Okay so there’s the tree and the decorations, the presents and the dressing up as elves and Father Christmas, but food is right up there as one of the most important parts Christmas. Shops are full with attractively packaged temptation and the long dark nights are the perfect time to crank-up the oven and do a bit of seasonal baking.

The great thing for photographers is that all the festive food is fantastic camera fodder. Even better news is that if you enter your shots in the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year, the world’s leading awards recognising the art and diversity of food photography and film, you could win the top prize of £5,000! So let’s take a look at how to photograph food this Christmas.

What lighting for food photography?

Natural light is often the best choice for photographing food, but light levels can be low at this time of year so you may need to move closer towards a window. Side or backlighting is often the best bet as it brings out the texture of the food.

If you need extra light, household lamps can do the job, or a flashgun, but avoid using a camera-mounted flash as it will result in harsh illumination and uninspiring images. Even candles can be used to add a little extra light and atmosphere.

Do you need a tripod to photograph food?

As I mentioned before, light levels tend to be low in winter and this makes using a tripod sensible because it will allow you to keep the sensitivity (ISO) level down for better image quality. It also means that if you’re shooting a family portrait around the table, you’ll be able to use the self-timer (or a remote release) and feature in the shot.

Walnuts

Which white balance for food photography?

With mixed lighting, the white balance needs careful consideration. One of your camera’s preset values may work, but a custom or manual white balance setting is often the best option.

Ideally set the custom white balance to suit the most important part of the scene. This means positioning a white balance target such as a piece of white paper or a photographic grey card in the same light as the subject and then setting the manual or custom white balance. Once it’s set, you can take the card out of the scene and shoot the photographs you want.

It’s also advisable to shoot raw files as these give you the best chance of perfecting the colours post-capture.

Which lens for food photography?

A macro lens makes a great choice of lens for photographing food because it will let you get nice and close. However, a wide-angle lens is also likely to be of use if you want to capture the whole table set for Christmas dinner.

READ MORE: Classic Christmas photo ideas: what to shoot and how to shoot it

biscuits

How to photograph food at Christmas

Although it’s possible to produce strong images from directly above food, shooting this way can often result in dull ‘record shots’. Look around the food and try to find an interesting point of view. Food often looks good from a low angle, looking across the surface with some shine from side or backlighting.

Going in close with a wide-angle lens can also produce some interesting images. The food will look big in the foreground but you’ll be able to capture more of the background. That could be Santa Clause licking his lips, a table laden with food or a Christmas tree with twinkling lights.

It can be helpful to compose images on your camera’s screen rather than in the viewfinder as this will give you a larger view and avoids having to stoop down to see into the finder. It’s especially useful if you need to focus manually as you’re able to magnify the target area and make sure the focus is spot-on.

What food to photograph at Christmas?

There are lots of potential subjects; the displays in shops and markets, food preparation in the kitchen, all the elements of the traditional Christmas dinner and the numerous sweet treats. When you’re selecting the food to photograph, look for the ‘most perfect’ examples and take care to arrange it attractively. If food styling isn’t high on your skill list, why not try shooting the raw ingredients or the cooking process instead of the finished products?

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cutting out biscuits

Which category of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2017?

There are 14 categories in the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year Awards 2017 and Christmas food would be a suitable subject for several of them, but Food for Celebration sponsored by Champagne Taittinger is perhaps the most logical choice. The judges want to see shots of celebratory, festive food from across the world. Images could feature tables laden with festive food and people preparing or eating celebratory food.