As a yacht chef a food photo portfolio is a great asset to show your skills and give a feel of your personality. You can’t “fake it to make it”, first of all, this is dishonest and eventually, someone will find out, especially if you are aiming to publish your photos on social media.
Taking food pictures can be challenging. Good quality food pictures, even if the food isn’t fancy or Michelin star level, can get you a job and vice versa, poor quality pictures will send your CV right at the bottom of the pile.
Taking pictures in the middle of a busy service under incandescent light on a stainless steel work surface in the middle of the messy kitchen isn’t a good idea, even if you think your plate is worth is a picture.
This tutorial will help you to achieve great results in no time.
The choice of the camera is obviously important but not paramount. You are either on the red team (Canon) or in the yellow team (Nikon). I am personally with Nikon. There are a lot of good quality camera brands out there, however, going with these two brands will give you a bigger choice of lenses, especially if you are looking to buy secondhand. Also, if one day you decide to resell your equipment, the loss of value will be limited.
Using a reflex camera will give you unlimited options, however, you will need to learn how to use it. You can choose to go for a bridge camera, this is less bulky and easier to use but you will be limited in your choices of lenses. They aren’t as robust either.
I recommend a Nikon D610 or a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. These are 2 equivalent cameras. In any case, your camera needs to be full-frame (FX vs DX). That means that you get the exact same ratio of the lens focal length. DX will have a smaller ratio.
If you choose to go for a hybrid camera, Nikon 1 J5 would be a good choice.
High-end mobiles are OK for specific usage but not for a high-quality photo book.
Compact cameras are definitely a no go.
If the choice of camera isn’t paramount, the lens is and this is where you should spend your money. In terms of lenses, you get what you pay for, and let’s be honest, low-cost lenses are impractical.
There are plenty of great articles out there, which explain the depth of eld and shutter speed principals.
For food photos, the choice of fixed focal is a standard. The longer the focal, the closest you will be from the food, the shortest the focal the further away you will be.
I personally use a 35mm for working environment pictures, a 50mm for broader scopes and 105mm for macro pictures.
There are main things to look for, the first one is the focal length and the second one is the shutter speed.
In terms of shutter speed, you will see it written as such f/1.4, or f/2.8, etc… the smaller the number, the better and the faster the lens will be.
For food photos, I recommend going for f/1.4. They are the most expensive, but they are also the best once you can nd, especially if you are looking to take pictures with nice blurry backgrounds.
The shutter speed is also one of the reasons why food photographers will tend to choose fixed focal over zoom lenses. With zoom lenses, you lose shutter speed when zooming in. Some zoom lenses can do a great job though, such as this one AF-S NIKKOR 24–70mm
As a yacht chef, you might need to invest in a small set of continuous lights. I use 2 Lowel Ego and a set of reflectors, they aren’t big and they do the job perfectly. Have a look at this blog, there are a lot of good tips that you can use.
You can’t really consider using ashes, as these will require you to work with umbrellas and rather large setup. There is an excellent article about lighting here
You need to avoid having direct light straight on your food, this will give harsh shadows and high lights, which you won’t be able to get rid of in post-production.
You will choose your own style and you will need to decide if you want to use backdrop, fancy props, plates and decoration around it.
In the beginning, I recommend focusing on food only. Props will just disturb you, they need to be lit appropriately to make sure the focus is on your food and not on crops themselves.
In regards to the plates, again, keep it really simple, in my opinion, you are better off going for a large surface that does the work and plates straight it, like a piece of marble, a mirror, old tiles, a large piece of plastic, etc…
That way you will be able to crop easily of anything goes wrong.
Do you really need a tripod? The answer is a BIG yes. This is very hard to make perfect and precise shots while carrying the camera, especially if you want to be super precise with the focus point.
Since Apple stopped Aperture, this is only 1 tool that can do the job for post-production and this is Adobe Lightroom, for a rather small fee a year, you will be able to remove stains, adjust the lighting on specific spots, adjust picture settings, etc…
This isn’t a graphic design tool. This is a proper post-production photo tool.
Creating a nice portfolio can be really time-consuming. Especially is you are the chef and the photographer.
You need to plan at least 2 days’ work an no more than 8-10 dishes + anything which can highlight specific skills, such as pastry or bakery. Ideally, you should also plan for someone taking pictures of you while cooking, there are always nice to have on food portfolio.
1. Write a list of dishes
2. Write your mise en place list
3. Write a shopping list
4. Make a sketch up of your dishes
5. Make a list of props that you need for each dish
6. Get familiar with your camera settings
On the day
1. Get your photo scene set up
2. Take a few pictures of the empty scene and check the light and your camera
Taking the pictures
Your food is cooked, great! Good job!
Remember, this is food isn’t there be eaten, it doesn’t have to be tasty, just needs to look pretty and this is the hardest thing for a chef to do … cook food which isn’t meant to be eaten isn’t natural. It doesn’t matter if your veggies aren’t cooked enough, has long had they look good, right?
While platting, don’t spend too much time doing it. The longest you wait the more the food will deteriorate and the more you will see it on the pictures.
You can use tweezers to gain precision, and a water + oil spray to make your food look shiny. Professional food photographers use all sorts of strategies to make the food look better e.i Engine oil, smoke, paint, shaving foam, etc… You really don’t need all this fuss.
This guide isn’t aiming to teach you how to use your camera settings, there are plenty of great articles on the web on this subject.
The basic camera settings for the food picture is set to :
Priority to Aperture ( A on your camera)
Depth of eld between f/1,4 to f/8 the lower the number, the shallower will the depth of eld be
ISO set to the minimum ISO 100 to ISO 400 will do the job, the highest the number the lower the quality of the picture will be. This is due to noise. Noise is these small dots that you see in low light pictures.
Exposure set to 0
White balance set to manual and adjusted according to your lighting condition, please see your camera manual
Picture format set to RAW + JPEG to the nest and the largest possible setting in your camera
The shutter speed will be set automatically if you have set your camera on A. That way you only have to focus on your creative skills.
Exposure is the result of the sensitivity, shutter speed, and aperture.
Please see this great article.
While we are always tempted to have a “bright” picture straight out of the camera. You should avoid falling into this trap. The brighter your picture will be, the less you will be able to make it better during post-production.
There are only really two angles that are relevant to food photos :
- 45° inclination to the scene or;
- From above the scene
Everything else won’t seem natural. Feel free to turn around your subject, but always make sure the light comes from the back or sidewise, but not from the front of the scene. Lights coming from the front of the scene will make your food look at and sometimes even greasy.
I personally like to shoot tethered, which means linking the camera to the computer and see the results on the screen instantly. This isn’t possible with every camera though. I find that this is a great way to tweak anything which might need it instantly, but of course, this is a pain to have cables in the kitchen.
Pictures are in the box? Congrats! What’s next?
This could potentially be a MAAASSSIVE topic, but we won’t do that.
Once you have downloaded the pictures on your computer and opened Lightroom. Filter and delete the pictures that you don’t like.
You need to take a lot of pictures to have a few nice once, and perhaps even only which stands out. Don’t be too hard with yourself, everyone does that, even the pros.
You will go to the development section and start tweaking your pictures. You will mainly need to focus on exposure, noise, sharpness and remove any dots or anything which shouldn’t be there which should not be there.
Lightroom can be overwhelming, but in fact you just need an hour or two to get to it. Here is a cool tutorial.
Great, now you have the pictures
You should focus on the text, this is just as important. In Secrets de cuisine, we use a matrix, with a word count, that way the layout is always accurate.
Rather than building a CV bis, you should try to give emphasis to your personality.
Be genuine, there is no point making yourself look like a Michelin star chef if you are not. The competition is fierce, but not everyone is looking for a Michelin starred chef, just be yourself.
I recommend using a platform like Blurb. They have a vast choice of options to choose from, the options are pretty much unlimited.
The printing quality is great and their layout tool very efficient. You can have this add on added to your Lightroom.
Format and export
Blurb also offers the option to create an Ebook but you will lose the cover page. Bear in mind that not everyone works on Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
Just export a PDF copy and compress it. Aim for a le smaller the 3M to send via emails otherwise, some professional mailbox will reject the email and your portfolio altogether.