Nothing can ruin the good memory of a meal like a terrible photo that makes the best duck l’orange look like duck le poop. New York-based James Ransom has been making salivary glands glisten with photos that have appeared in Food52, Martha Stewart Living, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and more. In between shooting, James recently started The Ratio Co (@theratioco) with Food52 editor/stylist Bryce Longton to help brands learn how to take better pictures for social media. We caught up with James for some handy tips to turn your next meal from a “no go” to a Gauguin.
Style your scene
Although everyone strives for realism and authenticity, the fact of the matter is that many great food photos have been styled to look that way. James says, “Bring items closer together than you might think, it makes for a tighter, more cohesive shot.”
1. Move your light source
As in portraiture, light that is coming directly on the camera axis gives food that unappealing “deer in the headlights” look. “Light coming in from the side adds drama to any photo (we like this kind of drama). Play around with the shadows that are cast; more shadow=more drama.” Taking the seat next to the window is a great way to get a diffuse, natural, side light.
2. Rule of Thirds Rules!
That same rule of thirds you learned in Photo 101 applies to your food photography as well. Centering your subject can be cool, but you can also create some visual tension by moving items into the upper and lower thirds.
3. Stay on the Grid
When you’re not going for that “just got out of bed” look, try arranging items in a grid. James says this works especially well for ingredients. “They can really stand out if you arrange them in a grid or some kind of pattern.”
4. Create depth by arranging background and foreground elements
There’s nothing wrong with a “flat” photo per se, but you can enliven a scene by simply moving items into the foreground and background to create depth. And don’t worry about fitting everything into the image. “Try cropping out part of your image instead of fitting everything neatly into the frame—it gives the impression that the scene continues on outside of the photo.”
When you bring all the good elements together, you end up with some mouthwatering ice cream for a hot summer day.
Learn how to build your followers from the pros. Check out our latest guide, The Photographer’s Guide to Instagram.