Food Photography: Prepping a Photo Shoot | Leela Cyd | Skillshare

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Food Photography: Prepping a Photo Shoot

teacher avatar Leela Cyd, Editorial and Commercial 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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Introduction to Course


    • 3.

      Why Photograph Food


    • 4.

      Research materials


    • 5.

      What is your subject? What is the message of your shoot?


    • 6.

      Scout the location


    • 7.

      Gather your materials


    • 8.



    • 9.

      Setting up


    • 10.

      Recap and Review


    • 11.

      Create a storyboard and shot list


    • 12.

      Explore Photo Classes on Skillshare


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About This Class

Create a storyboard and shot list for a food photography shoot that displays creativity and culinary delight. Share your work for feedback and inspiration from fellow students.

Prepare the perfect food photo shoot with food photographer Leela Cyd's fun, 50-minute guide. This first class covers all the details aspiring photographers and foodies need to know, from location and prop scouting to storyboarding and shot lists. Whether you use a fancy DSLR camera or a straightforward iPhone, the same organization and DIY studio tricks make a world of difference. By the end of the class, you'll be ready to host a shoot that makes your food look as delicious as it tastes.

Ready to shoot? Check out the next two classes in Leela's series: Food Photography: Shooting in 5 Styles and Food Photography: Creating Your Unique Story.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Leela Cyd

Editorial and Commercial Food Photographer


Leela Cyd is a photographer based in Santa Barbara, CA. She makes photographs as a means to see, experience, learn from, and interact with the diverse cultures of the world.

Raised a block from the Pacific Ocean around a table full of artists and writers, she's forever been sharing stories and influenced by creative lives. Currently, she authors an award-winning travel/food blog TEA CUP TEA.

Leela shoots food, travel, interiors, and portraits for an assortment of editorial and commercial clients. She is represented by Redux Pictures in New York.

Leela hosts photography workshops around the US and in Italy every year with her pal, Bianca of Italian Fix.

Leela currently works with The New York Times, Ten Speed Press, Clarkson Potter, Cooking Light, Food... See full profile

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1. Trailer: Okay. Hello, I'm Leila San, and I'm a photographer, and we are here to talk about food and how yummy it is. Okay, you still have to say your lines. You're still have to say something. Okay. Hi, I'm Leila San, and I'm a food photographer based in Santa Barbara, California. I grew up in a family obsessed with cooking and art. Now I get to travel the world creating foods stories for different magazines, cookbooks, and other commercial clients. I have created this class for the writer, photographer, blogger, just general food enthusiasts who wants to take their food photography up to the next level. In this course, I'm going to show you how to best prepare for any food photo shoot. So, we will gather the right materials get together beautiful props and raw ingredients, we will create a budget friendly food photo studio, we will locations scout, and we will hone the message of your food images. Finally, I'm going to ask you to create your own storyboard and shot list which we'll upload with your peers and get feedback on. This tool will greatly improve the quality of your food images. I want to show you that food photography does not have to be daunting or scary at all. In fact, it's totally liberating and fun and it's a wonderful way to express yourself. 2. Introduction to Course: Okay. Hi I'm Leila Said. I'm a photographer and blogger based in Santa Barbara California and I travel throughout the world taking pictures of food, people, spaces and different travel stories. I work for editorial clients such as Cooking Light Magazine, Kinfolk, Food & Wine Magazine, Bon Appetit as well as shooting cookbooks for many authors. I also work for the website the, and I do work for commercial clients such as campari as well as working with many hotels throughout the world. So I'm a busy bee and one of the best things that I get to do is shoot a lot of food and in doing this I've gotten to taste some of the most delicious things on the planet. I've gotten to create some of my favorite meals and all for work, so it's really one of the best jobs in the world and today we are going to focus on tools to get you prepped for your best food photo shoot. We will discuss research materials so how to get inspired and what lights you up and what kind of looks you gravitate towards. We'll talk about creating a solid message for your food photo shoot so whether you want it to be happy and light or kind of dark, moody and sexy, well we'll figure those things out. I'll go through sourcing the best props both in maybe your kitchen cabinet or your parent's kitchen cabinet or at a beautiful fancy sort and another thing we'll do is gather the right materials so different foods in different states of cooking. After that we will talk about creating a photo food studio on the cheap, so that'll be under $5 to create your own little food studio and the last project that will end on which is what you're going to be uploading and sharing with all your newfound Skillshare friends is a storyboard and shortlist. Now these two tools are the most important thing in my toolbox as far as being a photographer. They helped me guide my ideas and communicate with art directors and other clients about what we're actually going to do and they can really help you become a more sophisticated nuanced photographer with many different types of images ranging from overhead shot, three quarter points of view, macro, faraway, adding life to a party. Really the storyboard is the key to success in my mind so here's something that we're going to do. Here is one example of a storyboard and before every shoot that I do, I sketch, this is part of my practice I sketched it all out I write notes about tone, mood, colors, background the point of view and then it helps me keep on track and keep my client on track as well to what we're doing for the day. So, that's what we're doing in this class, welcome. I'm so excited to have you here and to beginning to work with you. 3. Why Photograph Food: So, why would you want to photograph food? Well, there's a multitude of reasons and chocolate chip cookies is probably high on my list of reasons why. Because if you're going to make something amazing, like a chocolate chip cookie, or a pie, or a beautiful salad, or pasta dish, who wouldn't want to photograph it? It's just so juicy and delicious and scrumptious. So, definitely, shooting food is awesome because we're already doing it. You're already cooking, maybe, and eating three times a day. So, why not photograph it? Shooting food is my favorite subject because it doesn't move, it doesn't talk back, you don't have to pay it like a model, it arrives on time, and then you get to eat it afterwards. What could be better? I mean, really. Our baseline, more important level, food appeals to our innermost wants and desires, and it makes people feel and really connect on a visceral core level, which that's the part that I really enjoy is telling a story through food and connecting to viewers and stirring something inside them. So, whether that's emotion such as connected to their family, or nostalgia, or fresh and new, like something modern. It's something that can make a viewer relate and really stir up emotion. So, I really believe in it as a subject. It can be really fun. It can be challenging. It can encompass all of these different topics as well. It never goes out of style. We're always eating, and magazines are always coming out with different food stories. So, I really encourage you to come along with me in this ride and learn how to prepare for your best food photo shoot, and let's get started. 4. Research materials: Okay, today we are talking about research materials. So, before every food photo shoot that I do, I love to immerse myself in tons of food imagery that I love. So, from different magazines, Pinterest, websites to good old fashioned cookbooks. I really like a diverse group of photos to get in my head before I just put my plan to paper. So, I encourage you to do the same. This is one of my favorite current food cookbooks shot by Jonathan Lovekin, who I believe is British. Yeah, he's amazing, very food forward photographer. This is a great cookbook food in lines, America's Greatest New Cooks. I happen to have a few photos in here as well as work from 10 other photographers. So, I just love the fresh feeling of this book. Anyway, you get the deal. When you get the deal, just make sure to look at different types of cookbooks and different types of magazines. I really love Martha Stewart of course, loved her since I was a kid. Another favorite of mine is the T magazine from The New York Times. So, this isn't food related specifically, but I just love the quality of images and the creativity of different photographers that are featured in this magazine. So, again it can be from sources near and far, but definitely get a way of archiving the photos that you love, so, the easiest way for me to do that is on Pinterest. But I also cut out stuff from magazines just like collage style from when I was a teenager. I just never stopped, and I find that it's really helpful to keep me current and to keep my ideas at the ready. So, one last place that I love to look for inspiration, I love looking at websites such as Ditte Isager. I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing her name right, but she is a Danish photographer and she's just incredible, use of light and kind of has a spare quality to her work. There's a lot of lifestyle involved, travel. She's just rocking it. Everything looks effortless. I love her work, check her out. Another wonderful food photographer is Aran Goyoaga. She is Basque but lives in Seattle. She's a great friend of mine as well. I love her use of minimal props, beautiful light, and just again, very much about the richness in the history of the food, so, check her out. Beautiful job Aran. Great recipes with her too. Then there is, I love the work of Nikole Herriott and her boyfriend Michael Graydon. They're doing a lot of work for Bon Appetit lately, as well as other magazines as well as running a great blog. So, I love to look at their work, they collaborate a lot which is really inspiring to me. Again, they have just a really rich sense of light, and composition, and everything looks effortless and beautiful. Great job guys. Look at that. Another photographer I love to check in on is Ellen Silverman. She's done work for many years all over the place, magazines, cookbooks, some big ad campaigns, and she just really adds life and reality to her food photos which I appreciate. Looks like she was in Italy here. Oh, there's Gwinnett. I mean it doesn't get any more beautiful and lively than Ellen Silverman, she's wonderful. Another team that I love to look at is Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers. They are a husband and wife team again, which is so inspiring because I often work with my husband, and they are just really full of dramatic lighting patterns and the simplicity of the food shines through with their work. So, I love looking at them because it's so different than my use of bright effusive full frame style. They use a lot of negative space, a lot of dark colors, rich, jewel-like tones within their props, and they work with some great prop stylist as well. So, definitely check them out, they're wonderful resource and they're shooting for Martha Stewart Bon Appetit. Every month they've got work in one of their major magazines. So, lastly, I love to keep an ongoing tab in my Pinterest called Great Looking Food. This just helps me. Anything I see that I love, I just continue to add to the space over and over and I reference it for composition or light. I mean, I love this kind of dramatic renaissance lighting pattern and I won't directly copy this composition or the food that's in it. But I will definitely say, oh, I'd love to capture some of that painterly renaissance light in my next food photo shoot, I think I'll pin that. So, you get the idea, and yeah, this is just a great resource Pinterest. Love it or hate it, it's very useful tool. I always try to pin back with the original source because that's the best practice of using Pinterest. It doesn't always happen, but that's always my goal being a photographer, is to cite the correct source. But there's just so much great innovative food photography going now and it can be overwhelming, so I encourage you to not be overwhelmed but to draw a wide net of sources. That will help as you filter in through your own ideas. That's all for today, so good luck gathering your research materials. 5. What is your subject? What is the message of your shoot?: So, hey, welcome back to lesson number three of the how to prepare for a food photo-shoot class. This is maybe one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle. I know I'm saying that with everything, but really this is a good one. This is deciding on what the message of your food photo shoot should be. So, when I work with clients or art directors, everyone's got an opinion, everyone wants to create a mood or feeling and this is where you determine that. So, a bright cheerful morning, would be propped and lit totally different, than a dark sultry sexy dinner for two. So, keep that in mind, and make a decision early on, and stick to it. That's the goal with deciding on a message, and shooting to that. An example I have is for my favorite food company. I mean I have a lot but, one of my favorites is Salton & Straw Ice Cream, in Portland Oregon, I have been their Chief ice cream photographer, for about four years now, and it is such a fun job. So, here we have their spring flavors which are totally a different message than something for holiday, or for Halloween say. We've got a lot of bright colors, a lot of happy, airy, light, pastels. All those things help you understand- there's Emily, looking in gorgeous- help you understand the message of spring and lightness. Summertime, these had berries in them, that sort of thing. On the flip side, we've got just recently shot their Halloween flavors. So, everything here the message is Halloween. So, it's going to be dark, spooky and scary. This is their candy corn flavor. So, it's propped and shot differently. There's more dramatic light, the ice cream looks really good, makes me want to eat it, and yeah, so dark tones, got some dry ice in there. You get the idea, but decide on a message, stick to it, and that'll enhance your photos for sure. And one last note about, it is that certain foods lend themselves better than others for different types of messages, you could say. So, pay attention to the food that you're actually working with. So, a bright polka dotted, pink cake might look great and already make you feel this happy sort of birthday lightness. So, I would stick with that as the message. Whereas maybe a dark chocolaty, velvety, frosting with garnache, on a chocolate cake, might already lend itself more to an adult type of scene with more renaissance painting light, and dual tones as background. So, pay attention to the food before you decide on the message, and then you'll be all set. 6. Scout the location: So, welcome back to Lesson Number Four. Location, location, location. You've heard it before. It is doubly important in food photography. So, make sure that you're in the right place. Where are you right now? Are you sitting on your bed picking your nose? Are you at your desk at work or on the subway? Whatever, you can find a photo studio wherever you are, I'm telling you it is pretty frickin' easy, which is awesome. So, before I had a photo studio, I did tons of work on my kitchen counter, on my dining room table. I did have this little extra bedroom that had the perfect light and that really is the key. What I just said there is look for the light. That's all you need. A food photo studio does not need to be anything more than a window with some indirect light and a surface to put the food on. So, look around your house try to find a sweet spot. It could even be in a bathroom. I had a friend who took beautiful photos and you would never know that it was in her loo. And that's where you need to be. So, make sure you watch the patterns of light in your house or in your friends' houses, wherever you want to do this and look for not harsh blazing sun, but more indirect shady light. If you're ever outside, the shade is actually much easier to shoot in than blazing sunshine. So, that's all it is. Just find the light and look around your house. 7. Gather your materials: Hi. Welcome back to lesson number five on how to prepare for a food photo-shoot. Today we are talking about delicious natural ingredients and what to get and how to get it. So, I highly recommend shopping and sourcing all your ingredients at the farmers market whenever possible. The beauty of these natural foods is going to be so much more apparent in your photos when they come from a great source, and it's local and organic and all that it does, the devil's in the details and it does make a difference. So, when possible shop at the farmers market because you're already going to have something beautiful to work with. The next thing to do is always overshop. So, get multiples of everything that you want. Say, for radish dish, I might buy two to three bunches just to have some that are perfectly intact and then others that are in process, so slightly altered and then maybe I want to cook some. So, having a few different variations on everything will only help enhance your shoot rather than detracting from it. So, spend a couple bucks and do it right. Another thing on that note is although it can be a little bit pricey, I loved to buy beautiful packaged ingredients. So, you never know if I was photographing a yogurt dish, I would love to shoot this little cute French package along with the finished dish or in some type of process shot rather than a big bulky yogurt container. So, cheeses, pastas any dry good make sure that you go for what's most beautiful. Lastly, how I keep everything fresh onset is with a moisten paper towel. I will just bring it. Say I'm using these radishes and I would just keep them lightly draped within a wet towel and that'll keep things fresh on the set. All you really need for styling is a fork, spoon and a knife. Keep it simple, you don't need fancy anything else, and a baking sheet is really helpful to preparing everything to bring onto the set and that's that. 8. Props: Hi, welcome back to lesson number six and, how to prepare for food photo shoot. Today we're discussing Props. So, what's a prop? It's anything that that beautiful little morsel that you've made is going to sit on within your food, photo shoot. So, things that would sit on a table such as a linen, plate, a little bowl, little tiny cups, spoons, you name it that can be deemed a prop in the industry. So, you may already have some beautiful things and you may want to add a few extra items to your collection to keep your photos fresh and interesting, and mainly so that you don't get bored seeing the same stuff within all of your food photos. So, for me I love to travel and I love secondhand shops, flea markets, thrift stores, hardware stores, anywhere sort of off the beaten path, is where I'd love to find my props. So, for example, I got this little tea kettle in Italy at a flea market, and this one in Argentina. So, sourcing props is one of my greatest, greatest passions, it really justified my love of already shopping for the secondhand finds. So, I love this part, and it really does help communicate the story what you choose to add to the food. You can use flowers to add some life. I've got some vintage things, those will tell a different story than a really modern high-end cup would. So, make those decisions with confidence. One last piece is background, so I've built many backgrounds over time and they can be great uses of color within your photos, so this is just a wooden one that I've created and stained, but they can be simple pieces of cardboard that you paint or stretch with fabric on them. They're very easy and they add a lot of life. Another thing is big cities such as LA, Francisco, New York, they already have a prop house, which is a place that you can go rent items, for not a huge fee, and then you can return them. So, that can be a way to keep the flow interesting within your photos, if you have access to that, I do not, living Santa Barbara, so I have my own collection going and I borrow stuff from friends or my parents or anywhere I can find it. I try to borrow things and just return them and shipshape with of course a little bit of cookies on top of the plate. So, that's it for props, go find cool stuff. 9. Setting up: Hi, welcome back to Lesson Number Seven. Today, we're talking about how to set up your own food photo studio on the cheap. You can do it with just a few simple things. The most important being your fill card or reflector, which is actually just a piece of white poster board from the drugstore or art supply store. These things are usually about $5. Very helpful. I like to use the same thing and cover them with fabric to use as background. These can double as tablecloth, but you'll never have to iron the board so it's so helpful to use these. Then you'll need a little linen to add life, and your food, as well as, a window to set this whole thing up. So, let's go try it out. Okay. So, we've got our little set. There's some cookies. We've got our background that I've made, our linen, our cute plate, and then nice diffused light that's coming in from this direction just from a window, and I'm going to add this little flower to make it cute. One for me, and then add reflective light. So this just adds all that fill, takes away the shadows, makes it very bright, airy, light. Now, you can see it without, more moody, more shadows. With, and you just decide how to make your picture. 10. Recap and Review: Hey. So, you've gathered your materials, you Pinterested up the Wazoo all your favorite food photos, you've gathered props, and you've made a food photo studio. Now, is the time to dig deep, get out all those great ideas and commit them to paper on a storyboard, and a corresponding shortlist to keep you on track. I cannot wait to see what you come up with. 11. Create a storyboard and shot list: Hey, welcome to your last lesson in how to prepare for a photo shoot. Today, you're going to be making that all-important storyboard and shot list. So, why make a storyboard? It's just the best practice. It keeps your ideas on track, it keeps the client and the communication happening so that they know what is going on with your shoot so it's really, really a wonderful piece of the puzzle and a great habit to get into. They can be very complex with tons of notes and drawings such as this or they can be really, really simple. I've made many a storyboard and shot list on a napkin while I was inspired at a cocktail party. Wherever inspiration strikes, write it down, sketch it out. I'm a crazy list maker and it always helps me on the job. So, the shot list is a complimentary tool to any storyboard and that's where you're going to write down each shot along with your sketch and have a little checklist and you can mark them off as you go. You can also write down what supplies you'll need for the day or any other extra items; people's phone numbers, who you're going to be working with, or where you're going to be shopping for the items. You just want to do a big brain dump in order to get yourself ready for your food photo shoot. When you're making your storyboard, a great thing to do is to take notes on what other people are doing. So, all that research you did in material gathering and Pinteresting you did, make sure to distill what it is that you love about those photographs and be inspired by them. You can always sketch it out and things change on the set so don't worry too much about copying or stealing. It's loosely we're all doing the same thing and that's okay. So now, I'm going to make my own storyboard for my next shoot. 12. Explore Photo Classes on Skillshare: