Nitin Tandon’s mantras for great food photography

Chef, restauranteur and food stylist Nitin Tandon decodes how to take beautiful food shots and shares important advice for budding photographers

29 Apr 2021

Nitin is responsible for several of the beautiful food pictures and videos that we often see around us. And during the Indian Food Bloggers Awards (IFBA) 2021, Nitin Tandon was live on Vikhroli Cucina’s Instagram handle to share his insights into food photography. The session, which was powered by Godrej Veg Oils, saw Nitin in conversation with Sameer Malkani, Co-founder of the Food Bloggers Association of India. Here are some of the key highlights of that session.

Do not follow any rules

The first suggestion that Nitin has is to not follow any rules. “The old language of photography has changed for digital,” he says. Nitin, who was the only Indian photographer to be nominated for the prestigious Pink Lady Photographer of the Year 2020, explains, “Earlier, if there was too much flare coming into the lens, it was considered wrong. Today, it is considered fashionable. Similarly, unkempt shots where ingredients look slightly scattered and sauces are shown splashing are accepted.”

Make the most of natural light

“Use just one simple light source — sunlight. You can use thermocol to bounce the light on to areas where there are shadows, gateway paper to soften harsh sunlight or even black paper to block or direct it. Many professional photographers in New York have stopped working with multiple lights and rely on sunlight,” says Nitin. His suggestion is to shoot by a window in order to make the most of the sunlight from sunrise till 10 am and the evening light from around 3.30-6 pm.

Composition matters

Simple compositions work well, according to Nitin, depending on the food being shot. One recommendation he has is to choose a white background, which lets the colours of the food stand out. The other suggestion is to play around with different shades of the same colour, for example, peas on a green plate against a pistachio-coloured background. Yet another trend that has been seen is to use a monochrome of the same colours. “What are you trying to achieve? Whether you’re trying to achieve surprise, drama or stillness, what inspiration are you taking to portray that? You can create a romantic looking picture or a graphic image, depending on your composition. Look at a subject called Foodography, which will show you a different language of food as a graphic. That language wasn’t there earlier,” says Nitin.

Props that help

Props can enhance the beauty of an image and according to Nitin, if you have access to props, use them, “Everyone should have a collection of props. One easy way to build a collection is to pick up something which interests you whenever you travel.” He also points out what all you can collect, “Wood is fashionable now. You can use fabric, ceramic cutlery and wooden boards.”

Make a photograph powerful

“The story or message behind a photograph makes it powerful, even if it a simple one,” says Nitin. According to him, the subject of the photograph has to stand out, whether you opt for a dramatic composition or a simple one. “Your subject should be placed, cut and portrayed in such a way that it’s enticing you to eat it. Give a lot of attention to your subject, detail it heavily.

Then to complement this, the side subjects or props come into play. Use a 45-degree angle to take a picture, top-down works only for graphic images. Be clear on what line you are taking and make it as truthful as possible,” he explains.

Make the most of technology

Technology is transforming the way photographer work, and one such aspect is mobile phone cameras. Nitin feels that you can use a mobile phone camera to take good pictures, provided you know the basics. “Most mobile phone cameras don’t have a depth of field, so they give you crisp pictures, but at times you need to give a hazy feel to the background. Some phone cameras do give you that option of depth of field where the picture is crisp, and the background is out of focus, which gives you a sense of interest,” says Nitin. He also recommends using the filters provided to enhance your photograph with effects. “For people who find it is challenging to visualise, initial filters available on apps really help because they know how their images will look in the end. People who are used to taking photographs quite often can use filters after taking the photographs,” he explains. Another important aspect is how to store the high-resolution images that you click. “I would strongly recommend not having any physical hard disks because you will lose your data once they stop working in a few years. Opt for cloud storage instead; it isn’t expensive.”

Develop your signature style

“It is compulsory for a person to have their signature style in the composition on photos because it starts reflecting your brand. The tonality or colour change will bring about differentiation in the images. Every picture is your canvas, so like Alfred Hitchcock, do leave a sign behind so that people know that you have done it,” says Nitin. He feels this is even more important because there often isn’t much space for copy on social media posts, so your photos become your identity.

Advice for budding photographers

The prospect of beginning your journey in photography might seem daunting to some, but Nitin breaks it down into some easy steps. “Play around with your camera and let it become your extended arm. Understand art — follow a few photographers and food stylists and start thinking about how they must have taken a particular shot. Choose your specialisation and ensure you create a slightly varied style since only one won’t work. Create portfolios and show your work to others to get feedback. Interestingly, a child is the best person to give you feedback!,” he laughs. He also adds,“ “You can’t grow up in this business because you need to keep learning about the various trends and apps all the time.”

Are there any other tips you would like to share from your journey? Share it with us in the comments section below.

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