A table display with cakes, meringue, iced donuts and pastries.


Mouthwatering masterpieces: the art of food photography

Thanks to Instagram, food photography has seen a renaissance in recent years, but anyone who has attempted to take a picture of their lunch will tell you that it brings its own unique challenges. Swedish food photographer Linda Lomelino has mastered the art – her food images, whisked up with a fairy-tale-like whimsical charm but flavoured with a moody ambience, have attracted more than 750k Instagram followers.

"I discovered a passion for baking about 11 years ago," says Linda, who studied photography at school. "Cupcakes were all the rage at the time, so I took a few photos and shared them on Facebook. People loved them, so I thought, 'maybe I should start a blog'?" Thanks to that blog, Call Me Cupcake, Linda's mouthwatering masterpieces have now been compiled into four books that have been translated into several different languages.

Here she shares a sample of her secrets for sweet success...

1. Make the most of natural lighting

Natural lighting brings out the ridges in the soft pink ice cream, while the darker background creates an edgier atmosphere. Linda advises experimenting with light to create different moods.

If you have the option, using Canon Speedlites in a studio will allow you to control your lighting environment. Alternatively, you could use natural light, which is harder to control but will flatter your subject if harnessed correctly. "Experiment with the light where you live," says Linda. "The size of the window, the direction it's facing, the time of day and the weather can all affect how the light looks," she says. "North-facing windows are usually the easiest to work with – the light changes less throughout the day and you'll never be shooting in direct sunlight."

An overcast day that isn't too dark is ideal for Linda, who shoots lit from the side in her west-facing studio before lunch, and in the her east-facing kitchen in the late afternoon and evening. To achieve her signature 'moody' look, she'll draw a pair of dark curtains across the window.

"You can make any type of window work if you experiment and practice, but if you live in a country where it is mostly sunny, and you only have a south-facing window, it will be more of a challenge," she says. "In these circumstance, perhaps use a thin white curtain to soften the light."

2. Use colours and texture to compose the scene

Including props of a similar shade and adding complementary colours can help to bring an image together.

One way to find originality is through composition, and Linda's trick is to focus on colour. "I tend to use just two or three colours in a shoot," she explains. She uses shades of the same colour and then introduces complementary colours – those opposing one another on the colour wheel – to provide visual contrast. "When styling a cake with purple icing, for example, I'll try to bring something yellow or yellow-green into the photo. Orange and teal is another of my favourite combinations – it really makes the photo pop!"

As well as colour, Linda advises experimenting with textures to add interest. "If I'm shooting a cake with lots of texture or patterned icing, I may opt for a smooth background to put the focus on the cake. In other situations, I may want everything to have a smooth texture, or I'll include lots of different textures – it can be as simple as adding a wrinkled linen napkin."

3. Create a sense of depth

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Props placed behind the subject help to create a sense of depth, while the sieved icing sugar frozen in motion makes the image more dynamic.

In addition to colour and texture, Linda suggests playing with details to liven up a lacklustre set, while also introducing a sense of scale and depth. "Out-of-focus items in the foreground and background are a good example," she says. "I might place a vase of flowers behind the food, and then, working in odd numbers, scatter recipe ingredients such as flour, berries and leaves around it."

For extra precision, if your camera has one, Linda encourages beginners to focus using a vari-angle touchscreen. "Cameras such as the Canon EOS 850D and Canon EOS 250D, with their moveable touchscreens, are ideal for food photography. Touchscreens are especially helpful for top-down photos – if the camera is high up you can simply tilt the screen and select where you want it to focus. The same goes if you're shooting from a very low angle – you won't have to lie on the floor, you can just tilt the screen."

4. Select props and backgrounds to build the story

The foliage, flowers, thoughtfully considered props and restrained colour palette all work together to create this dreamy rural idyll.

Those who have feasted their eyes on Linda's work can testify to the Scandinavian shooter's love of props, which are crucial for introducing extra textures and colours, as well as helping to establish the image's overall mood. "I have so many props," she says. "Mostly older items that I've found in thrift shops and antique stores – they help to tell the story. If I'm going for a rustic, moody look, antique props will help, whereas if I want a bright, modern look, I'll choose props with cleaner lines, and with less pattern and colour."

Linda's arsenal of backgrounds is as extensive as her prop collection and includes all manner of materials such as wallpaper, gift wrap, linen curtains, wooden crates, old doors and chairs, and even vintage suitcases. "It doesn't always have to be a wooden table," she says. "You can create backgrounds out of anything. Why not paint a couple of pieces of wood? You can paint each side a different colour, and repaint when you want to change your look."

5. Experiment with lenses to hone your style

Select your lens depending on the composition of the image.

Typically Linda teams her Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with one of her four go-to lenses – the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. Which lens she chooses to use depends on the story she wants to create.

"If you're new to photography, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is a fantastic lens to start with," she says. "It's affordable, and the fact that you can shoot at a low f-stop with a large aperture will help in low-light situations, which is very important if you live in a country where the winters are long and dark. What's more, it's the perfect focal length for capturing a scene without having to get too close. Another good option would be the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM – it's similar to my macro lens, which is incredibly sharp."

For shooting from a distance, Linda recommends a wider lens. "To photograph the entire table, go for a lens like the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 IS Macro STM, which would also be my choice for top-down shots." Remember that if you're shooting with an APS-C or crop-sensor camera, such as the Canon EOS 850D, a 35mm lens with a 1.6x crop factor will give a similar view to a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera.

6. Shoot at a variety of angles

Linda chooses her shooting angle depending on what it is about the food that she wants to emphasise. In this image it was the decorative rhubarb pattern on the top of the cake, so a top-down angle worked best.

While most people associate food photography with top-down Instagram-style shots, Linda says it's important to consider other angles too. "The angle I shoot depends on what I'm trying to emphasise. I would probably shoot a tall layer cake on a stand from the side, and then take top-down shots of slices of cake on plates."

As most of Linda's work appears on her blog, she says quantity is as important as quality. "I post many shots, so I try to shoot from different angles to add variety and give the content a better flow."

7. Set a wide aperture and a low ISO

Underexposing the image makes the surrounding props appear darker and gives the image a moody, autumnal feel.

To create her enchantingly atmospheric style, Linda typically shoots with a wide aperture and a low ISO. "I tend to use an aperture of f/1.8 to f/3.2 and very rarely go above that," she says. "The only time I would use a smaller aperture would be for top-down photos with many items at different heights that I want to be in focus, but I rarely go over f/5."

"I also suggest shooting with a low ISO without lowering the shutter speed too much. I try to stay around 1/125 sec if I'm shooting handheld, but if you're using a tripod and you're shooting a subject that isn't moving you can go lower." ISO capabilities vary depending on the model of your camera, but shooting at the lowest ISO possible is good practice. Low ISO numbers mean less grain, which is particularly important if you plan to enlarge or print your images.

Linda's moodier shots are what's referred to as 'low-key' shots, which means the subject is exposed correctly and the surrounding objects are darker. Linda edits her shots to achieve her desired aesthetic, but she says newcomers don't need expensive software. Canon's Digital Photo Professional is free for all Canon shooters, and there are plenty of free editing apps available for your smartphone. Make the most of your camera's Wi-Fi connectivity by transferring the photos to your phone or computer using image.canon to be edited and shared immediately.

Written by Natalie Denton

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