Close-up Photography: creative ideas for photographing everyday objects

Close-up Photography: creative ideas for photographing everyday objects

Close-up photography using food

Close-up photography using food

This onion shot used strong side lighting, a black background and fake condensation.

The challenge with close-up photography with food is not to make the food look revolting. Slice open a cabbage and apply a macro lens, and instead of interesting and appetising curves and whirls, you’re just as likely to create an oozing, wet, brain-like close-up that gives viewers nightmares!

If you’re wondering how the professionals create such appealing commercial food shots, it’s because they’re painstakingly staged and lit to perfection. To create the glossy look, you need three ingredients.

Firstly, the recipe needs to be prepared by a professional photographic cookery expert who doesn’t just cook, but sculpts the food.

Since you probably don’t have one to hand, you can try the DIY approach. But every element has to be placed carefully.

What looks like a random jumble of shredded carrot should be manicured and groomed for the camera in a way that’s completely alien to a real side salad. Even the crumbs in a bread shot should be positioned by hand.

The next ingredient is lighting. Recipe photos – which are a subset of a popular and widely used, glossy magazine look – are often biased towards a bright, rather flat, simulated daylight. You can create it with bright but diffused near-subject lighting.

Sometimes just a single source will do, but you may need two or three, with diffusers, to simulate daylight convincingly. Enhance the look with Photoshop’s Curves and Levels tools to swing the tonal balance in a brighter direction.

The final ingredient is selective depth of field – a macro technique familiar to expert food photographers.

Look at professional food shots and you’ll see that sharp focus across the entire frame is rarely used. It’s usually sharp at the point of interest, and defocused further back.

If you think this sounds complicated, it’s not trivial to do well, but there is a simpler alternative.

The less glossy and more photographic approach to food is to use a bright sidelight on single vegetables, and a black background to eliminate clutter, as illustrated in the picture of the onion at top.

Added condensation also looks appealing, but is unlikely to happen naturally, so use water sprayed from a plant mister to fake it.

This approach is less about promoting appetites and more about exploring shapes, textures and colours – just like other kinds of macro photography – and you’re likely to get good results with it straight away.

PAGE 1: First steps in close-up photography
PAGE 2: Using patterns in close-up photography
PAGE 3: How to make an interesting photo with anything
PAGE 4: How to disguise objects’ identities when close-up
PAGE 5: Close-up photography using food


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