Demystifying soup photography
As predicted, soup came out as the front-runner when I asked which food you think is difficult to photograph. I’m still learning the ropes on photographing liquid bowls of goodness myself, but I’ll let you on with what I’ve learnt so far. I might do the same thing for the other food in the poll, so we’ll see how this one goes.
As usual, there will be no talks about DOF or Aperture since this should be applicable to beginner photographers, and I also recommend the use of a substantial DSLR.
Rule #1. Avoid the “Great Wall of China Syndrome” :
Or whatever other wall you want to call it. Basically it’s when you put your soup in a bowl with tall sides and then proceed take a photograph at eye level.
While this could work in rare circumstances, it is best to leave it to the professionals, because all you’ll get is this solid wall of ceramic and a bit of the soup peeking from the top. For us less experienced photographers, it is much wiser to take our cameras a little bit higher and shoot at 30 degrees up from the table.
Or perhaps even a little higher. This way you could see actual soup inside the bowl. Also, know where your light source is, and check in the viewfinder to see how and where it’s reflecting. If you want to show off all those lovely components you just spent so much time preparing, a steeper downward angle is better for capturing them.
Rule #2. Let us not have secrets.
This is particularly addressed to those with clear or translucent soups. When you assemble such soup inside a bowl, refrain from pouring in all of the broth as it will submerge all the pieces of vegetables and creates a reflective film/surface. This does two things:
1. It prevents your viewers to actually get a look at what’s inside the darn soup.
2. The reflective surface makes taking photographs difficult as it reflect pretty much all and any lights it can.
So drain some of that liquid out with a spoon. However, if you’re shooting this soup inside a bowl, there’s a danger of it looking like this:
after you’ve drained the liquid out. No one wants to look at an emaciated-looking soup.
You might ask, why does that happen? Well it’s because a bowl has an uneven base. Water moves into lower places, therefore the vegetables in the middle [deepest] part of the bowl gets the most broth while the ones at the sides looks dry, which brings me to the third rule:
Rule #3: Who says you have to serve soups in bowls?
…because soups with scanty amount of broth or ones that have a higher vegetable content:broth ratio looks better when photographed in soup plates.
Just arrange the vegetables and spoon the broth/liquid until the pieces are just submerged.
Rule#5: To over or not to overhead?
For this I have a few simple rules:
- If your soup is made out of little bits and pieces of colorful vegetables + clear broth + inside soup plate = you can do both.
- If your soup is made out of little bits and pieces of monotone vegetables + clear broth + inside soup bowl = angled surface shot.
- If your soup is a creme of soup + garnish = go with the overhead.
To help you decide, the two pictures below are of the same plate of soup, just taken at two different angles - the first is overhead and the second is angled at a surface.
Rule #6. Creme of soups wants a pretty headdress.
Blended soups can be very tricky, but they also have the potential to look terrific in your lens. You have opportunities to play with propping, garnish and composition to make very graphic images, so it really is up to your imagination.
Rule #7. Too much negative space can be a negative thing.
Sometimes people take the pictures of a soup bowl with too much negative space (surrounding background).
For pureed soups in particular, you have to capture the little details of the garnish on top of pureed soup as it’ll have to compensate for the lack of texture or colour in the soup itself.
And then enhance it further by playing with post-editing cropping.
Rule #8. 3 is a crowd, but it makes for good looking soup bowls.
This is specifically for noodle-soup bowls. After I cook the noodles, I take the noodles out of the broth with some of the vegetables into a separate bowl. Then I divide it into three bunches before putting it into the bowl I’m going to shoot in.
And then add in sort of scatter a bit more of the vegetables it was cooked with on top and on the sides before finally pouring in the broth until just submerged (remember Rule#2!)
It just puts everything in the bowl nicely without looking too set-up or too crowded.
That’s all for now folks. Shooting soups is unavoidable as everyone cooks them and there’s bound to be one you’d want to share with everyone else, so have fun, cook up some soup to shoot and keep practicing.
NB: In case you’re wondering, all the soups above were cooked in less than one hour so there was no time to do a step-by-step for any of them.
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