What started as a daily routine, photographing and sharing her breakfast online, eventually led Stella Liu to a career change. When her food photography drew the attention of a company offering baking workshops in Taiwan, she transitioned from working as a financial management specialist to teaching classes on photography. Stella coaches students how to shoot on their mobile phones and edit with VSCO in order to document their food in a beautiful, appealing way.
Based on her experience shooting food over the last four years, Stella shares advice for improving photos of your cuisine.
Document the process.
When focused on the final result, it can be easy to forget to capture the process, but the preparation of the ingredients, the cooking, and the plating of a dish are all important stages that tell a story about the food. “Pictures of the cooking process make the audience see the spirit of craftsmanship and understand that you are persistent and passionate about food,” she explains.
“Nowadays, people pay a lot of attention to what ingredients are in the food they’re eating. However, people like to see images more than read text,” she notes. “So photos are an effective way to showcase the ingredients and let the audience know at a glance, ‘Wow!! You use premium ingredients to cook!’”
Set a mood.
Style a scene to compliment the food and create a mood. For example, in the images below, Stella went for an elegant, romantic theme when photographing her canelé. She achieved this look by selecting a darker background and including antique embellishments. However, for her berry cake, she wanted the overall feeling to be summery and refreshing, which is why she chose a clean, bright background with simple decorations.
Stella explains her practice, “I often say to my students that powerful pictures can inspire viewers to see more, to imagine the environment beyond the confines of the photo. In this way, it is possible for a photo to convey the sounds and the tastes behind it and make the audience feel they are part of the picture. By carefully choosing the appropriate background, cutlery, and accessories, you can infuse the scene with life and help your audience connect with the image. I tend to use no more than three colors in a single scene and am sure to remove irrelevant objects that could be distracting to look at.”
Bring action into the frame.
To make a scene come to life, try photographing people interacting with the food. “I’ve found that people show a strong interest in an ‘active’ picture, like hands that are serving or bodies that are leisurely enjoying time at a cafe,” says Stella.
If you want the food to remain the focus, you can keep the identity of the person anonymous by not including their face in the frame. “Body language without revealing facial expressions can allow viewers to imagine more than what they observe,” Stella points out. “The viewers may even think the hands are theirs, about to pick up the food to enjoy!”
Edit with a food-friendly preset.
After shooting, experiment to find presets that suit your aesthetic and make the food look even more tempting. “To finish a picture, you need to select a good preset and adjust the details,” Stella says. “I became a VSCO member because I like all the presets that have a film aesthetic. It reminds me of pre-digital times, where a photographer would go into a darkroom to develop a photo.”
Edited with HB1
Edited with A6
While she uses A6, HB1, and HB2 the most, she advises trying out all your options. “The presets can perform in unexpected ways when editing different scenes and themes. So, for example, I wouldn’t limit myself to editing food only with A6. I use all the presets once, choose a favorite, and then adjust the details in the image.”
Edited with HB2