The COVID-19 lockdown has turned kitchens into creative spaces, prompting home cooks to upskill, guided by professional photographers
Hot sauce makes dumplings more interesting. So do the three S’s — Shape, Space, and Structure. Scroll through Kuwait-based Kulsum Kunwa’s Instagram page (@kulsumkunwa) for more helpful tips and tricks to get started in food photography. Jump to Himanshu Taneja’s page (@thewhiteramekins) to see how an orange syrup cake glistens, flavours shining through in a photograph clicked using backlight. Chennai-based V Ashwin (@ace-photography) gives followers a step-by-step guide, on anything from how to shoot food with high ISO to how a coconut shell can become the best prop to photograph paal kozhukattais.
There are virutal lessons too, from food bloggers like Delhi-based Vernika Awal (@ delectable_reveries), on how to focus on plating, understand your home kitchen and work with colour palettes.
Food photography seems to have emerged as a popular lockdown activity over the past six months, and many professional photographers are generously using their social media accounts to help amateurs better their skills. There has also been a surge in food photography workshops, as people use the extra time at home to upskill.
“Learning cooking or baking as well as photography go hand in hand now,” says Ashwin. “People have more time, and they also want to avoid ordering food from outside. Sharing their cooking experience has become a fun activity.”
Ashwin says that the pandemic has triggered a buzz around food photography. He has completed three back-to-back workshops and now has students not just from India but also from the US and Dubai. “Since conducting workshops on Zoom, Skype or Google meet has been normalised now, people are investing time to pick up skills in photography,” he says.
Vernika Awal, who is gearing up for her second virtual workshop on food photography, says the kitchen has turned into a creative space. She says over call from Delhi, “The community of home chefs, especially among women in the 35 to 60 age group, is growing because of the trust factor of home kitchens. But if your food does not look appealing, I don’t see myself ordering as a customer.”
That explains why they turn to professionals for help. The workshops cover topics that include lighting, angles, backdrop, props, and styling.
Tips for beginners
- Wipe your lens before you shoot. Smudges can dirty up your phone’s lens and make your photos soft and blurry
- Closer to window = better lighting = better pictures
- Use smaller plates or bowls for smaller portions; this makes the presentation look fuller
- Use window light and turn off every other light in the room. This helps you get directional light without awkward reflections on your food
- Use chart paper or linen to instantly get attractivebackdrops for your pictures
“Food photography and food blogging has been growing and is now a crowded space,” says Vernika. “They need skills to take good photographs and build traction. Most mobile phones come with great cameras. We teach them to make the most of it to achieve good results. Itis not about fancy crockery, but telling a story. The food visual has to be bright enough to make one order or recreate it.”
“If you can’t take a good picture of what you bake, then your baking is useless,” laughs Sangeeta Khanna (@sangeetaamkhanna), a food blogger based in Dehradun.
“People are cooking diverse food to kill boredom and they want to showcase it. They enroll for courses to improve their photography skills, more so because everyone has a good phone camera. The self-appreciation of one’s own food comes through the pictures and it’s a great motivator. Earlier, people shared food with friends and family. Now, they share the photos,” she adds.
The visuals do the talking now, says food writer and photographer Sheetal Bhatt, who divides her time between Singapore and Ahmedabad. She started a blog to put the spotlight on forgotten Gujarati recipes. “What I have been documenting on my blog is now out in the form of photos on Instagram. People who want to get into food photography have understood that the food needs to ‘look’ beautiful,” she says over a call from Singapore.
The trend has also led to a lot of free knowledge sharing. Says Adhyayan Sahay (@adhyayan_sahay), food stylist, “I create videos/carousels showing how one can easily photograph food with either a smart phone or a DSLR. One of the best tips is ‘the camera you have is the best camera to start with’. I see many young women who have turned home bakers are more involved in food photography and are doing amazingly well.”
Swayampurna Mishra who offers tips on food styling and mobile phone photography through her Instagram handle (@lapetitchef), says it is no longer about ‘plop the food on the plate and click a picture’. “Be it professionals or amateurs, they are going the extra mile to make their food sparkle.” She shares a quick tip over WhatsApp: “Use natural light. Once you get the basics of lighting, a decent camera can take care of the rest. One has to develop their unique style, and let the picture tell a story.”
Ashwin agrees and adds that he often shares the BTS (Behind The Scene) photos that give handy tips on the background, lighting and where to place the food to name a few.
Neha Singh (@saltsugarnspice), who is a food blogger in Mumbai, says that many made the switch to Instagram during the pandemic. She adds, “A lot of online food photography challenges test your skills. You step out of your comfort zone and learn more. What has emerged is a community that has discovered its collective passion for cooking.”