What makes a great picture? Is it the subject, the lighting, the styling, the composition? Well a great picture is all of these things. Unfortunately there is no definite answer to what a great picture is. What makes a picture great is going to be different to everyone. When it comes to pictures of food this couldn’t be any more true.
In my opinion a great food picture should make you hungry. As a professional food photographer, that is what I aim to do. In looking at a food picture and I can feel my mouth begin to salivate and say, “Wow, I really want to eat that right now” Then I will define it as a great food picture. To make this happen, you need to have good lighting, subject and styling, but sometimes how you compose and crop the image can have just as much effect. The first decision is, do I want to shoot the image vertically ? or horizontally?
You will shoot vertical if the subject is taller than it is wide.
and horizontally if the subject is wider than it is tall. These are general rules and by no means are absolutes. Rules are made to be broken. Sometimes an image that should be shot vertical ends up looking great as a horizontal. For example:
This cupcake is taller than it is wide, so it should be shot vertically. But…
It also looks great as a horizontal. Adding the negative space around the cupcake gives the image a different feel. So when it comes to shooting pictures of your food don’t be afraid to shoot a “vertical” image as a horizontal and vice versa.
There are times when you don’t have a choice whether to shoot vertically or horizontally. The orientation of your picture can be determined by the layout of the final product. For example, when I am doing work with magazines, the Art Director or Photo Editor will tell me, before the assignment, if they need it to be shot vertically or horizontally. They have a layout of the story and already have the spaces for images in mind, so it is up to me to shoot it the way they need. The same is true if you have an end use in mind for you picture. Say you are writing a cook book and are shooting your own images. If your book is 8 1/2 x 11 and you want to have full page pictures in the book, then you will have to shoot vertically for it to work.If you are doing a full 2 page spread, you will need a horizontal image.
So what do you do if you have already shot your images and your don’t know your final layout orientation or size. I would suggest shoot both horizontally and vertically, but sometime you can only get one shot. This is where you can crop. Here are some examples of what you can do to images when cropping. ( I am using Lightroom 3 to do my cropping in) With cropping you can transform a horizontal image into a vertical one
Or you can go from vertical to horizontal.
Cropping is great for changing an image’s orientation when you are in a pinch, but it does have a draw back. It completely changes the composition of the original image. In the pizza slice picture the uncropped horizontal image has plenty of negative space with plenty of breathing room around the food. When turned vertical, you lose that breathing space and the focus is on the pizza. The same goes for the crabs. The original uncropped vertical image had enough breathing room around the crab and showed the nice shape of the circular dish. By cropping in, you change the entire feel of the image.
Going from vertical to horizontal and horizontal are extreme cases in cropping. Be prepared for the fact that cropping by changing an image’s orientation loses a large part of the image. This is not the only way to crop. You can crop in any ratio or size you choose.
For those of you who visit the food sharing sites such as Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Dessert Stalking, Photograzing, Dishfolio, and many more, you are aware with the 1×1 or square crop. These sites all require images to be cropped to 250×250 pixel squares. Can you guess what all these squares have in common ? ( I will answer it at the end of the post)
When shooting an image that needs to be a square there are special considerations to think about. Both vertical and horizontals can make images, but you need to think about where to leave extra space. If you are shooting vertical, the square crop will look like this.
If you don’t leave enough space around the subject in the original shot the square crop will leave you with something that looks like this.
When going Horizontal and cropping 1×1 it looks like this:
Notice how I am able to fit the full plate in, but I am forced to leave out the napkin. Horizontal orientation, I have found is a bit easier to crop a square out of, but if you have food on the edges of the plate, or if you want the entire plate in the picture, you will have to leave enough room. Here is an example with just enough room to fit the whole food into.
As you can see cropping and the orientation that you choose for you pictures will have a great effect on how you can use the final image. When shooting, I always try to shoot a few verticals and a few horizontals, this way I have images that I can use in many different ways.
What looks best is like everything in photography, it is subjective. How you crop should be determined by the required final size of your image and what you want that image to say. Be careful when cropping and remember that cropping at the end will change the composition and sometimes final meaning of the image.
This brings me back to the square cropped images of deep fried cookie dough, limeade and carrot cake. I asked you to think about what all these images had in common. Well the answer is that they were all rejected by the food sharing sites for either composition, lighting or sharpness. Before I go any further I just want to make it clear that I am by no means bashing these sites. Assigning concrete criteria to something as subjective as photography is not an easy task. I might get annoyed for getting rejected for rather vague and subjective reasons such as composition and lighting. I also realize that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between depth of field and lack of sharpness in a 250×250 square. However, I do appreciate what these sites do have moderators who control what goes on them, and I can’t even imagine trying to moderate the thousands of submissions they get a day. I will continue to visit them and share my posts with their visitors.
This being said, I do still get annoyed when getting rejected, but I DON’T LET IT DEFINE whether or not I have taken a successful picture or not. AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU! I feel that the deep fried cookie dough, limeade, and fried carrot cake are all pictures that make me hungry. They are images that I am proud to put my name by and share with you on my site. Rejection sucks, but don’t let it discourage you or let it define what you do as “not good” enough. Just because a website doesn’t accept it, don’t worry. As long as you are proud of the image that you took and it has meaning to you, then in my opinion that really is all that matters. If your goal with your photography is to get onto these sites, then I would love to help you improve your photography.
If you have worked on your photography, improved and made it onto one of these sites then congratulations! If you are repeatedly getting turned down for the same reason say lighting, then maybe these lighting tutorials will help Lighting Tips and Shooting at night
I just don’t want you thinking that because your image didn’t make it on, it is a bad one. I have talked with other pro photographers and they to have been rejected from these sites, so don’t take it personally. Keep practicing, keep shooting and learning. Most importantly enjoy doing it!
I hope these tips have helped. If there are any more food related tips you would like to have answered leave a comment here or in the Food Photography Tips, Tricks, and Techniques section.