Using Color in Food Photography

Color is all around us, and it makes our world interesting and enticing. By using appealing color and smart combinations of shades, we can attract the viewer’s eyes and make an overall successful food photograph. Without it, images can end up bland and not appetizing, missing the goal of food photography. When combined with other techniques in texture, lighting, composition, and editing, color can transform an image into the perfect shot.

Step 1: Think About What Appeals to the Viewer

When setting up a shoot, using deliberate colors in backdrop and surroundings is vital to create an appealing image in the end. You may already have a specific piece of food you are aiming to photograph, so it’s good to build additional colors around this. There is an endless supply of color schemes that smoothly blend to result in a beautiful image, and it can be very beneficial to think about and experiment with these rather than throwing a few colors in and hoping for the best.

As a photographer, you have the ability to manipulate colors to make the viewer happy, curious, or hungry! For example, greys and muted dark tones tend to be less appetizing than bright or rich colors. If these duller tones are in the image, consider adding a pop of color to form a focal point and bring the image to life. It is also important to balance many light colors with a simple dark background or darker, richer colors with a lighter background or the photo may end up too washed out or dark.

Step 2: Use Your Resources

If you’re having trouble deciding on a good scheme, think about the nature of the food you’re shooting. If you’re working with vibrant fruit, pastels generally work better than dark, rich color. On the other hand, if you’re shooting a steak dinner, it will work better to use rustic, deep shades. When in doubt, close your eyes and imagine the piece of food and the mood around it. Are you in a candle lit restaurant? Are you outside on a hot summer day? Or maybe you’re inside by the fire on a snowy day. Use emotion to guide your piece.

Resources like Adobe Color are readily available to give you appealing color combinations. Using this application, you can browse many schemes and even search words like “fruity,” “spicy,” or “sweet” that will provide hundreds of results that may help you build a successful photograph. You can find it here at https://color.adobe.com/explore/?filter=most-popular&time=month. I also found this Pixel Magazine article to be helpful. https://medium.com/@pixelmagazine/color-theory-for-photographers-an-introduction-ae23296fda6d. Don’t be afraid to explore foreign concepts found on the web and examine professional artists’ techniques to improve your own.

Step 3: Pick a Scheme and Build Composition

Once you have some ideas about colors, think about how you can incorporate them into different aspects of the image. What are you going to use for the backdrop? Would a blue tablecloth look good in this image? Where should you place that red mug? Planning is a large part of the photography process. Examine if you have good textures, balance objects and negative space, and avoid overly-busy images that confuse the eye. Don’t be afraid to experiment! It’s always better to shoot more than less.

Depth of field is a helpful concept to play with here, and it can add layers of detail to the image. This has to do with focusing on certain objects in an image while others are out of focus. It’s a tool to draw attention away from less important details and draw attention to the subject. Keep in mind while you shoot that it can look beautiful to have a colored object or two in the unfocused background that still add color to the image without being detrimental to the subject.

Step 4: Shoot!

Take many photos! Move lighting, use a tripod, experiment with angles, and find some amazing shots. Have fun with it!

Step 5: Enhance Your Work With Editing

Editing in applications like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom can transform an image. In these, you can alter almost anything, but for color in food, it’s going to be beneficial to utilize selective color. This is a feature that allows you to change the appearance of specific colors without changing the hue or brightness of the whole image.

For example, if in the image below of an orange in a hand, you wanted the orange to be more red tinted rather than yellow, selective color can do this in a few clicks. If I’m using a white or black backdrop, I also like to tint the background color a little to complement the subject’s color. For the orange photo, I would tint the black background slightly blue, as this is the complementary color of orange. With these tricks, taking beautiful food photographs is a piece of cake!

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