Food Photography: Learn The 5 Essential Rules of Beautiful Food Photography Composition! | Ted Nemeth | Skillshare

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Food Photography: Learn The 5 Essential Rules of Beautiful Food Photography Composition!

teacher avatar Ted Nemeth, Re-Inventing You!

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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Color Theory


    • 3.

      The Hero Dish


    • 4.

      The Rule of Thirds


    • 5.

      Visual Weight


    • 6.

      Leading Lines


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About This Class

Hello foodies and creatives!    I’m a foodie and professional photographer.   I put together this course very specifically to teach you the most important aspect of food photography that will improve your food documenting journey.   You will learn the fundamentals and practice strategically, giving you an understanding of the psychology of why certain elements are pleasing to the minds eye in a photograph.

I think you will really enjoy this class.   I only teach the essentials and I try to make it fun.  Many thanks and I wish you all the joy & fulfillment on your creative journey!


Meet Your Teacher

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Ted Nemeth

Re-Inventing You!


Hello creatives!!

I'm Ted, a 3rd generation photographer, videographer and taco whisperer.   

Before this career I worked on Wall Street for a few years (don’t hate me!).   Then I worked at two amazing technology startups.    Great people great times.       I learned so much.

Then I somehow became a world renowned leather craftsman!  I had celebrity clients and private projects around the world and featured in major design magazine and the New York Times etc.   But after 12 years of that thrill ride I turned my passion of using a camera into my new profession.   

Now I travel the world photographing & creating small documentaries for brands, artists & charities.

I abso... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Composition. Yeah, this is a freely important topic. But there's some kind of fundamentals underlying basic rules of composition that have been around as long as photography itself. And they've been around that long because they're so important. And I pulled out the five most basic fundamentals that you need. Really going to kind of make your food photography jump really quickly in quality because you've got these underlying principle right from the start. So let's take a look at those five principles. First we have color theory, then the hero dish, the rule of thirds, visual weight, and then leading lines. 2. Color Theory: So everything we're about to cover, it may start to seem a little overwhelming. But trust me, I've stripped this back to the most important basic C. You have to get a hold of these five basic fundamentals. And I've really simplified them. And at the end of the lecture there's a PDF you can download. So you can always have them right there with you. But they are as important as they get. And I really simplify them just so you can apply them specifically to food photography. So it'll be really easy for you to digest and apply to your shoots. And you don't need to master them right away, right? Be aware of them and just being aware of them. You'll notice that over time they start to kind of appear in your photographs. Your photographs start to get better and more richer and they start to pop. And it's just being aware of these fundamentals even subliminally. They're gonna make their way into your photographs. And as you're starting to plan the composition, you're gonna see a lot of improvements, so yeah, you don't wanna have to master them right away. One thing that's going to help you for awhile is start to strip back your food photography for awhile. If you're already a minimalist photographer, great. If you're into very busy, very active, very kind of dense food photography, it'll help you to strip that back for awhile, right? Just focus on one ingredient or one dish and very minimal in terms of props and background and that sort of thing. And what that's going to allow you to do is focus on one or two of these principles at a time, like visual weight or color theory. The rule of thirds, you know, just kind of focus on a few of these at a time. And you'll notice that it kind of with minimal food photography, you gotta get the fundamentals right? Otherwise, it's just a boring picture of a cupcake, right? But if you get these fundamentals right, you know that cupcake comes alive at Pops, there's some, something visually interesting about the picture, even though it's just a cupcake on a counter. So when you get these basics, right, yeah, the photograph comes alive even if you can't put your finger on it, why? It's so interesting. But you'll start to understand the psychology of these five rules that are pulled out for you. So yeah, so start to simplify your food photography for a while. Become a minimalist. And it'll help you grasp these rules and implement them a little bit quicker. So these next five topics are all classic examples of what's called Gestalt theory. And it talks about health things relate to each other in our mind's eye. So it's the visual perception of similarity, proximity, symmetry, and order. So all this is theoretical, but it's also very practical, I promise. So let's look at them. We're going to start with color theory. Now, I've pulled out the two most important basic fundamentals of color theory. You can apply to your food photography will start with the definition. In the visual arts, color theory is a body of practical guidance to color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination. There's also definitions or categories of colors based on the color wheel. Primary color, secondary colour, and tertiary color. I'm going to tragically oversimplify this right now for you. Some colors when combined together better than others. In our mind's eye, we perceive them. And it doesn't have to do with personal tastes at, has to do with really basic universal understanding of color theory and combining them. And if you don't understand this, You could be mistakenly combining colors that don't go together. And that will really hold back your food photography. It just doesn't pop and you don't know why. And this is a really important thing to grasp and very simple. And it starts with the color wheel. Let's take a look. The color wheel tells us what colors to combine. The primary colors are red, blue, yellow. When you combine two primary colors, you get a secondary color. So red plus blue equals purple. Blue plus yellow equal green. Red plus yellow is orange. So the secondary colors are purple, green, orange. Now let's take a look at how to actually use this color wheel when deciding on what colors to combine in your food photography, you want to choose colors that are complimentary to each other. And the way we find complimentary colors is on this color wheel there directly across from each other. So let's take a look. Across from blue is orange. So those are complimentary colors. Green and red are opposite each other. That means they're complimentary colors, and then yellow and purple are across from each other. So those are complimentary colors. And also each shade in between are complements to each other. Well, great. Okay, how does this apply to your food photography specifically? Pretty easy. So you wanted to determine your key color and your key color is the main color present in your food that you're photographing. Here you can see my main dish has a hint of yellow. So we paired it with its complimentary color, purple. And hero dish here has some orange in it. We found a prop to bring in. It's complimentary color of blue. So the bottom line here is, you want to use this color wheel to help you find the complimentary colors. These are the colors that are you going to use with your props. Things like your napkin or your surfaces, or additional things in the photograph that are gonna be complimentary colors to your main dish, your hero dish. That's what's gonna make the colors and the overall image pop. And it's that pop that really kind of stands out. Now, beginners think that a photograph pops because of bright colors. And so they'll. Boost the saturation until everything's almost neon. And that's very amateur. But that's not what makes some photograph pop. Professional photographers, we can have very muted colors and the photograph still pops. And it's because we've chosen complimentary colors and there's what's called color harmony in the photograph. So the colors can be even you did, but it pops because this harmony there, and you use this color wheel to help you choose complimentary colors. So there's one more aspect of color theory that are pulled out for you that's really going to help with your food photography specifically. And it's this idea of color, the temperature having to do with either warm or cool, and the psychological effects of warm colors for school colors. So warm colors are red, orange, yellow, and nose are said to have the psychological effect in photography of being charged, emotional, and advancing. Opposite of that are cool colors, which are blue, green, violet. And in photography, Those are said to have the emotions of calming, soothing, and also receding, subtractive. Just to give you a really kind of obvious practical example of colour, temperature here and emotions. So a real obvious example is like Mexican food, right? You get to a Mexican restaurant, everything's red, orange, yellow. It's very bright, festive, active, kind of high energy, high motion. But the opposite of that would be like a photograph of a Mockito by the beach. You know, very light colors, pastel blues, pastel greens. That's very calming, very soothing colors. And they're said to be subtractive also. So those are the two really obvious examples of the opposite sides of the spectrum. So knowing the psychological kind of very subliminal subtle effects of these colors emotionally. They're gonna help you decide on colors when you're crafting the story that you want to tell with your food photography. So again, you don't need to master it right away. Just have a real background kind of idea in the back of your head about what emotional effect these colors have in photography. And that will help you, over time, help you craft the story that you're looking to tell. Now I know that seems very esoteric, kind of theoretical, you know, emotional effects of colors, but it will help you in the long run. So just have a basic understanding of that. And I've also included a PDF to this lecture that you can download just so you can have a printout of these ideas of colors, color theory, the color wheel, all that's attached to this lecture. 3. The Hero Dish: Alright, and the last lecture, we talked about color theory as part of this overall discussion on composition. Now, we're gonna talk about the last four areas of composition. Specifically that have to do with arranging the items in your food photography so that they look right in our mind's eye, like psychologically, they look right? And what we mean by this, remember, we, I mentioned Gestalt theory. And that's how things relate to each other in the visual arts. Things like proximity, similarity, symmetry, and order. So there's these kind of undermine fundamental underlying rules that in the visual arts that help our minds, I died just things And they look right what kind of drawn to these few understanding of composition. So we're gonna go over those now. Now I mentioned the word hero dish a few times here. Addition is very simply, the main food that you're photographing. Could be cupcake, could be a drink, or could be a whole plate of food. But the hero dish is that main subject. Now beginners, beginners love to add more things, more color, more texture, more elements, more backgrounds and more props. And you Hero dish can get lost in that. And then it's just busy. The opposite, an, a good kind of expression of this would be minimalists photography where very simple. You know, they're just one element there. And, but for some reason it's very simple, but it works. And it's because they've got all of these basic fundamentals of photography, right? The lighting, the composition rule of thirds visual weight, these things we're gonna talk about. But the first rule here is the hero dish. And the idea is to not lose focus of your hero dish. Not just literal focus but mental focus. So you don't want to have too many items where you're losing kind of direction towards that hero dish. So like again, you may want to kind of simplify and strip back your food photography for a while. I just started to grasp these really simple fundamental. So I encourage you to try minimal food photography. And that will help you in this instance, really regain focus and attention on that hero dish in your, in your food photography. So yeah, that's a really important, really simple concept, right? Don't lose focus on your main dish, but you see a lot of beginner getting photographers do this. They add more visual interest, you know, props and spoons in all kinds of things and it just becomes too busy, too overwhelming. So, yeah, strip back photography for a while and just focus, remember to focus on that hero dish. 4. The Rule of Thirds: The second rule of composition is the rule of thirds. You probably have heard of this, right? It's a very simple grid lines that come on pretty much any camera, every, pretty much every digital camera, every smartphone in the world now has the option to add the rule of thirds grid. That should tell you how important that is. Every camera, every smartphone comes with the rule of thirds grid. That's how important it is. It's so fundamental. It's just one of those tricks they discovered a long time ago, both in movies and in photography, that for some reason, our mind's eye is drawn to pictures and images that have the main subject that are often one of these third quadrants basically where the lines intersect. Yeah, so put your main dish, your main hero dish in one of those quadrants where the grids intersect, doesn't have to be exact. It doesn't have to be a 100% of the time. Just be mindful that the rule of thirds is one of those fundamental, the four most basic fundamental rules in photography. So yeah, it's kind of interesting. Side note here. Again, the rule of thirds is used in Hollywood, also in movies. And any Wes Anderson fans here. Wes Anderson is notorious for ignoring the rule of thirds. All of his images, pictures are perfectly centered and symmetrical. And he's such a master that he can pull it off. He has perfect symmetry, imbalance, and center focus. So he doesn't use the rule of thirds for some reason. I'm interesting now that you're more aware of it, I think you'll see his cinema photography is weighs, images are setup, is balanced. So, but because he's such a master of and he can pull it off. But again, rule of thirds is basic fundamental in photography. Ended Hollywood's. 5. Visual Weight: The third rule here and composition, it's a really interesting one. It's called visual weight. In the visual arts, there's a theory that objects in a field of view have a visual weight to them. If objects in a field of view are balanced, it's said to be more pleasing to our mind's eye. We're more drawn to it. And when I say balance, it doesn't necessarily mean symmetrical. Balance can also be size and texture and color. And so there's a few aspects of that we're gonna go into now. Size being the first one we're going to look at. So an object that's larger in the field of view is said to have more visual weight to it. So we're going to look at an example now here you can see the size of the large plate is creating an imbalance with the smaller plate. So we can fix that by adding elements to the opposite side of the frame of the large plate. So now the two small plates even out the balance in the frame of the larger plates. So it's more pleasing now, right? It just looks more visually appealing that we've got a little bit of visual weight, visual balance. So size, that's the first aspect of visual weight that we looked at. So we showed you how the size the bigger something is, the more weight visually it feels like it has. And we can balance that out by either multiple items, smaller items, or something of an equal size. So yeah, sizes that first relatable aspect of visual weights. The next one we're going to look at is visual interest. And what we mean by visual interest is things that have text, more texture, more color. There's just more patterns that said to have more visual weight of things that are just kind of flat plains, simple, maybe a solid color or maybe lack of color. So things that are white are said to have less visual weight than things that have a very bright color. Things that have a pattern are said to have more visual weight than something that's very plain. And let's take a look example of that. So here we edit a plate with more visual interest, which means it has more visual weight. So this photograph now feels out of balance again because that played on the side has more visual weight to it. So we can do to restore balance is add something on the other side of the frame like this cup of coffee. It restores more weight. So the image is now back in bounds. Isn't that cool? I like that. You're understanding what's going on in the image. So a lot of times things that kind of gut reaction, you just look at it and it feels right for some reason. Well, these basic laws of composition in photography there telling you why something feels right to your gut. Our mind, I keep using the term minds eye. And I love this. So you can see what's going on here. I've given you four rules so far. I'm about to give you the fifth rule. But you can see what we've got going on here. We've set up a methodology for building your photograph. So we started with color. You've got your key color, which is your hero dish. That helps you determine the complimentary color which you can use in your napkin, your backgrounds are props. Then we had the rule of thirds. Then we realize it's out of balance. So to restore balance, we've got visual weight, either size or visual interest. So we're constructing the photograph from the, from the very core outward and we're doing it right from the start and there's no trial and error of like trying to get it to feel right. Because we know it's right because of these underlying fundamental rules are in place. I love that. It's a really simple process step-by-step of getting it right. Now, I've got all of these saved in a PDF at the end of the lecture. But we've got one more rule of composition to cover. And then we'll kinda summarize and I'll give you that PDF lecture to download. 6. Leading Lines: So the fifth and final rule of composition in photography is leading lines. Leading lines are really important in photography because it gives a sense of organization and a sense of movements in the photograph that's very pleasing to our mind's eye. So we're very drawn to photographs that have leading lines that are set up properly instead of just total randomness. And there's no kind of order like subliminal psychological kind of minds eye. There's an orderliness or a flow to the photograph and getting that set up right. That's what's gonna make an image just feel right? So let's look at leading lines because there's two different kinds. So physical lines or lines that are actually physically present in the photograph. So maybe like the edge of a cutting board or the edge of the table. Cutlery like a knife can really form an actual physical line. So the other kind of leading line is an optical line. Optical lines are formed when kind of our mind's eye connects the dots of similar items in the photograph. And the similar items can be like similar color, similar texture, anything that our minds, I kinda connects them and forms an optical line. So professional photographers know this and we can arrange things in the photograph so that kind of subliminally it forms a line. And that really is pleasing to our mind's eye. It's kind of drawn across the image and it gives real order to the picture. Now these leading lines can be either horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Psychologically, it said that horizontal lines are more calming and more orderly. Vertical lines are said to be more stationary, powerful, and have a sense of height. And diagonal lines are said to add a sense of movement as it draws your mind's eye across the photograph. So now that you're aware of these leading lines and just how powerful they are in photography, you can start to look for them, especially the implied or the optical lines that aren't actual physical lines, but they're more like subliminal. Like our mind's eye is creating a line. You can look for them and you'll see just how prevalent they are in images that you really like, you know, images that pop, it's that subliminal pop. You'll find very often that there's kind of a diagonal line that's leading your eye across the photograph. Now that you're aware of them, you can look for them. And PI comes to discover them and start to incorporate them into your photography. So there's one more type of line that's very present in food photography. And it's a curve, it's the S curve. And it's very common. It's most commonly formed with like a sprinkle of seasonings or ingredients or garnish. And it forms an S curve. Now it's meant to look random, like it was a sprinkles on and that's how it came out, very kinda Martha Stewart. But food photographers know, and food stylists know that the mind's eye, this kind of basic rule of composition is that it's very natural and pleasing to our eye to have this S curve a gives an order or it gives a direction of an organic flow that is very pleasing to our mind's eye. So it's so much more common than you might think that there's just some sprinkles of something, but it's very intentionally formed an S curve. Now that you're aware of this, you can look for it and you can spot it and really good photographs. And you may not have been aware of it or known that that S curve was so prominent. But yeah, it's proven to be very, very pleasing to our mind's eye. So start to work that into your food photography. You can start with just a gentle curve or an organic curve. And again, doesn't have to be in every photograph, every time. But just be mindful, love it. If you have like a garnish that really goes well with the dish. Instead of just putting like a clumpier and clumpier, maybe start to form like a very kind of light subliminal curve. And you'll start to play around with that and you'll get better at that concept of adding these organic curves to your photographs. And you call that planned randomness. Yeah, planned randomness. So it looks like it's just random sprinkles, but it's very intentionally plan to have that shape to it. Alright, that's it. Those are the five most important fundamentals of food photography, of all photography. But I tried to tease out those important elements that are really going to apply to food photography and help you kind of advance the fastest. And yeah, again, stick to millimole photography for awhile. Definitely do those homework assignments that I've attached to this lecture. And I've attached PDFs, a whole bunch of them to this and to this lecture so you can print them out or have them right here. They've got the color wheel, color theory, and all of these aspects of composition that I don't want you to master. Don't feel stressed the master them right away and you don't have to. Just simply knowing about them will help start to kind of inflate. They'll start to surface and you'll start to notice improvements pretty quickly. So I'm excited, I love this topic. I think it's so important. And knowing that there's just five basics that you have to learn is kind of comforting and they're really simple. And I'm excited to see your progress. So please share with me any questions, feedback, and I'd love to see your progress on these topics. And if you want to go deeper on composition, there is like the bible of composition. It's a book called Mastering composition, and it's by David Garvey Williams. You can order it on Amazon. Go to your local bookstores even better yet, again, on Amazon, go to your local bookstore and get the book. You can probably go to your local library, probably might have it. It's a very common book. And it'll take you deeper. You know, maybe there's a particular one of these, some of this composition that you really liked or felt drawn to, maybe its visual way. And if you want to go deeper on that topic, this book is going to be great for that really goes into a deep dive on all these topics specifically. So great resource for you.