Have you ever looked at an image of food where something just feels off? Your eyes drawn to a certain part of the image and yet, that area is blurred and out of focus. The reason for this is incorrect an choice of focus point.
When it comes to focus point and food photography, DSLR cameras have made it such that you can choose any point within your frame to put the focus. But that doesn’t mean that any point is the right point. One thing to remember with food photography is that the food is always the hero. It’s your main subject and the main character within your story. The composition, lighting and props are all there too make the hero food stand out. The focus point is another element that helps to do this.
This blog post will explore what a focus point is, how to isolate your focus point and how to choose the best place within your frame to put your focus point. Following these guidelines will ensure that your food always remains the center of attraction and the hero of your story.
What is a focal point?
The focal point is the central point in an image which draws the viewer’s eyes and makes that part of the image stand out from the rest of the frame. This is the natural resting place of the eyes when looking at an image and should coincide with your hero subject matter as well as the sharpest point in your frame.
Below are a few techniques you can use to help your hero food stand out within your frame:
Composition- Your hero food item should be placed in such a way that it appears prominent within your frame. The most obvious place is to put your hero food right in the center of the frame but you can also use compositional rules such as the rule of thirds or a more advanced compositional tool such as the golden triangle to help you decide where to put your food within the frame.
Depth of field- The aperture you choose can have a great effect on your focus point. Learning how to use depth of field to blur out aspects in front of and behind your focal point is a great way to isolate your hero subject and draw attention to it.
Size- When it comes to food photography, the general rule is that your hero food should be the largest subject within your frame. The eyes are generally drawn to large objects so make sure you don’t have other items that are dwarfing your main food. The same can also be said for the height of your food. You want to make sure that tall items are placed in the background of your frame and shorter items towards the foreground.
Color- PHOOD has spoken about color here but the color of your main food item should always be the most prominent color within your frame. A viewer’s eyes are drawn to the most saturated and bright its color within the frame. So make sure that coincides with your hero food.
Let’s look at how to choose where to place your focal point within your frame. This will vary depending on the angle you’re photographing your food.
This angle is when your camera is exactly parallel to the food you’re photographing and a great way to photograph food that has layers or height. At this angle, depending on the aperture you’ve chosen, there will be some amount of blurring or bokeh in the background. For example, in this image pancakes shot straight on, the focal point has been placed on the front of the ice cream scoop which is closest to the camera and in the centre of the frame. This is where the eye naturally looks at.
Overhead/ flat lay-
This is a bird’s eye angle with your camera is that a 90 degree angle to your food. For this angle you want to ensure that your focus point is placed on the top of your food. Again, depending on the aperture you choose as well as the height of the food, you may find that the background can be slightly out of focus. If you want the majority of the items in your image to be in focus, you either want the heights of the various elements to be roughly the same or you want to choose a higher aperture number.
For example, for this overhead pasta shot, the focus was put on the large central plate. But since the height of the all the plates is the same (they are in the same focal plane), they will all appear equally sharp and in focus.
45 degree angle-
Angled shots that are between straight on and overhead are great for foods that have detail on the top. Again, depending on the aperture you choose, parts of your foreground and background will be out of focus. When photographing at this angle, I like to place my focal point on the top of the food. But experiment with placing it in the center of the food as opposed to the front of the food. Have a look at the example below. For example, in this donut image, I placed the focus on the donut with nuts right on top of the nuts. You can see the donuts in front of and behind this point start to eventually blur out.
A strong photograph is one where the viewers eyes travel through various points within a composition. But finally come to rest at the main subject which should be the focal point of any powerful image. Food photography is all about storytelling through composition, lighting, propping and editing. Where you place your focal point within the frame is of great importance to isolate your hero food and yet, tell a story of the context.