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How to get ideas for food photographs

& how to keep on being creative, consistently.

Art comes from life. Absorbing from my own daily life and from my environment has always helped me get inspired and spawn new ideas for my photographs. In this post, I’d love to share with you, some ways to live a creativity-enhancing life. I’ll try to keep this post updated as I continue to live and learn. I’d be happy if this is useful to you as well.

1. Nothing comes from nothing

Although this statement seems very obvious, many of us go through our days without paying alert attention to things that surround us and still expect to get fresh ideas on a daily basis. This is like trying to drink from an empty cup. If you want to be in a creative field, the first step will be to start paying attention to life around us. And the next would be start putting yourself more and more in places and surroundings that are helpful for your creativity to grow and blossom.

Although food photography is about food and photos and the inspiration for this can come mainly from other images and visuals, it is not always clear to us where to find these visual inputs. So here are some suggestions.

  • Images on the internet (Google image search, Pinterest, Instagram…)
  • Images in magazines and books (cookbooks, lifestyle magazines, old books with pictures….).
  • Prints on walls – people’ s homes, street art, hoardings, posters and pinups in shopping malls, movies & theaters, art centers.
  • Images that can be found in unusual and overlooked places: old postcards, second hand book covers, atlas books & maps, old manuscripts of artists, sketch books of artists, patterns on cloth, patterns in crotchet and knitting books (yes, really!), craft shops, furniture catalogs, home shop catalogs, …basically everything everywhere. The idea is to just learn to look.

Important: Don’t try to remember anything or photograph everything… just LOOK. Let the brain absorb in its own way and retain what it can. No force here. Just gentle enjoyment.

Although food photography is about food and photos and the inspiration for this can come from visuals, not all of the visual inputs need to be images. You can find great inspiration by just being in places that have lots of visuals and things to see. Here are some some places to go and be!

  • Handicraft markets, fairs, local exhibitions, museums.
  • Comic book shops, vintage prop shops, beads & craft shops, antique markets, flea markets where weird and wonderful stuff is sold, second hand book shops full of dusty books, love & inspiration…
  • NEW places – shops and markets, streets and museums in new cities. Make sure you visit at least one “visually appetizing” place on your next travel. Being in unfamiliar surroundings helps absorb more.

Important: The idea here is to just SOAK up. It is not mandatory to buy, photograph or even remember anything. You could if you want obviously, but it is more than enough to just go and “be” in these places. Keep the “output” or the photograph in the background, not in hyper focus. Let the ideas come later. For now, just enjoy.

Although food photography is about food and photos, it is not always about “seeing”. It sounds counter intuitive but it really helps to hone all our senses and keep them sharp – not just our eyes. Here are some ways to feel fresh and relaxed, and ready to spawn and develop potential ideas

  • Walking in local parks or hiking in forests
  • Enjoying picnics near lakes, rivers
  • Beach days
  • Easy Trekking on hills and mountains.
  • Daily walking/running/exercising/dancing/swimming – whatever form of movement you like
  • Chores! (Haha. Yes. I meant that. Haven’t you heard of shower ideas? Dish washing ideas? Come on now)
  • Sleeping!
  • Meditating or Sitting Quietly in Nature with the gadgets turned OFF – not trying to control any thoughts, but just sitting naturally, letting it all be.
  • Scheduling a few minutes of time often to do NOTHING. (Toughest right? ) but so important for creativity.
  • Listening to Music – both active and passive listening. Active listening is when you intentionally listen to music, sing along or pay full attention and focus on it. Passive listening is keeping the music on while doing daily chores, photographing, walking etc.,

2. Mood Boarding

Now that you’ve got your inner creative giant all hungry for inputs, get ready to start feeding it 🙂 Make a simple of collage of images that inspire your next work/project.

You can make your own kind of moodboard/collage – digital or physical. This is based on your preference. Images can be chosen for various aspects of their impact – color, lighting, mood, style, emotion, texture and so on.

Moodboards/collages can also contain swatches of colors, pieces of fabric and so on. To keep it simple and less ceremonious in the beginning, you can just make the collage on your phone, using any of the free collage apps – this will make sure you aren’t getting too distracted with the moodboard and forgetting to move on to your real goal – making your next image.

REMEMBER: These images are for inspiration ONLY – and not for copying. So gather as many images across a broad spectrum as possible. That way you can prevent any one specific image/style unconsciously influencing your own work.

If you want to understand the entire process of mood boarding and ideation along with examples, I’ve got a whole post on that right here. It takes you through my process with the end result images.

3. Rest & diffuse thinking

Once the collage i ready, put it away for 24 to 48 hours. This helps the brain to “rest” from the assault of visuals and come up with it’s own concoction which will be unique to you. This is very very important to avoid work that looks “derivative” or “copied”. And when I say put the collage away, i mean “put it away”. Do not look at it at all! This really matters to allow for internal processing of all the cues and prompts.

4. Previs! Previs!!

Next do some pre-visualization. There are a lot of great resources in the internet so I won’t go very deep into it here, but you can start with the simplest form, which is making some notes. It’s okay if you cannot sketch – I can’t either. You can make stick drawings, or avoid drawings all together. Just making bulleted list is quite enough.

You can use an actual paper notepad, or use a notepad app on your phone for this. Be very specific. What is your subject? What is the mood you are aiming for? The layout, composition, angle, lighting source and direction, lens, colors, food styling – everything! If this sounds a bit daunting – please know that it only feels that way until you get started….Things get clearer as you go. Really.

Have fun while shooting!

Just remember. In the beginning it takes time to translate ideas into reality. So give yourself plenty of time while shooting. Don’t wait for inspiration. Practice even on days when you feel uninspired. It takes a lot of practice to get things right and make good photographs that you can be proud of.

Until next time…. Ciao! And stay well.