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Popular Chinese Dishes and Food Photography...

Thursday, March 08, 2012 | Labels: , |

You know what, sometimes I really don't know what to type for a blog post so I think I'm beginning to understand the beauty of Wordless Wednesdays and the like! :O.  Anyhow, I digress - for today I want to share some of my latest food photos with you and also perhaps share my opinion (I won't say advice or tips) on food photography.  If you told me a year ago that I will be so passionate about food photography/ styling I would say that you must be joking.  This blog has opened up a whole new world for me which I am most grateful for and being a Getty Images Artist has also spurred my passion for photography. 

Please see below for my thought process for some of my latest photos:

Cantonese roast duck, I wanted a very old-style rustic Chinese presentation for this so I chose a dark theme and used my trusty bottle of Wujiapi (Chinese wine) as a prop.

Cantonese Roast Duck

 Teochew Style Steamed Dumplings - I wanted to use a Chinese tea pot in the back as I thought the photo needed a bit of height in the background but I could not find my tea pot quickly so I used a steel canister for keeping tea leaves instead.
Teochew Chinese Steamed Dumplings

Traditional Chinese breakfast of you tiao and dried scallop congee - again an old-style traditional Chinese setting I was going for.  The photo did not look right at first without the little piece of you tiao you see in the bowl of congee in the foreground.  I thought the composition came together better with that little touch.
Traditional Chinese Breakfast - You Tiao and Dried Scallop Congee 油条和瑤柱粥

Here's my summary of what I have learnt on food photography from the day I started this blog (oooh, totally cringe-inducing when I see my old photos now) until this point.  I hope you will find my experience useful and the best thing about styling and shooting food (when it's not a product shoot) is that you can let your creativity take free rein and have so much fun!

  • NO FLASH - internal flash that is.  You can shoot decent photos with a point and shoot but just remember that you are not to use the built-in flash.  Using these kind of flashes creates harsh shadows and ugly highlights on food which are not exactly appetising I will have to say.
  • LIGHTING - it's really all about the lighting.  I only use natural light so I won't have much to contribute in terms of artificial lighting use but the latter is perhaps easier to manipulate.  I used to shoot my photos backlit but I now prefer to use a side light.  For fill lighting, I always carry a small mirror that I can use to reflect from the light source onto the dark areas of the photo.  You can also use a home-made reflector i.e. a white board to bounce the light off onto the food/ dish.  For stronger highlights, you can use a board wrapped in foil.
  • STYLING - this is a very personal thing.  Do you like the minimalist look? Or the cluttered, pretty look? To be honest, I can't decide which look I like best so I shoot and style according to how I feel on that particular day :).  I've been shooting more and more dark photos recently - I find that dark photos suit Asian food particularly well and as most of you know, Asian food is my focus hence the darkness!  
  • PROPS - I love love props which is definitely not unique in the blogging world.  I do try to keep a rein on myself though.  You don't have to spend a lot of money on props to make your photos work though.  My favourite tabletop that I use in a lot of my photos is actually a discarded wooden lazy Susan from next door which I promptly picked up.  I painted one side white while leaving the other in its' natural condition.  I have to say though that an interesting plate or piece of cutlery can make a huge difference in your food photos.  Oh and  I know I need to find more tabletops soon :O.  Don't limit yourself to tabletops of course, I have shot on chairs, benches, crates and even on a couch.  I have to mention napkins as well - a strategically placed napkin also makes a huge difference.
  • COMPOSITION - I know there is a rule of thirds etc and also a well-known 'taboo' of not placing your subject smack in the middle of the photo but really I don't really have such rules.  It depends on how you feel at the moment and you will develop the 'eye' with practice that suits your very own aesthetic standards. 
  • PROCESSING - I tend not to process my photos too much apart from adjusting the white balance and perhaps doing some dodging when required.  Shooting in raw helps a lot and although you don't need to be a post-processing expert, at least having Lightroom makes a huge difference especially if you're using a point and shoot.  Both Photoshop and Lightroom offer a good trial period for you to try  out before actual purchase - definitely worth it to take a look in my opinion.
  • CONCLUSION - Before I start shooting, I try to picture a theme which usually revolves around the food.  Dark or light? Pretty or rustic?  I then look at all my props and pick out what plates/ bowls/ cutlery fit my theme.  Sometimes though I pick my theme according to my latest prop that I badly want to feature, I have been known to stare into space at inopportune moments thinking up my next food photo.  There are also times when I shoot and get unsatisfied with the photos and just delete all the files.  I don't do sketches beforehand as I like to picture everything in my mind but I do know that sketches work for a lot of people and hey the sketches are kind of cool right?  

Just in case you are interested, you can check out my portfolio on Getty Images. 

Chinese Malaysian Loh Mee (thick wheat noodles in starchy broth) - I purposely used a light theme for this photo and went for an almost totally white on white theme with some accents from the blue embroidery in the napkin, wooden chopsticks and silver rims of the dinnerware.

Chinese Malaysian Loh Mee (Noodles in Thick Broth)

Chinese winter melon slow-fire soup, I shot this on a crate (used for mandarin oranges) which I have been meaning to paint for quite a while.  I thought the tiffin carrier added something different to my usual photos and I was trying to go for a 'worker dinner' kind of look, hope that makes sense.

Chinese Winter Melon Soup for Dinner


Candy said...

Everything looks wonderful!

Debs @ The Spanish Wok said...

Great post and mouthwatering photos as usual.  I would like to invite you to participate in a new blog event.  Chinese soup is the theme for April.  Please see to view for details of submissions.

Be great to have you included in this new event for bloggers worldwide.

Maureen said...

I love your photography and sometimes you're right.  The photos say way more than our words can.

Smoky Wok (Tastes of Home) said...

thanks D! I will check it out for sure.

Smoky Wok (Tastes of Home) said...

thanks Maureen! :) I know right. hah

J said...

Your photos are always so beautiful!

Annikap said...

They look very good and even have me interested in taking my own food photography, though I would really like the recipes of these dishes since this is basically what foodsgawker is for. But nice pictures.

Smoky Wok (Tastes of Home) said...

foodgawker also links to recipes so I'm not sure what you mean..but thanks.

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