Demystifying Food Photography- Techniques For Finding Your Style In a Social Media Landscape | Isabelle Namnoum | Skillshare

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Demystifying Food Photography- Techniques For Finding Your Style In a Social Media Landscape

teacher avatar Isabelle Namnoum, Hi! I'm Isabelle, a food photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Final Project

    • 3. Camera Basics

    • 4. Lighting

    • 5. Composition

    • 6. Styling

    • 7. Conclusion

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About This Class

Since the rise of instagram and the internet gave way to food bloggers and foodies galore, more than ever people are taking pictures of their meals. Whether just as a hobby, a side hustle, or even as a full time job, the world of food photography is increasingly becoming more and more mainstream-- and yet many are still mystified as to how they too can create the kind of photos they dream about

It begs the question, what makes for a good photo? And is there a way to distill those concepts into digestible and doable guidelines while maintaining one’s sense of individuality? In this introductory class, we will break down several photography fundamentals in a simple and low fuss way- free of confusing jargon and instead with clear tips and tangible takeaways, all geared toward food photography. 

Have you just purchased your first DSLR camera and are feeling overwhelmed on where to start? Have you been photographing food for some time but are looking for guidance that is consolidated into one place? Then this class is for you! In this course, we will cover lessons on camera basics, lighting, composition, and styling-- discussing specific subjects such as aperture, shadows/highlights, camera angles, and more. While some knowledge or experience with food photography is recommended, this class is for all skill levels- all you need is a love of food and photography!

Materials/ Resources:

-DSLR Camera (or iphone)

-Large window

-Small Table (to shoot on)

-Photography Backdrops (optional)

-A plate, a bowl, a napkin, silverware set, other props of choice

Meet Your Teacher

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Isabelle Namnoum

Hi! I'm Isabelle, a food photographer


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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Isabelle, and I am a self-taught food photographer. As we've seen Instagram gain popularity over the past few years, the world of food photography has really exploded. What was once a somewhat elusive and secretive world of editorial work, is now somewhat democratized, paved a way for a whole new generation of really diverse and talented storytellers. While we can all and pretty much do, take a quick photo of our food on our iPhone, one must beg the question, what makes for a good photo and can those factors be broken down into a clear and digestible set of lessons? In this Skillshare class, demystifying food photography, tips and techniques for finding your style in a changing social media landscape, I hope to empower individuals to feel more confident behind the camera. We're going to accomplish this by covering topics relating to camera basics, lighting, styling, and composition. While some knowledge or experience with food photography is recommended, this class is for all skill levels, all you need is a love of food and a love of photography. So let's get started. 2. Final Project: For your final project, you will photograph a signature dish or meal of your choice utilizing two to three class concepts in your photograph. The first step in the process will include completing the class and reflecting on the content. What stood out to you most from what was described. Try practicing some of the concepts with simple objects like fruit or flowers. Test different angles, lighting, camera settings, and prompts. Next, pick a signature of favorite dish, meal, or food to photograph. This could range from cake, soup, pasta, salads, sandwiches, et cetera. Don't be afraid to use your imagination. Next, develop a mood board on Pinterest or Instagram of your inspiration. Does your style tend towards light and airy or moody and dark? Do you gravitate towards a lot of prompts or a more minimalistic style. Contemplate whether or not the stylistic choice works with your dish. Once you've created your mood board roughly sketch out your scene. What angle do you want to photograph from? Which prompts do you want to use? Lastly, photograph your scene and optionally edit to your liking in the software of your choice. Two examples include Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom. Post your work to the class gallery in either a landscape or portrait format. Once you've completed your project, be sure to engage with other creators work. If you're ready let's start this class. 3. Camera Basics : Welcome to your next lesson where we'll be discussing camera basics. We're going to discuss topics such as manual versus automatic mode, manual versus automatic focus, aperture, shutterspeed, and ISO. Let's first talk about automatic versus manual mode. On a DSLR camera there's several different modes that you can shoot in, two of which are automatic and manual. Automatic mode decides for you what the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance will be, which are topics we're going to discuss at length later. Think of it almost as the training wheels on a bicycle. As in, it does most of the work for you. While this may be convenient, you ultimately have less control over the outcome of your images, which can result in a lack of consistency. While manual mode is certainly more work, you'll ultimately have more creative control, it just requires a little extra attention, to the different components of your camera. Next, let's talk about manual versus automatic focus on a camera. Towards the front of the camera near the lens, there should be a switch, that indicates automatic versus manual focus, usually notated by M versus AF. Automatic focus are just the focal lens of the camera for you, which is convenient for action or nature shots. The caveat of this fact is that it won't necessarily focus on the parts of an image that you want it to. Manual focus, in contrast, involves turning the focal lens of the camera until different points of the image come into focus. Again, this requires a little more effort, but ultimately gives you more creative control. The next camera component we're going to talk about is aperture. Aperture is the amount of light that a camera physically lets in. You can sort of think of it as the pupil of the eye of the camera. Dilates when it's exposed to lighter settings, and it grows larger when exposed to darker settings. Aperture is measured in f-stop settings, ranging from f-1.4 to f-22. The higher the number of f-stops is, the less amount of light the camera will let in. In contrast, the lower number the f-stop is, the greater amount of light a camera will let in. In addition to light, aperture also impacts depth of field. Lower f-stop settings correspond with a shallow field of focus, meaning less of an image will be clear. For example, if we look at this image here, there's only a small point that is clear. In contrast, a higher f-stop setting, will result in a deeper field of focus, meaning more of an image will be clear. For full photography purposes, the sweet spot for aperture, is somewhere between f-4 to f-8, with higher ranges recommended for overhead shots. There will be some variation in terms of how you adjust aperture, depending on your camera model, so be sure to look at the manual for your individual camera. The next topic we're going to cover is shutterspeed. Shutterspeed, like aperture, also corresponds to the amount of light a camera lets in, but instead is the amount of time that the shutter is open before the camera takes a picture. Depending on the model of your camera, shutterspeed can range from one-eighth of a second to one-five-hundredths of a second. But a good range for food photography, is somewhere between one of a second to one-two-hundredths of a second, depending on how bright your light source is. For action shots, higher shutterspeed is recommended, as you will ultimately get a clear and sharper image. If you want to use a lower shutterspeed, I would recommend using a tripod, as it'll help mitigate some of that motion blur that you might get if you were to shoot free hand. The last topic we're going to discuss that relates to camera basics is ISO. ISO is a camera setting that adjusts for how sensitive a camera is to light. In other words, it can lighten or darken an image. The higher the ISO is in number, the brighter an image will be. High ranges of ISO can be used for night images, for example, if you were to shoot a cityscape or something like that. But the higher the ISO is, the more grain an image will have. With photography ISO should range somewhere between 160 to 400. Again, check your individual camera manual to determine how to adjust your ISO. To review, let's quickly discuss some of the topics relating to camera basics. We first talked about manual versus automatic mode, and how manual mode allows for more creative flexibility. We then discussed manual versus automatic focus, and targeting the parts of the image that you want to focus on. Next we discussed aperture, and how it impacts light inductive field. We also discussed shutterspeed and how it also impacts the light a camera takes in. Lastly we discussed ISO and how it impacts the light settings of a camera. 4. Lighting: Welcome to your next few lessons. We will be discussing lighting. For the purpose of this class, we're only going to be discussing natural light sources. If you currently shoot using artificial light sources or are looking for a class relating to this, just keep that in mind moving forward. This next few lessons we will cover why to use sunlight as your primary light source in food photography, direct versus indirect light sources, side lighting setups, and backlighting setups. You may be wondering why to use sunlight as your primary light source in food photography versus regular overhead lighting in your house. Part of it has to do with the relative intensity in power of sunlight compared to a standard household light bulb. While light bulb delivers roughly 800 lumens of light, on average the sun delivers 9,800 lumens of light per square meter on a perpendicular surface. Therefore, sunlight delivers far greater light which will ultimately result in a better-illuminated image. In addition to this fact, most light bulbs tend to give off a yellow or blue tint especially when photographed. Sunlight tends to appear more neutral and have a more natural-looking white balance. Our next topic will cover direct versus indirect light sources and their purpose in food photography. Direct light sources are those that shine their rays directly onto the scene or object or are in the direct path of the object or scene that you're photographing or observing. For photography, this results in harsh shadows and highlights and vibrant colors, and a good sense of contrast. This can certainly be a beautiful and effective choice for things such as drinks, but can sometimes overwhelm an image just in terms of how harsh the highlights and shadows can be. In contrast, diffused lighting involves the dispersal of light so that a scene is being illuminated indirectly. This can happen in nature such as on a cloudy day or through the use of a photography diffuser on bright and sunny days. For food photography, some level of diffusion is generally used as it tends to illuminate objects clearly and cleanly. But keep in mind both methods of lighting can certainly be used it just depends on the stylistic effect you're going for. Our next topic will cover side lighting and backlighting. Side Side involves setting up a photography scene parallel to a window so that the light streams into the side of food which creates a dynamic sense of highlights and shadows. Another lighting setup is backlighting. Backlighting is more of an advanced lighting technique that involves placing your photography scene in front of your window or light source which creates a dramatic and moody effect. Backlighting is often used for dramatic drink shots but again, be careful when using this technique as it can sometimes overpower the scene just in terms of how dark the shadows can appear. Terms of determining what times of day are best to photograph, I would recommend photographing a simple item such as an apple at different times of the day and observing the differences. Let's review. We first talked about why to use sunlight in food photography, we talked about the differences between direct versus indirect light sources, and lastly, we talked about two different lighting setups including side and backlighting. 5. Composition : Welcome to your next few lessons, which will relate to composition, or the overall layout or arrangement of your scene. Some of the topics we will discuss will include the various camera angles, such as the overhead shot, the 45-degree angle shot, and the straight-on shot, as well as some rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds, and the golden triangle rule. Let's first discuss the overhead shot. Overhead shots involve shooting directly over your scene. This can be accomplished by shooting free hand or through the use of a tripod or key stand. As mentioned, prior to minimize some of the motion blur, and to adequately capture the details of your scene, higher shutter speed and aperture is generally recommended. Overhead shots tend to work for somewhat flat objects. Something like a salad, versus objects with height like a sandwich. Since overhead shots can sometimes read flat, texture and movement can be introduced by layering prompts and introducing curves, which are some of the topics we will discuss a little bit later. The next camera angle we will talk about is the 45-degree angle shot. So 45-degree angle shots are taken at an angle between overhead, and straight on shots. As a result, they allow for more dimension in an image. So 45-degree angle shots are commonly used for photographing drinks, as you can see, both the profile and the surface of the object, which allows for some nice visual contrast. The next camera angle we will talk about is the straight-on shot. The straight-on shot involves shooting at a 90-degree angle, or parallel to the profile of the object. This works best for taller objects like sandwiches or burgers, as it can really showcase the vertical height of foods. This could also work for things such as brownies or poffies. Now that we've talked about camera angles, let's quickly discuss two important rules of composition, the rule of thirds and the golden triangle rule. The rule of thirds is a classical compositional guideline, that involves visualizing two horizontal and two vertical lines, that form a grid, that break an image into thirds, with the idea being that the points of interests for an image, should occur at the intersection points of the line. The next compositional rule we're going to talk about is the golden triangle rule. The golden triangle rule operates off of the same idea as the rule of thirds. Basically, that the points of interest of an image, should occur at the intersection points of the lines. Instead of a grid, however, the rule involves four triangles set on a diagonal. While both rules are helpful in terms of creating a compositionally balanced image, by no means do you have to print out a grid, every time you want to take a photo. They are, however, helpful in terms of visualizing a theme, especially when you're first sketching down your ideas. Let's quickly review some of the topics that we talked about relating to composition. We first talked about some of the different camera angles, and some general rules of thumb for when to use which, then we discussed the rule of thirds and how it functions to create a well composed image, and lastly, we discussed the golden triangle rule, and some of the similarities to the rule of thirds. I'll see you in the next- 6. Styling : Welcome to your next lesson where we'll be discussing the styling. Some of the topics we will cover will include, S-curves, C-curves, layering of props, and lastly, plating tips and techniques. Let's first discuss the S-curve. Creating curves in photography, is one way that you can create a seamless looking image. An example of that includes the S-curve. This styling technique involves arranging props or objects into the rough shape of an S. S-curves really draw the eye into an image, creating a sense of movement and definition. This can work really well in overhead shots, by again creating that sense of movement, but it can also work really well in straight on or 45-degree shots, in terms of playing with your foreground and background elements. The next curve we will discuss is the C-curve. Again, C-curves are another styling technique and are similar to S-curves in terms of creating movement. However, C-curves more so frame an image or subject, and can create a sense of closure. Example, the objects arranged into a C, frame the corners of an image, and also provide a nice contrast with the negative space to the right. Let's move on to our next topic, props and layering. Props, aka plates, bowls, napkins, etc., can be thought of the set pieces that really help to bring an image to life. Keep in mind, however, you really don't need a million expensive pieces, to make a beautiful image. Rather just one thoughtfully placed bowl or plate can create a tremendous impact. In terms of which props to use, I think a good starting point would be one plate, one bowl, one set of silverware, a napkin, and optionally, a glass. To create a sense of continuity, movement, and texture, layering can be introduced to your props. This can be done by stacking a bowl onto a plate, wrapping a napkin around your bowl, or overlapping various ingredients or elements. As far as backdrops go, the sky really is the limit. Some of the backdrops in my arsenal include a final printed backdrop, a few DIY plaster backdrops, a DIY wood backdrop, and even a linen tablecloth. Other backdrops do exist on the market, ranging from more vinyl printed option, to wooden in backdrops, and they also come in a variety of price points as well. Our last styling topic will relate to plating tips and techniques. Keep in mind the use of curves can also apply to plating techniques, as seen in this image here. But one other plating technique is the fanning of vegetables or ingredients on your plate or bowl, such as with items like apples, pears, avocados, radishes, etc.. This involves finely slicing your fruit or vegetables, and gently pressing the surface down to create a fan like pattern. The eye is naturally drawn to patterns and geometry, which is just one of the reasons as to why this is a really effective plating technique. Another thing to keep in mind when plating is to allow for some white space in the plate or bowl, rather than filling the vessel to the brim. This allows for some visual contrast, but also gives a more natural sense of balance, and also of scale. Keeping with this theme of geometry and patterns, swoops and swirls are another plating technique for things such as sauces or frostings. This involves adding a dollop of the item onto your plate, and gently dragging this spin through it to create a subtle C-shape. Let's review some of the topics relating to styling. We first talked about some of the different curves and how they contribute to a sense of movement in a scene, we then discussed how to build a prop collection, and why layering items contributes to a beautifully styled image, and we lastly discussed some plating techniques and how they contribute to a successful photo. I'll see you in the next video. 7. Conclusion : We made it to the end of our lessons. Congratulations, I hope you learned a lot. But before we part, let's quickly discuss some of the topics, we went over in this class. We first talked about camera basics and touched on manual versus automatic mode on a DSLR camera. We also talked about manual versus automatic focus, and we touched on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Familiarizing yourself with the different camera components really makes a big difference in the overall quality, of the images you will pick. Be sure to check out your individual camera manual to understand how to make those adjustments. We next talked about lighting, specifically, why to use sunlight as your primary light source. We also talked about direct versus indirect light sources, what the difference is between those two. Lastly we discussed two different lighting setups, Side lighting and back lighting. Again, we gave you some examples of what that looks like, some of the differences and some roles of them. We then discussed composition, specifically, the different camera angles, including the overhead shot, the straight-on shot, and the 45-degree angle shot. We also talked about two different compositional rules, including the rule of thirds and the golden triangle rule. By understanding these basic compositional theories, you'll really be able to cut down on some of the guest work involved in arranging your scenes, which will really help streamline your photography process. Lastly, we discussed styling. We talked about some different tips and techniques, relating to the use of curves, specifically, the S-curve and the C-curve, and how they really help to create movement and geometry, in your images, something that's really visually appealing to the human eye. We also talked about plating tips and techniques, prop selection and prop layering. Styling really helps to tell the story of the dish, or the object, or even the portrait that you're trying to photograph, so it's really helpful to have some of these techniques in your tool belt moving forward. Next steps, be sure to share your project in the class gallery, and leave any feedback you have for me. I really look forward to hearing from you. If you'd like to check out more of my work, you can find me @the_balancedapron on Instagram, or you can find me at the balanced apron on Pinterest, and lastly, you can find my website at There, I share recipes, you can see some of my blog posts, as well as my portfolio of work. In closing, I really hope that this class empowered you to feel more comfortable behind the camera, to understand what goes into making a beautiful food image, and also be inspired to find your unique style. Every time you photograph, it's an opportunity to learn something new, See what went well, see what maybe didn't go well, and apply that to your work moving forward. Really well done, and I look forward to seeing each and every project.