G o l d e n   r u l e s :   f o o d  a n d  d r i n k

Making food and drink look delicious in videos. One of my pet hates is watching TV chefs. Not because they are irritating in themselves (the late great Keith Floyd was surely a God of entertainment), but simply because the food over which they enthuse so winsomely is so badly shot. Much money is spent whisking us all as the viewer, off to exotic locations but when it comes to the food itself the director seems to think it’s OK to just tilt the camera into some bubbling pot or zoom in onto a plate. Last year I did a spot of consultancy for a TV company that specialised in making food programmes for the BBC and ITV. Having worked for years for some of the UK’s best food companies, I was aghast to hear the pride with which they spoke of their close-up work. They genuinely thought they could compete with the specialist film companies and produce food ads along with the best of them. ‘Stick to the entertainment’ I thought, because they clearly did not have the patience needed to make food look really scrummy!
When I worked on the London ad agency scene, I was lucky enough to shoot some commercials for Sharwoods with the delightful director Tony May. While sitting in the gloom behind a brightly lit set, I realised that there are three golden rules for shooting food and one further special quality necessary that few people possess. The rules are not really rocket science but they are so rarely used all together that it’s no surprise there are so few film companies that specialise in making food and drink look wonderful.
The first rule springs from a basic bit of psychology. I make no apologies for constantly referring to psychology because an understanding of what drives us at a subconscious level is absolutely critical to producing advertising film that works. When we are presented with a plate of food whether at home or in a restaurant, we scrutinise the dish in minute detail for a split-second. We note it’s texture and colour in real detail, so filming food should replicate this moment by using real close ups as much as possible.
The second rule follows from the first. Good food in real life is never static. We see steam, a sauce runs off the fish. We can appreciate it even more when we cut into it with a knife or pour something else over it. So make the food move in your film. Cut it. Pour it. Move the camera around it.
The third rule is simply to minimise all extraneous distraction. Use a minimal background (dark works best as it throws out all the colours). Don’t use any props. The food will sing out.
I could add reams about how to light the food. It’s perfectly obvious that the guys who film TV chef’s programmes don’t make any real effort to light the food at all – as if all the money was spent taking the crew to India and they couldn’t afford any lights when they got there.
But when all is said and done, what you really need is patience. Food and drink is very, very fiddly to film to a level of perfection that produces a lip-smacking response in your viewer. Twenty-first century high-definition cameras show every single bubble in a glass of beer and getting them to behave properly means you have to shoot take after take. No wonder it’s not a game played by many.

< Making it move is one of the golden rules for live action food. (Film by ChrisMugford.com)


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