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Capturing More Attractive Shots of Dishes on the Table

After an enjoyable cooking experience, you probably want to take some nice shots of the dishes you have prepared. However, capturing several dishes in a single photo can be a rather challenging task. In this article, I will explain the steps for composing a lovely tabletop shot. Let's look at a few points to take note of based on photos taken from different angles. (Reported by: Teppei Kohno)

FL: 50mm/ Manual (f/5.6, 1/50 sec.)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

Step 1: Place the dishes by a window and check if they look cramped

I took a shot using light shining in through the window from the left. Here, I chose a location where the subjects would not be directly brightened by the sunlight. They are evenly illuminated with no harsh shadow created.

I set the focal length of the lens to 50mm. As there are too many elements to capture, the image looks cramped when I try to include everything in the composition without a twist.

Step 2: Determine the primary and secondary subjects, then reposition as needed

When there are many subjects you want to include in a photo, it will be easier to compose a shot if you can single out a primary subject in advance. Here, I made the main dish (chicken) the primary subject and positioned the secondary subject in the remaining space.

Step 3: Take a shot from directly above to express the intriguing shapes of the dishes

While Step 2 itself may be a complete composition, I tried a different angle in Step 3 since not all the subjects were clearly visible. I took a shot from directly above to bring out the similarity between the shape of the subjects and that of the plates. All the dishes can now be seen clearly, and there is also a sense of rhythm in the image.

Step 4: Pay attention to the verticality and horizontality as you design the composition

Next, I repositioned the dishes while paying closer attention to the horizontality and verticality. Compared to the cluttered appearance of the composition in Step 3, the image here looks neater, suggesting careful design behind the layout. These examples help to widen your perspective on how you can capture dishes.

Further tips on effective use of photo angles

As illustrated in the steps above, camera angle plays a vital role in food photography. The basic concept is to create dimensionality by approaching the subject from above at a 45-degree angle, which is close to the eye level when we are about to savour the dish. Doing so adds a realistic feel to the photo.

That being said, the downward angle in the last example has an effect that is the exact opposite. Here, I intentionally eliminated dimensionality from the photo by capturing the subjects from a parallel plane. All the subjects play a primary role in this photo. Looking not only tasty but also lovely, this composition helps to bring out their appeal.

To capture a shot like this from directly above, it is important to ensure that you keep the camera parallel to the subjects as you take a handheld shot. By doing so, you can create a sense of calmness in the image. Note that the sense of balance in the photo may be lost if the plates are poorly cropped. Yet another important consideration is the composition of the shot.

[Tip] Regard the background colour as part of the subject

The background colour plays a very important role in tabletop photography. If you choose a grey tone for the backdrop, the colour will be similar to that of the dishes and plates, thus resulting in a photo that lacks contrast. Comparatively, selecting a blue hue helps the subjects to stand out in relief. During the shoot, try placing the same amount of emphasis on both the positioning of the subjects as well as the choice of background colour.

Teppei Kohno

Born in Tokyo in 1976, Kohno graduated with a Social Work degree from the Department of Sociology of Meiji Gakuin University, and apprenticed with photographer Masato Terauchi. He contributed to the first issue of photography magazine PHaT PHOTO and became an independent photographer after that, in 2003. The author of many books, Kohno not only shoots all sorts of commercial photographs, but also writes prolifically for camera and other magazines.