Capturing the essence: Food photography 101


Food photography has come a long way since the questionable recipes and muted color palettes of vintage cookbooks. Today’s photos are creative and fresh, using lighting and backgrounds to showcase the wide variety of textures and details that make food naturally appealing.

At Ingredient, we do all our photography in-house; over the years, we’ve honed our skills to create simple, eye-catching images that resonate with consumers. Here are some of our go-to approaches for successful food photography:

Don’t over-style things.

We like to call it “perfectly imperfect.” We gently style the food, keeping it fresh, natural, and timeless. It’s all about being relatable and attainable—not overly difficult or pretentious. We want people to feel as if they can reach into the image and taste the food themselves.

Keep the background neutral.

We use natural lighting and neutral backgrounds to help the food’s organic beauty shine through. Busy backgrounds and unnecessary props can feel cluttered and distracting; when we’re shooting, the food is the focus.

No fake food.

Unlike some food photographers out there, all our food is completely edible. We don’t use any crazy styling techniques like paint, oils, shaving cream or glue (insert horrified screaming emoji here). Everything we shoot is real, cooked fresh in our kitchen, and ready to go. And then we eat it!

Keep a single focus.

We typically use selective focus, or a shallow depth of field, to feature one item, versus an entire tablescape. This allows us to bring full attention to the food and create some drama.

Choose composition that’s best for the food.

With the rise of Instagram comes an increase in top-down food photography. However, we don’t get hung up on any one angle or type of shot. We typically take pictures from a variety of angles—and then simply choose which one makes the food look best.

Recipe shots vs. product shots.

Beautifully styled recipes are easy to photograph, with so many ingredients and textures to draw the consumer in. However, in the case of a single product or ingredient, we need to get creative with the composition! Our team uses design elements to come up with an image that’s engaging and graphically interesting.

These are just a few of the rules we live by—for now. Instagram, iPhones and food bloggers continue to have a huge impact on the evolution of food photography, and our team is always on the lookout for new and upcoming trends!



Pizza as the key to happiness

heggies pizza squaresNot being from Minnesota originally, I have to admit I was not familiar with Heggies Pizza. Then we started working with them and I realized there are two types of people: Those who love Heggies Pizza and those who’ve never tried Heggies Pizza.

While working on this project, I learned that there are a lot of people at Ingredient who love Heggies. Also that square cut is superior to triangular cut (at least when it comes to pizza with thinner crusts). Oh, and that Heggies has one of those qualities all brands crave: Deeply ingrained authenticity. Heggies is more than pizza, it’s a companion to some of life’s best times. It’s simple and good and made with a ridiculous attention to detail and quality.

Find out more about our work with Heggies on their case study page.

World’s best food

sweet me creamery vanilla ice creamBeing part of a new brand launch is always exciting, especially when the brand is also quite easily my favorite food in the world: Ice cream.

Sweet Me Creamery is a brand new label in the crowded ice cream category. The photoshoot we did for them was one of the most interesting I’ve been involved with if only because it involved playing with liquid nitrogen (not something I’d advise you try at home) and, of course, SO MUCH ice cream. I mean, not all of it was manhandled during the shoot.

Besides the shoot, we’re doing a ton more stuff for Sweet Me. Check out the case study page for more details.


How now, brown cow?

sweet meadows farms jersey cowsWalking in a biting cold wind on a farm path squishy with mud to meet some brown cows is not how most days start for those in marketing, but when you’re very lucky, they do.

That was the scene as we visited one of three dairy farms that supply milk for our new client, Sweet Meadows Farms. Sweet Meadows is different than typical milk in that it’s from cows who are pasture-grazed. As much as possible (seasons and weather permitting), these girls hang out with their hooves planted in sweet green goodness, walking and chewing and being the very image of what you think of when you imagine a dairy cow.

The most rewarding part of the trip for us, though, was meeting the dairy farmers whose lives are dedicated to a type of dairy farming that’s more about animal welfare and land stewardship than it is a drive towards the greatest efficiency and lowest costs. These are people whose jobs and lives are integrated in ways those of us who depend on their efforts for our food too often fail to appreciate.

You can find out what we did for Sweet Meadows on their case study page. We’ll be a heading back to the farms later this year to capture photography and start the process of developing content that, like their milk, is fresh from the lives of the farmers.

Words have meanings

The Washington Post published an article yesterday calling into question the veracity of milk produced by Aurora Organic Dairy and marketed under the store brands of Walmart, Costco and others as organic milk. As the story relates, part of the USDA organic requirements for milk producers is that the cows be pasture grazed when seasonally available. Grass-fed cows produce a milk that is higher in certain chemicals and lower in others when compared to conventionally-produced milk. When the Post’s reporters visited the 6,000 acre dairy, they noticed that a relatively small percentage of the cows were in the pasture and most were in feed lots. Chemical analysis of the milk showed the Aurora’s looks very much like conventional milk and not like other organic brands.

Nobody is claiming the Aurora milk is unsafe. There’s no reason to believe it is. This is a question of perception and the value consumer’s place on that perception. In this case, organic milk can be twice as expensive as conventional based on a consumer perception that it’s healthier. But when producers bend the rules like this and are caught doing so, it damages consumer’s trust in the words we use to market food. How will the Post’s expose impact other organic milk producers who follow the USDA rules? Or other organic brands across the grocery store?

It’s true that state and federal inspectors should have caught Aurora’s apparent misrepresentation, but they didn’t. But this was a case in which there’s a specific standard in place. Much of the time, food is marketed using terms that don’t have a clear definition. Or they’re used in application in which they don’t apply (GMO-free water, for example). The misuse, over-use, or inappropriate application of labels in food marketing create an environment that leads to consumer distrust. Lacking a centrally authoritative organization to ensure they’re used correctly, it’s up to brands and their marketers to ensure claims made about the food they produce are accurate and grounded in facts. To do otherwise erodes the ability of all food producers to create an environment of trust with their consumers.

Welcome to Ingredient

The idea that eventually became Ingredient was conceived, like a lot of good ideas and perhaps quite fittingly, over a meal. Specifically, a lunchtime pitstop with Ken and Emily at Hello Pizza following a meeting with our client Lunds & Byerlys. We’d been working with food clients for years, but L&B was an opportunity for us to branch out in ways that we really enjoyed but were also, it turns out, pretty good at.

I remember saying, this is what we need to do more of. Not eat pizza (but that’s OK, too). Market food and food culture. Brands and companies involved with making, eating, talking about, living with, or selling food. We had a passion and a talent and a unique team capable of so much more than the work in front of us to that point gave us opportunity to do. So we all agreed to set a course on that day that leads us to this one. A path that allows us to exercise our enthusiasm more fully.

The thing about food that makes it so exciting to us is that it’s such an intimate thing. Of the handful of actions we all do every day as humans that are central to our survival (go ahead, count them – four things? five?) preparing and eating food is the only one we routinely do communally. The one that’s not only socially acceptable to happen with and in front of your friends, family, and loved ones, it’s actually enhanced by doing so. And the lenses though which people perceive and value their ever more numerous food options are more complex than ever before. That creates an incredible opportunity for those willing to dig into it. We relish that challenge.

The path to Ingredient wasn’t straight and it wasn’t short, but it finds us here, today. We launch Ingredient with a great deal of hope and excitement and passion. We strive to tell the stories of similarly passionate creators of food products or the culture that surrounds them.