Food Photography Friday: Genki Sushi

My Origin Story

It’s Food Photography Friday! I’m on a mission to learn the secrets of taking mouth-watering photos of food, and you’re invited! This is the first post in a weekly series where I share the story behind the shots, lessons I’ve learned, and of course, photos of tasty food every Friday.

The First Time

To fully understand why I love food photography, we need go back a couple years to where it all started…

Car filled with flooring

In between filling our car with flooring and picking up painting supplies for the house we were moving into, we drop into Genki Sushi for a quick lunch.

I have my recently-acquired Panasonic GH1, paired with a manual Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 lens from 1971. This is my first digital SLR and it was all new to me, so I was shooting everything, including the food at our table.

The Moment

Back at home, I’m reviewing the pictures from the day’s activities and I stop cold when I reach the photos of lunch at Genki Sushi.

The colors, the lighting, the creamy backgrounds– I’m not going to lie, I thought the food looked great!

From that moment on, I was hooked on food photography.

A Bit Off

While I like several of the photos, it was clear that not all of the shots were spot on. There were little things about some of the photos that made them seem a bit off.

Here are a few lessons that I learned from my inaugural food photo session at Genki Sushi:

Composition Matters

Composition really matters when you’re taking pictures of food. Just like faces, food has a “good side” and a “bad side”. When you shoot its good side, a dish can look downright delicious. When you don’t, food ends up looking formless and unappetizing.

Compare these shots of the same plate of inari sushi from taken from different angles:

Inari Sushi

Profile angle

Inari Sushi

Quarter Angle

Slight angle

Slight angle

A dish has an ideal angle that brings out the deliciousness as much as possible. I call this the “angle of attack”, because it’s the best angle to take the shot from.

What’s more, different foods will have a different angles of attack due to several factors such as symmetry, size, and…sauciness.

I’m guessing that I’ll get better at finding the angle of attack for different foods over time, but one thing I know is that vertical and horizontal angles are both very important.

Shallow DOF Destroys Delectability

A shallow depth of field (DOF) can really add some nice drama to a photo when it works, but can also be quite distracting when it doesn’t.

While the Canon FD 50mm lens’ super wide f/1.4 aperture is great for knocking things out of focus and isolating objects in the frame, the razor-thin DOF at this aperture makes it difficult to get all of the important parts of a dish in focus.

Take this shot of a bowl of Spicy Ahi for example:

Spicy Ahi Bowl

Can you tell what this is?

We can clearly see that there are green onions in this dish, but since nothing else is in focus, the rest of the dish is basically a bunch of pink and brown mush.

Bottom line: If it’s not recognizable, it’s not delicious.

Increasing the DOF by stopping down the aperture could have made the dish look as tasty as it actually was.

It’s About More Than Just Food

There’s more to our enjoyment of food than just the flavors. It’s also about the experience. For example, the ambiance of a restaurant can seriously affect how you experience and enjoy a meal.

This is also true for food photography. Capturing the ambiance of the environment can help to convey the experience of a meal, which will make the dish in the photo look even more delicious.

For example, though food is not really the focal point of these shots, they help to build the world that this meal took place in. The more real the world, the more immersive the experience is for the viewer.

Sushi Approaching Sushi Plates Stacked High!

Love at first bite

After this unexpected introduction to food photography, I was hooked. Not only was shooting food fun, but figuring out how to make a dish look as delicious as possible in a photo as well as building the world around it are very interesting challenges.

I hope you’ll join me each Food Photography Friday as I share the stories and lessons I’ve learned about taking delicious photos of food.

Do you love food photography as much as I do? Let me know in the comments!