Penny De Los Santos, documentary photographer, Saveur, National Geographic
“I want to interject excitement and passion about food into my photos,” says Penny De Los Santos who has photo illustrated six cookbooks. “If I make you want to grab and eat that food, then I’ve done my job.”
“I shoot food the way I shoot prisons. I’m in the moment and I’m reacting to what I see.” Her philosophy is organic approach, real food, beautiful ingredients, in natural light.
“Ingredient shots are the hardest to do, because you want them to invoke emotion. Go with your instincts.”
What makes a good food photograph?
- composition, try to stretch yourself visually. watch out for cliches, like a hand holding an ingredient
- food subject
- appetizing food — very important!
Writers can be very helpful for food photographers, because they describe food with emotion. A good exercise is to take photos trying to illustrate emotion.
Primary camera angles in food photography
- 3/4 view
- side view/straight on
Food photography, give your subject some space to breathe, don’t get too close. “You may thinking, ‘I just want to show them those juices!’ And your viewers are thinking, ‘What the hell is that?'”
Keep your background clean, and not too cluttered.
Vary your camera angles
- Visual pacing, don’t use the same angle
- for the creative process-exploring the image. Get on top of your subject, below it, around. See how far you come from your first image to your last image of that subject.
- Not all food looks good from the same angle. Think about what you want to say about your subject and figure out the best way to show that.
Using available light
- light direction
- light quality
- how to diffuse and modify the light. Go to where the light is and make it work, window light and door light is always beautiful light. If you want to diffuse light so you don’t have shadows, use anything as a diffuser (napkin, wax paper, photo discs) to soften the light.
Editing a dish
- replate food if you want to
- or put the food subject in a completely different environment, use a tea towel to present a towel instead of a plate
- isolate food on its own plate
Creative devices used to change the tone and pace of food images
- recreate the set up of the dish, the ingredients
- meal in process
- textured backgrounds
- vegetables right after they have been washed
- pay attention to details, details photos in a blog post communicate a lot
- think beyond the obvious
- use any props available
- another great way to tell stories, a lot of stories begin in the kitchen and center around food
“I’m not just shooting for an assignment, I’m shooting for myself. I have an insatiable curiosity,” says De Los Santos.
How to grow as a photographer
- look at photography daily, look at magazines, cookbooks, and the study the photographys and styling
- practice your photography regularly
- keep a visual journal to develop good habits, listen to your instincts, pay attention to the nuances in moments. think about how you react in any environment
- wait for a photo develop, find a scene/setting that you like and wait for the energy to flow into the scene
- wait for your subject to relax, if necessary, if you are taking a profile shot, “give them space to be themselves”
Love what you do.
Have an insatiable curiosity.
Lead with your heart.
Follow your instincts.
The bloggers gave Penny a standing ovation for being so open about her passion for “making pictures.”
This post was blogged live from the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle.