Improve your food photography by learning some basic origami

Yes, you read the title right, just some basic origami is all it takes to improve your food photography. If you know how to fold your paper into 3 equal horizontal, and 3 equal vertical parts, you surely will be able to take better pictures of your food, restaurant or product. 

For many, it’s a matter of chance if they create an Instagram worthy picture; most people take their pictures by randomly pointing their camera at what they think looks pretty and rapidly pressing the shutter button. Professionals on the other hand carefully choose a subject and compose the shot before “pulling the trigger”. 

This article is the first of a series that aims to close this gap between you and professional photographers as much as possible or to at least give you the ability to judge the pictures others take for you.

WHAT IS THE RULE OF THIRDS?

The rule of thirds is based on the notion that our eyes, when presented with a rectangular image, naturally fall on one of the rulers’ cross section points, as shown above. So when the subject of a photograph is placed on one of these imaginary cross sections, an image becomes easier to look at:

It’s the equivalent of saying “Hey you! Don’t think, just look here!”.

As humans tend to be drawn to things that are easy, the application of the rule of thirds can most certainly make your photographs more appealing. However, it is important to not take this as a golden rule, because there are exceptions to every rule. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of factors that play into creating a beautifully composed shot, but applying the rule of thirds and always keeping it in mind when taking a picture is a good starting point for anyone who wants to take better pictures. 

HOW TO USE THE RULE OF THIRDS?

Great photographs tell a story or evoke an emotional response from the viewer. A story usually involves a subject and the scene that he/she is in (a.k.a. Context). A good picture is all about the interaction between the subject and its context, and what story this interaction tells. One way to use the rule of thirds is by placing the main subject on one of the four cross section points whilst placing the context your main subject is interacting with on the cross section opposite to it.  Here is an example: When Casa Sabatelli was holding an event at De Hallen in Amsterdam, we wanted to make sure that people sampled one of their favorite, traditional, Apulian snacks known as Polpette. During the event, we decided to take some pictures for social media. When composing the shot, I chose to place Franchesco (the man wearing the black Casa Sabatelli polo shirt) on the top right cross section point, whilst placing the customer’s facial outline on the left vertical line. This composition allows the viewer to interpret the story: A man working at a restaurant called Casa Sabatelli is providing samples to a passing customer.

CRODINO BOTTLES

Casa Sabatelli was chosen as one of Crodino’s Italian hotspots in Amsterdam. For this, we wanted to take a few pictures of the product to increase the awareness of Crodino being available at Casa Sabatelli. It was important to show the drink in use. Being that the drink is normally served with ice and a slice of orange in a tall Crodino glass, we wanted to design a context that included these elements. The use of the orange in the background will aid users to better understand/imagine what the drink would taste like. Most importantly, the Crodino bottles had to be at the center of attention. In the image above, you can see a vertical shot of a Crodino bottle and a Crodino served in a glass. Both of these elements are placed exactly on the vertical lines, the Crodino served with ice and a slice of orange on the right and the bottle on the left. When breaking the image down, it is apparent that our eyes are drawn to the Crodino bottle: It is sharp, in focus, and placed on the bottom left crosssection of the composition. Pro tip: The green vignetting that you see in the picture comes from holding a basil plant right in front of the lens. This had given the picture some extra depth and some nice bokeh.

UTILIZE YOUR BACKGROUND

Your subject does not always necessarily have to abide to the rule of thirds. Sometimes, the rule of thirds works best when elements in the background rest on one of the horizontal or vertical lines. For instance, when shooting these paninis, we decided to use some white baking paper to separate the subject from the background. Not only did the baking paper increase contrast, but it also serves to separate the picture into three relatively equal parts as it rests on the rule’s horizontal lines.

The rule can also be used by placing notable visual “lines” in the composition (such as landscape plains) on one of the vertical and horizontal lines.

Pro tip: Sometimes, the light inside the restaurant isn’t always that great. So take the food outside or close to a window to see how the light interacts with your subject. Sometimes, you can even recognize the rule’s composition in day

Sometimes, you can even recognize the rule’s composition in day to day objects. Perhaps you will not get the best results in terms of composition, but it just goes to show that it can make ordinary objects just that much more special.

Pro tip: Sometimes things look way better in black and white. 

COMPOSE DIAGONALLY

Overhead shots, in general, are a great way to take pictures of food. The background does not have to be decorated as if you are trying to impress that date that is clearly out of your league and you require significantly less knowledge on depth of field and foreground-background-composition.Besides, sometimes you simply do not have the scenery or the resources to pull off a beautiful portray style shot.

To compose an over head shot take the products you want to present and carefully place them on the table based on the rule of thirds. This picture was taken during one of our photo shoots at Vegabond. The idea behind this was to feature their vegan cream cheese crackers accompanied by a lovely beetroot juice and a slice of their raw homemade carrot cake.

In practice, we chose to present the products in a diagonal fashion whilst retaining some visual elements horizontally. The table, newspaper, the model’s hand and the vegan cheese crackers (main dish) were placed horizontally. However, we wanted to compose the table and the main dish in such a way that all the corners fall on either one of the horizontal lines, or the vertical lines.

Elements such as the carrot cake and the beetroot Juice (including the straw) were placed on the upper and lower left cross section points, whilst placing their “natural lines” parallel to the rule’s horizontal lines. This composition guides the viewer’s eyes into the direction of the main subject of the composition: The vegan cream cheese crackers.

Other elements such as the napkin underneath the beetroot Juice were placed to be parallel with the rule’s vertical lines in order to fill the shot with more visual elements. A lesson to be learned here is that we have all been guilty of composing photographs perfectly leveled. At times, it is good to be different. So be creative and compose your shot diagonally using the rule of thirds.

Pro tip: A tripod that allows you to take overhead shots comes in handy when composing a shot like this. 

HOW NOT TO RULE IN THIRDS AND STILL SUCCEED

Like any other rule, the rule of third is meant to be broken. Instead of learning how to fold your paper in threes, fold your paper in fours and create a composition based on that, or draw a line from corner to corner and see where the “X” marks the spot.

Creativity in the first place is about…exactly, being creative. It means to play with the rules that were given to you, to alter and disrespect them, but also to know their value. You don’t have to follow the rule of thirds 100%, but you should see it as helpful rule of thumb that makes it easier for you to be creative and play with your imagination. Here are some examples of nice looking photographs that do not follow the rule of thirds. 

ACTIONABLE STEPS

1. Before taking a picture, take a moment and think about your composition. What is the subject of your photograph? In what context are you photographing it and what story do you want to tell?

2. Analyze someone else’s work. Have you recently seen a picture that you really liked? Did the photographer follow the rule of thirds? Ask yourself what part of the picture appeals to you the most?  Where are your eyes lead to?

3. Break the rule. After being cautious about composing your shot, try something different and unplanned. Who knows what you will stumble across.

After all, a good photographer is a lucky photographer

 

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