With a love of both food (eating and cooking it) and photography it seems only natural I have a passion for food photography. One of the biggest issues with food photography is knowing whether to use photography backgrounds or not, and this is covered below.
Do you need Food photography backgrounds? - shooting close up or wide?
If you are taking close up shots of food where it fills the entire frame, or almost the entire frame you do not need to use food photography backgrounds. Photography backgrounds are used to eliminate distracting and messy backgrounds, and to make sure the food (i.e. the subject) steals the limelight and gets all the attention. Instances and scenarios where there is no background photography backgrounds for food photography shoots is a total waste of time.
If your food photography includes shooting a wider scene, such as several plates at a dinner table, a banquet, buffet platters and the like you will inevitable have some background in the frame. If the background is clean and non-distracting, such as a plain wall, you will not need to use food photography backgrounds. If the area behind the food is “messy” you will need to use a background.
There are times you can use a wide aperture and a narrow depth of field to intentionally throw messy backgrounds out of focus, but you do need to be a little careful here. If you want to focus on a sole plate of food, or a single food item this method will work well. If you want several plates of food to be in sharp focus or several bits of food in sharp focus using a wide aperture is unlikely to give the depth of field sufficient to keep everything in sharp focus. Stopping the lens down to make sure everything you want in focus is actually in focus may result in distracting background, therefore you will have to carry some photography backgrounds to deal with this.
My food photography lenses - Canon 16 - 35 f4L IS for wide shots and 100mm f2.8L IS macro for close up shots
Buy the Canon 16 - 35 f4L IS from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
Buy the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
Do you need Food photography backgrounds? - Studio or out on location?
If you are taking photos of food in your home studio and the food doesn’t take up 100% of the frame, i.e. there is any background showing, you will need to use a photography background behind the food. Plain photography backgrounds are best in these situations.
If you are taking photos of food on location you may or may not need a photography background. If you are taking close up shots of food you probably won’t need to use a photography backdrop. Similarly, if you are taking wider shots and there is a clean background where you are taking the photos you are unlikely to need a backdrop either.
The times you will need to use a photography background out on location is when you are taking wider food shots and the background is messy or distracting. In these cases setting up a photography background will help no end. As a general rule of thumb – If something catches your eye and takes your attention from the food as you look through the viewfinder (or on the LCD screen when you’re using live view) you need to use a photography background.
A photography background is essential in the home studio
Do I need food photography backgrounds or not?
The big question of “Do I need photography backgrounds for food photography shoots”?” isn’t clear cut, and the answer is “it depends”. Whether you need food photography backgrounds depends on whether you are taking close up or wide shots of food, whether you are shooting in the studio or on location and if you are shooting on location, the state of the room you are using to take the photos. The decision whether to use photography backgrounds for food photography shoots isn’t an easy one, and learning when and when not to use a background is a skill all photographers have to master to be successful in providing food photography services. Food photography backgrounds are essential and you should always make sure you have one or two to hand for those instances when you do need a background for a shoot. I have been caught out in the past so I make sure I always carry a selection of photography backgrounds with me, and it is better to have some backgrounds and leave them in the boot of the car/not use them than actually need a photography background and not have access to one.
Food photography backgrounds
Food photography backgrounds are light and plain coloured (typically white, light blue and light grey) as these colours allow the vibrancy of the food to come through and catch the eye. In my experience the light photography backgrounds are all you need for food photography.
Many photographers like muslin backdrops, and whilst I use these for portrait photography I don’t use them when taking photos of food. Nope, I use wipe clean synthetic style backdrops for my food photos and wouldn’t use anything else. Spillages are common in food photography so you need a backdrop that will clean up (and not stain) and dry off very quickly. You can’t do this with muslin but you can with these synthetic backdrops. These synthetic backdrops are also cheaper than muslin and don’t crease as much as muslin.
Some photographers argue paper backdrops are all you need for food photography, however I have to disagree. Paper backdrops, whilst super cheap and totally crease free aren’t tough or durable and the slightest spillage is likely to rip it.
As well as the backdrop itself you will also need background stand from which to hang the background, and the best ones are the collapsible goal post style. These background stands pack away pretty small so they are not only ideal for the home studio but also to carry around to on location food photography shoots too. Just don’t forget the clamps.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.