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How to shoot food like a pro just using a smartphone

Would you mind giving us an intro to who you are? 

My name is Jade Nina Sarkhel and I’m predominantly known for my work as a food photographer alongside my creative agency specialising in content creation & digital marketing. I currently live in Bali with my fiance Rich and travel regularly for international shoots! 

How did you get started in food photography?

I have always had a real obsession with food, chefs and kitchens due to spending a lot of time in my parents restaurants as a kid. My dad was an incredibly talented chef and my mum was the brains behind the businesses. After my dad passed away in 2012 I found myself being drawn back to the hospitality industry in an attempt to reconnect with him. I ended up spending a year working as a marketing and PR manager for a small restaurant group with little budget for services like photography which was when my brother gave me my first camera and showed me the basics so I could take snaps for the restaurant. I felt like I had a real knack for it so when I eventually decided to leave the company I thought I’d give it a go. I reached out to chefs that I knew in the industry and asked them if they’d let me photograph their food to help me build a portfolio. Three years later and I’ve never looked back!

What advice would you give anyone that wants to get into photography?

Go for it and be realistic! Acknowledge your strengths and develop them. Discover your weaknesses and outsource(if possible)! Start by focussing on the technicals and get shooting as often as you can whether it is paid or not and be cautious to not go overboard on purchasing equipment as minimal kit is necessary to get started. My motto which I learnt from Sue Bryce (an amazing potrait photographer) is to only purchase what makes the ship go faster! Another really important element is to focus on self-development. Being a photographer is not just about producing beautiful photographs, it’s about building relationships and the ability to understand your clients and bring their ideas to life for them.

What makes you tick?

I read this quote once – “Decide what kind of life you want and then say no to everything that isn’t that.” I really love this. I figured out not long after reading this quote that, above all, contributing to others and creating things that are beautiful in any form are what really brings me joy and purpose in life. This is what makes me tick so I make my life decisions based on that!

Why do you love photography?

The thing I love most about photography is helping passionate individuals bring their ideas to life visually for the first time. Often clients come to me with a verbal explanation of what they hope to create with very specific ideas in mind. The process of taking something from the drawing board to the final stages of producing a beautiful image to communicate to their audience who they are or what they are producing is incredibly satisfying with an almost immediate gratification of customers booking a table or placing an order.

Are you ready to up your game in food photography? I’m going to teach you how to take beautiful food photographs just using your smart phone. If you use an iPhone, you can click through to my article on my top iPhone camera hacks to fast track your snaps with some of my top iphone tips including how to turn on your grid, lock focus and overide the exposure/brightness on your phone camera.

Let’s get started with the number one factor in food photography…

LIGHTING

I’d always recommend to stick to working with nautral light and avoid any sources of artificial light. The reason for this is that our brains are subconciously aware of natural vs artificial colours when it comes to food. When we look at photographs of food we are weighing up whether a dish is appealing to us based on how natural, nourishing and true the colours appear for example a rich, deep red tomato soup under a blue tinted light build will look slightly brown/purple and A LOT less drool worthy. When we use artificial light without the skills to re-create natural day light succesully, we risk altering the natural colours of a dish which is why my first rule as an amateur looking to improve their basic skills would be to avoid any artificial light.

Here’s what to look out for when it comes to lighting your food… 

  1. A single directional light source, usually a window. Light coming in from one angle gives us shadows and highlights which is the trick to creating food photography with depth and beautiful detailed texture. 
  2. Avoid overhead light from skylights or light coming in from multiple angles e.g a conservatory If we have light coming in from above or multiple angles we end up with an image that appears two dimensional as there is no room for shadow – it is all highlighted! 
  3. Assess whether any aritifical light is affecting your shoot area. Look around, are there any lights on in the room you are in and are they powerful enough to reach your shoot area and effect your colour tones. 
  4. Last, but ABSOLUTELY not least is to asses if you are dealing with direct sunlight or not. Our optimum conditions are a bright but cloudy day. This will give us a naturally soft diffused light leaving us with gentle but recognisable enough shadows and highlights to play with, whereas bright sunshine creates very dark shadows and blown out (photographer lingo for over-exposed) highlights. If it is a sunny day you can use something like greaseproof paper or a photography diffuser.

WHAT ANGLE TO SHOOT AT?

Ever struggle to decide what angle to shoot your dish at? Let’s start by assesing what you are photographing. Is it flat, is it shallow, is it stacked, where are the details in the dish? Here are some generalised rules to help guide you: 

GO OVERHEAD If it’s something flat, its plated in a deep dish or the detail is on the top like soup, pizza, cookies, latte art, cinnamon buns, open bagels, fried eggs etc then overhead often works well. 

GET DOWN TO EYE-LEVEL If it’s something tall and stacked and you’d like to demonstrate the height like pancakes, burgers, cakes etc. eye-level works pretty well. If you are photographing something on a table but your phone won’t let you get low enough, turn your phone upside down and hey presto!! You’ve got a lower angle for eye-level! 

ANGLE FOR 45 DEGREES For everything else a 45-degree angle works well to capture depth and height of a dish. Just experiment and really think about what angle best shows off a dish.

If you’d like more guidance on composition, you can download my free PDF on how to capture beautiful photography using your smartphone where I share some of my most often used composition technique like rule of thirds, perfect symmetry and leading lines

https://www.jadesarkhel.co.uk/food-photography-on-your-iphone

EDITING

There are LOADS of fantastic editing apps out there but Snapseed is one of my favourites. It allows you to edit everything from the basic functionalities like exposure and adjusting the crop all the way to making selective edits such as just brightening a select piece of garnish for example. Again, If you’d like more guidance on editing, you can download my free PDF

https://www.jadesarkhel.co.uk/food-photography-on-your-iphone

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