A while ago, =largethomas asked me to write a review of a food photography book I’ve been reading for you lovely people. It’s helped me immensely; in turn it may be able to help those of you wanting to further your food photography. Alrighty, here we go!
~~~Ever since I entered the world of food blogging and cake decorating, my focus was always on making the food the art, rather than the photography. Taking photos was just a means to give my readers a reference. Joining deviantART inspired me to change this. Great food photography can make ordinary food look extraordinary, and takes extraordinary food to a whole new level. Armed with this new bout of inspiration, I decided I needed a book.
I soon came across Nicole S. Young’s, “Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots”. Nicole is a full-time photographer who specialises in commercial photography. Her book is marketed towards foodies, food bloggers and home cooks: people who love to create in the kitchen but lack the means to show it off to advantage.
It sounded perfect. However, I needed to have a bit of a hunt around first. I started browsing customer comments and reviews of similar books. The worst review I could find of Nicole Young’s book was that it was a bit too basic for advanced food photographers. The worst review I could find from similar books criticised them for having technically incorrect information. Professional photographers praised Nicole’s book for being technically correct. That was enough to make the decision for me. At $14, how could I say no?
For those of you who are looking to improve your food photography, this book has everything the blurb promises. Nicole takes you right from understanding white balance, to putting the finishing touches on your photographs in photoshop. Throughout each chapter is a multitude of photographs and illustrations to help the reader understand the concepts she is explaining. Each chapter also has a few “Pouring Over The Picture” segments, where Nicole provides a large photograph and explains how she achieved that effect. It’s a book marketed at beginners, but can be useful to anyone of most any skill level. There’s a bit of something for everyone – and I’ll break down exactly what those pieces are for you in a minute.
While many of the tips she gives are more pertinent if you have an SLR, and she takes you through the use of photography equipment, you needn’t have anything fancy to make use of the information in this book. Nicole herself states during the introduction: “You can get great photographs using a minimal amount of gear, and the last thing you should do before learning any type of photography is to overspend and buy and buy gear that you think you will need.”
I began trying her techniques without purchasing any new equipment, still using a point-and-shoot camera, using pieces of cardboard and cake boards as reflectors. I can already see a vast change in my photography since reading this book. Apparently, so too can my readers. I never used to get any compliments on the photography of my food, but in the last couple months I’ve received numerous comments from people praising the photography rather than the food. Now, I’m the first to admit I have much to learn and there are many lessons inside this book that I am yet to try out, but this book has already helped to kick start that learning curve. Below is an example of photographs I took of the same biscuit recipe. The one on the left was taken shortly before reading this book, the one on the right shortly after.
So what exactly will you learn from this book?
To help you decide whether this book contains information that will help you, here’s a quick blow-by-blow of what you will take away from Food Photography.
Chapter 1: Photography Fundamentals
In this first chapter, Nicole takes you through the pros and cons of different file formats, as well as understanding aperture, shutter speed and white balance.
Chapter 2: Photography Equipment
Here she discusses the Point and Shoot camera, versus the SLR. Next she covers lenses and focal lengths, tripods and accessories, and lighting equipment.
Chapter 3: Lighting
Perhaps the most important chapter in the book, this one will teach you how to light your food. This chapter discusses everything from the colour of the light to how to set up your lighting. This covers both diffused natural light, as well as studio lighting. It goes on to discuss lighting modifiers and accessories.
Chapter 4: Styling and Props
This chapter is more for those who want to style their food. Food styling is a broad concept, as is this chapter. Nicole begins by covering basic things that can be done to enhance the look of food that is intended to eat (e.g; using fresh ingredients and how to keep food looking fresh under the heat of studio lights), as well as the more extreme not-food-safe things that can be done to food intended only for photography (eg. using inedible materials to add bulk to dishes). The chapter closes by discussing props that can be used both in (e.g. fake ice) and around (e.g. serving dishes and accessories) your food.
Chapter 5: Framing and Composition
This chapter starts with the very basic stuff anyone who has read a tutorial on photography knows, such as the rule of thirds. However, it continues on to discuss composition that is specifically relevant to food. There’s too many to list, but goes from the height you take the photograph at, to using complementary colours.
Chapter 6: Processing images with Adobe Photoshop
This chapter is mostly useful if you have a camera that can save RAW files, or if you know very little about photoshop. Even without, there are helpful lessons that can be taken away from this chapter.
Chapter 7: Behind the Scenes
The last chapter simply shows you how a number of Nicole’s finished images were made. For each photo, she begins by discussing the dish and props chosen, how the dish was styled, how the lighting was set up, what settings she used on the camera and how she edited it in post-processing.