Ever wondered how to take food photos like the pros do? We sat down with food photographer John Heng (@daphotographer) to find out how to get photos of your breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner from run-of-the-mill to drool-inducing #foodporn.
Read till the end to find out how you can use these tips for a chance to win S$88 worth of dining vouchers for use at our celebrity chef restaurants!
How long have you been a professional food photographer?
Close to 10 years now!
How did you get started?
Itchy fingers I guess? (Laughs) I interned at the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore when I studied shipping, and one of the guys there liked photography, while another colleague had a flying license and was operating an ultra-light flying machine in Malaysia. He asked the photography guy to help him take some photos, and I wanted to go along for the ride, so we all went on a trip together. I was using his camera as binoculars to see what was happening, but I must have pressed something too hard, and accidentally took a photo.
When we got back and he developed the photo for me, it turned out to be quite a nice photo of the plane taking off with the background blurred out in motion, and that sparked a little something in me. When I got my first job after National Service, I asked him for advice on what second-hand camera to get, and I started going around shooting friends and other things for fun.
What are the most important things to take note of in food photography?
- It’s important to understand what food is meant to look like, including all the cliché bits it may be associated with. Take Char Kway Teow for, example: to some, cockles are the most important part of the dish. To shoot Char Kway Teow without the cockles may therefore not look as appetising.
- It’s also important to understand light. A lot of times, the composition is not bad, the food is done nicely, but there isn’t good light.
Many restaurants have dim lighting for ambience. How do you overcome this?
You could do what I call ‘the embarrassing light’, which is to get your friends to hold out their torchlights. Alternatively, you could invest in a small pocket LED light that allows you to change the temperature or the colour. If a restaurant has yellow light, yes your iPhone will capture a sharp photo, but it’ll just look weird.
Shadows in food photography are almost inevitable for the layperson. How can we use shadows to our advantage?
I love shadows, and almost every single one of my photos has shadows. Shadows shape food. Without them, a round ball will become a flat 2D object.
But certain food like pastries might need softer light because they’re more delicate. If you’re taking a top-down shot, be mindful of where the light is coming from and stand in its opposite direction. To avoid unwanted shadows, I usually move a little so the food is at the corner of my frame, then crop it out later.
How do you decide what is the best angle to shoot from?
It comes back to recognising profiles of food. Chicken wings, for example, are recognised for their tips more than anything else. When I get a plate, I’ll usually turn the plate around to see which angle works the best. Then I’ll look at it from the top, the bottom, and the level of the table. Different angles present different profiles, and when you’re looking at food from an angle you’re not used to, it tends to lead to something more interesting.
Go-to tricks on styling food/keeping the shot interesting?
I usually try to allow for interaction with the food, be it with the chef, the ingredients, or condiments. Most of the time I try to keep it simple as well. If it’s a simple flat-lay or close-up, there’s no need for distraction. It comes down to what you what to tell people. If I want to show simply that it’s a nice plate of food, I’ll pick the best angle for it, showcasing the ingredient that looks the most appetising, or the ingredient that people crave the most.
Simple ways to style the shot when dining at a restaurant? (e.g. as opposed to in a kitchen/studio where you can place raw ingredients at the side)
It comes back to what I shared earlier: find the best looking ingredient and the best looking angle, then go close and tight!
Top tips for food photography with a smartphone?
To understand where the light is coming from then playing with the light. You can go with geometry, the portrait mode, or just go very close to the food.
What software (computer) and apps (phone) do you use to edit your photos?
Snapseed or Lightroom. But I try to keep my photos as close to what I shoot, so I try not to edit them too much.
What are the most important things to edit? (e.g. lighting, temperature, selective colour adjustments)
Lighting and an interesting crop.
How do you strike a balance between keeping photos looking ‘real’ and visually appealing?
Sensibility toward a subject matter. You won’t associate a plate of chicken rice with ang moh (western) herbs like a bouquet of rosemary and thyme next to it. That would be trying too hard! You’d probably want to show chilli, ginger and soy sauce.
Being able to cook and understand food helps as well. That way, you’ll know what appeals to whoever you’re trying to appeal to.
Any last advice for aspiring food photographers/food photography enthusiasts?
Don’t approach food the same way every time, or you’ll end up with the same stuff. Imagine all the different possibilities and dream a little bit – and you might just be the next trendsetter!
Now that you know how it’s done, take part in the TGFF 2018 photo contest for a chance to win S$88 worth of dining vouchers!
*please ensure that your Instagram privacy settings are set to ‘Public’ so we’re able to view your entry
Hungry? Get your tickets today.
The GREAT Food Festival 2018
27 – 30 September 2018
Resorts World Sentosa
S$35: one-day pass
S$45: four-day pass
S$150: squad bundle of four-day passes for four people
1-for-1 Mastercard promotions (while stocks last!)
S$30: one-day pass with the promo code ‘ONEDAYMC’
S$38: four-day pass with the promo code ‘FOURDAYMC’
Members and Mastercard cardholders enjoy special promotions and privileges.
Comment below to let us know which dish/chef you’re looking most forward to at #TGFF2018, we want to know!
The GREAT Food Festival 2018
TGFF 2018 Official Website
TGFF 2018 Introduction
TGFF 2018 Sneak Peek
TGFF 2018 Photo Contest (Tips for food photography included!)
TGFF 2018 Interview with Insta-famous baker Andres Fatso