A delicious new food or beverage product or platform for foodservice does a lot of things. It solves a consumer need, works within an existing operation structure, and most importantly tastes great. However, if your food photography isn’t up to snuff, it will be difficult to translate all those great attributes you’ve designed into the product to the consumer. You want that customer to see the photo and say to themselves “I just have to try that, it looks amazing!”. This month we’ve sat down with Mark Manne, owner of Mark Manne Photography who specializes in food and beverage product photography to help us demystify why you need professional photography and what working with a food photographer is like.
Jeff: Let’s start with the basics. Why do companies want to use a professional food photographer?
Mark: It’s no secret that we live in a hyper visual content world these days, and that the adage “people eat with their eyes” is still true. The idea of a well-done food or beverage photo is to get consumers to stop, look, and drool. Making food look delicious and accurately represent the brand, takes the skillset of a professional who knows how to light, style, and photograph food. Hard light, soft light, rim light, dark field lighting and from what angles are just some of the considerations to make food look it’s best, and consistent across a brand.
Jeff: Ok, say I decide to work with a food photographer, what can I expect from the experience?
Mark: Like most things, it starts with a conversation and some questions that we’ll discuss. What is the story you want to get across from your photos? What are the values of the brand? Sometimes the technical terms for lighting get in the way, so I love working on a mood board and have my clients clip out photos they like, to give direction. We’ll want to know what sort of background, or props are needed and in what color. Also, will we need a food stylist? Every detail should be considered if they haven't already. Working off those questions and discussion comes the creative brief which will outline exactly what both sides want the final images to be.
The three images in the slideshow below display very different ideas about the same product. Showing off the ingredients, a story about grabbing some food for breakfast, or a bright and airy hero shot.
Jeff: Are there standard types of shots or categories that your customers ask for?
Mark: Yes, there are three main types, the flat lay (overhead), 45 degrees, and oblique. Some work better than others for certain applications. A photo of a hamburger from above does very little to show off the size of the burger! Besides just angles, understanding how the image will be used is important to understand what you may need. Is this an e-commerce shoot, just on white? Do you want to emphasize scale, or show how the product is used in real life? Having a strong understanding of the product values and the needs of the images will dictate what images we need to capture.
Some standard angles for food and products are show below. Even on something as simple as hummus, angles and lights highlight different aspects of the subject.
Jeff: How many final images should customers plan for? In my head I’d expect you would need a lot – is that the case?
Mark: Ha! Every client’s first answer is always “all of them!”. We are all content hungry these days, so I understand the desire for more, but when you sit and think about it though you realize you actually need a lot less. Restaurants usually need 1-3 images per webpage. Product being sold via e-commerce usually need 1-4 images (at different angles), and for advertising purposes it may be even less. All of this should be discussed prior to the shoot with the photographer and client. Many photographers have the exact number of images to be delivered spelled out in the contract, so preplanning is always key.
Jeff: So that answers how many images the customer needs – but how many images do you shoot in a day and what is that process like?
Mark: I always like to think that shoot day is when the magic happens, but really it is a straightforward workday. It is all about executing the game plan and the details. Usually, I will do a test shoot the day before to have the broad strokes worked out. Then the day of it is shoot it is about making a small adjustment, shoot, move a light a half an inch, shoot, repeat, and then really dial in on the final image.
While there is always some postproduction that needs to happen, having a client onsite (or virtual) during a shoot to approve an image before moving on is important. Personally, I learned early on that creativity comes from everyone. The client, the food stylist (and I always recommend having one), my assistant. We are all consumers and have opinions, while I get hired for my expertise and style, photography is a collaborative art form and I encourage that, while keeping the shoot on time!
Jeff: Any last advice for folks as they’re thinking about choosing a food photographer?
Mark: Shop around. Photography is one of those mediums where you can look at someone’s work before you talk to them. I would really recommend looking past social networks and look at behance.net or workbook.com then at a photographer’s website. You're looking for style and a level of expertise. If the shot looks really well done and simple, I can guarantee you it was complicated. That is the special sauce of a photographer, making the complex look simple. Once you find a few photographers you like, talk to them on the phone. There is a lot of collaboration in this field, and you want someone you like working with.
Thanks to Mark for sharing all of his experience and insights; that was very enlightening information. In my career I’ve attended several product photoshoots and it is truly amazing what a professional can do. Certainly, it helps reinforce the point that we can’t just figure this all out with our phone cameras! Whether it’s manufacturer’s or brands, leveling up on food photography can increase customer appeal. You can reach Mark at his website or at firstname.lastname@example.org.