We can skirt round it as much as we like, but one thing is certain: in food and travel writing, photographs are so important, especially if you want to communicate to the reader a sense of closeness and belonging. Interesting content is often diminished by the presence of uninspiring images, that seem to have been shot in a hurry and don’t communicate anything.
There are various methods of food photography and one of the most important, and visually interesting, is that of using layers.
It’s not about retouching the photo to create different layers using colour and playing with light and shadow (which can be done in certain contexts), but rather it is about creating a layered composition that guides the eye towards the main element in the scene.
The so-called secondary subjects of the photo are represented by all the elements we use to talk about a recipe, dish or situation, and that are positioned in the photo in such a way as to outline three visual narrative levels:
– middle ground;
To fully understand how layered composition works, imagine a photographic space divided into three zones. Usually, the main subject of your food image is positioned in the middle ground and is literally surrounded by other elements positioned, in turn, in the foreground and background.
In this photo, for example, the eye hasn’t any awareness of the situation in terms of the levels and the composition, but it certainly perceives the three-dimensional nature of the image and its depth of field, which is what allows it to highlight the fundamental element. The secondary subjects seem to be mere accessories in the scene but they define both the workspace and the perceptual field of the observer, highlighting the primary subject in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if the photo had been shot without considering the different layers.
The photo as it is seen by the human eye
The photo and its composition into three layers of work:
What is the purpose of using layers in food photography? Essentially to give depth of field to your image, to create a three-dimensional effect and make the main element stand out from all the rest and, thus highlighted, tell us about itself.
Imagine what the photo below would have been like had it been shot from above: few details, little importance given to the main subject and, above all, decidedly less appealing. It you are reading an article and you see a photo such as this one, it will definitely make you want to go out to the nearest restaurant and order a plate of pork ribs or, better still, prepare them at home to recreate the exact same thing.
You don’t have to use anything special as your secondary elements in food photography; sometimes, all it takes is a few details that refer semantically to the main image to shoot a photograph that is appealing and that, thanks also to the use of good lighting (natural and non) and appropriate settings, contributes to the richness of meaning of the written content.
Remember that, today more than ever before, the reader wants a good story, and a photo is capable of making the difference, conveying emotions and, often, saying much more than a thousand written words.
Article: Veruska Anconitano
Photos: Giuseppe Milo
La Cuochina Sopraffina is a food and travel blog by Veruska Anconitano. I work in marketing and communications, in very close contact with Giuseppe, the photographer responsible for the images and the technical aspects of my website (and who is also my husband and work partner!). It is very hard to pin us down because, for us, taking a flight is as habitual as brushing our teeth each morning. Together, we travel in discovery of the world with our photographic equipment and knife and fork always at the ready.
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