Composition: Make a Stack

If you’ve looked at my Flickr stream anytime in the last month, you’ll see I’m kind of hooked on a particular theme: Stacks.

Stacked Tarts

The challenge of any photographer is to bring dimension to a flat surface. Food is often presented flatly, plated or in a serving dish, with a landscape orientation. Ask yourself, how are you using your vertical space?

Stacking food lifts it out of the ordinary and makes it unexpected and more intriguing. Stacks can be made out of almost anything… fruit, pastry, meat… even noodles.

Here are some tips for getting the best stacked food photos:

  • Three is a magic number. You can stack more than three, but three usually gives you the best composition.
  • The stacks don’t have to be straight. In fact, askew stacks are particularly dynamic.
  • The stacks can be made out of the different things. There should be a theme, but differences make it interesting.
  • Don’t feel bad about using a tool. Toothpicks, wooden skewers or even coat hangers will help your stacks stay together.
  • A piece of PVC is handy to have around for making some kinds of food towers, if you don’t have a cake mold.
  • Stacks don’t have to be very tall. To get height from a short stack, shoot from plate level.
  • Diffuse backlighting works well for stacks, creating soft shadows in the foreground. I like to use a bounce to shine some light back on the front for detail.
  • Take a series of shots with varying DOF.
  • If you are shooting from above, don’t forget about the top of your stack. There should be something interesting to finish the stack.

For inspiration, check out the Flickr group on stacked food.

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