Borrow These Pro Food Photography Tips and Tricks

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You don't need pro equipment to snap the best food shots at dinner or in a trendy new restaurant. But you can improve by stealing a few food photography tips and tricks from the pros. We recently talked with Shell Royster, professional food photographer, about how she captures delicious looking cover images for Charleston Magazine, and also savory food and drink snaps on her cellphone.

What are some of the current trends you see in food photography?

I'm seeing changes in styles, colors, and perspective. Currently trending in food photography is the move away from natural light. For years there was this warm Martha Stewart-ish approach with beautiful, natural light. But now, many food magazines have shifted.

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For example, if you look at Bon Appetit, you will see lots of hard light, punchy color, high contrast, and completely different compositions with lots of graphic appeal. Natural light is still the best there is for mouth-watering food photography, and it still has its time and place. But, right now, food photography is all about lighting with bright flash, strobe and continuous light.

When you look at a food shot online, can you tell if it was taken with a cellphone?

Typically I don’t analyze whether a digital image was shot with a phone or a DSLR camera. What I do notice is if it is a bad image - over edited, bad composition, or using the wrong filters, for example.

I think there is an opportunity to make great food images with a phone, and here is my big food photography tip: It really comes down to the rudimentary skills of photography - lighting and composition. Honestly, I sometimes shoot with a cellphone because I don’t always have my camera available.

What’s more important for pro food photography - a good eye, or good equipment and technical skills?

I would say technical skill, then a good eye, followed by the right equipment. You can make beautiful pictures without the best equipment, it really is about understanding light and having the ability to shape it. That requires technical skills and a good eye. I prioritize technical skills when it comes to shooting for a client, as opposed to shooting for personal reasons, because the client often has technical requests for an image.

What's the most difficult food to shoot?

For me, the weirdest is raw seafood - sea urchin, octopus - slimy, slimy things, not something I really want to touch or move around in the frame!

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I find that commercial imagery is my biggest challenge, I tend to have a “beautiful mess” philosophy, so for something like a perfectly arranged burger, I call in a professional food stylist. There was one commercial shoot I was on where the recipe was not working. The stylist had to make the recipe three times and we still had to make major adjustments to the food for the camera. Some recipes are just really challenging to make the food look appetizing.

How can I make my restaurant food shots look better?

Restaurants tend to have unflattering lighting for food, so practice some creative ways to adjust for poor lighting conditions. If you are near a sunny window, use the available light. But if it's night or dark, ask a friend hold their camera flashlight for you, to create a modern-looking image with some pop.

If the chef doesn’t plate attractively, then whip out your fork and knife to rearrange the food to create a better composition, or try shooting from different angles. Look for texture, color, or interesting views of the environment to incorporate into the shot.

Ultimately, editing is critical. Editing software light Lightroom will help you adjust the white balance and make color corrections and while editing the final image. - nothing is worse than yellow or blue-tinged food!

-- all images Shell Royster for Charleston Magazine

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