Top 5 Food Cinematography and Photography Lighting Tips & Tricks for Beginners
“The best foods can easily be made to look like utter shite”- Me
I’ve been DP on a few food sets and it really is one of my favorite jobs. It is all about focusing on the smallest of details which is really satisfying and you almost always end up with some cool macro and slow motion shots which will without a doubt spice up your reel. Everything in the frame is placed with purpose and you have full control over where and what is in the shot.
If you’ve never been involved in shooting food, the amount of prep and planning that goes into the day is really astounding for something that you might have taken for granted that it was simple as setting out a well cooked dish. My first shoots were dog shit, and you should always feel that way about your early work, it’s how you know you progress.
Here are the top 5 things I would tell a beginner:
- First, Buy a book. Search Amazon.com for “Food Photography” and read it. Trust me on that one. It’s better than knowing nothing.
- Trust a Professional. If the production hasn’t hired a food stylist, pitch like you’ve never pitched before and convince them to hire one. You cannot be a food stylist and DP at the same time if you want to put your all into the image. It’s a guarantee that you will not see the tiniest of details that an experienced food stylist will notice. Not having one will take the most appetizing meals and turn them into fast food fare, and an average plate into a 5 star meal.
- Think of your food the same as you’d think of a supercar.
It’s easy to use the word ‘sexy’ to describe automobiles, and you want to apply the same logic to food. Food and sex are closely interlinked and play on our pleasure centers. You want to massage reflections and enhance the food’s natural shininess. The moistness (lots of people hate that word) is what makes it appetizing. This is achieved through the magic of lighting.
For 70% of the shots you will get there with some large soft sources. If you are working out a starting point try putting your biggest source and heaviest diffusion as a backlight and a bounce for fill. For the typical food shot this will have you at a really solid starting point. If you’re getting some macro shots of small things like rice try using some harder lights.
Have a variety of bounce at your disposal, mirrors work a treat, and gold or silver cards will give you more options. Back to the supercar as food point – Experiment with changing the distance of the light from the food. Remember as you move the light it will change the look and size of the reflections in the food.I also frequently use a lowcon filter in my stack – it adds a little bit of softness to the shot without going over the top with diffusion.
- Slow motion for me. You’re going to want to have a camera that can shoot high speed. Most budget friendly and available is usually a RED. After that a Phantom. Steam, placing a garnish, dropping an item, pouring a sauce, there are just so many applications for high speed photography that will add that polish to the shot.
- Don’t forget your plates.
The color of the plate will make a difference not only because of it’s contribution to the overall pallete, but because it will serve as a bounce for whatever lights you are using in the shot. If they only have white plates improvise. (see photo above, where the smoothie is sat on a stone that has no relevance and would not be served in any way like this)
- Bonus Round – Crane & Remote head or a spinning tabletop. Another step up in production quality is the use of subtle and classy camera moves. If you have a way to spin the table that’s easy. If you own or can rent a crane and remote head that’s even better. You can work out slow subtle overhead spins, plate orbits, and pans
Well that’s all I have right now. The final thing I’d have to say is, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice.” Make your own shitty meals but try to make them look like a million bucks.