Capturing the Drama of Food

Capturing the life and drama of food is an important part of my job as a professional food photographer. I use various techniques to produce dynamic and engaging images – including the use of some pretty expensive kit.

Winning the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Award for a food action shot was confirmation to me that food photography is not just about the traditional still life image; drama and movement play a huge role in creating exciting still images.

I am lucky enough to spend my time shooting world class chefs in some great restaurants – I also spend a good deal of time cooking and shooting in my kitchen studio, with our wood oven and over a campfire. Aside from high end equipment and years of experience, I believe that bringing food to life can be as simple as looking for the right things to shoot.

Here are some tips that will help you to find and capture the drama and life of food. They can be applied to shooting with any and every camera, mobile phone or video camera. If you use any of these tips in social media, tag my twitter or instagram account (both @DavidGriffen) and use the #fooddrama hashtag, so I can see how you have captured the drama of food.

Try to capture the movement in food. When a liquid is being poured or some icing sugar is falling on a cake, there is a great opportunity to capture the movement and drama. Get in close and focus on the area that the movement will pass through (e.g. the spot just above the cake). Here are some ideas to look for:

  • liquids being poured
  • ingredients being mixed
  • fire and smoke
  • eggs being cracked into flour

Look for the drips and gloss in food. Luscious and juicy food is always a winner – it can be something as simple as the drip of a chocolate sauce pouring over ice cream or maple syrup oozing down a stack of pancakes. Again, get in close and focus on the liquidity and unctuousness. There can be movement in this, but also look for the shine on food – like the shine on a steak that is just out of the grill.

  • the shine on food – such as caramelised sugars or a sauce being poured
  • focus on the juiciness of food
  • egg yolk dripping from a poached egg
  • sauce dripping down a stack of pancakes

Light for the texture in food. I mostly use a side light when shooting food. An example of this is putting a table against the window and using indirect sunlight. Imagine the light flowing across the plate of food from the side – it brings out the texture of the food by creating little shadows in the recesses of the food and highlights on the peaks. Watch very closely and see how the light changes as you rotate the plate of food. If the shadows are too strong, bounce the light back towards the food with a reflector or a white sheet of card. Watch closely and see how this changes the lighting.

  • use window light
  • try to avoid full sun
  • light from the side reveals texture in food
  • use a reflector or white card

Focus on the immediacy and the processes within food. I like to shoot food really quickly. As food cools it loses its shine and freshness. Shooting in the kitchen, or close by, means I am able to capture some of the processes and the food in a natural state. Shots of finished dishes can be stunning and are usually the reason for my being commissioned by top restaurants, but I believe that the simplicity in beautiful ingredients being turned into a finished dish are images worth capturing also.

  • when a big fat steak come out the oven, it often looks best on the tray with all of the juices baked on giving a beautiful patina
  • freshly baked bread can look best on the baking tray: it’s a nod to the process of cooking
  • food on a chargrill with smoke and flame

Shoot people working with food. In-situ shots of chefs working in a energetic environment like a kitchen can also lend themselves to some exciting and dynamic images. Behind the scenes – the story of food.

  • hands can make a great addition to a shot as it places a person into the process
  • people working with food can be engaging
  • deliveries arriving at a restaurant
  • produce out in the field

If you use any of these tips in social media, tag my twitter or instagram account @DavidGriffen and use the #fooddrama hashtag so I can see how you have brought drama to your plate!