Y-U-M! – Improve your food pics

So being a Photoshop professional makes you sensitive to bad quality imagery. Being a living creature also gives you an unnerving feeling when you see something you perceive as food look unappealing. I suffer from both of these situations, so instead of cringing I’m goin to show you a super easy way to get your food pics looking spot on.

So basically here, I’m going to show you how to make your food pictures look bright and bubbly and make people’s mouths water when they see them.

Lets face it. There are so many camera apps on our devices these day, some of which are designed for food. This will show you what they attempt to do, and give you an easy way to do it yourself. I’m going to explain it for Photoshop users, as I know many people use it, whether bought or not. You can do this same technique in any software, but I made this acronym to help you remember, which is designed for Photoshop’s shortcut commands.

It’s Y-U-M,

or +Y,+U,+M

Thats Command on a Mac and Control on a PC.

So you have a photo of your food. That’s the first step. A friend of mine took this pic, which i noticed on Facebook, and I came up with the idea that this is a skill that almost everyone can benefit from, as food photography is very popular these days, and even more so in Japan where I was living for the previous 7 years.

Now to be honest for those working on the web, you don’t need the Y-step, so skip this step if you are using it for Facebook or your blog.

Step 1

Y – Proof Colors.

So pressing Command-Y will turn on your proof colors, which are a digital representation of how your document will print. Some colors that can be displayed on screen do not exist in print (as they use additive color as opposed to subtractive color). These colors are know as out-of-gamut colors. So if you plan to print your picture, turn this on. Vibrant foods like tomatoes will often look disappointing when you print them out as they are too vibrant to be represented with conventional inks. Also notice the sub-menu and make sure its on “Working CMYK”, as this represent most home printers.

Step 2

U – add Saturation

Next, press Command-U and the HSL dialog box will come up. The only one here you want to touch is Saturation. Like Saturation suggests, using the metaphor of the sponge, it will hold more color, like a sponge full of liquid. Food always looks better with a bit of extra color added.I would say add anywhere between +10 and +35. Any more and it will start to look too unrealistic. (see more info at the end of this blog post)

Now click “OK” to lock this stage in.

Step 3

M – Curves

Next is Curves. Curves technically bend the light spectrum to elongate the middle tones of an image. If that sounds like bullshit then just forget that and just remember than in a RBG (additive color which all web images are) image, moving the curves up will add more light into the image.

The first step is to color balance, and the easiest way is to set a grey point.Look at my arrows in the image above. there are 3 eye droppers there. Choose the middle one. Next you must click on an area that you think contains absolutely no color,or as little as possible, and is also 50% between black and white. of course in any shadow, radiant colors do bounce but for most situations, you can find a shadow that is far enough away from the object to be almost perfect grey. A grey balance is almost the same as a white balance, which you may have heard of, but i think gives you more options to choose from and gives better results.

If your image goes crazy and really wrong looking, don’t worry, you most likely just hit a colored pixel by mistake. Just try it again until it looks well balanced.

Before clicking “OK”, then look at point 2 on the image. You can drag the middle point of the colors slightly towards the top left. this will stretch the mid tones in the image and add light, without destroying the black or white tones.

Now click “OK”

And now you are done

Within about 2 minutes, you can have a primo looking image of your food.

The proof is in the pudding…. or Cucumber Stick as the case may be
Here is a comparison of before and after with the photos

And there you have it. Actually i got a light feathered white brush and sprayed the edge so it blends to pure white, instead of increasing the brightness, because it much more important the food looks realistic, not the table. Of course you can manipulate more if you like. But These steps are all you need to make your food look YUM!

As a side note, you should always try to use the original uncompressed image to manipulate, as the compression artifacts (like the pattern you see in the tomato) will often be enhanced. Also for food coloring there is a big difference between real color, and perceived real color. You probably wont find too many tomatoes like the above picture, but it is in harmony with the color enhanced imagery we see on the internet these days. What you want to bring out with food is the emotional response of the excitement of the great taste and freshness of the food.