goes into quality food and presentation. Curious to learn more about photography and food? Read on to learn about some of my favourite aspects of this style.

Man chopping onions with a chef's knife on a wood cutting board.
Photo (C) Sierra Duffey

Three Different Roles

When I’m working on a food photoshoot, I’m so much more than just a photographer! In high-budget productions there will often be 3 different staff members playing 3 different roles:

  • Food Stylist: The food stylist may or may not cook the food, but they usually work with the ingredients, final dishes and garnishes to make a meal look its absolute best.
  • Set Stylist: The set stylist handles everything that has to do with the environment around the food. A set stylist usually has a large collection of table linens, dishes and glassware. They work with plating the food, adding colours and making utensils and backgrounds look natural.
  • Photographer: the photographer captures the images of the food. They also plan and set up the lighting, choose the specific angles and lenses for the best quality, and create a shot list to capture all the necessary images.

Since I do most of my photography in my home studio or on-location at a restaurant or hotel, I’m typically playing all three roles at once! Even if someone else is cooking the food and planning the menu (a.k.a the chef), I am still playing the role of a food stylist to ensure the colours and textures of a plate look their absolute best. For all my clients, I also offer set pieces, so I have a huge bin of plates, napkins, platters etc. that I bring with me to shoots.

And finally, of course, I’m the photographer. In addition to pressing the shutter, I’m working with all the lights, the camera settings, the reflections etc. Food and drink photography is SO detail-oriented so food images take much longer to set up and get just right in comparison to portraits for example.

Playing with Colour

One of the most important aspects of food images is to use colour strategically. While colourful food is super fun to photograph, texture and complementary backgrounds are also key to bringing the whole image together. To bring colour into photos I often use a colourful ingredient in the background, a statement bowl or plate, or a simple napkin! Napkins are the easiest way to add colour to an image so I have a bunch of them in all sorts of colours, patterns and materials.

A meal of squash, mozarella and lentils on a black plate.
Photo (C) Sierra Duffey

Colour is what gives character to an image, and it can help convey a specific feeling. For fall and winter dishes I usually stick to neutrals or nice warm colours and play more with texture. In the summertime, it’s time to bring out the rainbow!

In particular for drinks, creating complementary colour combinations can make the difference between a drink that looks satisfying and tasty, versus a drink that looks flat.

Some Fun Tricks

Food photographers have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. Food photography typically falls into two camps: commercial where anything goes and most of the “food” that makes up the image is not actually edible and editorial photography which is more focused on using edible elements and setting the scene.

I prefer to photograph in the editorial style, especially since I photograph many dishes in my home studio where I plan to eat them afterwards. But even for editorial styles, there are all kinds of tricks to make food look its best. For example, in the image below, I got my assistant to stir the beer to create a bit of head on the beer before snapping an image. It’s a small detail but it makes a big difference! No one wants to drink a flat beer so why would I photograph a flat beer?

Man stirring a glass of golden beer with a spoon.
Photo (C) Sierra Duffey

Some other well-known tricks of the trade include using tweezers for EVERYTHING, making way more food than you need and choosing only the best, using lard instead of ice cream, using a blow torch to create scorch marks, and using fake ice cubes.

Getting Together

The best part about my home photoshoots is that we get to eat the meal afterwards! Usually, I need a couple of assistants to cook everything, style my set, and hold reflectors and props. Food photography days in my home are a big ordeal. I invite some friends over for dinner, but let them know that they will have to work for their meal! We have a ton of fun choosing recipes, sometimes shopping together, cooking and of course, eating!

My favourite thing about food is how it always manages to bring people together. Growing up my family shared so many special meals and explored new cultures through food. I love being able to improve my own cooking skills and share the same sense of accomplishment with friends and loved ones.

A warm winter meal of pork and rice on a white plate with beer and pumpkin in the background
Photo (C) Sierra Duffey

Photograph Your Own Creations

Are you a food professional, bartender or an avid home chef? Investing in food photography may be a great way to share your craft with others. Taking a more editorial approach, I love to photograph dishes in a styled but realistic environment. I also love to photograph behind-the-scenes work that goes into a meal. The movements, colours and textures that are naturally found in the kitchen are what bring life to a special dish.

I offer photography packages to restaurants, hotels, home chefs and food retailers. Check out my food photography page to learn more!

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