November 6, 2023

The Art of Capturing Culinary Creations: A Photographer’s Perspective

Brent Herrig Photography

Food is more than just sustenance—it’s an art form, a medium of expression, and a vehicle for cultural exchange. As a culinary lifestyle photographer and director, capturing the essence of a dish is a challenge that I both relish and respect. In this post, I’ll share my journey and insights into the world of culinary photography and the nuances of capturing those perfect shots.

The Initial Attraction

My journey behind the lens began far from the food and beverage world.  It actually began with the light.  I was a lighting assistant for many fashion and portrait photographers in and around New York City.  I also got to travel the globe doing this as well.  This is where my love of food started to develop. Discovering cultural foods’ vibrant palettes and dynamic compositions on the plate started capturing my imagination. I realized that, akin to the multisensory experience of savoring a dish, a photograph of food should be a feast for the eyes, stirring memories and igniting the senses.  So I started to mix my love for the lighting and stories with the food and drink culture.

Understanding the Dish

Comprehension precedes depiction. Before I frame a shot, I immerse myself in the essence of the culinary creation before me. Whether it’s the delicate balance of flavors in a dessert, ready for its close-up in a session of dessert photography, or the bold spices in an entrée, each component plays a pivotal role. What ingredients speak the loudest? What culinary traditions does it embody? What’s the story behind it, especially when capturing desserts, where the art of plating adds layers of visual storytelling to the taste? Every dish, be it a humble homemade stew or a sophisticated Michelin-starred dessert that’s as much a treat for the eyes as for the palate, has a unique narrative. Grasping this story is crucial, as it guides my lens and helps me to portray it effectively through the medium of photography, ensuring that dessert photos are as tantalizing as their real-life counterparts.

A plated dessert at Per Se being plated.

Comprehension precedes depiction. Before I frame a shot, I immerse myself in the essence of the culinary creation before me. What ingredients speak the loudest? What culinary traditions does it embody? What’s the story behind it? I believe that every dish—from a humble homemade stew to a sophisticated Michelin-starred course—has a unique narrative. Grasping this story is pivotal to portraying it effectively through the medium of photography.

Collaboration with Chefs

One of my favorite parts of the job is working closely with chefs. I have photographed over 350+ Chefs from around the world and have shot 100’s of Chef Portraits.  Their passion for their craft is infectious. Collaborating with them helps me understand their vision for the dish, which I then strive to capture. Sometimes, it’s about showcasing the freshness of ingredients, other times it might be about a complex technique or a family recipe passed down through generations.

Lighting and Composition

In the universe of photography and film, light is the great storyteller. It can enhance textures, create mood, and bring out the true hues of the culinary creation. I often favor the subtleties and authenticity of natural light, but I also appreciate the control that studio lighting offers. Choosing the lighting is everything. Every brand or restaurant has a different aesthetic or look, and I strive to create their perfect look and vibe with the right light.  And especially with food, it’s even more pivotal. The way light reflects off a drizzle of olive oil or casts shadows on the ridges of a pasta dish can make all the difference.

Mini Pasta bites in the raw form.

This Food photography captures the raw pasta while it is being made.

A perfect composition—achieved through an understanding of angles, space, and perspective—complements the lighting to create an appetizing and compelling image.  You can also direct the viewer towards exactly what you are choosing and wanting them to see.   These are just a few things I speak about inside my Culinary Creatives Academy.

Choosing the Right Angles

Every dish has its “best side.” Sometimes, a bird’s-eye view is perfect to showcase the layout of a dish. Other times, a side-angle shot captures the layers and depth of a dessert or a burger. Experimentation is key, and often, I find myself taking multiple shots from various angles before finding the one that feels just right. This is done by not being chained to a tripod and having a good understanding of the lighting.

Post-Processing: Enhancing, Not Altering

The post-processing stage is where a good photograph can become great. However, my ethos is enhancement over transformation. Digital tools are used judiciously to correct minor flaws and bring out the details, all while maintaining the dish’s integrity. Over-editing is the antithesis of authenticity; the real essence of the dish must shine through unadulterated.

Challenges and Joys of Food Photography

The pursuit of the perfect Food Photograph is fraught with obstacles—melting desserts, wilting salads, and dishes just losing their freshness. Yet, it is within these challenges that I find the greatest joy. Overcoming these hurdles to capture a dish in its most appealing moment is deeply rewarding, providing a visual homage to the chef’s culinary prowess.

A Dover Sole Dish disappearing before your eyes in this animated Gif

Final Thoughts

Culinary photography is not just about taking pictures of food and drinks — it’s about capturing the passion of those who create it and the experience of those who enjoy it. Every dish has a story and I want to capture that story.   It is a delicate balance of art, science, and emotion. As I continue this journey, with each click of the shutter, I am reminded of the power of food to connect us, the beauty it holds, and the endless stories waiting to be told through my lens.

As we explore the delightful intersection of culinary art and visual storytelling, remember that every image has the potential to tempt the palate and provoke thought, one plate at a time. Join me on this visual feast as we capture the ephemeral and make it eternal.

I would love to tell your brand’s story.  Let’s find a time and discuss how we can work together today.  Let’s Connect!  

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