Tips for setting the stage without breaking the bank
By Oksana Pali
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created incredible challenges for the foodservice industry. In the absence of corporate events and group gatherings, caterers have had to pivot and find new strategies. Gone (for now) are the days of client referrals, where one great event leads to many more.
But the need for good food and good connection remains. Caterers need to find new ways to announce their services and remain top-of-mind for clients—whether they’re booking smaller events, selling food for takeout or delivery, or waiting for the vaccine’s green light.
A Picture Is Worth More Than Words
Smells and sounds might be off the table when it comes to COVID-19 marketing. But online traffic is at an all-time high. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a professional pandemic-era photograph is worth a thousand more. Instagram and other social media platforms allow caterers to engage meaningfully with customers, increase exposure and secure online orders for small, safe groups. But the online food landscape can be crowded with photos, so your picture-perfect images need to stand out from the crowd.
Luckily, a few simple rules can help you elevate your images to new, mouthwatering heights, without spending a fortune on lighting and gear. At a time when budgets are understandably tight, the following tips and tricks can help you go beyond the basics and capture the essence of your dining experience—while leaving your budget completely intact.
Preparation Is Everything
Styling the food and scene are crucial steps. Pops of color and setting cues prevent the food from coming across boring and colorless. While the nuances of the background might not be consciously registered by an Instagram scroller, those visual hints go a long way in capturing potential clients’ attention. Props and backdrops can be inspired by the season, a special occasion, or just a general ambience that offers a small substitute for your brand experience. Add in fresh food items like herbs, whole spices, and bright fruits or vegetables to complete the image. A linen tablecloth, a candle, a well-set table—it’s the little things that go the distance.
Second, consider under-cooking the food you’ll be photographing. When it comes to food preparation, you certainly know best. But when it comes to digital photography, undercooking can help the food maintain its color, structure and vibrancy. A well-cooked meal might look soggy on camera, and the goal is to create a visual illusion that evokes a sensory experience. Add the finishing touches—fresh herbs and dressing—at the last possible moment to create the allure of a dish that’s fresh out of the kitchen.
Leverage Your Natural Lighting
Getting the light right is the most important aspect of digital photography. Taking advantage of natural window lighting is an easy and inexpensive way to maximize the impact of your online images. Set up a table next to a north-facing window, and consider using soft, sheer curtains as a kind of diffuser when the glare seems too harsh.
Often, the lighting looks best when it comes in softly from the left or from the back. Front lighting has a counter-effective flattening effect, making the image look as if it lacks dimension. If one side of your image seems too dark, use a reflector to fill in the shadow. This can be as simple as using a white or silver reflective surface, or adding a piece of bright cardboard. Avoid overdoing it with reflected light, and let some shadows into your image. It will help build texture and depth.
Spend Time on Composition and Color
Props can help to pique a viewer’s interest, but color and composition can introduce a beautiful dynamic element to an otherwise ordinary shot. To begin, browse your social channels and notice which images stand out to you, and which shapes and sizes fill their frames. Experiment with shooting from high or low angles, and consider how the physical angles in your images compare to your favorite examples.
During your experimentation, look for lines, diagonals and patterns that are pleasing to the eye. Consider different color schemes and the effect they have on you as a viewer, and compare this to the experience you want to impart. A simple Google search for “color wheel” or “color calculator” can help you use bold colors to your brand’s advantage.
Challenging times reward those who are creative and agile. Delivering a digital brand experience doesn’t have to drain your mental or financial resources. With these tips and tricks, captivating images are just a few clicks away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oksana Pali is a professional branding and food photographer dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners grow their presence through the lens of her camera. Pali’s photography embraces the power of authentic storytelling by creating powerful images that showcase the superior quality of her clients’ work. For more information, visit oksanapali.com