With so many photographers out there, what sets us apart is our style and personality. As a new photographer it is often something you think about. You most likely have gotten into food photography as you have been inspired or moved (maybe even both) by your favourite photographers/artists, and are now asking yourself, what’s my style?
Discover Your Food Photography Style
At the point where you decide that you want to be a photographer, whether professional or as a hobby, something shifts within you and you’re eager to start creating imagery, stories, works of art. Yet at the beginning, something is missing. You stare at the images and they don’t quite feel right. Not to say that you aren’t proud of the work you’re producing or how you are progressing, but they images don’t quite feel like yours yet.
Finding your style in photography is like any worthwhile relationship. It takes time to build.
I started shooting 3.5 years ago, and I can honestly say that it’s taken me 2.5 years to find my style. I know what you’re thinking – are you serious, stuff that! Don’t mistake me here, during those 2.5 years I was on an incredible journey, I shot a lot of great stuff and images that I am still proud of. I believe that your creative style in photography is like fashion, it’s never finished and always evolving. I find that exciting. Just like life, it is about the journey and not the destination.
I have always been drawn to images that have a powerful impact, so I’d say my style is Bold and Clean. This approach focuses intently on the food, emphasising its beauty with few distractions, like highly stylised sets or props. The idea behind it is that the food is the focus. It is styled in a way that focuses on interesting details within the food itself and leaves the viewer with a powerful connection. I like to use a lot of negative space, and although my images are usually bright, I focus more on highlights and soft shadows to create my work.
Let’s begin your journey to unleashing the style within.
Get Comfortable with Technique
I think food photographers have a tough gig. There are so many elements that go into the craft and many food photographers juggle them all. Photography technique, styling and quality, good looking food are the three points on the triangle you’ll need for great food photography. There are differing opinions as to what matters the most out of the three, but in my mind the first and most important is technique. You are a photographer first and foremost. Understanding and nailing your technique should be your starting point.
If you are a beginner, you’ll want to start with nailing the basics and getting so comfortable with them that it becomes second nature. My love affair was sparked when I read Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin, I highly recommend getting your hands on it if you are passionate about food photography.
Until you have this figured out, your style won’t be able to be fully developed.
There is a multitude of photography techniques out there, and even if you are a professional looking to develop, you’ll want to get comfortable with a new technique before you’ll see a shift in your results.
I started an A-Z project with fruits and vegetables to focus on technique and blogged about it on my old site. (Whilst the images were absolutely horrendous, it was quite a bit of fun).
Inspiration, Find what Moves You
There’s so much advice out there about not looking at other people’s work for how to find your style? I just don’t get that. How else will you find a style and type of photography that really moves you?
Inspiration is definitely all around us, all the time and it can take a keen and well trained eye to find it. When you find that image that really moves you, gets that fire burning inside of you, that’s when you know you are on the right path to unleashing your style. That doesn’t then give you permission to go and copy that image – for me it means you will challenge your composition continually until you feel that same feeling.
Pinterest was the thing that did it for me. I pinned and looked at hundreds of images every day, and started to notice my composition was evolving. Subconsciously you start to absorb it all, and it starts to get released slowly along the way.
When you find images that you love and move you, pin point the ‘what’ it is about the image that intrigues you so much. These will be the elements that you’ll want to pursue on your journey to finding your style now that technique is becoming second nature.
What exactly do I mean by ‘reading images’? Reading the image is a way to determine how the photographer captured and styled the shot.
What angle is this shot at? (Straight on, 45 degrees, overhead)
What depth of field has been used?
Where is the light coming from? (side light, backlight)
Are there shadows and are they harsh or diffused?
Is the image bright or dark?
What props has the photographer used?
Is the image highly stylised, or minimalist?
What interesting details are present in the food?
What textures are present in the props and background?
Look at all the images that really speak to you and work out if there is a trend in these elements you are reading.
I collected similar images, mostly through Pinterest and would read their elements to find out what it was about the elements that I liked.
Do It Better
This sentence has resonated with me and was really powerful in fining my style. In The Passionate Photographer by Steve Simon, Steve made an interesting point that there are very limited new ideas out there in photography that haven’t been explored, (maybe that saddens you?), but the greatest thing is that there is only one you and no one can do it like you can.
Once you have read a bunch of images that you connect with, pick some of the elements to play around with – do it better. The point is not to necessarily be ground breaking, but create something better by letting the process be true to you. Stick with exploring the elements that interest you, not all of the image features, and over time you’ll start to see a pattern with how you execute those elements. (This will be your style, finally).
Please note: There is a fine line between copying an another photographers work and using the elements of an image as a base to explore. I think all honest and passionate photographers know the difference and are more interested in what they can create, but make sure frustration doesn’t entice you to take the easy road.
Once a week I would take the elements that I was drawn to and put them into practice with a simple type of food. Something that was already pretty and didn’t need to much styling. Bakes goods always work a treat. You don’t even need to make them yourself!
Act, Practice and Enjoy
Good news, bad news? If you’re like me and a lot of humans, we just want to read something, take something or have magic wand and boom. We are better or proficient at something.
Finding your style doesn’t happen that way. Good news is that photography is a journey and there will be many hours with your camera and editing that you will simply just enjoy. Bad news is that your first 10,000-15,000 images will be your worst. So you’ll want to get cracking on snapping away that number.
Practicing photography should be enjoyable and the best way to do this is to find or create a project you are not only passionate about, but one that is going to challenge you.
I think the turning point for me in terms of finding what style I really wanted to shoot was when I shot an entire cook book with 55+ recipes in 5 weeks. With almost no budget and little time, I created some great images, but deep down I knew they weren’t exactly what made my heart sing. It was through this challenging project I worked out what it was I really wanted to create.
5 Actions to Discover Your Food Photography Style
1 – Read Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardan
If you are looking for a one stop shop for Food Photography technique, this book will get you on your way. I highly recommend it for beginning food photographers.
2 – Create inspiration boards on Pinterest
If you don’t already have Food Photography inspiration boards on Pinterest, set one up now! Make sure to pin images you can aspire to create, so they must be luxury, highly technical images. Check out my Pinterest page for ideas!
3 – Find elements in images that interest you
Once you have your Pinterest board set up, pick a couple of similar images and find out what those elements are. Write them down in order of difficulty (if you can) and interest.
4 – Put those elements into practice
Put regular time aside to practice those elements that you wrote down. This might include doing a bit of research online and practice. Get your hands one some delicious baked goods, cakes, cupcakes, sourdough loaves, they make for simple and beautiful subjects so you can focus on exploring the elements.
5 – Create a project to practice those elements
Once you have put some time aside to explore those elements, create yourself a project for you to practice and build upon. This might look like working on an image for your Instagram daily, a 365 day project on your blog or an A-Z project undertaken each week.
Remember to have fun and frustration is a sign that you are challenging yourself. So make sure not to be too hard on yourself.