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Posted by Mike Woodgate on September 24, 2013

As graphic designers, we are often told about the 3-second rule- that small window of opportunity essentially 3 seconds long to capture the attention of a passing consumer. 3 seconds for the motorist passing a billboard, 3 seconds for the shopper walking down a grocery aisle, 3 seconds for the reader flipping through a magazine. And if something in the imagery, colours or font treatment jumps out enough to make you react after the 3 second window (like pick up the product off the shelf), then as designers, we’ve done our job.

Photography is an important element to creating an impact with whatever it is you are marketing. Consumers experience first through sight, and then are prompted to react according to how they feel about what they see. A well laid-out design with beautiful colour selection and appropriate typographic treatments will certainly grab the attention of a consumer. But a perfectly executed and well-shot photograph is more likely to make them react.

Food photography, more specifically, is an element that we at BTI give a lot of importance to. Marketing for clients like KitchenAid® Canada, Teriyaki Experience, and Fruit 66 means that the appearance of beautiful food can sometimes be the driving factor in our designs. For the KitchenAid® consumer, the image of perfect pasta on an elegant plate will give them the impression that they too can create food like this in their home, with KitchenAid® appliances. The image of juicy slices of beef on top of fresh vegetables or soft white rice tells the Teriyaki Experience consumer that fast food can also be delicious and healthy. For Fruit 66 consumers, the image of the different fruits shot together itself will authenticate their claims of a beverage made with “real fruit”. Food photography conveys a great deal when used correctly, and appeals to the consumer’s emotions- making them stop, look, and feel they just can’t go on without what they are looking at. We see it used almost everywhere, from package designs in the grocery aisle, to billboards along the highway, to spreads in magazines, and menus in a restaurant. A beautifully executed food photograph will make the consumer stop, look and feel- and is guaranteed to do so within your 3-second window.

It has been said that food photography, of all other commercial photography specialities, is the most difficult. A lot of creative thought, careful planning, and artful execution go into producing the perfect food shot. Food photography requires the understanding of light, camera angles and lens selection- and how they can all be used to enhance the look of the food. It often requires a team of people following a creative process to ensure that the perfect shot is created. Here is how we do it at BTI:

Creative Research

As soon as we have been briefed on a job that requires food photography, we begin to do some research of images that we can use as references for our own shots. What is the best way to display a bento box? How do we garnish a bowl of teriyaki beef? We look for references to backgrounds, propping, styling, camera angles, lighting and colour. These provide the foundation to the creation of our own shots, and serve as visual references for when we sketch out our own layouts, as well as when we brief the photographers on-site.


Concept Development

Once we have done our research, it becomes a matter of taking those visual references and sketching out our own layouts. We need to keep in mind sometimes that the photograph may be interacting with typography and other design elements, so we sketch it out accordingly. Creating these concept sketches is key to the development of the shot we want because it is in this early stage that we are able envision how it will look like, before the photograph is actually taken. Once finalized, these sketches, along with our visual reference images are presented to the client and photographer, and important step to ensure both client and photographer are able to understand what we envision for the shot.

Art Direction and Styling

We source out our photography to a number of very talented studios that have the equipment and materials needed carry out our vision. Many times, the studio will already have the props, backgrounds and other styling tools we require. Other times, we purchase our own. We are always present at the actual shoot, providing the art direction necessary to ensure the shot is taken to our exact specifications. My background in photography has aided me in the art direction and even styling of several shoots. Art direction, while creative, can also be meticulous. It requires an understanding of lighting, camera angles, focus points, and other key photographic elements. How well is my subject being lit? Do I want to keep the shadows there for contrast, or do they take away from the aesthetic of the food? Should it be shot from a lower angle to give the impression of more food, or from a higher angle to give more emphasis to the plating? Is it more important to focus on the protein, or the vegetables? Styling also plays an important role, and food stylists are often said to be worth their weight in gold, with the ability to see creatively what is needed to make the shot beautiful. Sometimes there is a stylist on hand, but if not, that is where our visual references and concept sketches give us the advantage and allow us to style creatively as well. All these things must be considered during the actual shoot to ensure the vision is both carefully and creatively executed.

They say you eat with your eyes first, and if that is the case, then we want to make sure each photo we incorporate into our designs has our consumers’ eyes feasting. A beautifully executed photo, in combination with a well-laid out design is definitely the key to making consumers react- to stop, look, and feel, within our 3-second window.

If you believe that good food deserves good phototgraphy, get in touch with us today!