HOW TO: Choose a Backdrop for Food Photography

Photo Credit- Josie Wells, Your Ultimate Menu @yourultimatemenu
  • If you are choosing your first food photography background it is sensible to play it safe with colours. Most food are warm in colour (yellow, orange, red) so by using backdrops that are cool coloured (blue, green, purple, or white) you'll be allowing the food to pop away from the background. Another characteristic to consider is the overall colour saturation so to start with muted, desaturated backgrounds will have the most utility.
  • Be aware that grey can be a warm grey (undertones of yellow/beige) or cool grey (undertones of blue), cool grey being the most useable for food photography.
  • Avoid busy and overly textured pattern which will draw attention away from the food.
  • Avoid surfaces that you wouldn't ordinarily eat off.
  • Having said all that, rules are there to be broken and there are many colourful and textured backdrops that will create stunning, dramatic food photos.
cut watermelon on a deep blue backdrop by CM Props & Backdrops
Photo Credit- Nikki @revisededitionstyle
Here is a photo of watermelons on a deep blue design (Azure Blue backdrop) which takes advantage of the primary colours, blue and red being cool and warm respectively. They are also 2 of the three triadic colours (red, blue,green), being evening spaced on the colour wheel and creating a bold and vibrant photo.
Photo Credit- Kirsten Bridge @kirstenbridgephotography
This deep brown backdrop (Tarnished metal backdrop) is a warm and textured backdrop and despite going against the 'rules' works really well here. The monochromatic colours are harmonious and relaxing to the eye, which complements the feel you get from smelling eating the bread. The background texture is moderate but still not enough to overshadow that of the freshly baked bread. 

HOW TO: Elevate Your Product Photography with Reflections

Photography on a white background has long been a popular way to present products. The clean minimalist approach headlines your product and is very versatile for web use. However sometimes the items can look cut-out, like they are floating in space. 

One fantastic option is to use a reflection, which can be easily created using a clear acrylic sheet over your white backdrop. This technique can be used with any backdrop and is a simple, at-home option to get a stunning studio look. 

HOW TO: Set up Two Backdrops #1

Using two backdrops together is a great way to set context without allowing distractions in. For example you may want your baking photographed in a 'kitchen' or your self care product in the 'bathroom'.

Tape, tack or clip one backdrop behind the scene, either on a wall or a board, then lay another backdrop flat down on your table. Turn any space into the room of your dreams!


HOW TO: Set up Two Backdrops #2

Here is a second, innovative set up using two backdrops together. By clamping the vertical backdrop in a curved sweep more space is created behind your product for that essential separation between the foreground and background.

HOW TO: Set up Flatlays

One of the simplest setups for a photo backdrop is to place it on the floor or worktop and take pictures from above. It doesn't require much space, and you can easily move your background to wherever there's good light. A tripod is handy, leaving your hands free to get creative with the scene but not essential. If you using your camera phone our 6-way phone stand is the perfect assistant.

HOW TO: Set up a Seamless Look

Products often need to be photographed face on and in this situation, sweeping the backdrop up behind them is a great option. Here we have fixed it up with the 6-way phone stand and two spring clamps.
You only need one backdrop and it creates a clean look where visual attention is placed squarely where it belongs: on your product!

HOW TO: Set Up Your Home Studio

1. Basic set up Find a position near a large window or door, out of direct sunlight is preferable to stop hard shadows. Decide which backdrop to use as a table surface and back wall surface. Sometimes you may want to scoop the backdrop up at the back so it forms a continuous background.

 2. Manipulate the light Reassess the amount of light that is coming into you scene and lighting your product. You may want to soften some shadows, which can be done by either putting a diffusing screen in between the light source and the scene (purpose built diffuser or sheer/shower curtain), or bouncing light into the shadows with a reflector on the opposite side of the light source (purpose built or a white foam core board). Sometimes there is too much light, and black foam core can be really useful at blocking excess light.

 3. Take lots of photos Take different angles, change the lighting, change the settings, play around and have fun! 



HOW TO: Make Your Own Lightbox

In just 10 minutes and minimal expenditure it is possible to have a small lightbox set up for product photography. Here is a box I made one evening using a cardboard box, two bedside lamps, some sheer material, and a backdrop.

Using white foam core board you can make another type of mini studio. Score one side and you will be able to fold it and stand it up as the second photo shows.

Other cheap kit that I often make use of:

1. Black foam core board to reduce glaring highlights and give a moody look.

2. Blu-tac, masking tape and clamps- something always needs fixing in place!

4. A phone camera (ok so phones are not cheap, but they can take great photos when used properly and are often the cheaper option than buying a camera!)

HOW TO: Use Your Phone For Great Photos

 taking product photography image with phone in hand

1. Use a free camera app such as Lightroom to take the photos in RAW format for more control over editing. The JPEGs typically created by phone cameras do not contain all the visual information available and you may feel limited in your editing. If you have a newer iPhone choose the RAW option.

2. Set your screen brightness in the 50-70% range. Don't use autobrightness for the screen or the screen settings may change during the shoot, giving you inconsistent results.

3. If possible on the app you are using (I can’t go past Lightroom), set the colour balance of the shot using a grey or white card, so the camera can calculate how cool or warm the light is that is shining onto your product. Indoor lights will make products look more yellow than daylight and the camera needs to know the lighting environment to create a true image.

4. Don't zoom in, move closer if necessary, for the highest quality shots.

5. Stay away from presets. Products need to be represented as realistically as possible. If you want to present a particular editing style then do this afterwards in your editing app.

HOW TO: Compose Great Product Photos

  • Have an uncluttered scene so it's clear that your product is the intended focus of the shot.
  • Show odd numbers of products in a scene. Even numbers are easily 'arranged' by our subconscious leading quickly to boredom. Odd numbers are therefore more pleasing to our eyes. Three is the magic number because more than that becomes cluttered.
  • If you want to use props, make them relevant to your product, for example lay sprigs of lavender alongside lavender soap bars.
  • Use camera angles that show the best part of the product. A jar of handcream for example can be shown in a few ways: get down low, level with the label to show your brand. Open up the lid and focus on the swirl of cream, highlighting its smooth texture and gleam. Come right over head if the label is on the top.
  • Make the viewer travel on a visual journey to get to your product by strategically laying your props in leading lines. These are best arranged diagonally across the shot in most cases. Backgrounds and foregrounds with lines can work the same way.
  • Blur the background, with your product being in sharp focus.
  • Keep palettes simple. Have a look at the colour wheel to get ideas. Complementary colours are opposite each other on the wheel and are contrasting which adds interest and intensity. Neighbouring colours are similar, often bringing harmony and setting the mood. Red, yellow and blue are dominant colours, demanding more of our attention than the others, so if these are not your brand colours, use them sparingly as accent colours and be aware that they can steal the show.
  • Use negative space (the area of a photo not taken up by your product or props): Blank space gives the viewer room to relax and place all their focus on your product: It de-clutters the scene and stops our eyes flitting around.



Learning is all part of the creative journey

Learning is all part of the creative journey. If you would like to learn more about composition or other skills required to nail the shot you want, I would highly recommend a hands-on workshop. The Wanderer Photographer based in the Bay of Plenty offers a range of workshops from beginner photography skills to sessions for businesses needing to create their own images. They use a range of teaching resources and are committed to delivering education to all types of learners, so you will walk away with the tools and knowledge you need.