Year 2011 marked my entry into Food Photography and ever since I have been hooked and never looked back. Food Photography can be very frustrated and tiring – doing endless hours of food preparation and then arranging them to make a shot. But it can be quite rewarding in the end, not to mention all the food you can have. This post is not specifically about food photography but one of the more tricky areas of food photography i.e shooting breakfast layout. This also happens to be my favourite kind of shot.
I will try to explain what I have learned over last one year, experimenting and composing various food shot. I will do this using an example shooting session where I shot lovely homemade strawberry tarts for breakfast.
Props / Accessories
You will need a variety of props to accessories any food shot. In particular for breakfast these props become even more specific, but don’t fret I can assure you that most of things you need are readily available right in your kitchen and closet. Here’s a list of essential items you would require and remember there is no limit on having the ideal prop stack and you will always be in look out for additional ones, but these are the basic items which should suffice any session. You can always keep adding to your props collection. For me it’s become a habit that whenever I am out shopping I usually try finding that rustic plate or that teaset and keep adding to the existing set. Although starting with few basics props as I have explained below should be sufficient.
- table cloths and tea towel – Over the past year I have collected atleast a dozen varieties of tea towel but there are only a couple of them which are my favourite, so my advice would be to get an essential set. Go for a white coloured or pale coloured tea towel, like the one I have used here and get another chequered one to add that additional contrast to pictures, also the one I used here.
See an example of how I used a chequered tea towel just randomly placing it to add contrast
- Wooden Boards – Wooden boards are classic background setting for breakfast shots and you can always use your table top as the background or get some boards which can be arranged for the layout. Use textured boards and prefer selecting darker shades which really brings out the vibrancy in the pic.
- Basic tea set or Coffee Mugs- I just have a couple of tea sets each with two cups. You will most of the time not need the whole set, so buying just one or two tea saucers and cup is enough. Experiment with just plain coffee mugs as you wish, but I think tea cups with saucers in a shot always gives it a classic touch. I have one basic white set (just 2 teacups and saucers) from Ikea and another fancy red ones which I got along with a teapot.
- Glasses – These are great which act as accessories for juice or jam or even adding a glass of plain water adds lot of appeal to a food shot.
- Bowls – buying medium size is very important, because most of the time you would be struggling to fill them up. Use again basic bowls preferably plain and with subtle colors like white, pastels etc.
- Plates – I most of the time end up using the tea saucers, which acts just fine since they are small. You can buy some small plates, white is preferable.
Additional use other props like jam bottles – Bonne Maman is my favourite, knifes, spoons, small flower vase, milk pots etc.
Basic food items which every breakfast layout must have
Tea/Coffee – I feel adding a cup of tea or coffee is infact a must to any breakfast shot, this will really give a fluid version to the shot and the reflection of light on the liquid adds lot of charm to breakfast shots.
Spreads/Jam – Another essential, this mainly adds more depth and color the the shots, use your creativity and let a knife carelessly dipped in Jam fall on the plate and place it next to bread
Cereals/Breads – This is going to be your central food, use either cereals layered in bowls, use the color and depth to match other food items.
Juice/Fruits – A glass of orange juice is a classic in any breakfast shot or just add a splash of color using some fruits like strawberries, oranges casually spread it in between your arrangement or neatly arrange them in a dish. Use some greens or mint leaves to balance the color in the composition.
My other favourite food items to add are Honey, for the transparent glow it provides to the shots and milk.
I don’t have the luxury of using artificial light and fancy strobes, so my favourite light is window light. Believe me, this is the best and free light source you can have. You just need to have a table beside the window which can accommodate all the shots. Mine is a East facing window, so morning hours are not the best time to take shots because of the direct sunlight. With my experience I have seen anytime between 11 am to 2 pm works best. If you have a north or south facing window you will not even face this issue and I guess the diffused light there is even better.
Apart from window light I use a simple homemade reflector, a cartoon sheet mounted with aluminum foil.
See the image below –
Arrangement can be quite tricky, because you never know what will work the best, so experiment, rearrange, use rule of thirds if required. You need to visualize where to place what.
I sometimes and especially for this session made a quick sketch to know where I would be placing what and also it gave me a visual idea to find out if the composition looked right or not.
Use empty dishes to first decide if you like the composition or not. Experiment with both Horizontal and Vertical Layout and I have seen with experience that though vertical layout is the most common and gives a classy look, however, horizontal layout rather turn out to be unconventional and can surprisingly look good.
Another good way would be to start off with one prop in the centre and keep adding other props and dishes to fill in. I know all this demands lot of time and you surely don’t want to spend forever in the arrangement. But believe me this will come with experience and soon you will know in a instant where to place what.
Focus and Angle
Most of the time I struggle whether to just focus on few items in the frame with shallow DOF or to cover the whole spread. My personal believe is both shots are required and depending on occasion you will need to have both. So click both types.
Angle of clicking is as important as focusing, not all angles are flattering and you need to decide on which looks the best. For me I shot mainly in 3 angle and all these works with different shots.
From above – This will have almost no shallow DOF, but quite a good angle to give details of the shot
At 45 degrees – One of the angles which is always turns of good, it gives the details in the shot as well as also give a good shallow DOF
From Front – Will highlight the background as in my case it showed the window details. You can use this creatively and experiment with various kinds of backdrops.
And be bold to experiment and try out various kinds of tilts and angles.
These are basics which I feel have been very helpful to me for clicking and composing a breakfast shot. I am sure with patience breakfast photography can be very rewarding and don’t be afraid to try various props and food and experiment with different kinds of setup.