The 10 Commandments of Food Photography

Photos and Article by Jerrelle Guy (@chocolateforbasil)

Photography is just another way of communicating, and successful photography communicates as clearly as possible while also making the viewer feel something; when talking about food photography, hopefully that feeling is “hungry”. Here is a list of 10 food-capturing commandments for shooting food that can make any viewer stop in their tracks.

1. Good Lighting

This is the most important rule of all, so it takes the #1 spot on the list. You don’t need expensive camera equipment or a fully stocked photo studio to build the illusion of natural light, just use natural light–one strong and direct source of natural light, streaming through a window, one that doesn’t create harsh shadows on the food. Above all else, stay away from the flash button. Flash flattens the food and erases a lot of the details that make the food look naturally mouthwatering.

2. Avoid Blurriness

Make sure your photo is as crisp as possible.  Wipe down your lens and adjust your focus before you start snapping.  This may seem silly or obvious, but if you’re like me, and you’re styling your food, propping your food, AND shooting your food all at the same time, it’s easy to forget about this step— there are so many other things to be thinking about. But always double check to make sure you didn’t mistakenly smudge the lens with greasy fingers, definitely adjust the lens to get everything you want to capture in clear focus, and if you have shaky hands, use a tripod.

3. Have a Focal Point

Speaking of things in focus, make sure you’re asking yourself where you want your viewers’ eyes to go first. As the photographer, you have complete control of the story you’re telling, and you can make your viewer focus on anything you deem most important, whether that be the drips on the edge of a chocolate cake or the whole cake itself. Each variation tells a different story. The following are some tips to create better focus in your narrative:

  • Put the object you’re showcasing right in the middle of the composition or just off to the side so the viewer can’t avoid it.
  • Adjust your aperture to give less important things in the photo a softer focus, making them fall to the background.
  • Make sure there is enough space around the object to help it pop off the page (And this leads us into the next commandment…)

4. Utilize the Power of Negative Space

Leaving enough space in the photo for your eyes to rest around the object of attention helps clarify your message. Too many objects can confuse the viewer, and overcomplicate what you’re trying to get across, even if all you’re trying to say is “look at how bubbly and gooey this lasagna is!” We all appreciate lots of space to comfortably take it all in.

5. No Distracting Background Noise

When it comes to propping your food, whether you’re using a tablecloth or your favorite serving tray, pick natural and solid colors or at least colors that compliment the food. Crazy patterns and saturated colors feel unnatural, and are usually a no no. Try whites and ivories, deep blues, dark greys or browns instead.

6. Find the Perfect Angle

Decide if you what to enter the photo directly from the side, at a ¾ angle, or directly from above. A lot of times the object you’re shooting will make this decision for you. Just ask yourself “which angle offers the most information?” And that’s probably the angle you should shoot from. For example, if you’re shooting a trifle or a tiramisu, it’ll probably want to be shot from the side or at least from a ¾ angle so that you can capture all the different ingredients and layers–if you shot it from above you’d lose that information and the viewer might not understand right away what it is they’re looking at. The reverse is true when shooting soup or something in a bowl–a down shot would probably show the most information.

7. Details are in the Garnishes

This is my favorite tip because it brings more personality to your dish.  Adding garnishes (of course, only those that were used while cooking or those that compliment the flavor profile of the finished dish) creates details for your eye to get lost in. It doesn’t have to be everywhere in the photo but in a few places here and there to help break up the larger shapes and colors. Sesame seeds on a bagel create something so exciting and stimulating on what would otherwise be a boring piece of white bread.

Some of my favorite last minute garnishes: black sesame seeds, chopped herbs like parsley, cilantro and rosemary, and any and all spices, especially cayenne pepper and paprika (because they’re so vibrant!).

8. Patterns/Textures

The eyes love being given a recognizable shape to stare at over and over again. Patterns of food like chocolate truffles in the grids of a chocolate box, stacked brownies, a stocked fridge with rows of produce, it all creates structure in the middle of chaos, which can be very soothing to the eye and comforting to the mind.

9. Imperfection

Getting caught up in making everything tweezer-perfect is important in the world of commercial food photography, but when it comes to taking personal photos that feels more realistic, try not to get caught up in getting everything picture perfect; be flexible, be a little messy, maybe even shoot it after you’ve taken a few bites of the food. This makes the food feel more inviting and more natural, which is usually the goal, because it makes the viewer feel like they’re there, biting into the food with you.

10. Post- Editing Software

This is my final piece of advice, because it comes only after you’ve followed all proceeding steps.  But don’t be fooled, it is SO important for making your food stand out amongst the flood of amateur food photos. Find your favorite photo editing software, and use it religiously, practice different filters and adjust those settings until you find something that works for you. This will take your photo over the top and surely stop people in their tracks.

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Conference Abstracts Workshop & Potluck

Interested in submitting a proposal for the 2018 ASFS conference? Not sure how to group papers into panel presentations? Curious about where you can submit your academic work? How does one write a proposal, anyway??

Join us for a potluck while we work on writing our conference abstracts on Wednesday, Dec. 13th from 6pm – 8pm in Fuller 109.

Please email Barbara at brotger@bu.edu if you plan on attending.

Student Spotlight: Krysia Villon

Eating well (and I don’t mean healthy), cooking and activism are in my blood.

I believe in food sovereignty for all of us inhabiting this Earth but do not believe we will ever achieve it unless we begin to see ourselves as the caretakers of our Mother rather than the owners of “it.” We cannot see the value in protecting her and fostering her growth if we insist on dominating her and possessing her. We cannot understand the ways in which to care for her if we do not look to our past. How do we get back to being caretakers and protectors so that peoples may achieve true food sovereignty?

I am the daughter of a Peruvian immigrant father and a Boston-born mother of Polish and Scottish/English descent. I am the oldest of five children and the mother of one fierce little girl. I am the granddaughter of a lawyer who became a judge, a homemaker extraordinaire who produced elegant meals and made her own clothes, a farmer who walked over mountains to sell his goods, and mother who became a pro-union community activist while also being godmother to many, among other things.

I come from a long-line of ancestors that have moved mountains for their family and loved ones. It is their children who continue to tell their stories so that they may live within us and through us. This is how we do not forget. This is how we remember and we value those that came before us. My family tree is chock full of creative, faithful, resourceful individuals who have collectively inspired me since I heeded their call to live and breathe into my true self. I consider myself a storyteller.

I was born and raised in the Boston-area and during my formative years my father owned a Latin American restaurant in Cambridge that focused on Peruvian cuisine. I was that little kid that fell asleep on chairs I had pushed together under the tables, that kid that hung out in the kitchen waiting to sneak a taste when someone wasn’t looking, and that kid that even learned to dance salsa after hours in the bar when I should have been home doing my homework. It is with this particular palate, spirit, and the inherited fire in my gut that I found myself attracted to the world of food, history (stories), and foodways.

I spent ten years in fundraising and volunteer management in non-profits and higher education institutions but was unfulfilled. I left my former field and ran off to Johnson and Wales University (JWU) in Providence, RI to obtain my Culinary Arts degree. I think of this as my second life.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at JWU. I was instructed by fantastic chefs that helped me in refining my cooking skills and allowed me to bring my new found confidence in the kitchen outside the classroom. I also took advantage of the study-abroad program which landed me in Lima, Peru in 2011. I took courses and was trained by more fantastic chefs who deepened my knowledge of Peruvian food, food history and foodways. I postponed my return to the States and stayed in the capital for 6 months. I landed three jobs simultaneously: I worked as a waitress in the only Irish pub to serve Guinness in Lima for money, I worked as a translator and receptionist at a hostel for housing, and I also secured an internship at a Four Fork (Five Star equivalent in the U.S.) restaurant in Lima for experience. I think I slept for a month when I got back. I had every intention to one day open my own restaurant.

Upon my return to the U.S. I completed my culinary degree. It is also during this time I discovered I was pregnant with my miracle baby. Her arrival into my life changed my course slightly but, undoubtedly, changed it for the better. I began to re-think the way I ate, where my food came from, and what I wanted her know about the hands and ingenuity that fed and feed her.

It was during her first year of her life I began my time at Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA. What drew me to this company was its Direct Trade program in cacao, its connection to food and foodways, and that I would be interacting with the public. I began working part-time at local farmers markets and giving tours which ultimately led me to managing the factory store and tour program today. I am responsible for creating new types of programming and events for the factory store and producing their larger events like our recent Dia de los Muertos block party. In helping plan this event for years I was also able to connect Taza with local cultural organizations to infuse an already successful event into one that was also educational. As manager, I’ve specifically developed programming for children, Spanish-language tours, built a new classroom, enhanced tour materials including video content, created classes like Cacao 101 that teaches about determining the quality of cacao, and even educational games that both inform and engage our customers in new ways.

It was in my own personal experience of learning the comprehensive material in my training at Taza that first sparked my interest in going back to school. I was actively learning again and with that learning arose more questions which only engaged me in more research. It was a beautiful cycle. One morning, two years into my role at Taza, I woke up and realized I had become a storyteller and an educator. When I was young an elder told me that I would become a teacher one day in a non-conventional setting. I had arrived at that moment. I made a decision that I would go back to school so I could immerse myself again in the things that would continue to fuel the fire in my gut. Today, that fire is burning stronger than ever.

I am pursuing my degree at an even pace to remain grounded as a mom and a working woman and to be mindful about the connections I’m making in my research, in my personal and professional networking, and in myself. I now understand more food history and the stories I must learn. I see the gaps and I believe if I learn them I can tell those stories to small and large audiences alike so that we might be reminded of the places from which we come. These stories may come in the form of written word or oral history but I definitely see some more non-conventional, or even conventional, classrooms in my future! We need to hear more stories about the hands, and hearts, that feed us. We need more storytellers before we collectively forget how we got here. I am my ancestors wildest dreams, as Brandan “Bmike” Odums says. I will keep speaking their spirits. I will keep speaking their ingenuity. I will keep speaking their heart so that we are reminded to protect and foster and not to own and possess. I will keep telling the stories. By doing so, I hope I make them proud.

Spring 2018 Pepin Lecture Lineup

The Boston University Programs in Food and Wine have announced the following titles in the Spring 2018 Pépin Lecture Series in Food Studies, Gastronomy, and the Culinary Arts.

February 13th: Julie Guthman

UCSC professor Julie Guthman will be giving a lecture on her research on the California strawberry industry. You can read more about her recent talk on New Food Activism at Harvard here.

According to news.ucsc.edu, Guthman is a geographer who has been widely recognized for her study of organic farming and sustainable agriculture in California, as well as for her critical analysis of the obesity epidemic. She is an alumna of UC Santa Cruz (B.A., sociology, 1979) who joined the faculty in 2003.

March 29th: Jonathan Deutsch

James Beard Foundation Impact Fellow and Professor at Drexel Jonathan Deutsch will be giving a lecture on his work repurposing food waste.

According to drexel.edu, Deutsch joined Drexel from Kingsborough Community College-CUNY, where he served as professor and founding director of the culinary arts program as well as deputy chair of the department of tourism and hospitality. He previously worked at CUNY Graduate Center as professor of public health and founding director of the food studies concentration. Deutsch’s research interests include social and cultural aspects of food, recipe and product development and culinary education. He received his doctorate in food studies and food management from New York University.

He is the author of six food studies books, including Barbeque: A Global History, Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods, and Jewish American Food Culture.

April 11th: Ken Albala

Ken Albala is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific and Director of the Food Studies MA program in San Francisco. He will be talking about his new book, Noodle Soup: Recipes, Techniques, Obsession.

“Every day, noodle shops around the globe ladle out quick meals that fuel our go-go lives. But Ken Albala has a mission: to get YOU in the kitchen making noodle soup. This primer offers the recipes and techniques for mastering quick-slurper staples and luxurious from-scratch feasts. Albala made a different noodle soup every day for two years. His obsession yielded all you need to know about making stock bases, using dried or fresh noodles, and choosing from a huge variety of garnishes, flavorings, and accompaniments. He lays out innovative techniques for mixing and matching bases and noodles with grains, vegetables, and other ingredients drawn from an international array of cuisines.

In addition to recipes both cutting edge and classic, Alabala describes new soup discoveries he created along the way. There’s advice on utensils, cooking tools, and the oft-overlooked necessity of matching a soup to the proper bowl. Finally, he sprinkles in charming historical details that cover everything from ancient Chinese millet noodles to that off-brand Malaysian ramen at the back of the ethnic grocery store. Filled with more than seventy color photos and one hundred recipes, A World of Noodle Soup is an indispensable guide for cooking, eating, and loving a universal favorite.”

Alumni Spotlight: W. Gabriel Mitchell

Sometimes, one needs to take a step back from what one does to gain perspective to move forward. I have been a pâtissier for close to twenty years. Sometime along my career, I became determined to combine my love of the academic with my passion for food preparation and its social constructs. The desire to attend the Gastronomy Program at Boston University was an attempt to leave the practical side of food preparation and re-enter the world of academia to look at food and identity construction. While conducting fieldwork in Perú for my master’s thesis, I received a call that would alter some best-laid plans… upon graduation, I would move to Germany. There, I would resurrect my company, Maison Mitchell, which had been established in San Francisco seven years earlier – and closed when I decided to go to BU.

Maison Mitchell is the first gourmet pâtisserie in Hamburg. In Maison Mitchell, I sell “Ladies”—a colloquialism that refers to the collection of my offerings—and fantasies. We specialize in every-day treats, as well as one-of-a-kind creations. In Maison Mitchell, customers find a selection of various seductive pastries for the discerning palate, and lifestyle products. Pastries range from interpretations of the classic French cannon, e.g., “Sunshine,” a lemon tart, to inspired originals. A very special original for Hamburg is “Maya,” a verrine of New-World fruits (avocado crème diplomat, half-dried yellow cherry tomato, red pepper gastrique gel), and grains (corn panna cotta, and a sweet corn pancake from Venezuela called cachapa). For our four-legged companions I created dog biscuits with duck liver (“Bella”). Moreover, for those who want to enjoy the tastes of Maison Mitchell beyond pastries, I have created a collection of scented candles, e.g., “Midori,” (perfumed with bamboo, green tea, and Thai basil). Although we are established on the French gastronomic model, for my interests it has always been imperative that we represent flavor pairings from across the globe.

Maison Mitchell, therefore, is more than haute pâtisserie. Maison Mitchell offers much to explore and enjoy to those who are open to what food could be beyond mere sustenance, i.e., a source of gustatory pleasure, and discovery.

The multidisciplinary approach to the Gastronomy Program was the perfect fit for someone like me, who had gained enough practical food experience, and now wanted to critically analyze various foodways and their social implications. The freedom to choose courses beyond the required core allowed me to better focus on personal interests such as elite foods and the effects of a professional practitioner’s intentionality on material production.

The ability to take the course Food, Culture, and Society (outside the department) afforded me a new perspective through the lens of the anthropology department. This was the catalyst to enter the master’s thesis process, where I looked at Lima’s burgeoning indigenous haute cuisine, and how the culinary paradigm of nouvelle cuisine affords professional practitioners the freedom to create a new one to be revered on the global gastronomic landscape. The readings that I selected for my thesis not only helped shape my research, but also became imperative tools in reshaping my own material production in Maison Mitchell.

The most influential class, however, was my first. It was there that my cohort and I were presented with Karl Marx’s commodity theory. Though the sixty-plus pages may not have been preferred reading material on an autumn weekend, it illuminated the reality that I am not just selling food, but rather that I am now creating a “commodity,” nevertheless, in pastry form. In a time when food is the new luxury item, the theories I learned during my time at school, combined with my own postulations about food, allow me to conceptualize a brand that is authentic to my sensibilities, in addition to providing a singular product to my new host city.