Food photography is an art unlike any other. It combines colors, textures and familiar visual elements that nearly everyone can find enticing (and appetizing). For Darina Kopcok, it’s an opportunity to create an attractive yet attainable fantasy for the viewer, setting the table, so to speak, to create a feast for the eyes.
Darina Kopcok is a food photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications such as The Globe & Mail, Bon Appetit and Clean Eating. She has her MFA from the University of British Columbia and draws on her fine art training to create evocative images with a distinct sense of mood and place.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, we connected with Darina to hear her thoughts on the importance of great composition in food photography:
“Food photography is a type of still life photography, therefore the composition is a crucial part of drawing the viewer into the story. There are often fewer elements in the scene, therefore these elements need to be placed in a way that appeals to the eye and stirs our senses, so we can imagine what it would be like to eat that food.”
Dive into Darina’s top tips below and remember… The camera always eats first! Follow us on Instagram to see some of Darina’s delicious-looking food photography.
Cover images by Darina Kopcok
How would you describe your personal style when it comes to lighting, editing and composition?
I would describe my personal style as more on the minimalist side. Whenever I can, I like to focus on bringing out the natural beauty and details of food. Any one of my images will utilize several compositional principles, but they tend to be quite simple. Light is a big focus for me. I love bright, clean, and directional light, and to use it in a way that is integral to the narrative within my image. As for editing, I don’t do a lot of retouching to my photos, but I do a lot of color treatment and use multiple localized adjustments in Capture One Pro, which I think is the best RAW editor for food photographers by far.
Start with considering the visual weight of your compositional elements. This is a basic principle of composition but it often gets overlooked. Visual weight refers to how much a compositional element attracts the eye while also detracting attention from other objects in the frame. Larger objects carry “heavier” visual weight, so your subject should be the largest element in the frame.
One of the best ways to create balance in an image is to use the principle of the Rule-of-Odds. Using odd numbers of an item is thought to appear more harmonious than using even numbers, which split the attention and compete with each other. If you have multiples of a given item in the frame, use three or five, rather than four. If you have more than seven, group them together in smaller groups of odd numbers. Any more than seven, the brain has a hard time registering the number.
Line is a basic element in a photo. Typically, composing with multiple diagonal lines in different directions is one of the most common and dynamic ways of composing a food photo because these carry a sense of energy. On the other hand, composing along curved lines gives a calm, steady feeling to an image. So think about the feeling you want the viewer to have and how you want their eye to flow through the image.
Pattern is a powerful compositional element that is often used to great effect in food photography, as human beings naturally see patterns in the everyday environment. This can cause us to overlook them at first glance, but using patterns effectively can provide a sense of rhythm and harmony to a photo, as well as direct the eye. The important thing is to create breaks in the pattern, to keep it from appearing monotonous.
Texture is a compositional principle that is often overlooked, but food naturally has a lot of texture. Enhancing texture in the composition and with the light brings out details and contrast, which can evoke emotion and stir our senses of taste and touch. Think about texture when approaching your food photography, but be careful not to use too much of it, or it could end up overwhelming the viewer.
Do you have any before and after photos of compositions that didn’t quite work vs final images that look just right?
Yes, absolutely. When I shoot, I build and assess my set one element at a time, so I end up taking a lot of shots. It can take some time to tweak my composition to get it to look the way I want.
Anything else you’d like to share?
To learn more about my composition tips, check out my ebook Rule of Thirds: A Guide to Composition for Food Photography. If you want to learn more about editing in Capture One Pro, you might want to get on the waitlist for Capture One Deep Dive, the only online masterclass for editing food photography in Capture One. Doors open again soon.
Follow along on our Instagram to see more of Darina’s stunning food photos!