The 10 Commandments of Food Photography

Photos and Article by Jerrelle Guy (@chocolateforbasil)

Photography is just another way of communicating, and successful photography communicates as clearly as possible while also making the viewer feel something; when talking about food photography, hopefully that feeling is “hungry”. Here is a list of 10 food-capturing commandments for shooting food that can make any viewer stop in their tracks.

1. Good Lighting

This is the most important rule of all, so it takes the #1 spot on the list. You don’t need expensive camera equipment or a fully stocked photo studio to build the illusion of natural light, just use natural light–one strong and direct source of natural light, streaming through a window, one that doesn’t create harsh shadows on the food. Above all else, stay away from the flash button. Flash flattens the food and erases a lot of the details that make the food look naturally mouthwatering.

2. Avoid Blurriness

Make sure your photo is as crisp as possible.  Wipe down your lens and adjust your focus before you start snapping.  This may seem silly or obvious, but if you’re like me, and you’re styling your food, propping your food, AND shooting your food all at the same time, it’s easy to forget about this step— there are so many other things to be thinking about. But always double check to make sure you didn’t mistakenly smudge the lens with greasy fingers, definitely adjust the lens to get everything you want to capture in clear focus, and if you have shaky hands, use a tripod.

3. Have a Focal Point

Speaking of things in focus, make sure you’re asking yourself where you want your viewers’ eyes to go first. As the photographer, you have complete control of the story you’re telling, and you can make your viewer focus on anything you deem most important, whether that be the drips on the edge of a chocolate cake or the whole cake itself. Each variation tells a different story. The following are some tips to create better focus in your narrative:

  • Put the object you’re showcasing right in the middle of the composition or just off to the side so the viewer can’t avoid it.
  • Adjust your aperture to give less important things in the photo a softer focus, making them fall to the background.
  • Make sure there is enough space around the object to help it pop off the page (And this leads us into the next commandment…)

4. Utilize the Power of Negative Space

Leaving enough space in the photo for your eyes to rest around the object of attention helps clarify your message. Too many objects can confuse the viewer, and overcomplicate what you’re trying to get across, even if all you’re trying to say is “look at how bubbly and gooey this lasagna is!” We all appreciate lots of space to comfortably take it all in.

5. No Distracting Background Noise

When it comes to propping your food, whether you’re using a tablecloth or your favorite serving tray, pick natural and solid colors or at least colors that compliment the food. Crazy patterns and saturated colors feel unnatural, and are usually a no no. Try whites and ivories, deep blues, dark greys or browns instead.

6. Find the Perfect Angle

Decide if you what to enter the photo directly from the side, at a ¾ angle, or directly from above. A lot of times the object you’re shooting will make this decision for you. Just ask yourself “which angle offers the most information?” And that’s probably the angle you should shoot from. For example, if you’re shooting a trifle or a tiramisu, it’ll probably want to be shot from the side or at least from a ¾ angle so that you can capture all the different ingredients and layers–if you shot it from above you’d lose that information and the viewer might not understand right away what it is they’re looking at. The reverse is true when shooting soup or something in a bowl–a down shot would probably show the most information.

7. Details are in the Garnishes

This is my favorite tip because it brings more personality to your dish.  Adding garnishes (of course, only those that were used while cooking or those that compliment the flavor profile of the finished dish) creates details for your eye to get lost in. It doesn’t have to be everywhere in the photo but in a few places here and there to help break up the larger shapes and colors. Sesame seeds on a bagel create something so exciting and stimulating on what would otherwise be a boring piece of white bread.

Some of my favorite last minute garnishes: black sesame seeds, chopped herbs like parsley, cilantro and rosemary, and any and all spices, especially cayenne pepper and paprika (because they’re so vibrant!).

8. Patterns/Textures

The eyes love being given a recognizable shape to stare at over and over again. Patterns of food like chocolate truffles in the grids of a chocolate box, stacked brownies, a stocked fridge with rows of produce, it all creates structure in the middle of chaos, which can be very soothing to the eye and comforting to the mind.

9. Imperfection

Getting caught up in making everything tweezer-perfect is important in the world of commercial food photography, but when it comes to taking personal photos that feels more realistic, try not to get caught up in getting everything picture perfect; be flexible, be a little messy, maybe even shoot it after you’ve taken a few bites of the food. This makes the food feel more inviting and more natural, which is usually the goal, because it makes the viewer feel like they’re there, biting into the food with you.

10. Post- Editing Software

This is my final piece of advice, because it comes only after you’ve followed all proceeding steps.  But don’t be fooled, it is SO important for making your food stand out amongst the flood of amateur food photos. Find your favorite photo editing software, and use it religiously, practice different filters and adjust those settings until you find something that works for you. This will take your photo over the top and surely stop people in their tracks.

Sampling Scientific Cooking with Kenji Lopez-Alt at Harvest in Cambridge

By Jerrelle Guy

A private luncheon was held at the historic Harvest restaurant in Harvard square on Monday, October 26th, and a few IMG_0228people from the Gastronomy program attended. You all remember Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt from his column in Serious Eats, right? Well, Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt has taken his M.I.T. degree and brought that proficiency into his kitchen. He’s managed to deconstruct many of the common cooking approaches taken toward some of our favorite recipes (All-American Meatloaf, Classic Baked Ziti, Big, Fat Juicy Grilled Burgers, and more) and boil them down to a simple scientific method. He even went one step further and made his science-based techniques accessible to the home cook.

The luncheon was a tiny taste of what scientific cooking could offer. Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt partnered with Harvest’s Executive Chef Kinnet to prepare a simple yet elegant menu: Slow-Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Spatchcock Roast Chicken with Scalloped Potatoes, Broccoli Rabe and Delicata Squash, and one can’t forget the array of mini desserts that included a life-altering Earl Grey and Caramel Cream Puff!

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Along the top of a wide-stretched table dressed in white linen rested his thick new cookbooks, waiting to be doled out to the lucky guests in attendance. Within their pages the chef offers extensive explanations and pictures, and for those who could attend the luncheon, living proof why we as cooks should reconsider the way we think about cooking. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking through Science is as monumental in size as an encyclopedia, and it behaves like one as well. It’s a necessary resource that should take a place on all of our cookbook shelves.

Harvest is celebrating its 40th anniversary all November-long with a special tasting menu, and inviting and honoring chefs from the Boston area who are shaking up the contemporary culinary scene. You can find more information on future events here.

Meet Spring 2015’s New Gastronomy Students

With a new year comes a new semester of food studies at Boston University, as well as a new batch of food-lovers embarking on their journey as future food scholars. We are pleased to have another great cohort  joining the Boston University Gastronomy Program. These new students have been asked to submit a picture of themselves, a short bio, and what they love most about food.

ClaribelClaribel Alvarado was born in the Dominican Republic, but has lived in New York City more than half her life. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management from New York City College of Technology (City Tech) with a concentration in the culinary arts. While a student at City Tech, she was awarded an opportunity to study abroad at CFC Mederic Ecole Hoteliere de Paris Jean Drouant. Upon completion of her study abroad program, she was awarded a Certificate in French Culinary History and Techniques. The economic uncertainties of the last few years persuaded her not to leave the secure benefits guaranteed by public service. She currently works for the New York City Police Department (NYPD) which is the furthest thing from the culinary world.

Claribel writes “I love my job, but I have a passion for food and cooking. I subscribe to several culinary publications. I love trying new recipes and putting my own spins to it, experimenting with flavor, ingredients, how to balance aroma and taste. I love eating out, and living in NYC provides an amazing array of the best cuisines representative of the world. I’m looking forward to completing the Certificate in Food Studies and make myself eligible to enroll for the Master’s in Gastronomy. I would like to teach culinary arts to underprivileged and at risk teens and also own a small café or restaurant.”

JamesJames Martin Moran is a Massachusetts native, amateur photographer, avid traveler, and typical foodie. The evolution of his interest in all things food started when he was fresh out of Boston College: he simply wanted to learn how to cook for himself. Since then, he has filled a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with timeless cookbooks ranging from Julia Child and Craig Claiborne to Alice Waters and America’s Test Kitchen.

In 1992, James moved to Los Angeles, officially as a Ph.D. student in Cinema-TV at USC, but in his spare time, he enrolled in a Professional Chef certificate program at the Epicurean School. Although the credential paved the way to work in a kitchen, his career goals leaned more toward working with both food non-profits and the food industry as an advisor mediating between big food profits and slow food culture. In 2008, he moved back to Boston and started volunteering at Community Servings, Cooking Matters, No Kid Hungry, and Mass Farmers Markets. Working in marketing at the time, he decided to earn a Certificate in Nutrition for Communications Professionals from Tufts. Now, as a consultant with the Foodscape Group, a nutrition strategy advisory firm, he is excited to continue my food education in the Gastronomy Program.

JerrelleJerrelle Guy was born to a creative family in sunny South FL. After spending much of her adolescence writing poems, painting, making short films, and pausing in between to devour food to fuel more artistic creations, she soon identified herself as an artist fostered by the magic of food. With her finger, literally, in one too many pies, she moved to New England to get her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.

For Jerrelle, food has become inseparable from art.  She turned nearly every RISD assignment into a commentary on food.  She studied in Rome under the guise of learning ancient Italian architecture, but technically spent more time at the local pizzeria. She started a food blog, Chocolate for Basil, where she began showcasing her food illustrations alongside recipes. And after graduating, she moved to Dallas, Texas and used her design degree to work with Commercial Photographers and Stylists specializing in Food Advertising.

Her passionate spirit, impulsive behavior, and voracious appetite have landed her in front of so many delicious plates, and eventually, of course, in front of the application site for BU’s Gastronomy Program. Her plan now, is to discover more avenues where food and design intersect, and possibly even help carve some new pathways herself.

JamieJamie Schwarcz was born on Long Island, NY where she spent her childhood frequently visiting New York City with her father. During their visits, her love of all things food, wine, and cooking began to develop. She loved talking with her father about the ingredients and history behind each dish they were enjoying. When she was not learning from her father, she was spending time in the kitchen with her Hungarian grandmother making sure that every family recipe was accounted for.

Jamie obtained her undergraduate degree from Boston University and currently spends her days supporting the Boston University SAP Payroll System. She enjoys traveling to foreign places and learning about the local culture (especially experiencing the local cuisine), trying new restaurants, and spending time with family and friends. She is looking forward to exploring her passion of all things culinary and meeting the BU Gastronomy community.

girlRachel Sholtes is on a mission to sniff, chew, slurp, touch, and talk about every possible type of cuisine. While her academic history lies in English literature and creative writing, what really motivates her to get up in the morning is the prospect of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. So far she has managed to eat in 29 US states and 10 different countries, and hopes that the list continues to grow. Prior to relocating to Boston in November of 2014, Rachel worked for years with Counter Culture Coffee as a barista at a locally owned bakery in Baltimore. Since heading up North she has shifted her focus towards a different end of the beverage spectrum, joining a small Boston-area wine shop as a sales associate. Immensely interested in region-specific food histories, she has loved learning about the world of wine so far and looks forward to continuing her food education through every possible outlet.

Rachel is thrilled to be a part the Gastronomy program and hopes that it will facilitate her passion for eating, cooking, and storytelling, as well as help further her understanding of food sciences and the history of agricultural practices. She hopes to one day combine these myriad interests into a career that involves writing, recipe development, and advocating sustainable lifestyles for urban environments.

rachelRachel Beebe has lived on Boston’s South Shore for just nearly two and a half decades. She discovered her culinary prowess in the backyard when, at the young age of two, she decided to bread earthworms in sand and serve them with a side salad from the compost bin. Her dishes have grown to include actual edible items since then and her ambition and adventurous spirit with all things food have endured.

Like many who graduate from college with a liberal arts degree (UMass Boston, Anthropology), Rachel has spent a great deal of time figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up. She discovered BU’s Gastronomy program while still an undergrad and, after a brief hiatus following graduation, she decided it was the next step in the whole figuring-out-life process. During her days Rachel works at a cookbook publisher where she definitely lingers too long perusing the inventory for inspiration and enjoys evenings spent unwinding at the cutting board with a glass of wine close by. She loves produce shopping, mincing garlic and watching reruns of The French Chef. She is most excited to meet new people who share her obsession with food and to see what path her studies might lead her.

JulietJuliet Tierney is a native Bostonian who decided to pack up and head out west to get her undergraduate degree in History and Sociology at the University of Colorado – Boulder. Between hiking the flatirons with her Portuguese Water Dog, Lucy, and attending CU-Buffs football games, Juliet was bartending at local bars and country clubs where she gained a passion for wine and craft beer. Hailing from a large Italian and Irish family, Juliet grew up watching Julia Child every Sunday morning on PBS and lovingly gained the nickname from her siblings, “Juliet Child.” Her prized possession at the age of 6 was a recipe autographed by the cooking guru herself. When she’s not posted up at America’s Test Kitchen in the customer service department, Juliet can be found going to wine tastings, walking around Brookline with Lucy, and perfecting her grandmother’s eggplant parmesan recipe (which she has decided will never happen).