Ugly photos make for an ugly post. There’s no getting around that. All the intriguing, humorous words in the world don’t undo the damage of a dreadful photo. I have already given you all the information you need to take technically good photos in this article. But the technical side is only half the battle. What about photographing those ugly brown blobs of food like stews, soups and sauces? How do you tackle those wee monsters of the foodie photography world?
Let’s take them one by one.
If you cook a stew and then take a photo of it in the pot or even on a plate dished out directly from the pot, it will look below par even though it probably tastes delicious.
The first thing to do is to find a small bowl-like dish that can containing the stew neatly and let it pile up. Place the bowl on a matching plate with a napkin and cutlery beside it. These could be beautifully clean white dishes or a more rustic pottery bowl on a pewter plate. That’s the setting. Now to the food. I dish up the food into the bowl very strategically. First some liquid, then the meat and vegetables piled in an even way so that all the ingredients show. Even clean the sauce off some pieces so their colours show up like carrots or pieces of red pepper. That way, the individual components will shine and it will no longer look like a brown blob. Finish it off by sprinkling it with some fresh herbs, paprika or even a spoonful of sour cream perhaps.
Again, find a small container and pour the sauce into it. There’s not much more that you can do to the sauce but do make sure the container is full. Now position the sauce on a tablecloth or place mat in a colour which matches or contrasts with the sauce. If the sauce is red (ketchup), use a colourful fabric with red as one of the colours or place it in a white bowl on a red place mat. Place an attractive spoon beside it and perhaps position some food on a plate in the background as if you are about to eat. Or you could place some of the ingredients behind the bowl of sauce, like tomatoes in this case. You could use perhaps an f3.5 stop so that the background is out of focus but the sauce is sharp and clear. Don’t take too wide a shot or the sauce will lose its significance. Stay in reasonably tight on it. A 45° angle or even higher would work well so that the sauce is visible.
I went looking for a photo of sauce in my files and realized I had only ever photographed sauce for my clients and not for myself, so I had to run out to the kitchen and took this photo in about two minutes flat so it is a little lacking.
Soup can look fine if it is also in a beautiful bowl and is brimming full, especially if it is a thick pumpkin soup because the colour is so vibrant. A white bowl with a pumpkin coloured place mat or coloured card underneath will make for a clear, attractive photo. Place a small spoonful of sour cream in the middle with some chives sprinkled on top. The white, orange/yellow and touch of green will be beautiful. If the soup is brown, the sour cream could be swirled through it just before taking the photo with some smoky paprika sprinkled on top. The soup could be in a rustic terracotta bowl on wooden boards but place a fresh white napkin beside it to break up the colour palette. With soup, it is all about the bowl and the garnishing to lift it and make it look alive.
There you go – three ugly foods made beautiful. You can do it too. Look at food photos you love, maybe on Foodgawker or Tastespotting, print them out and, in the beginning, copy them until you start to develop your own personal style. It will happen with practice.