Getting the shot: Food photography 101

Simple food photography tips from the pros

It takes a village to raise a child, and a team to make a great newspaper food photo. The photographer, chef, food editor and page designers put their heads together to create the idea. But it's the photographer's job to breathe life into the photo with light, a few props for texture and a good knowledge of the camera. I try to emphasize the natural beauty of the food by thinking about what makes a particular dish look delicious. Then I shoot to highlight those qualities.

Let's talk about a photo I created. I took the term "hot sauce" literally and wanted to show a flaming hot chile. Hot chile -- hot sauce!

The challenge here was creating the right flame coming off the chile. We tried a lot of flammable material to get the shot -- alcohol, oil, lotion, even lighter fluid. But nothing worked; everything gave off a blue flame and/or burned out too quickly. Finally, one of the designers recommended rubber cement. I did a test and it worked like a charm.

For the lighting, I set up one small soft box and a mirror to reflect light back into the scene. I decided on a black background to clearly show the flames. Finally, I spread a thin layer of rubber cement on the backside of the chile, struck a match and, like the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four, said, “Flame on!”

McKoy joined The Times as a photographer in 1987. He was born on a family farm in South Carolina and graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in graphic design and photography. McKoy has won several awards from Pictures of the Year International, the National Press Photographers Assn., the Society of News Design and World Press. McKoy was also part of The Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Los Angeles riots and the Northridge earthquake. For the last 15 years or so, he's been specializing in food photography.


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