Even if you are a master of composition, you can easily find yourself asking the following question:
"How can I make my photos more interesting?"
Still-life images are absolutely fantastic, but if you want to tell a story with your images, the easiest way to do so is to add human elements.
In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' post series, I will share my thoughts on this stylistic choice and I will also show you the most common ways to do this on your food images.
The Human Touch
There are so many creative ways to show a person in food photographs. But why these photos are so appealing?
Food is made for people by people, so any scenes from farming, harvesting, sourcing the ingredients through the preparation steps of a recipe till plating, serving, and eating the final dish can be spiced-up by capturing food-related actions. They simply bring life to the images. This also makes us imagine the person's relation to the hero subject or the story behind the photo.
Seeing a person handling or eating food can tell us more about traditions, heritage, generations, geographical location, and culture.
Head to toe
When I’m capturing any food-related actions, I like to include human elements as someone is sprinkling icing sugar, drizzling honey, making pasta, rolling a dough, cracking eggs, topping a pizza, eating their lunch, or having the first bite of a cookie, and many more.
The most common ways to crop these images correctly:
- occupy the hands of your model on a close-up
- show the arms and the upper body or even legs and feet without showing the face of your model
- show the whole body of a person, two people, or a group while dining on wide-angle images
Get the Best Out of It
- Consider your model's clothes as backdrops, choose and select them carefully so they can compliment your photo by a visually appealing color or interesting texture.
- The model is a part of your composition. Try to direct their hands/arms/posture the way to fall on sweet spots, leading lines, or diagonals. This will help to lead the viewer's eyes to your hero subject.
- The action, clothes, model, and their actions are not your hero subjects! They need to add value to the picture but do not let them steal the spotlight from your hero.
- Experiment with aperture. In many cases, a beautiful background bokeh with your model's clothes or hand will add that missing ingredient to the images.
- When showing hands, especially when they are in razor-sharp focus, make sure they look beautiful. Avoid showing dirty or uneven nails, cracked nail polish.
- Close the fingers to avoid weird, elongated fingers caused by perspective distortion.
Exercise: Human Elements on Food Photos
Next time you take your still-life food images, simply plan a few frames with human elements.
- Try the 3 most common crops as mentioned above to practice, discover and overcome the challenges of each.
- If you are working without a model, use a remote control or set your camera on a timer.
- Shooting tethered also helps you to find the best position in front of the camera.
I invited a professional photographer friend to process this topic by digging deeper into the stylistic considerations about incorporating human elements on photos, so welcome Adina Chitu on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I’m Adina Chitu, food photographer and food stylist based in Bucharest, Romania. The passion for this type of photography started somewhere at the end of 2016 when I quit my PR job and started this new exciting journey. It is funny because I learned how to cook, how to bake, how to take food pics and how to be a freelancer at the same time so my job now is a huge part of me, it’s definitely more than a job to me.
According to your artistic point of view, how the usage of 'human element' shifting the mood and message of a still life photograph?
I think that human presence changes the mood of the photo dramatically. The hands, the silhouette of a character in a food or still life pic has a huge impact on the viewer, it adds more layers to the story that you want to tell through your pic and it can complete the picture by adding color, motion and meaning. And above all the viewer can easily relate with your picture when the human element is there.
What are the reasons why you love to incorporate yourself into your food photos?
It really depends. I usually add myself to the photo when I feel there is the need for some action in the pic like slicing the bread, adding some honey, some icing sugar and so on. But sometimes when I feel that my subject is maybe too simple I try to animate it by adding the human touch, by adding a nice dress and it will change the mood instantly or when I want to add a warmer, cozier feeling to the pic. But I have to admit I love to match my food with my clothes.
What are the main differences between your stylistic choices and workflow when you show only your hand than showing your whole silhouette on the photo?
When you want to add human elements to your pics and you are doing this job alone without extra help it can be more difficult, it takes longer and it can be frustrating sometimes. But you can connect your phone or a tablet to your camera and you can see your posture and adjust it to get the best shot, the job gets easier if you have a remote to take the shots. I don’t have a remote and I don’t usually connect my phone to the camera, I just set my scene then take some shots using the 10 seconds time, I think that in time I’ve learned which should be the right posture for a certain shot, practice makes it perfect. Of course, it is more difficult when you shoot your silhouette because you have to pay attention to more elements than just your hands. You have to pay attention to your posture and also to your clothes, to make sure they don’t have disturbing lines and so on.
While we take our food photos, we often play the role of the model at the same time. What tips would you give to a fellow photographer who wants to be better at this?
Be patient, practice and try to choose your clothes so they can be a perfect match for your subjects, you want your food to be the main subject, the cloths just complete it. Pay attention to the fabrics, I love linen but also dresses with lots of floral elements. Use complementary colors and look at renaissance paintings to learn how to use your hands delicately in your pics.