Lara Ferroni on Food Photography

Lara Ferroni (www.laraferroni.com) describes herself as a "goner" when it came to taking her first photograph of a batch of raspberry scones.  "My family quickly learned to ask first before digging in with their forks as I became completely snap-happy around any kind of food," she says. She keeps a very small, light-filled shop in Portland, Oregon. "I mostly do my own food and prop styling. I love to use natural sunlight light."

Her clients include Epicurious.com (Conde Nast), Gourmet.com, Sasquatch Books, Wiley, Chronicle Books, Imbibe Magazine, Seattle Magazine, Portland Monthly Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan Bride & Groom, Seattle Bride, and Seattle Coffee Works, and many more. Her images have also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Sunset Magazine. You can also find her stock photos on Getty Images and StockFood.

Lara:  "Food is often considered one of the hardest subjects to photograph. However, there are really just a few tips that can make a big difference in your shots. The key is to remember that food is an organic subject with more in common with portrait photography than product photography of hard metal or plastic objects.

TRENDS IN FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

Modern looks for food photography trend toward soft directional light from a single light source, typically a window or a large soft box. Lighting from the side or just behind the subject will bring out the translucency in the food and give a bit of rim light to illuminate the dish without creating overwhelming or harsh spectral highlights. Front lighting, on the other hand, such as from an on-camera flash, will create strong highlights on the front surface of the food and reduce shadows creating a flat dull look with little texture, or can even make your food look greasy. Similarly, be careful not to overlight food; a bit of soft shadow helps ground your subject to its environment. Lighting from all angles can make food look plastic. Also, be sure to turn off any overhead lights if you are shooting with natural light; otherwise you’ll have problems with color casts and unwanted highlights.

COMPOSING A FOOD PHOTOGRAPH

When composing a food shot, think beyond the typical "diner’s angle" of 45 degrees above the shot. Most food looks great when shot from straight above, which gives it a graphic lifestyle look. Shooting from directly in front works best for food that naturally has height to it, like a many layered sandwich or a stack of cookies. Also, portrait orientation allows for greater depth in photos to be shown in your shots. Do remember to watch your edges... it’s fine to crop through a part of your main subject, but just as you shouldn’t crop off the tips of someone fingers in a portrait, don’t cut off the very edge of a dish or utensil.

SELECT FOR QUALITY

Forget what you’ve heard about food stylists using mashed potatoes for ice cream and motor oil for maple syrup. While faking it may have been done in the past, modern food photography almost always uses carefully selected real food, prepared beautifully and shot quickly while it is still fresh. Stylists will spend considerable time picking out produce that is blemish free, has the perfect shape or perhaps just an interesting looking leaf still attached. Prep your set and lighting with stand-ins before you finish off your cooking so that the "hero" food doesn’t have to be on set that long and have extra "clean" ingredients available to add at the last minute as needed.

TELL A STORY

Finally, although it may seem obvious, be sure to understand the story you are trying to tell with your shot. What moment are you trying to capture and why is it interesting to capture? Be careful not to get so busy with props that the food is no longer the subject. But, at the same time, have enough context in your shot that it becomes a slice of life. You want to transport your viewer to that place with that food and the loose fold of a napkin, or a fork placed just so can make an image feel more alive."

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