Food Photography Tips for Media Usage and Public Relations

Media Usage
Photos for glossy magazines or newspaper food sections are likely to have the appearance of "casual reality." Editorial content is used in conjunction with recipes and pictures to draw the audience into the experience of food. These photos generally portray food in a way that tries to make the reader feel, "That's something I'd like to try," or "I can make that." There is a comfort level and approachability factor in the image.

Media usage is the area in which the photographer and stylists have the most creativity and freedom. Most of the time, there is minimal artistic direction from the client or art directors. The lighting contrast can be more pronounced, and there can be exaggerated shadows and more highlights on the food. In addition, soft-focus techniques and props can be used more liberally to create a mood. 

Public Relations
While food advertisers know that their pictures will be used exactly as they intend because they buy and control the space in which their ads will run in public relations there is little or no control over how pictures will be edited or used, if at all. In photographs for public-relations use, where it is up to an editor to decide whether to use the picture in a news context, the product often needs to take a back seat to some other aspect of the picture.

When you take pictures for public-relations clients, keep the lighting simple and clean. Keep in mind that a natural, less staged-looking picture usually has the best chance of being used by journalists and editors.

Often, in addition to publicity shots, pictures that are taken for PR campaigns communicate something newsworthy about a product or an event to which it is connected. Event photos might include company executives, celebrities, or the public. 

When shooting at events, try to use portable flash equipment on a bracket powered by an external battery pack. This gives you the freedom to move around unencumbered by wires and cables. Don't use a camera's built-in flash for this kind of work, it is not powerful enough to light the subject properly, it does not recycle quickly enough to take multiple shots in succession, and it can cause red eye, which needs to be retouched in post-production. You want to be able to turn these pictures around very quickly. The newsworthiness of the event is short and clients want to be able to have the final images right away.

Tip: Placing the external flash on a bracket, or hand-holding it away from the camera, eliminates the chance of red eye and gives more depth to the photograph. 

The PR photographer's challenge is to capture an image that can fit seamlessly into many media outlets' editorial and graphic styles without appearing to be promotional. In many cases, the product can be shown only subtly, and the label or brand might have to be hidden or kept in the background. While the long-term goal of a PR campaign is to create a "buzz" and make audiences feel good about a product or the company and ultimately increase sales. The short-term strategy usually is to downplay over commercial messages.

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