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How To Create and Photograph Stacked Still-Life Food Structures

2020-09-17

You heard it here first, playing with food is actually good for you, or at least in the context of still-life photography! For this series, we played around with photographing colourful and vibrant ingredients as subjects while contrasting the shots against the quaint aesthetic of still-life photography.

The result? A series of experimental visuals that showcase food items in an artistic perspective. Read on as we give step-by-step advice on how you can achieve a series yourself and enjoy our stacked still-life food photography examples for inspiration!

Step 1: Choosing your elements

Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8, 18mm, 1/512sec, ISO 200

There are countless varieties of fruits and vegetables to choose from as your subject matter. They can come with unique textures, such as bitter gourd or cut cabbage, and varying colours, shapes and sizes too. Pick what interests you the most with these factors in mind.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is your theme?
  2. What details are you planning to highlight? Will it be textures, colours or shapes?
  3. When considering the colour palette, will it be monochromatic, complementary colours or a random mix? Here’s a colour theory article you can use for reference.
  4. Do you need subject matters of different sizes to produce a more-dynamic output?

 

Tip: Some fruits and vegetables have a unique appearance on the inside. For example, capsicum is hollow with seeds growing at the upper-half of the fruit. You should consider features such as these when choosing your subjects because it gives you more scope to play around with the forms available on both the exterior and interior.

Step 2: Sketch it out


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8.625, 29mm, 1/32sec, ISO 320

Start with a simple sketch to visualise your output. The result may not be the exact replica, but don’t worry, you will at least have a strong reference! The sketch can also be as simple as different shapes to indicate the placement and composition of your structure. The example on the left shows the sketch and the right is the final structure.

Tip: Work with leading lines, rules of symmetry and framing. If there is a particular feature you want to showcase, it is best to position it in the centre of the structure.

Step 3: Fixing your food structure

Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/4, 18mm, 1/512sec, ISO 640


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/4, 18mm, 1/512sec, ISO 500

You can opt to secure your structure with wooden toothpicks, glue gun or metal wires. We chose wooden toothpicks because they are readily available and will not contaminate the food (especially if you are thinking of cooking the ingredients). If you decide to use wooden toothpicks, remember to cut out any excess wood if you don’t want it to show in your final output.

To note:

  1. A larger and more stable base allows you to stack your structure higher and taller. A smaller base may pose balancing issues when it comes to stacking and may squash your base when the upper structure becomes too heavy.
  2. It is best to freeze your vegetables or fruits beforehand, making them firmer to work with. There is, however, the issue with condensation so you will need to wipe down your subjects first.
  3. Some vegetables like beetroot can stain clothing, so it is best to wear an apron or protective layer.

 

Step 4: Play with lighting and additional elements

With your structure complete, you can now experiment with different lighting and additional elements.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you want a more dramatic light or something more subtle and soft like natural sunlight?
  2. Are there any creative filters that you can utilise to enhance your concept?
  3. Are there any elements you would want to bring into the shot?

Check out the examples below for references and points of inspiration!


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8.375, 22mm, 1/64sec, ISO 400

The subject matter from top to bottom: hand, eggplant, purple onion, purple cabbage, eggplant and grapes.

We decided on a complementary coloured theme of purple and yellow. This shot was taken with a DIY Softbox Diffuser for the Speedlite flash (check out the diffused shadows formed behind the structure). We also brought in a human element (the hand) to inject life into the output.


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8.625, 44mm, 1/64sec, ISO 800


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8.625, 29mm, 1/32sec, ISO 320

The subject matter from top to bottom: capsicum, boiled egg yolk, banana, the placenta of capsicum, baby corn, capsicum and lemon.

Our idea was to showcase texture within the food of a similar colour palette while keeping the structure to a simple rectangular shape. We first shot it with a bright yellow background to achieve a monochromatic output, but we felt that the colour intensity was so strong and harsh that it would restrict the viewers' appreciation of the different textures. Therefore, we switched to a very pale yellow background and shot it under natural lighting to add an eye-pleasing depth and shadows to the concave areas.


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8.625, 35mm, 1/32sec, ISO 200

We also experimented with the fisheye effect using the Creative Filters in our Canon camera. We felt that this shot worked because the effect highlighted a close-up of an area often overlooked by many. 


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/6.625, 55mm, 1/100sec, ISO 640

The subject matter from top to bottom: cherry tomatoes, red capsicum, chilli, apple.

Taken with our DIY Light Box, we wanted to keep this shot simple and sleek. The DIY Light Box omitted pretty much all of the shadows formed while illuminating the subject matter beautifully. We kept the wooden sticks as an additional element because we feel that the colour suits the streaks of yellow from the capsicum and apple. The green stalks from the capsicum, chilli and cherry tomatoes added the right amount of contrast to the structure.


Canon EOS 850D, EF-S18-55mm f/4 -5.6 IS STM, ƒ/8.625, 29mm, 1/32sec, ISO 320

The subject matter from top to the bottom: lime, broccoli, pear, ladyfinger and bitter gourd.

We utilised natural lighting to achieve a softer outlook with a monochromatic green palette. The addition of leaves from the side brought a more casual perspective pleasing to the eye. The tree branches (out of this image) created an organic and irregular shadow pattern that darkens some areas, adding depth and visual interest to the output.

Experimentation is crucial for pushing boundaries and developing one’s creativity. Take time off from your usual projects to dive into another style you’ve never tried before. Even if the first few shots you produce may not be of the utmost quality, the process will always come with beneficial learning curves. Apply it to your photography niche and take your photography up another level!

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