Food Photography Retouching Tips

Almost every image that is used for reproduction requires some correction, enhancement, and digital processing. The goal is to make the food look great in the photo. That's what makes everyone happy. There is a real art to retouching food photographs. The key to good digital retouching is training your eye so that you know what (and what not) to retouch. When you first look at the image, ask yourself the following:

  • What grabs the viewer's attention?
  • What is your overall feeling about the image, and how does it represent the client's vision?
  • How will the photograph be used?

Note: Some chefs and food stylists have their own trademark styles, so it's important that you don't retouch out an essential part of the dish like sprinkles of pepper or herbs on the edge of the plate that have been placed there on purpose. In evaluating an image, you also want to consider factors such as the following:

  • Is there anything in the photograph distracting?
  • Is the color of the food accurate?
  • Do the colors of props or backgrounds need to be changed?
  • Should the color cast of the photograph be adjusted to alter the mood?
  • Are there fingerprints or crumbs on the dish that need to be removed?
  • Are there blemishes or bruises on fruit or vegetables that need to be fixed?
  • Should the label on the wine bottle be blurred? Is it straight?
  • Should the fish be cooked more, or be whiter?
  • Is the meat cooked enough, or does it look too rare?

In every retouching session, the process is to evaluate the image on a macro level to determine the major issues and resolve the big problems first. Then, go deeper into the image and make fine adjustments to achieve the desired final look.

Tip: Sometimes, after you've retouched part of an image, you may decide you liked it better the way it was before. Make sure you always save the original file so you have access to the "before" and the "after" versions of the photo. In Photoshop, never work on the background layer. Make a layer copy and work on that. That way you can return to all or part of the original and it is intact, in register, and easy to restore.

In addition to addressing image problems, digital retouching also corrects or adjusts for technical issues. Digital camera sensors and firmware (software) vary from one manufacturer to another and have different biases and defaults. Pictures taken on different cameras can also vary in file size and resolution, and you may need to adjust for these factors depending on how the final image will be used.

Note: With digital cameras, dust can enter the CCD when you change a lens. This dust may then be visible on the image file, requiring retouching to remove it. To combat this problem, use cameras with dust reduction system built-in. This self-cleaning mechanism uses high-speed ultrasonic vibration to make the dust fall away from the sensor and not appear in the photograph. This will save you hours of retouching time.

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