Food a most challenging subject for digital photos

Photo courtesy of Don Fleming


Several months ago Dan Thiessen, director of the Walla Walla Community College Wine Country Culinary Institute, asked me to share some thoughts regarding digital food photography wth his student chefs in his Culinary Trends Class.

I was excited at the invitation because digital food photography is the most difficult and challenging of macro photography.

So for three days in early December I met with Dan’s Culinary Arts Trends class.

Day one: Observation

On the first day, Dec. 3, I joined the student chefs to observe an afternoon session on molecular gastronomy, which is defined as the fusion of food science and culinary arts. The guest lecturer for this session was chef Antonio Campolio from the Marcus Whitman Hotel. He gave a vivid presentation on various uses of Liquid Nitrogen in the preparation of foods and drinks.

Day two: Practice

After the first day of observation it became apparent to me that this class was truly a vanguard in culinary education. Before I started a student asked, “Can you tell us the digital photo apps we should download to our iPhones?”

Suddenly I was on the learning curve as virtually alll of the students used their iPhones for photographs and only two students had point-and-shoot or DSLR. Most surprising to me was the fact that none of the students in the class used a digital editing program!

Quickly I adapted to the students preferred methods of photography, iPhone and iPad, and we began discussing the critical digital elements needed for food photography.

The goal of food photography is to make the food not only look delicious, but it must look as good as it tastes as naturally and simply as possible. So we started with a discussion of natural light, and the fundamentals of composing and styling.

The food on the plate must look fresh and appetizing, and to capture this look the photographer should use as low an ISO as possible, depending on available light, and place the aperture about f5.6. Using Live View the photographer should hold the camera at a low angle to the plate and focus to highlight the food nearest the camera which will softly blur the background.

To get food colors to stand out on a round plate the photographer should look for the colors red, green and blue (Adobe RGB). The student chefs responded with plate settings of raspberries, blueberries, chilies and bell peppers.

Day three: Competition

On the third day all the students had their cameras and Dan divided the class into four teams. Each team had to prepare an appetizer, entree and pastry to be photographed by all.

The results of the student chefs creations were amazing. One of the student teams created something I would never have imagined, stuffing three chilies into a raspberry, without splitting the raspberry.

Another team set up a Tabasco bottle and then carefully displayed red chilies in the foreground with a black background that was amazing to photograph. The black background for this photo was another student’s jacket who politely asked everyone not get white flour on the jacket like they did the day before.

This digital exercise challenged the chefs to visually stimulate all the senses with one photograph.

Don Fleming can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in