Photographing Food: Tips and Insights from Jessica Beisler

Eunice Sotelo, Social Media Coordinator Social networks like Instagram and Facebook have changed the way we look at photography. As smartphones and compact cameras approach ubiquity, it’s not unusual for us to share all aspects of our daily lives through pictures, including the food we eat. When it comes to pictures of food, whether a piece of fruit or an entire meal, we have the capacity to appreciate them on an intellectual and visceral level.

So what does it take to make food photography visually appealing? CEF volunteer photographer Jessica Beisler shares her passion for the subject. A food and lifestyle photographer based in Vancouver and San Francisco, she considers the human story behind the meal as equally important as the tantalizing imagery.

CEF: Can food photos tell a story?

Jessica: Since food is one of our most basic needs as human beings, it has this great ability to unite us in that common experience. When I meet chefs, restaurateurs, farmers and other food enthusiasts, it’s essential to share what they’re passionate about. Food photos can definitely tell a story, and it’s up to the photographer to choose how to tell that story. It’s important to know the look and feel you want the image to convey. Lighting is one of the best tools for communicating that message. If you don’t have good light, you don’t have a good shot. I typically prefer to shoot in natural light, using modifiers to bounce or diffuse it. Of course there’s a time and place for studio lights as long as you know how to control the lighting to get the look you’re after.

CEF: What goes through your mind when composing your shot?

Jessica: When shooting food, keep in mind the purpose behind the image. I ask myself: what vantage point would make me want to eat the food? If it’s something I’m shooting in the studio, I’ve typically gathered tear sheets for inspiration as part of my pre-shoot planning, which could include colour schemes, props, backgrounds, lighting and mood. I see a studio shoot as a collaboration between the food stylist, prop stylist and photographer, each playing an important role in creating the image. If I’m on location shooting an editorial piece, the props are generally part of the natural setting. And no matter the subject I’m shooting, I’m always looking at the frame. How can I frame things to be the most visually interesting so the viewer’s eye moves around the image? Make conscious decisions about where your frame lives to avoid distractions especially around the edges, which can deter from the composition.

CEF: What are your rules of thumb when modifying composition?

Jessica: I try to do my best to “crop” while I’m shooting, so I can rely less on post processing. My style is more natural so I typically stay away from HDR images or heavy saturation. In terms of post-production, I use Lightroom and Photoshop the most. Lightroom makes editing thousands of images manageable, which is a new challenge for the digital age.

For more behind the scenes on food photography, read our Q&A blog on this year’s Toronto Food Shoot.