Good enough to eat

During this time of the pandemic we’ve all spent more time at home and most of us have done more home cooking than we’re used to. Perhaps you’ve tried out new recipes and made new dishes that have been particularly tasty. Maybe you’ve tried to take pictures of your successes only to have them fall short visually. Well, if your food photos don’t look as good as they taste, there are a few things to add a little spice to your images.

(7/19/09) Chicken grilling for the EL Rancho Inn’s 70th birthday with free barbecue. The top photo is front lit. The chicken looks flat, dry and unappealing. The bottom photo employs skim lighting. By simply photographing the chicken from the opposite angle, skim lighting makes chicken looks more succulent and appetizing. [CLIFFORD OTO/ THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The goal of food photography is to make your subject look appealing and appetizing. The most important thing to achieve this is lighting. The two things to consider about lighting are direction and quality. Try to avoid front lighting. No matter how good your dish tastes, light shining on the front of your it (coming from behind you) will make your food look flat, bland and boring. Side lighting can help. Setting fixed lights or flashes on one side will help to give your photo some depth.

(12/14/06) Goose breast with a orange fennel sauce cooked by This is an example of skim lighting. CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD

What I use quite often is skim lighting. It’s essentially backlighting where the light comes in at an angle from behind the subject and “skims” off of the surface. This helps to not only give some shape and depth to the food but will make any highlights glisten. It can create some shadows but those can bee filled in with a reflector or two (you can use something as simple as a white piece of cardboard opposite the incoming light to help bounce it back into the darker areas).

(8/16/08) Blueberry scones. This is an example of skim lighting. CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD

The quality of light is also important. Avoid harsh, unfiltered light. If you’re using an off-camera flash, try using a soft box. It’s a modifier that fits over the flash which allows its light to bounce around inside and out through some opaque fabric to create some nice soft light. If you’re using ambient light try using some coming in through a nearby window. Window light can be soft and pleasing.

(1/10/08) Asparagus sushi from Raw Sushi Bistro in Stockton. This is an example of skim lighting. CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD

Some people get the entire table along with the dish of food in the photograph. Get in close. You don’t need to get much more than the plate of food in your photo. The more distractions you eliminate the better your image will be.

(9/22/06) An acorn squash stuffed with wild rice and parmesan cheese. This is an example of skim lighting. CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD

Professional food photographers work with food stylists. One of the jobs of the stylist is to pay attention to detail. Look at the composition of the elements of the dish to see if they are all in compositional balance. Make sure there isn’t an errant pea or carrot on the plate. Also clean off any crumbs or stains on the table top or counter you might be using as your photo “studio.”

(7/12/10) Rainier cherries in a bowl. This is an example of skim lighting. The light coming from behind is actually bouncing in the bowl to provide some light to fill in the shadows. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Lastly, like all things, you should practice. The more you shoot, the better you’ll get. In addition, find out things like which spot in your house has the best light or what part of your kitchen may provide the best background.

(11/4/16) A 8-pound Diestel Petit free-range turkey at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton. This is an example of skim lighting and side lighting. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

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