Jamie Oliver and photographer David Loftus reveal the secrets of food photography (01.12.2012)


Photographing food is a trend that has swept across social media sites over the past year, and the topic is a firm favourite with bloggers all over Europe, so how can you get the most out of your DSLR to make your food photos look good enough to eat, and impress your food-loving friends?

To explore the food photography trend and find out exactly how the professionals make their culinary creations look so tasty, Nikon has teamed up with celebrity chef, Nikon ambassador and DSLR photography enthusiast Jamie Oliver, and his collaborator – professional food photographer David Loftus – to discover the tricks of the food photography trade.

Speed is of the essence

When it comes to capturing tasty-looking images of food, the key message from David is “shoot lots and shoot fast”. Using a DSLR camera like the Nikon D3200, you can keep your finger on the shutter to make sure you capture all the theatre of the creation of the dish, tell a story with your food, and most of all, make all your dishes look appetising.

According to David, speed is a critical element in food photography, where the freshly prepared ingredients in a steaming hot dish have a ‘photo life’ of a matter of minutes. In Jamie’s words “the best shot in the world is 45 seconds of time… the boss in the room is the food”, and if a dish of piping hot Spaghetti Vongole will lose its vitality in 45 seconds then you have precisely that amount of time to capture its true beauty – moist pasta, tender clams and simmering tomatoes.

Everything is beautiful

Using a DSLR camera like the Nikon D3200, taking pictures of food can become much more than simple point-and-shoot photography. By using a versatile, all-round camera with a wide focal range and numerous shot settings, getting up close with a clam and then zooming out to capture the coiled spaghetti beneath it needn’t require a change of lens. And what’s more, over-complicating things can jeopardise how fresh the food looks on camera.

Embracing the way that food falls into position on a serving plate is something that Jamie reinforces on every shoot with David. Cooking is all about “the reality of mess” says Jamie, including the mess that you create when cutting, chopping, grating and slicing ingredients for a photograph or video. By slowing down shutter speeds, for example, you can capture the moment you crush a clove of garlic with the side of a knife, or crack an egg into a pan.

Set up creatively to spark a trend

David and Jamie both agree that in order to stay ahead of the trend, you have to be creative with your kit. With modern lenses you can get your camera into some really imaginative places in the kitchen.

The rise of trends like ‘dude food’, that encourage people to stay at home and put their own spin on indulgent classics like mini burgers, mixed kebabs and doorstep sandwiches mean people are getting more and more creative in the kitchen. Every ingredient has a personality, and this needs to come through in a photo: tomatoes ooze juice; chips are both fluffy yet crispy; meat will ‘breathe’ as it absorbs the flavours it is cooked in. A meal is an assortment of ingredients, each jostling for position on the plate, and for prime position in your photography.

Jamie, more than anyone, advocates the creative use of today’s modern, lightweight DSLR cameras to push the boundaries of traditional food photography. As David attests, when cooking at home you’re equipped to capture high quality food photos at any time of day; “with a D3200 you don’t have to use a flash, turn up the ISO settings and you can shoot in low light”. 

Background story

David and Jamie have worked together for the past 15 years preparing and shooting food for countless cookbooks and websites. Over the years they’ve worked in environments ranging from lavish country kitchens to self-constructed work surfaces teetering half-way up a mountain. So how does David capture rich, vibrant imagery of the food that Jamie cooks irrespective of the location?

The right coloured background can really enhance a one-dimensional food photo. Jamie and David recommend using neutral colours like natural woods and brushed steels to bring out the texture of the foods. David carries a selection of stained wooden boards and rich cotton cloths to shoot lots of dishes in different colour combinations at any one time. According to Jamie, the average food photographer will shoot between 5-8 dishes per day – he and David aim for over 20!

Top tips for capturing great food images

  1. Use neutral backgrounds to bring out textures in the food.
  2. Embrace natural, ambient light to show off fresh ingredients.
  3. Shoot quickly, especially when dealing with heat.
  4. Shoot often, and capture the mess. Cooking is messy!
  5. Take action shots using slow shutter speeds to portray energy.
  6. Set the scene to tell a story and don’t be afraid to get your hands involved.
  7. Use macro settings to capture stunning close ups.
  8. Use colourful ingredients and off-white plates to serve up.
  9. Get creative. Find an interesting angle, even if it means shooting from a height or leaning inside a cooking pot.
  10. Adopt the point of view of the creator. The same applies before eating!


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