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12 Tips To Photograph The PERFECT Pour Shot Every Time

Whether it is a flat lay or flying food, there are so many ways to get interesting shots in food photography.

Today I’m going to share useful and actionable tips that can help you take the perfect action shot in food photography.

So, if you have been wondering how to photograph pouring liquids, then this post will help.

If you want a quick list, here is the summary:

  1. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion
  2. Use a tripod for control and efficiency
  3. Use a remote shutter for flexibility
  4. Pour from right vessel for a better flow
  5. Plan the pour so you don’t mess up
  6. Find your focus before pouring (pre-focus)
  7. Use a flash to freeze motion
  8. Choose a contrasting background
  9. Water down thick liquids for better flow
  10. Use continuous shooting mode so you don’t miss
  11. Shoot a pre-action shot as a base
  12. Stack your food up for depth and cascading liquid

1. Shutter Speed – Make It Fast

If you’re pouring a liquid like sauce, cream or a drink then you will need a fast enough shutter speed that you can freeze the motion.

Start by using around 1/250th and adjust accordingly. 

If you are shooting something like icing sugar you will need an even faster shutter speed since there will be more individual specs that you want to freeze in motion.

Start around 1/500th of a second and adjust from there. 

If you are finding that the image is too dark at the appropriate shutter speed then adjust other things that affect the exposure such as:

  • Lowering f-stop number / increasing the aperture
  • Increasing natural or artificial light in the scene
  • Increasing ISO 

2. Use A Tripod For Control And Efficiency

A tripod is particularly useful if you are shooting by yourself.

If you are the one who is doing the pouring then you will need a way to keep the camera in the right position for the shot. 

It will also help if you decide to create a composite photo by editing multiple images into one. 

3. Use A Remote Shutter Release

Similar to the tip about using a tripod, using a remote shutter release is very helpful if you are on your own.

If your camera is set up far enough from the scene that you can’t trigger the shutter yourself while doing the action shot then you will have to rely on something like a self timer. 

Again if you want to do a burst of shots, a remote shutter release will be useful.

Some cameras allow you to use a smart phone app so you can make use of this.

Or you can use a remote shutter release to control your camera comfortably while getting that perfect pour shot.

4. Pour Out Of The Right Vessel

Making sure you have the right vessel to pour from can be an overlooked tip which can make a big difference!

Pouring out of a bowl will be different from pouring out of a jug with a spout.

Find different vessels you can use to pour from and have a quick practice run to see how they pour. 

See which is the most comfortable and what gives you the smoothest pour and use this practice to plan for your shot. 

If you are using a solid like icing sugar or flour you can use something like a sieve to stop it from looking clumpy. 

5. Plan The Pour!

With pouring shots, you can only do the pour once before your subject is covered.

If this is maple syrup on a stack of pancakes, this could mean having to set up new pancakes if you failed the shot the first time. 

This extends to other foods and drinks too.

To make sure you increase the chances of getting the shot right on your first time round, pick where you will pour and stick to it.

A useful trick is to use a topping as a target. 

For example, if you had a berry topping on a stack of waffles, you might choose to lock onto that berry to position your pour and stick to that.

This will also help with your focus selection.

6. Find Your Focus Before You Pour (Pre-focus)

As part of your planning process you should set your focus before you pour. 

Use manual focus to lock on to a part of the subject. In food photography you will often focus to the front of the food or on a specific topping on the photo. 

If you are pouring a sauce or syrup you will probably want that in focus so try to focus on a topping or part of the food which you will pour in line with.

This will put the pour in the same line of focus as that specific part of the food – this way you ensure that your pour turns out sharp too. 

7. Use A Flash To Freeze Motion 

This is a hack which almost makes shutter speed irrelevant. 

The way it works is you use a speedlight as your main light for the image and freeze any motion for the flash duration. 

To do this you will need to cut out any ambient light.

Since the photo is only lit up for the duration of the flash, this is all the camera captures and since the flash is so fast it will freeze any motion in that short space of time. 

Cutting out ambient light can be done by reducing the amount of light entering the exposure when you are not using the light.

This is done by doing one of the following:

  • Increasing f-stop number
  • Increasing shutter speed (making it faster)
  • Lowering ISO 

Even if you are not using flash to freeze motion by cutting out ambient light, a flash can still be useful in adding enough light to your image so that you are able to use a fast shutter speed.

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8. Go For Contrast When Choosing A Background

You might do everything else perfect but shooting milk against a white background probably will not turn out that great. 

For the perfect action shot, make sure you try to use a contrasting background to your subject. 

If you are using a sauce which is white try using a dark background like black or navy. 

Likewise, if you are using a dark coloured subject then you may want to opt for a lighter background. 

9. Water Down Liquids If They Are Too Thick 

Sometimes sauces or creams can end up being too thick and clumpy. 

A quick hack for this is to water them down slightly so they are easier to pour. 

This helps make things look more fluid, but just be careful not to go overboard especially if you want to evoke the image of a thick creamy sauce. 

10. Use Continuous Shooting Mode So You DON’T Miss The Shot

Continuous shooting mode or burst mode will allow you to take more than one image in quick succession. 

This allows you to capture multiple frames of the action shot, which is vital in making sure you capture the right moment.

You might only get one chance to pour before “ruining” the rest of the scene by covering it all in sauce. 

So continuous shooting makes sure you get the best chance to capture the perfect shot.

11. Shoot A Pre-action Shot As A Base Image

If you are comfortable with composites then make sure you take a ‘pre-action’ shot before you have dusted any icing sugar or poured anything onto your subject. 

By doing this you have a perfect base image to work from. 

You can adjust multiple images afterwards and work from this base image to mask elements in and out from the various exposures that you took. 

Watch the video below to see how you could go about doing a composite photo with a pour shot.

12. Stack Up Your Food

If you are pouring onto food then stacking up the food can create a more visually appealing image.

Compare one pancake with a dribble of maple syrup on it compared to a stack of pancakes with maple syrup cascading nicely off the sides.

It works the same for dusting anything onto baked goods.

A stack of cookies will tend to look better than just one cookie on its own.

You get the idea. It just looks better.

Now that you know these extra tips to help you take the perfect action shots in food photography, get out there and start taking some for yourself.

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