Ensuring Food Quality
When you cook a meal, you want to use quality ingredients to get the best flavors possible, right? When photographing food, you want to make sure that you follow the same principle, while ensuring that the way each ingredient looks is just as important as its flavor. It’s simple, really—find only the most beautiful food to photograph.
Using Fresh Ingredients
The key to achieving a high-quality look for the food in your photographs is to use the freshest ingredients possible. Food doesn’t last forever, and its beauty usually dissipates before it spoils or loses flavor. Herbs and veggies sitting in a refrigerator have a limited life span, so make sure you plan your photographs in advance and try to buy your food the day or the day before it’s photographed.
To ensure that the quality of my food is up to par, I tend to shop only at certain grocery stores and markets. I know that some locations will have, for example, a really great selection of seafood, so I go to one of those stores when I’m shopping for that ingredient. I also like to go to the local farmers market to buy seasonal produce and fruit, and sometimes I’ll conceive the look of a dish based on the freshest ingredients I can find while I’m shopping.
I also prefer to use fresh food rather than canned food, especially when it comes to vegetables (I will, from time to time, use frozen vegetables because they hold their shape and color well after being cooked). The guideline I use is that if I can buy it fresh (in the produce section of the grocery store), then I stay away from any canned alternatives. This also gives me a lot more control over the shape, color, size, and texture of the food. I make exceptions to this, of course, such as when I want to use something like canned mandarin oranges or water chestnuts. The bottom line is that if the food looks good enough to photograph, whether it’s fresh or comes out of the can, bag, or jar, then go ahead and use it.
When purchasing the ingredients for your dish, you need to be extremely selective. Choosing the most attractive ingredients (also referred to as the hero food) is essential to a great-looking dish. It’s also a good idea to buy more than you need. (You can always eat the leftovers!) Having more than one of each item gives you options for the look of the ingredient, and it’s also insurance in case anything goes wrong with your first pick.
When shopping for ingredients, be aware of how they will be handled when they are scanned at the register. If you have a self-checkout lane, then that’s a good option if you are purchasing something fragile or easily altered, such as bread or soft fruit. Otherwise, kindly let the clerk know that you are photographing the food and ask if they can handle it with care. Another option is to find a discarded cardboard box and place the items in there so that they are not unintentionally squished at the bottom of a grocery bag. One of my favorite places to shop for produce is the local farmer’s market (Figure 3.3). Not only is the food beautiful, I get to do all of the handling myself!
Figure 3.3 I prefer to shop for produce at the local farmer’s market. The produce is fresh, and it’s easy to find beautiful items to cook with.
Fuji X-T1 • ISO 400 • 1/800 sec. • f/2.8 • Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8
I am also very selective about the ingredients that I choose for my photographs. If I have one particular ingredient that will stand out, such as an artichoke, then I will search through all of the artichokes until I find a few of them that have the right shape and color for the image I want to create. If I am purchasing something in the meat department, I will usually ask for a specific item and will also ask the butcher to handle it with care because I will be photographing it. And, if you don’t find what you are looking for, then either find a different ingredient or go to another store. Never compromise the look of an ingredient if you don’t have to.