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Mobile Food Photography: The Golden Rule
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Mobile Food Photography: The Golden Rule

A look at the 'Golden Rule' of photography as we explore natural light in the second episode of FDL's series on how to take better mobile food pictures

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Go open your favorite cookbook and concentrate for a few minutes on your favorite photographs inside, then come back here. Go ahead, I'll wait. Thanks for coming back. Now, was there something that united the images together? Something they all had in common? I'd like to bet you that what made them all so beautiful and made your mouth water even if you've just eaten a meal -- is that all the photographs were shot with natural light; or what appeared to be natural daytime light. The best cookbooks, magazines and articles online about food almost always are!

No matter what the food being photographed is, it's usually most appealing to the human eye, and looks the most appetizing, when it's captured without a flash, strobe or any sort of artificial light. Scientifically speaking, the part of our consciousness that we’re not even aware of, in terms of controlling it, finds images that are too yellow, too blue, too red, or too green – unappealing. Likely, it’s because that creates a scenario in which it seems less natural and thereby, less appealing. So even though it isn’t always possible, it’s ideal if your goal is to have your images appeal to other people.

David Griffen says, “Food is a natural subject, consisting of elements taken from nature and the veg garden, so I believe that shooting in natural light is the best way to get this feeling of nature across in the final image.”

How does this matter for mobile photography? Most mobile devices, even the newest iPhone 5, are still not optimized for low light in the same way a Canon 5DmII with a 50mm f/1.2 lens is. So when trying to capture subjects in low light, grain becomes a problematic issue quickly. This can be fixed with apps like PS Express for some mobile images but it isn’t as easy with images of food because when the grain is covered by the noise-reducing effect, it blurs the food in a way that seems, again, unnatural. The best solution is not to shoot in low light with a mobile device.

If I walk into a restaurant and see that the table I’m to be seated at is half in shadow and half in a bright pool of light coming from an uncovered window, I will pick one of the seats in the light. Then, when crafting a photograph of my plate with my iPhone, I use my own body as a diffuser to create the softest light or, I get out of the way completely and work with any shadows that might be present.

When I walk into a home or restaurant and I see that the light is very low and will be horrible for food photography, if I don’t have good lighting with me to supplement (there are options, which I will cover in the next post) – then I enjoy my food and the company I consume it with. I take off my photographer’s hat.

Think of it in this way, breakfast and lunch are more for photographing. Dinner is for eating. Or - shoot your lunch, eat your dinner!

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