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Creative Food Photography

Lesson 2 of 8

Composition, Props & Angle

Liza Gershman

Creative Food Photography

Liza Gershman

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Lesson Info

2. Composition, Props & Angle


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1 Class Introduction Duration:05:06
2 Composition, Props & Angle Duration:14:28
7 Culling Images Duration:11:11
8 Editing Images in Lightroom Duration:18:37

Lesson Info

Composition, Props & Angle

So the basics on a professional commercial editorial shoot, food stylists prepare the food to make it look real or better than real which requires a few tricks. But I will show you some of those tricks today and you can do them easily at home. You might not have a full team to work with but you can still get something really exceptional. Setting the scene and telling a story is also the job of a stylist team. And a creative director. But if you're doing a blog for yourself, you probably don't have the budget for all of those people. So you can pre-plan and really come up with a story on your own. You can think of the lighting. You can think of everything in advance. So you can storyboard your images. And that's one of the best ways to get a consistent blog and a consistent Instagram. There's so many tools now also that you can use to pre-plan your posts. So you can kind of graph out all of your images. And find a story, find something that's really seamless visually. Find a color story...

or a shape story. And then you can put the imagery up in a way that tells that story and that will become so delicious to your audience. You can photograph cocktails. These are from a book I did called The Taste for Absinthe. And I just used natural light in those. So it's something that you can do at home. So everything I'm showing you is something that you can do with just yourself, some great ingredients, you don't have to be a cook. As everybody that knows me well knows, I'm not a cook. I'm a great eater. I make great reservations. I know how to gather recipes. I love food. But I never cook. And so, if I'm on a shoot, if it's just me and I wanna freshen up my portfolio and I don't have the budget to go hire a whole team, then I'll go purchase some beautiful ingredients and get some hands of a friend. Or I will purchase a pre-made cake or I'll go to my local grocer and see what's in the beautiful display case for the desserts. And I'll use one of those pieces, I'll bring it home, I'll style it on some plates that I found. Add some linens, maybe I'll add some fresh berries or some flowers and that's what I'll show you today. How to take something pre-made and turn it into something that looks really like a whole stylist team was involved. So that's how you can elevate your brand and elevate your Instagram, your social media on a very lean budget. Which I think is really important. On location. If you are photographing at a restaurant, it's really important that you get permission because restaurants have so many people involved, they have a timeline, they have customers. It's so valuable to work with the restaurant and let them know in advance what you're doing. And let them know what you would like. Maybe they'll let you come in earlier than the opening hours and then you get some releases signed, you can photograph the food. So that's if you're working on location. If you can't do that in advance, let's say you're traveling, it's still so important to include the general manager or the person in charge for the day and ask them if it's okay. Propping. Keep your props really simple. Compose for shape, keep the background clean. Marilyn Monroe used to say, and I think everything you do in photography you can relate back to your own personal style. So Marilyn Monroe used to say, for accessories, put everything on, spin yourself around in front of a mirror, and the first thing you see, take it off. And that's really something you can stand by, you know. So if you're propping and you're styling, you don't want too much. You just can spin around, oh that's really standing out. Take it away and let the food speak. Let the ingredients speak. Most food is so beautiful and luscious and rich and, if you choose good ingredients, then you really don't need much for propping. As you saw that tomato image, back a few slides ago, it was just beautiful colored tomatoes in a bowl with some nice shadows and light, and a linen. That's it. You could've done just the tomatoes and it would've been excellent. Keep it simple, the less distraction you have in image, the better. People are looking at your composition, so you want a natural flow of the eye. And we can talk about that, we can talk about rule of thirds. I'll show you some examples as I'm photographing today, of what you really want to do, how you wanna get the eye flowing around the image. Another thing is, look at fine art. I always get a lot of inspiration from looking at paintings and going to museums. That's how I've learned so much about composition is, I was raised by a painter and she has taken me to museums all over. And I really look to the masters to see how they compose. I study what they do. I look at where their lighting is coming from. There's a reason that their paintings have held the test of time for hundreds of years. So that's a great way to get your source of inspiration and if you can't go to a museum, you can always Google. It's the perfect place to see millions of images. Post production is in a digital age an essential portion of photography. I grew up using the dark room and so in the dark room, the post production was always dodging and burning. You're always taking your negatives, you're developing and then you're finding bits and pieces of your image that you wanted to add lay or add shadows. And that would take hours. And now we're so fortunate, with digital, we can just move one little slider over and suddenly we have dramatically increased color saturation or dramatically increased shadows or we can bring up highlights. So later today we'll look at that. I'll show you some easy easy easy lightroom tips on how you can take your images from A to Z and really make the difference from something that looks good to something that looks extraordinary. So it's very easy. You can de-saturate, you can de-sharpen. I always give a little pop of contrast and I'll show you how to do that later. More tomatoes. You can see I love tomatoes. What I love about them is their beautiful shapes, they're very sensual, tomatoes have beautiful colors. You can really see life in them. And that's something to think about. In food photography, it's about showing life, it's about showing movements. So even if you don't have something moving in your image, you can really feel the movement in the image. See how everything your eyes comes around in a circle. And that's really what you wanna do in a composition. You wanna bring an eye through, there's nothing bringing you out. The focal point comes into here. So that's a great tip for composition. Very simple, something you can do at home. You can get fish from the, from the fish monger. And, we're here in Seattle so you guys have that amazing Pike Place Market. You just put it over some raw salt, put it in a beautiful dish. I mean very very basic but, this if you were looking at an Instagram page, would really pop. You want images, particularly on Instagram and Pinterest, things like that, where they're not too busy. You want something that is simple and can really stand alone because the squares are so small, right? So if it's too busy and distracting, you really, you really won't say anything. You want the composition to be very simple, clean. And colors always help. So some of the basics. Use real food. (laughs) we're no longer in the era where it's trendy to be using fake food products or plastic things. You wouldn't wanna eat that and also to photograph it, cameras are so great now that you can see extreme details of things. So it's really important to work with fresh ingredients and quality ingredients. So if you're going to spend your money anywhere on your shoot, it's buying beautiful ingredients from a farmer's market or a high quality grocery store where you can really see color and shape and it's okay to buy things that aren't perfect. Because perfect isn't really a reality of food. The colors and textures of any dish are the key details to make you wanna take a bite and you wanna have them all clearly in focus and the lens, so they're looking very very real. It's okay in food photography to have a focal point where the front is in focus and the back falls off. But you definitely want a focal point to showcase most of the food. A few years ago, the trend was to use a really shallow depth of field where you had like a leaf in focus and the whole salad would be out. But now, current trends are people are showing the food. Food has become so beautiful and so important to the life story. I mean that's the thing we all have in common. Every human being eats. And so you want to show some of that food. So now I use a wider depth of field. Maybe I'm using 4/5, 5/6, f/8. So if you're not using a camera and you're using a smart phone, a lot of smart phones now have a portrait mode. That's a great mode for food photography. Part of how I learned to be such a good food photographer is, I really studied faces. I was a portrait photographer. And people always say, well how does that translate? Well, food and faces are very similar. So, you look at light and shadow the same way. You look at composition the same way. If you really think about food, you're capturing the beauty of something and a portrait, you're capturing the beauty of something. So just like I think, um wedding photography and sports photography have some commonalities, food photography and portraiture have a lot of commonalities too. And I think you'll see that as we're shooting. I'll explain a few things to you. Some of the basics. Natural light is wonderful for food photography. And if you use window light, if you're not somebody who uses lights all of the time, then it's really best to use natural light. For example, in the studio, we don't have a window right here, but we've created a light, a light source that looks consistent like a window. So I'm not using a strobe. I'm using a hot light. And what that means is this light will be on the whole time. It won't flash. And that enables us to have this kind of soft, and the soft box is reallY big. So that diffuses the light like a window would. So if you're home and using a window, you can hang a really sheer piece of white fabric, muslin, silk, and that will diffuse the light so the shadows are softer. Which is really important in food photography. You want softness in your light. You want focus. You want crisp, crisp details of the food. But the light should be soft and it should be welcoming. More tomatoes. Look how easy it is to get a beautiful tomato. The reason there's so many tomatoes in here is because I really wanna emphasize the point that you can start with something very simple. A tomato's, I don't know, 30 cents, I don't know how much tomatoes are. But, because you know I don't cook. So (laughs), but you can start with something like a tomato and have such a variety of imagery with just one fruit. And look how beautiful tomatoes are. See some of the dew and here's a really shallow depth of field but this brings your eye around, you're really focused on this point here and this, the way the red comes around here, you're bringing the eye through the image, which is important. More tomatoes. (laughs) Look at the variety of colors, look at the way you can angle tomatoes. So very simple but yet we have five images that are all so different from one thing. And I think most food you can get many many different shapes, many different images and you can scatter them throughout your Instagram. You can create a grid, you can create a collage. And you can bring the viewer through a story. More tomatoes, I think that's the last tomato one, I promise. (laughs) Shoot a variety of shots for every food type that you have. For every scene. So for example, I started with this shot. It's a nice shot. But then I played a little bit to see what else I can do. And I added this lemon and I think that really makes the image pop. So I'll show you the before and the after. It's fine without the lemon. But then I was like, what else can I do? I'll put some things in, I'll take some things out. So I added the lemon. And here's this image which I think is a lot stronger. So it's okay to continually play with what you're photographing. I mean it's fun, that's what we're here to do, right? We're here to have fun too. So always be playing, be playful, think of how else can I photograph this? Can I get up on a ladder? Can I squat down? What is the front of it? There's no front, it's a cake, so let me walk around. Unless it has flowers on it, right? So let me walk around the image, let me see where else I can put something. Play play play and take lots of images if you're just starting out, particularly, the more images, I mean, it's digital, right? So, it's very easy to take a number of images until you get something that really feels right. And I always think of tennis. You know when you hit that sweet spot on a tennis racket. You hear that noise, that beautiful pop. Well when you get the right food image, I think you can sort of feel that sense in you. It's almost like hitting a tennis ball. And you'll know, you'll really know if you're listening to yourself. So play, play and listen to yourself. Here's another example of how this image is fine. And then we can progress through a few different iterations and see what else we can get. So then I zoomed in. So it's just this, this is a great example of what else you can do. And the next one. Full plated. Do you wanna see those three again? Okay, so we did that. And that. Here's another image. So get in, always get a detailed shot. Get an overall shot and get a detailed shot. So here is the detailed shot. And then this is what it was like. And look how different the images are. So now I have a variety to use. That's, instead of one image for my Instagram, now I have two.

Class Description

Great food photography is all about showcasing the dish’s best traits—from its colors to its textures to its subtle details—so you can inspire the viewer to want to take a bite. But shooting food for social media and blogging takes different skills than shooting for commercial and editorial purposes. Join food and travel photographer Liza Gershman as she walks you through the steps to create and edit food images that will get you noticed on social media. She’ll cover trends, styling, storytelling, lighting, composition and editing so you can strengthen your compositional eye and perfect your scrumptious images.


Adobe Lightroom Classic CC



Liza Gershman is not only an amazing artist, she is an excellent educator. In this course, she goes beyond teaching the basics of interesting composition. She factors in the connection between food and culture, and the role that it plays in storytelling as a visual artist. She demonstrates how to draw upon the story of a dish, to showcase it with an authenticity that will set you apart and elevate your art. This was a wonderful class, and absolutely worth owning! Thank You Liza!

Florence Grunfelder

Liza gave a good overview of the steps involved in shooting food - from choosing the props, selecting the pictures to editing in Lightroom. This is a good course for someone getting started in food photography.