Kelsey Wilson's Food Photography Tips From Neighborhood Goods
Kelsey Wilson is a Dallas, Texas-based professional photographer specializing in food, lifestyle and fashion. With a long list of clients, her work has been featured in various print advertising campaigns and internet features. Suffice it to say, you've probably seen her work and thought about how delicious that burger looks.
Recently, she joined us at Neighborhood Goods in Plano, Texas to give a short presentation with some styling tips and tricks she's learned over the years. All of the food and drink was generously provided for the demo by Prim and Proper. "Food photography isn't that different from fashion," she says. "You're still dressing up and making the burger look beautiful—it just doesn't have anything to say back to you."
She reminds us that even though it's a photo of food, your photo should still be telling a story. Keep that in mind when styling your dish. If shooting a burger and fries, are you trying to put the viewer in an evening gastropub scene? For a tall bloody mary with tons of accoutrements, maybe it would look better on a slate-textured table or a Sunday morning brunch bar in front of a bright window.
Here are seven tips from Kelsey to remember on your next food photography shoot.
1 - Everything Looks Fresh & All Ingredients Are Visible
When you're presenting the dish, you want it look like it just came out of the kitchen, still glistening and new—even if it's been sitting there for two hours. This can be hard when it comes to frozen treats like ice cream, but for roasted veggies or meats, feel free to brush on a little oil to keep things looking new. If shooting a beer, dropping a tiny pinch of table salt into the glass will revive the bubbles.
You also want to make sure that if you're shooting a sandwich or salad that every ingredient is visible in your frame. If it's present on the menu, it should be seen in the photo. In a sandwich, that could mean rearranging the bread and repositioning the filling—just make sure that all the lettuce is green and crisp.
2 - Don't Forget Props
In order to tell the story, you'll want to have some items in your photo that aren't food. Remember to add things like coasters, menus, flowers, candles or condiments for the table. These items can tell the viewer if they're looking at a rowdy guys' night out or a romantic dinner for two. Try placing a stack of plates behind a platter to show that the dish is meant to be shared.
3 - Find Your Focus Point
With every story, there should be a focal point. Each photo may have many elements but you should be trying to get the viewer to focus on a single point. A drip of gooey cheese can tell you that the sandwich is warm and just waiting for you to take a bite. The other elements of the photo are important but by drawing the audience to one small point, you can better style the rest of the frame and clearly define what you're trying to convey about the food you're photographing.
4 - Use The Right Tools For The Job
In order to make precise adjustments when styling, you'll likely need some precision tools. Sorry, but your human hands and fingers are too shaky. Use a brush to evenly distribute extra cooking oil—or a dry brush to shake bread crumbs in an area on your plate. A tool commonly used in chemistry called a pipette is incredibly useful for adding drops of liquid, gel or other viscous substances without making a mess.
5 - Use A Tripod Instead Of Handheld
It may be easier or quicker to shoot handheld, but fight the instinct to shoot fast and loose here. By setting your camera on a tripod, it's easier to choose your frame and then make small tweaks to the subject. If your camera is on a tripod, you can keep your framing exactly the same, then sneak in with those tweezers to move a french fry or pipette in a strategic ketchup splat. When you're done making your adjustments, come back to the camera already placed and keep shooting.
6 - Don't Be Afraid Of Natural Light
Windows are your friends when it comes to large, bright but diffuse light sources. In modern advertising, Kelsey notes that there are a lot of artificial strobe lights currently being used. These can be easier to precisely control and replicate. Some photographers prefer natural light, though, since it can be easier and faster to get a beautifully natural look as opposed to looking like it was shot in a studio. When shooting next to a window, remember to look out for overhead lights that could show up as a jarring glint of color in a reflective surface.
7 - Use Bounce Cards or Discs To Manipulate The Available Light
By using a simple and inexpensive photo disc, you can get many different options to control the light hitting your subject. Many shooters use a matte white or black piece of foam core to cut down on costs. Place the white side up next to your food to 'bounce' the available light back onto your food and brighten the scene. You can also place the matte black side near your plate to absorb some of the available light in order to add contrast and make subtle food textures more defined.
If you decide to use a photo disc instead of foam core board, you also often have a gold surface, silver surface and light scrim material to work with. The gold will give you a sort of 'Great Gatsby' or 'James Bond' look to your reflected light. The silver will give a more pronounced harsh reflection and the thin white material is to break up and soften harsh and direct light. If there's a direct beam of sunlight coming through the window, place the scrim in the window and it will quickly look more appealing. A quick-thinking photographer in dire straits could also use a thin paper napkin or even an unfolded newspaper to break up this harsh light as well.
Visit Neighborhood Goods in Texas
While you're there, check out Prim and Proper
See some awesome photography on Kelsey Wilson's Site
Shop the gear Kelsey used in her demo—
See Canon 5D Mark IV
See Canon 24-70mm F/2.8 II L-Series
See Manfrotto Tripods
Shop Reflector Discs
Check out our highlight video from our food photography workshop with Julius Mayo Jr.