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Food porn: Photography tips, tricks to make food look appetizing

By Christina Lane
April 23, 2013 at 11 p.m.


How do you make food look appetizing ?

Whether you're wanting to photograph a plate of food at a restaurant to share on Facebook or you're an amateur photographer wanting to hone your skills, there are secrets behind the lens that will help you improve your ability.

Longview photographer Scott Campbell, who formerly took pictures for the magazine "Home Cooking," offered up tips on how anyone can make a plate of food look mouth-watering good.

While many people use artificial foods to photograph, Campbell tested out recipes then photographed the real food. That being said, he used all the tools available to him to make the food look as good as it possibly could.

Here's a bit of advice for anyone to follow, and some secrets of the trade:

<strong>Lighting and dramatizing the food</strong>

The No. 1 priority in making a photograph look good is proper lighting, Campbell said.

"Your food will look more dramatic if you light it from the side or from the back," he said said. "Shadows enhance the texture of food. Set up next to a window with a nice side light if you can."

Avoid mixing different types of light, he added. For example, window light from the side combined with a fluorescent light above will do more harm than good.

<strong>Consider your background</strong>

"The food should be the hero of any shot," Campbell said.

So don't muddle a photo down by placing it on a tablecloth with a busy background or a plate with a pattern, he said. Keep it simple.

"Food should be photographed on a plain colored plate," Campbell said. "It lets the food really be the subject of the photograph."

Also try to keep those backgrounds fairly neutral and earth-toned, he said. An earth-toned background allows any food to shine. Otherwise, try to choose a color from the opposite side of the color wheel as the food you are photographing. For example, tomatoes could be photographed in a light green bowl and still pop.

<strong>Play with angles</strong>

"Don't just take one photo," Campbell said.

In a digital world, people have the opportunity to take numerous photographs from every angle possible.

"Move the camera around," he said. "Shoot the food from the side, from above, from every way possible."

Always try to get a shot that comes in close to the food, he said.

"I like to get in really close to the food because it gives the potential for the photo to make your mouth water," Campbell said.

<strong>Freshness</strong>

Keep in mind that food only appears fresh for a short amount of time.

If you're cooking at home, Campbell suggested first setting up your table, plates, placemats and lights before beginning to take any pictures.

"Once you have everything set up, then bring in your hero," he said.

<strong>Use all available tools</strong>

Food photographers know everything from tweezers to paint brushes gets used in preparing a shot.

When taking a photo of a green beans, Campbell said, the green beans were individually placed in a bowl with tweezers because he was looking for just the right arrangement. He's also spritzed tomatoes with water to make them glisten and convey a sense of freshness.

Think it might be taboo to use Adobe Photoshop, or a cell phone app such as Instagram or Hipstamatic to add a filter to your food? Think again.

"I don't have a problem with it. Those are all tools to make the food look as good as it possibly can," Campbell said. "Any photographer should use all of the tools available to him to enhance a photo."

<strong>Undercook the food</strong>

If you're at home and wanting to take a picture of a meal, Campbell said to keep in mind that food photographs best when it's not fully cooked.

When he photographed veggies, such as green beans in the past, he said they weren't fully cooked.

"Vegetables are not as colorful when they are cooked all the way," he said. "A lot of times we would undercook the food."

When he photographed a turkey dinner for a Thanksgiving-time magazine cover, he said the turkey wasn't cooked because it would have "shriveled up."

"You have to make it look good," he said.

<strong>Make the food stand up and out</strong>

Really want to make that soup, stew or sandwich pop? There are tricks of the trade to make them look their best.

For soups and stews, Campbell said the beans and ingredients will often sink to the bottom of the bowl. But when you look in a magazine, you can clearly see the ingredients at the top. How do they do it?

Mashed potatoes and marbles.

"It is very common to put marbles or mashed potatoes in the bottom of a bowl then add the soup so the ingredients will stay on top," he said.

Oftentimes, when hamburgers are photographed all of the ingredients pop out, but when a person goes to a restaurant or fast food place to order one, they look smaller than they appear in pictures. How does that happen?

"When I photographed hamburgers, I would move the top bun back further than the meat patty so all of the ingredients showed," he said.

The effect was that when photographing on a level with the hamburger all of the ingredients popped by having the top bun moved back. In the final product, the top bun still appeared even with the bottom bun even though it wasn't.

<strong>What about drinks?</strong>

Drinks are often diluted before they are photographed, Campbell said.

"Drinks photograph dark, so if you can, dilute them before you take a picture," he said.

Also, give it some action because a picture of liquid in a cup can be a bit boring.

"Drinks look better when they are being poured rather than just sitting there with no action," he said.

<strong>Practice makes perfect</strong>

As with anything, it takes practice, practice, practice to get the best food shot.

"Do it a lot. Practice," Campbell said. "Try reshooting and reshooting until you get the shot you want."

Don't be afraid to look to others for ideas.

"Go out and search and look at what has been done before," Campbell said. "There's a lot of food photography out there that you can look at for ideas."

And remember, make the food look like you want to take a bite.

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