Watch: How to Retouch Food Photography
Shooting a Decent Photo
The most important step to a great retouched photo is a great source photo that you can work with. You’ve got to get the shot right in the camera. Great light, shallow depth of field, and even a RAW file if possible. I shot this photo as part of a project for a local dueling piano bar’s burger menu. I have a sketch of my lighting setup as I remember it. Download the RAW file used in this tutorial and follow along right here!
Fun With Camera Calibration
Open the image in the Camera RAW editor and head over to the camera calibration tab. From the Camera Profile drop down menu, I’m going to choose “Camera Neutral”. This will bring the image back closer to what I was seeing in the back of my camera at the time of the shoot. It also restores some of the blown out highlight in the white of the egg.
Food & Richness
A burger, or almost any kind of comfort food, you’ll typically want it to appear very rich in a photo. (Healthier, organic foods would be bright, fresh, and colorful, sweets would be both bright and rich, etc…) To do this I’m going to reduce the overall exposure to “-0.65”. I also bumped contrast up to “+30”, dropped highlights and whites both to “-10”, pushed shadows and blacks both to “+50”. I also added about +10 or so on the clarity slider and dropped the vibrance about “-10”.
Getting the Color Right
In an ideal world you would shoot a white card with each set of food photos you shoot and then white balance from that card, but if you haven’t it’s OK to adjust white balance according to your eye. I’m going to drop temperature to 4700K and drop tint to “-10” to throw some greens into the image. I’m focusing on the color of the plate because that was the closest thing to white in this image.
Sharpening Before Photoshop
Jump over to the sharpening tab and throw some sharpening onto the image to get us an initial pass of sharpening before we dive in and retouch the image a bit.
Click on the lens correction tab and tick on “Enable Lens Profile Correction” and then slide the distortion slider all the way to the left and bump the vignette slider to about “60”. At this point we’re ready to open the image in Photoshop. Select the button to open the image.
Level & Crop
Grab the Crop tool (C) and drag out a selection over the image and rotate the crop area until the lines align well with the front of the table and also crop the image back so you don’t have the big bunch of darkness at the front of your frame. I also unchecked “Delete Cropped Pixels” so I can always go back and un-crop my image if I need to. Hit the little check icon to commit the change.
Notes For Retouching
Add a layer and name it “Notes” and grab the Brush tool (B) and I’ve gone over the image and circled all the little areas that need to be cleaned up. I’m looking for areas of the egg, cheese, burger, fries, and bun that need to be cleaned up to give that ultra-unrealistic version of the burger that you always see in the ads.
The Blemishes Layer
Create a new layer beneath the “Notes” layer by holding the Cmd/Ctrl button down while pressing the new layer icon. I named the blemishes layer “Blemishes”. Next, grab the Healing Brush tool (J) and choose “Current & Below” from the source drop down menu and then Alt/Opt click to sample areas of the burger and paint away the blemishes that you’ve circled.
First thing we’ll do is add more of a rich orange color to both the bread and the fries (“chips”, for my friends in the U.K.) by adding a Solid Color layer above the “Blemishes” layer. Go Layer>New Fill Layer, name the layer whatever you’d like and then set the layer’s color to #816036. Select the Mask and fill it with black and then use the Brush tool (B) to paint white wherever you’d like to layer on some orange. Set the color layer to the blend mode of “Soft Light” to set the color in place. PRO TIP: Set the opacity of the Brush tool to 40-50% so you can have more control of how much orange goes onto each area of the image.
Adding More Color
I’m going to do the same thing to add more dark red coloring to the strips of bacon. I’ll also create a color layer with the color white and mask that to the egg whites and then set that layer to the blend mode “Saturation”. This will ensure the egg white is WHITE.
Dodge & Burn For Depth & Texture pt. 1
Create a new layer on top of all the other layers and go Edit>Fill and choose “50% Gray” from the Contents drop down menu. Set the layer blend mode to “Soft Light” and grab the Dodge tool (O). I set the Range to “Shadows” and then set the Exposure to “20%”. Now I’ll paint and brighten the highlights on this gray layer to really draw out the brighter areas.
Dodge & Burn For Depth & Texture pt. 2
Next, grab the Burn tool (O) (located underneath the Dodge tool) and set this to the “Midtones” range with an Exposure of 20%. Paint and shape the darker areas to really add texture and depth.
Gradient Map Adjustment Layer
Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer by going Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map. Edit the gradient to a gradient that runs from the color #493847 to #b4ad7f. Set the layer to the blend mode “Soft Light” and reduce the opacity to “50%”.
Hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to merge all the layers to a new layer at the top of the layers panel and then hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U to desaturate the layer. Then go Filter>Other>High Pass and set the radius to 1.5px and then set the layer to the blend mode of “Overlay”. That’s it! Use these techniques and never let that fear of retouching stand between you and the perfect food photo!