You don't have to be a food photographer or blogger to join the millions of (possibly disturbed) people who regularly photograph what they're shoving into their mouth holes. Even though our obsession with meal documentary is making restaurant life hell, we're still Instagramming empanadas like there's no tomorrow and frankly, some of us could be doing a lot better—even "professionals!"
Photographer Paul Quitoriano knows food photography, having taken many of the beautiful, food photos you've seen on this site and beyond. He's got the advantage of a very fancy camera to aid him, but the same principles apply when using a smartphone to snap a quick pic: find the right angle, mind your backgrounds and don't screw up the lighting. Below, Quitoriano shows us how to make the most of our fledgling food shots and who knows, maybe one day you too can be internet food famous.
To start, we made pitstops around Gothamist HQ to photograph food in common settings, like outside in a park (or Smorgasburg, for example), inside a restaurant and in an office or apartment to show you some quick tips to get you started.
Bird's Eye Perspective: A popular angle for those willing to hover over their food. The bird's eye perspective is great for showing interesting shapes and colors on dishes, but can create distortion if you aren't truly parallel to the dish. You can correct perspective shifts in Instagram to flatten out the image and make it more symmetrical. Also, be careful with this angle, as some foods won't read well from up top (i.e. - sandwiches). Although this is ideal with pizza!
(Paul Quitoriano / Gothamist)
BACKGROUND Definitely take note of the table/table cloth that you are eating on. as tablecloths and interesting table textures can add visually interesting context and environment to your dish. Also be aware of your surroundings: the restaurant itself may have some life in it that can be used as a compositional tool.
A blank spot on the table can be distracting, so fill the frame with the edge of a drink or a napkin, which provides enough of a difference to break the space up. Backing off of the plate can give a good context for dishes with a lot going on; conversely, getting in really close can also show a perspective of a dish seldom seen. Use the tilt shift tool to really focus in on an interesting ingredient if you have more minimal dishes.
Candle light vs. natural light (L: Paul C. Quitoriano; R: Nell Casey)
LIGHTING Probably one of the most important things to keep in mind while you're shooting food, as the quality of the light can exponentially alter the quality of the photo.
Window Light: Window light can be the softest, most flattering light for food, so if you have the option, get as close to one as possible. Watch out for hard, direct sunlight coming through windows, as this can tend to be too bright to balance.
Using Flash: Direct flash can be the least flattering light you can use, especially on your phone. It can create weird shadows, wash out colors, and just looks generally unappetizing. So how do you combat low light restaurant or nighttime scenarios? Borrow a friend's phone and use their flashlight as a light source, holding the light an arm's length away at a 45 degree angle. The resulting light will be more flattering than the direct flash and won't be as orange as a candle (unless that's what you're going for).
L: Gingham R: Crema (Paul Quitoriano/Gothamist)
INSTAGRAM Arguably the most popular way to share food photography (sorry Flickr), Instagram has tons of features that can either help the fledgling photographer or confuse the hell out of them.
Filters: The heavy contrast in Lo-Fi doesn't make it ideal for food photography and some would argue for photography in general. While the black and white filters can be interesting for a more stylized shot, they don't present the food in a natural way; you'd never see food in black and white. There is a new filter "Gingham" that's really good at evening tones.
Other tools: You can boost structure (detail) a few points, saturation down a few points, and sharpen up a few points if you want to keep it subtle. That said, art is all about personal expression, so if you like ridiculous red ketchup, that's up to you.
Paul C. Quitoriano is a freelance photographer based out of New York City. You can see his work in Gothamist, The New York Times, and Eater. You can see him at Sam's Falafel Stand at any given moment.
Many thanks to Gran Electrica in DUMBO for generously hosting our humble photo and video shoot in their dining room.