Jonathan Pollock: Food photography

florentines by Jonathan Pollock

On Friday I met Jonathan Pollock, a London based food photographer. He showed me his fantastic portfolio which ranged from florentines for Fortnum and Mason (pictured here) to sausages and mash for a leading supermarket and foodie dishes for the Onion Council. I also love his meille feuille pic here. He was kind enough to give me some tips on how to take great food photos which I’ve summarised below.

  1. Use natural light wherever possible – that means I need to be photographing my baking either outside or by the windows – not using the overhead lights or underlighting by the cupboards
  2. Use a DSLR if you can so you can have a lot more control over the exposure, shutter speed and aperture – I am going to have to get a new camera soon! Jonathan recommends the Nikon D90 with a 15-105 lens
  3. If you can photograph outside on a cloudy day or use the light one hour before sunset it should work well
  4. Don’t use the flash on close up shots (which I try not to) but adjust the exposure to +1 if the photo looks too dark
  5. If you don’t want to use flash then 400 ISO should be about right in low-level lighting (it has a faster shutter speed)
  6. To take crisp shots and avoid blur, rest your back on a wall or your elbows on the table and slowly breathe in before you take the shot and then gently press snap!
  7. If you want some basic principles on how to use a camera, then John Hedgecoe’s Guide to 35mm Photography is a good book
  8. For food, it’s good to take tight shots and remember to have the food at the front of the plate
  9. Composition wise, remember to visually split the picture into three and take the interesting part of the pic in the left hand third
  10. 50 ASA/ISO is good quality but has a slower shutter speed (longer exposure) so you need to use it in an environment with higher light levels

I also asked Jonathan for some anecdotes about what it’s like to be a food stylist. He said you have to have incredible patience – each shot takes about two hours – and it’s more like being an alchemist or perhaps an illusionist? For instance, to get a frothy cup of coffee with marshmallows bobbing on the top, gravel is used for 90% of the cup with coffee poured through it. Then a bit of milk is added on top and the marshmallows can sit nicely on the gravel. Who knew!

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