The only real way to improve your food photography is to stop taking pictures. I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive, so allow me to explain.
The number one piece of advice people give to beginner photographers is to keep shooting. How many times have you heard, "If you want better photos you have to shoot, shoot, shoot!" or some other variation of the old adage "practice makes perfect."
This is true practice is important, but in my opinion, shooting should be farther down the list. Here is why.
Shooting should come after a strong foundation. You have to know what you want to practice and you can't say "well I want to practice my photography" because the subject of photography is WAY too broad.
You have to narrow that focus down. WAY down. Think of a pro basketball player. They don't practice basketball, they practice free-throws, three pointers, passing, dribbling. They focus on a single aspect of the game, not the game as a whole. They also do another simple task that improves their skills immensely, they watch other players.
As a food photographer or any type of photographer, that is what you should be doing too.
What should you improve first? Not pressing the button.
The Number One Way To Improve Your Food Photography
The number one way to improve your food photography is to put the camera down and improve your visual literacy. Study other photographers work with the sole purpose of improving your own work. In another article I talked about building muscle memory and just like having a bag full of tools and techniques, having a bag full of compositions as well is vital. Improving your visual literacy fills that bag.
Take a step back from the camera for a week and just look at what other photographers have created. Find those who inspire you. Those artists who create work that you would LOVE to be making. Those photographers, painters, graphic designers who's work sparks your own creative fire.
- Create a mood board on Pinterest, titled "My Inspiration" and fill it with their work.
- Make little notes about why you like each image.
- Once a week add more inspiration to this board.
- Reference it before you go to pick up your camera.
What Visual Literacy Does For Your Food Photography
Raises The Bar
Having a strong collection of work that inspires you creates a BAR, a level you want to obtain. This bar keeps you honest. It reminds you how far you have to go and gives you a destination to reach. As your photography progresses so does that bar. As you improve, you may leave your old inspirations behind and gain new ones. Which is great.
Visual Literacy Keeps You Current
Having an every growing catalogue of inspiration allows you to see what is trending. The types of images and styles that are popular in your niche. Food photography has changed a lot in the the last few decades, hell it's changed a lot since the 12 years that I've been focused on it. Take a look at the style of food photography from the 70's and compare it to one of your favorite magazines from today to see what I mean.
Makes You a Better Problem Solver
It's natural to look at other photographs that inspire you and think about how they created it. The act of de-constructing the image in your mind is most likely the number one reason looking at images can improve your photography. Think about how they lit the image, how they modified that light. Dive into the camera settings they are using, the aperture, the lenses, and the focus. How they composed the shot, what props they are using and how they relate to the story. The color choices they made. The list is endless, but most importantly why you like the image.
Where I Go To Improve My Visual Literacy and Find My Inspiration
You may have a few food photographers who's work you absolutely love, but broadening your pool of inspiration can sometimes be difficult. I know typing in "Food Photographers" to the Google search bar can be tempting, but might not get you the quality your looking for. When hunting for inspiration for a new portfolio or style I want to dive into, here is where I usually turn to find my inspiration.
Cookbooks / Magazines
Great source for current trends and styles, but hard to find a single creator to really follow. Sometimes I look for the by-line then do a quick Google search for a specific photographer's name to see their body of work.
Wonderful Machine is an agency that provides a list and resource for both photographers and people looking to employ photographers. What is really helpful about their list is that not only can you find some amazing photographers to become inspired by. What is special about Wonderful Machine is that you can narrow your search to your specific location and see what type of photography is being made in you hometown.
It used to be Found Folios and now it's Found Artists, but nonetheless it's a great resource to find quality professional photography work. There site is promoted to advertise photographers to top advertisement agencies and companies. To be a photographer on their list costs a hefty sum of money, so you know that only serious pros are displaying their work here. I love to check this site out to find new photographers and work that inspires me.
It really is amazing how the simple act of looking at images will make huge improvements in your own photography.
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