Lesson 23 – Sketch Your Shots

30 Day Food Photos Day23

Yesterday you created a shot list for your subject. Today we take the next step of preparation.

This is my favorite way to prepare for food shoots.

This method is to sketch the photo that you have in your mind on a piece of paper.

Typically I sketch all the possible ways I would like to photograph the subject (this is already in my shot list).

Creating a sketch helps you visualize the frame before you start creating the photo. I’ve found it specially helpful for prop styling. By looking at the frame on the sheet, you can visualize the position of props and how it will impact the photograph.

Before You Start Sketching

My process of sketching begins with identifying the characters of my story. Just like we discussed earlier in the challenge, I like to clearly identify my main characters, my supporting or secondary characters and what I consider extra that are essential for the story but are not required.

As you sketch your food story on a piece of paper, identify these characters. This will help you decide how prominent or not, you would like them in the frame. You can also make a decision about the position of these characters as well as lighting, focus and  distance from the lens.

Think about what your story is about?

Is this about a traditional dish that is served to an individual or is the dish sitting on the dinner table?

What props will you need to support your story?

Now using this information and ingredients, you should start the sketching process.

How to Start Sketching

Sketching should start with you deciding whether you want to frame horizontally or vertically.

Once you’ve decided this, now the question is where to place your main character? Once this is done, next move to secondary and then the extras.

Go ahead and now start experimenting. Don't worry if you cant' sketch. This is not a drawing competition. This is a tool for you to understand and visualize your compositions in advance.

Move the main character, place props and try different arrangements.


Let’s look at an example. As you will see below, I’m preparing to take a photograph of Chhole or Chickpea curry.

Chhole Curry Sketch-3

In this case, I started the process by making decisions about characters of this story – Main character in this case is the Chhole or Chickpea curry. Tandori Roti is going to be secondary character in this case. Extras will be rice, raita, onions and lime. Extras can be removed if they start to crowd the scene.

Then I listed some props that will make this work in this situation. This gave me a better idea on what to focus on.

And after making all these decisions, I started the sketching process. The process is quite straightforward. Using the information collected, I started with the main character or Chhole. I made some sketches and got a rough idea of how a certain combination would look.

After experimenting with couple of variations, I knew what I wanted to start with.

One thing to note is that, the goal of sketching is not to completing finalize all minute details. Rather, it helps you find the direction, before the food is ever brought to the scene. This gives you a starting point or a launching pad.

You should still explore and trying different variations once you are at the scene. Having sketched the concept or idea doesn’t mean that you have to be rigid and should not move around the scene and take photos. All of that has it’s place. Sketching puts a visual element before you even when you cannot be at the set.

So what is your assignment today? You guessed it…

Today’s Assignment

Estimated time: 30 mins

Step 1 –  Decide your subject you plan to use for this exercise.

Step 2  – Decide the characters – main character, secondary character/s and extras. On a piece of paper write it down.

Step 3 – On this paper, create vertical and horizontal frames that represent frames of your photograph.

Step 4 – Sketch how you would fill the frame. Add main character, secondary and extras.

Step 5 – Once you have completed that, take a photograph of your sketch and upload it iLesson 23 Album on the new Facebook Group. If you are not a member of the facebook group, you will not be able to view the album. Request access from the FB Group page.

Step 6 –In couple of lines, share your experience in the comments below. Was this the first time you sketched your photo? Have you done this before? After sketching this on paper, what was going in your mind? Take few minutes to analyze this. Share with others and read experience of other participants.

Step 7 - Optional - If you have additional time and can do it, take a photo based on your sketch and upload it iLesson 23 Album on the new Facebook Group. Once again, you will need to be the member of the facebook group to view the album. If you are note, request access from the FB Group page.

Again, this exercise is not about your sketching skills. This is not about how good your forks and plates look in your drawing... this is about visualization.

Not everyone will be comfortable with this exercise. Try it anyway. You may not use this technique in every one of your shoots, do the assignment anyway.

Extra Credit

As you complete today's assignment, it is important to remember that this tip provides you a starting point. I stress this above too, but can't stress enough. This is no way a replacement of moving around the subject and trying various changes while you are in the middle of a photo shoot.

Suggested Reading

  • First time I have thought about it in this way. I usually think about the setting and how I want it to look, – what am I trying to convey, but I have never gone to this depth. I will often research how other people have photographed a particular dish and work from there. Thanks Neel, another great addition to my learning.

  • aPathite

    Oeps, the ‘how to use sketches for planning your food photos’ gives an error 404…

  • Julie Benz

    Neel, so you know, the suggested reading page comes back with a message that this page no longer exists…

  • Hi Neel, Yes this is the first time I’ve sketched my ideas. I usually have the scene pictured in my mind and then move things around until I have what I want. This was helpful, but sometimes what I thought would look good (in my mind or on paper) doesn’t. In those situations I just start over. 🙂

  • Sandy

    Neel, this was my first time sketching my ideas. My husband had suggested this and an outline at the beginning of this challenge; however, I thought I work better with things in my mind. This is a clear way of brainstorming your ideas on paper. Thanks for including this part in your challenge.

  • Julie Benz

    Thanks Misky, I managed to listen to the podcast and gained some insight- wit such visual ideas the idea of conveying this in a podcast was a challenge in itself, I amagine. But I know what jalebis are now too- thanks again for your help and the updated link


  • anariva95

    Sometimes I sketch some ideas but no for photograph, this is my first sketch for a photo. I think it is very useful.

  • I think this could be a really useful tool for some people. I like the way we have been given different ways to plan our shots ahead of time – either by making a list or by using a sketch. If I am being totally honest, I prefer the list to the sketch. Once I think about what I want to convey with my image, it helps me narrow down, quite quickly actually, what props I want to use. The list is really all I feel that I need…after that I place everything and look through my camera (on a tripod) and arrange props however looks best to the camera. The sketch felt like an unnecessary additional step for me – probably just because of how my brain works. I enjoyed doing this exercise!

  • Well, I post my final photo and the sketch on the FB group! Answering to your question, I can say that it isn’t the first time that I do it… I use this way above all when I have to take some photos of different plates in the same day or moment and so I’ve to organize all well! Surely, it is a very good way to use everytime!

  • Margaret Wendell

    I have never sketched a shot before and I found it a bit intimidating. Did it help me? I don’t know. Can I capture what I have in mind? I don’t know.

  • Ingunn Løvik

    I try to visualize the photo I want to make in my head before shooting, but sketching it was even more useful. I didn’t manage to take the photo I sketched but am definitely planning on doing it.

  • Marina Stambrovskaia Skår

    I have never sketched before because of sketching actually is not my thing. Usually I have ideas in my head, but sketching can help to don’t forget all details.