Food Photography: Shooting in 5 Styles | Leela Cyd | Skillshare

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Food Photography: Shooting in 5 Styles

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.



    • 3.



    • 4.

      Airy Light


    • 5.

      Dramatic & High Contrast


    • 6.



    • 7.

      In Motion & Process


    • 8.



    • 9.

      Your Assignment: Pick 2 Styles


    • 10.



    • 11.

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About This Class

Choose two styles—airy, dramatic, bright, in-motion, lifestyle—and create two sets of photos. Each set should consist of three photos and convey a clear style. Share both sets to inspire, learn, and spark discussion with fellow students.

Capture all the stylized scenes you see in blogs, cookbooks, and magazines with food photographer Leela Cyd's fun, 30-minute guide to shooting food in 5 essential styles. This class dives deep into execution, empowering aspiring photographers and foodies with practical advice to maximize camera technique and up the artistry, mood, and tone of every moment. Whether you choose to extend your project into a full narrative or continue to experiment with single images, you'll love how this quick half hour breaks open a world of photographic possibilities.

Want more? Check the other classes in this series: Food Photography: Prepping a Photo Shoot 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: Hi, I'm Leela Cyd and I'm a food photographer based in Santa Barbara, California. I grew up in a family obsessed with cooking and art and 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, food enthusiast who sees beautiful images all over the place and would like to experiment with a few different looks of their own. So, I will break down different lighting patterns, proper arrangements, camera settings in order to achieve five totally unique shooting styles that will help you improve your range as a photographer. We're keeping the food item the same, the amazing and delicious chocolate chip cookie and we're changing everything else to create five totally different stories. Your job is going to be to choose two different styles, create images in those styles, and upload them for peer to peer feedback. I cannot wait to see what you make. 2. Introduction: Hi. I'm Leela Cyd. I'm a photographer based in Santa Barbara, California, and I photograph food, people, homes, travel, lifestyle all over the world as well as in my studio. Today, we're going to be talking about a giant plate of cookies. It's going to be super yummy and beautiful as you can see. We are going to put this same food object, the plate of chocolate chip cookies, my personal favorite cookie, in five different food photography styles, and I'm going to demonstrate how to achieve each different look with different lighting patterns and different props to give your food photos a different feeling and message. Then your job is going to be to pick two of those styles and create some photos in that same vein and upload them to our site and get peer feedback. I can't wait to show you and share with you this plate of cookies and all the different tips and tricks to creating five different food photo styles. 3. Pre-Shoot : Hi, welcome back. Today, we're talking about the concept of pre-shoot preparation. This is such an important piece of the puzzle to having things on your food photography shoot, go really smooth, and get all your good ideas out. So, the first thing I like to have is a storyboard and shot list in place. If you haven't taken my class number one, in this food photography series that's okay, you can jump in now. A storyboard is sketches of how you want your photos to look, and a shortlist is notes, and a list form of those same ideas. So, those two things help you cross off items as you move along, and help direct you. As the set gets going, it can be confusing, and a lot of things are going on. Those sketches will help create your vision that you want for your food images. So, make sure to have that. The next thing to have is, extra food materials. So, I'm making chocolate chip cookies today for my shoot, I'm going to have extra chocolate chip cookie dough, in case I want to do a process shot. I'm also going to have extra chocolate chips, extra flour, sugar, et cetera, in case I want to do a baking setup shot. As well as I bake 16 cookies to get to a final perfect three. So, definitely, overdo it, and then you can always select the best and most beautiful foods. So, make sure to have extra of everything. Lastly, it's wonderful to have an extra pair of hands. So, this can be a friend, a neighbor, whomever. But it's great to have an extra person while you're shooting, so that you can use them perhaps to dip the chocolate chip cookie into a glass of milk, or some such thing. They can also help keep your set tidy, and keep things moving. So, when you're behind the camera, you can be asking them to make minor adjustments in terms of plates, or cookies, or whatever food you have going on, you can be looking through the camera, and they can be helping out. So, those are the three things that I love to have before I even start on any food shoot, and now I'm going to demonstrate the five different food photography styles. 4. Airy Light: Now, we're going to discuss how to achieve the airy and soft look. This is a beautiful shooting style that you'll see in many different food blogs as well as magazines and cookbooks use this often. So, the main point of this look is that there is a singular focal point, usually, the food and then the rest kind of falls away into a soft, beautiful, ephemeral look. So, here, I really will go to that focal point and the rest will be a nice soft blur, helping to tell the story, but really the focus is on the food. So, the first thing you want is indirect light. Again, we're using natural light. So, if you're going to work outside, just work really close to the sunlight but a little bit in the shade, and if you have a room or studio that you're working in, make sure that you have a nice indirect soft light coming in through the window. With the props, this look has a nice light feel, so you'll want to use a marble surface maybe or a white piece of paper or just light tones. Think lightand bright and airy. That will help guide you in your prop decisions. Here, I have a white plate, I have a mason jar full of milk. So, you can see through it. I have a little bit of extra chocolate chips in a white and blue bowl, again, helping add to this nice light story, and I have a couple of tangerine slices, which just add a little pop of color and some life to the scene. So, yes, we're shooting the cookies, but we're also creating this afternoon snack feeling by adding some tangerine. So you could have a fruit or a little bit extra salt, because we have flake salt on top of these cookies. So, all those little decisions really affect the overall look and feel of your photo. For your camera settings, you'll want to be on a very low f-stop. So, depending on the lens that you have, you'll want to go as low as it can go. So, I have a 50mm lens. It can go to f1.4. You might have a lens that goes to 2.8 or even 4.5. It's what most DSLR kit lenses come with. So, whatever you have, go to the very lowest number and that will give you that nice shallow depth of field and focal point. So, set your focus on the food or whatever it is that you really want to bring attention to. In our case, it's this one yummy cookie that has little crumbs next to it. So, focus on that and then the rest will fall away into softness with your f-stop being so low. So, that's what it takes to create this bright, soft and airy look. Now, I'm going to get going on it. 5. Dramatic & High Contrast: Hi. Today, we're going to shoot in a dramatic high contrast style. This is one of my favorite, if not the favorite way to shoot food. It makes things look so delicious and yummy and really show a nice range of tone. So, this is most like a painting, think Renaissance paintings, Dutch paintings from the 16th, 17th century and how there's just that beautiful light flooding through the picture plane making food and your scene look super, real, and just dramatic. So, how you're going to achieve this is to have a singular light source, so you'll want to use a window or a roll-up garage door, where the light is flooding in indirectly and you're getting a lot of shadows and tone to flush out all those shapes and beautiful colors. For a set, you'll want to use jewel like tones or really dark colors. Those have a really high impact, it will help bring you the food forward to your viewers. So, today we're using a piece of scrap metal that I got from the junkyard as my table surface and the backdrop is just a bunch of wood that we've found, put together and steamed to be a dark black color. So those colors and the muted tones of the plates, which are a pewter will help again give your food volume and it will be another thing that set it apart from its background. The last part of this little prop puzzle is that I picked some flowers right before we started the shoot. These are just from my parents' garden and those add another little pop of life to this scene, which is again more like a painting and will give more ambiance to the photo. Moving to the last part, which is your shooting style, you'll want to get above for this angle and you'll want to get three-quarters, you'll want to get very close and you also want to get a little farther away, showing a kind of 90 degrees straight on shooting style. That'll help give you options when you're going to choose which are your best photos from this particular setup. So let's get shooting. 6. Bright: Hi. Now we're going to focus on the bright and clean shooting style. This look is characterized by bright even light, and a picture plane that is totally in focus. So, you don't want a shallow depth of field for this. This is going to be bright and happy and you'll often find this look on the cover of Martha Stewart magazine, Real Simple uses this a lot, as well as other magazines, and it shows up a lot within advertising. It really helps push the food forward, and the rest of the set kind of falls away, and it makes your viewer really focused on the food that you're showcasing. So, to get started you'll want to have a nice even light source. So, a window, or again a garage, or just being outside even could work. But wherever you have your light coming into the frame, you'll want to bounce it back with a white card or a reflector, and that adds to fill light. So, that takes away any shadows that can be forming. So, you don't want a high contrast dramatic lighting for this, you want nice even light so that overall everything is evenly lit. So this is a really handy tool to do that, and the next thing you're going to want is for your props set up. Today, I chose a neutral background, which is just this nice light linen which I've covered over a board to create a table top, table cloth, in fact. My props are just nice classic colors. They're a little bit light, but they're not too light, they're not too dark, they're not so modern, they're not really old fashioned. The story is not really about the props here it's about the food. So, there are nice neutral canvas that really shows the food and it's beautiful, brightest possible light. So that's the things that I've selected here. Lastly, for your camera angles and setup you'll want to shoot this from overhead and three quarters. So, those are the two styles that are most typical for this look, and you'll want to shoot on a higher F stop, maybe, than usual. So, between 4.5, 5.0, 5.6, and higher can give you that whole picture plane really in sharp focus. So, you want to adjust your shutter speed and ISO from there, but really focus on a higher F stop. You may want to use a tripod to achieve this. So, this is what it takes to create that bright airy image that you might love. Now, I'm going to start shooting. 7. In Motion & Process: So, now, we're going to address the process shot style. This can be an excellent way to shoot food. You may have that amazing finish shot all dialed in in your head and your storyboard, but take a few steps back and shoot some of the things that help make that dish. So, today, we've got our chocolate chip cookie, and we've got dough, we've got vanilla, flake salt, extra sugar. They're just such beautiful ingredients that go into these things, that it's wonderful to capture this as well as the finished product. So, in order to achieve that, I usually have an indirect light source. So, that can be a window, a garage door open, or you can shoot it outside next to the sunlight but not in direct sunlight, make sure to be a hair into the shade. For this, I like to shoot overhead as far as my camera angle. It's just easier to get everything in the frame and create that story with all the little details like extra pieces of ingredients, or extra spoons, and mixing bowls, and things like that. I've chosen a cutting board surface to help add to that documentary in-motion, in-process type of style. The last thing that you're going to want to do is just minimally prop it. It doesn't have to be overboard. You want to have some natural classic items in your frame that can help add to the story. So, I'm going to get started on this beautiful plate of ingredients. 8. Lifestyle: Hi. So now, we're tackling the lifestyle angle of shooting. This is one of my favorite ways to do things especially when I'm stuck. So, I've already photographed this plate of cookies in a ton of different ways. This would be my secret weapon, a little quick fix at the end that I might try if nothing else was working. So, adding a human can just add so much movement and character to a plate of food. This is an amazing afternoon snack scene that we've created, but it could be a more basic cutting board, or even just a plate. You do want to keep in mind what your model is wearing. So, in this case, we have a light pink colored to help pick up the pink tray and the funny pretty napkin. But it would look quite different if he was wearing a dark shirt, or even a button down might add a little more formality to the scene. So again, we're in the shade, so that's the best place to shoot if you're outside. But if you're in the studio, you'll want to be in an indirect lighting setting. So, at this point, you should know where that is, and we'll get started. So, just hold that for me here, very good. Little higher. Give me a little smile. Okay. So, Dave is our brilliant model for the day, and I've noticed how I bossed him around. You'll definitely want to do that with your model. I asked him to lift it higher, lift it lower, and give me a smile. So, I'm going to have one shot where just his little smile is creeping in to this amazing plate of cookies. Let's try one more setup, maybe one hand, Dave, and turn a little bit more this way. Great. 9. Your Assignment: Pick 2 Styles: So now, it's your turn. Your assignment is to pick two of the styles that you've just seen, five of. Pick the two that you really love and that you automatically gravitate towards. That's the best way to start. And select those two styles and create at least three images in each style and upload them to the class website. Hopefully, you will have done all your homework, how to storyboard, got your props all set and once you have your food all ready to go, make sure to vary up your angles, so shooting from overhead, three-quarters, really close, a little farther away. That way you have optioned when you're going to pick your best three images for each style. That's all I've got, so I cannot wait to see what you make. Go forth and do good work. Yay. 10. Critique: Hi there, welcome back for your last lesson in this class. A single tear. Today we're talking about self critique and then creating an actionable step plan for fixing the problems that you find. So, after every shoot that I do I like to look at all the images and inevitably there's always something that I could have done better or fixed or wanted to keep in mind for the next shoot that'll help me just become a more thoughtful complex photographer. So, take a look at what images that you love that you did and notice is the composition totally what you wanted? Does it match your storyboard? Is there one extra angle that you could have done? Are your exposures correct? Are you creating a sense of place and style within that image? So, I looked at some of my pictures that I produce today and I think, "Oh, I didn't do one where I just left the crumbs." That can say so much more than even a plate of cookies. I could have just left the crumbs in an empty glass of milk, and I really wish I did that. So, I'm going to take that note and I'm going to write it down and create it for my plan for next time. So, whenever I shoot cookies again I'm going to make sure that I get that crumb and empty glass of milk photo, because that's something I'm curious about and I just want to see that part of the story take shape. So, be critical and be a harsh judge of your own work. I hope you did great work but I know there's some little thing that you could use as fuel for the next time, and that's all I got on self critique. 11. Explore Photo Classes on Skillshare: