Get in the holiday spirit as we show you how to take delicious pictures this Thanksgiving with these expert tips for holiday food photography.
Holiday food photography tips: 01 Table dressing and decorations
For our holiday-themed food shoot we got hold of a bunch of different festive decorations, including glitter-covered holly and red and gold crackers, and we used a red tablecloth for some of the setups.
Less is more with decorations, and we only positioned them behind dishes to create a suggestion of a festive atmosphere in the backgrounds. Too many trinkets will end up causing a cluttered look and distracting from the main subject: the food.
Holiday food photography tips: 02 Consistent white balance
Although digital cameras usually capture fairly accurate white balance (WB) and colours when set to Auto White Balance (AWB), I find it’s better to set your DSLR to the Daylight WB setting.
It captures warmer colours, producing the ideal look and feel for festive food photography, plus it means your shots will be consistent.
If you shoot in AWB, colour temperatures will vary depending on the type of food, the colours in your frame and the lighting.
Holiday food photography tips: 03 Work quickly
You only have about 10 minutes to shoot each dish before the heat and tasty glaze disperses. Be wary of gravy and creamy dishes as skin can appear more quickly than you’d think.
So get your camera and lighting set up well before the food is cooked, and take test shots to ensure your exposure is spot-on.
When the food is ready, get it in position and shoot efficiently, moving the dish around to improve compositions, and using reflectors to direct light onto the food.
Holiday food photography tips: 04 Food, glorious food!
Don’t think that you have to include all of the dishes or the whole table; it’s much better to just include parts of the food, with a hint of the decorations, a bottle of wine or table in the foreground or background.
This enables you to focus on the photogenic food and make it appear bigger in your frame.
Holiday food photography tips: 05 Use different coloured reflectors
Knowing which reflective surface is best for your food photos takes a bit of trial and error. Work out whether a neutral white, warmer gold or full-on silver reflector is best, depending on the brightness of the window light, and the food you’re shooting.
Holiday food photography tips: 06 Be sensitive
If you’re not sure of the best ISO setting, remember that it depends on whether you’re using a tripod. If you are, keep to ISO 100 for the best quality images.
If you’re shooting handheld, increase your ISO until you have a shutter speed fast enough for your focal length. On our 1.6x crop Canon EOS 40D at 100mm, that’s an effective focal length of 160mm, so we needed a shutter speed of 1/160sec or faster.
Holiday food photography tips: 07 Use your histogram
Aim to get all the detail in the middle of your exposure graph. If the pixels on the histogram are bunched to the left, your shot’s too dark. If it’s all clumped to the right, it’s too bright.
In Av mode, make use of Exposure Compensation, and dial in up to +/- 1 or 2 stops of compensation in order to brighten or darken your images.
Holiday food photography tips: 08 Live View focusing
Most DSLRs come equipped with Live View so you can see what you’re shooting on the LCD screen before you press the trigger. Live View is great for focusing on food shoots as you can zoom in x5 and x10 views for total accuracy.
SEE MORE: Live View – how to use it on any camera
Zoom in on screen, switch to MF on your lens and focus manually until the food you want to be sharp is in focus. When your DSLR is fixed in place on a tripod, Live View is also helpful for composing your shots, as you can move food and table decorations around for the best photos.
You can also use the Live View histogram display to check exposures before pressing the button.
Holiday food photography tips: 09 Try a macro lens
Macro lenses enable you to focus closer to the food and capture a very shallow depth of field – ideal for creatively focusing on specific areas of your setup.
Holiday food photography tips: 10 Use (and bounce) a flash
Using flash light is an easy and quick way to inject some moody lighting into your holiday food photography. But it all depends on your subjects, the natural light in the room and the effect you’re trying to achieve.
Shoot in Av mode, set a wide aperture of around f/4-5.6 and pop your DSLR on a tripod (in case shutter speeds are a little too slow to handhold) and use E-TTL on your flashgun.
Then experiment with on-camera and off-camera flash, and if you have a white ceiling, try bouncing the flash light.
Holiday food photography tips: 11 Tasty textures & pretty patterns
Bigger dishes of food can provide interesting textures and patterns to focus on for a more abstract result.
We always take several different shots of the same dish, working from different angles, starting with a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field, then finishing by increasing my aperture to f/8 and shooting straight down so my lens is parallel with the tabletop.
We like cropping creatively to isolate any repeating patterns, details or symmetry.
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