Last Updated on April 8, 2021
Food photography is a fun and potentially lucrative niche. But the basics are surprisingly difficult to get right if you want to avoid looking like a rank amateur at best, and a snooty restaurant critic at worst.
We’ve compiled these tips for you in order of importance, so that you can start taking better pictures of food as soon as possible!
Chances are, you probably take pictures of food at restaurants and hotels all the time (or maybe for a blog or Instagram). But how good are those pictures? There ARE skills involved that most people don’t take advantage of.
Here are 10 tips for better food photography that could make you look like a pro
Some of these tips require special equipment but many can be used for taking food photography at home.
1 – Use natural light, preferably from the side. Most people want to take pictures of their food inside, but natural light will give you a cleaner, less harsh result. It will also help avoid ‘red eye’ if your dish includes meat or seafood. Try not to use flash either unless that is the only way to get decent lighting.
2 – Use a filler. This is especially popular in food photography circles because it breaks up the subject and makes your dish look more interesting. Avoid grainy textures like sand or sawdust, and go for something that will add to the composition instead of detracting from the photo. Try something with color that contrasts with your food. Flower petals, ice chips, small stones or even shredded cardboard can provide interesting accents. For websites sessions I tend to accent my photos with examples of the most prominent ingredient. So for an apple pie, I will incorporate whole apples in the scene.
3 – Don’t over-do the images. Indulging in ‘perfectionism’ is something that food photographers often do, but give yourself a break. The dogmatic idea of ‘the best picture is one that has no flaws’ is a myth. Keep looking for moments to make the image better, but don’t obsess over it. If you don’t like the first picture, keep editing until you have the shot you are after. Nobody has time to sit there forever trying to get the perfect picture.
4 – Use a shallow depth of field whenever possible. Take advantage of all the modern cameras with nifty ‘background defocus’ buttons. If your camera is high-end, use it in manual mode, and experiment with different f-stops to get whatever effect you want. You can focus on your subject, and blur the background/foreground for a cool photo effect.
5 – Get close up to the food. Don’t worry if you don’t have a large studio set-up. Zoom in on your dish as much as possible to get better focus and details. If you can get really, really close up (like fill the shot with one piece of food) you will emphasize that particular dish in your photo.
6 – Know what kind of shot you want, and stick with it. ‘Closeup’, ‘compressed’ or ‘wide angle’ are some of the possible styles. Experiment with all of them to get the best result for your dish. If you are using a DSLR, use the ‘rule of thirds’ to compose your scene.
7 – Don’t use flash unless you have to. Most people think they can just point the camera and press the button, but this is not what good food photography looks like. The images should look delectable, professional and appetizing.
8 – Use props to add detail or flavor. If you have a particularly unique dish, try adding something to it that will break up the shape for your photo. For instance, if you are taking a picture of a cake, try using a small ice cube for some texture or color. You can also put something small on your dish like a slice of fruit in the middle of the shot.
9 – But keep it simple. The fewer elements you have, the easier it is to compose the shot. Keep it simple, and keep it focused on your dish. Don’t try to include every last detail in your shot.
10 – Wash the dishes first. This is really a no brainer, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Check the image in under high-res as soon as you have a usable photo to get an idea of how you want to alter the dish (or dishware).
What Do You Need For Professional Looking Food Photography?
These are the essential tools for taking pictures of food or any other object:
1 – Good lighting. Of all the tips I’ve given, this is THE most important. Using natural light, typically from the side if possible, is a must! If your food looks good on the plate or in your dishware with natural light, it will look amazing in photos. Natural light means you have to make sure that your dishware and dishes are clean and white (no greasy fingerprints).
2 – A tripod. These are essential for getting steady shots and reducing blur. I use tripods all the time, but they are not necessary. I actually prefer to use my hands to hold things while I take the shot, but most professional photographers use tripods when taking seriously composed photos of food or other objects without motion or movement.
3 – A camera with a wide-angle lens can be useful for taking shots with a natural vignette look that gives more of an effect of depth.
4 – A diffuser. This acts as a neutral element in your photo. It doesn’t change the colors, but instead can make the image look softer and more like a painting. I especially like to use these when shooting flat objects like items on a plate or a bowl, or when shooting close up shots that have detail in the background.
5 – A light meter . These come in a wide range of costs, and they are one of the most useful tools for picture taking beyond the food itself. Getting your lighting right is essential and such a difficult thing to do without a light meter.
6 – A food stylist can make all the difference you need. It’s not as simple as getting some props and shooting your next masterpiece, but if you want to learn how to shoot like a pro, find someone who knows what they are doing and get them to work for you.
7 – Quality photo editing software. If just starting out, some of these come free, and I recommend using them to adjust the color balance in your photos, remove red eye, and make minor adjustments in color or contrast. It might not be necessary, but sometimes it helps to add a little flare to your shots or take out the shadows on a white plate and make it pop.
Tips For Staging Food For A Photo Shoot
1 – Use real dishware. It’s worth spending a few extra dollars to get quality dishes that look like they belong in the photo.
2 – Do not use vintage or antique dishes, plates, or silverware. They can be a bit too “vintage” for your food items and take away from the image instead of enhancing it.
3 – Change the color of the lighting. You can do this by turning off one light and turning on another, or you can use a black light to make your subject glow. Alternatively, changing the colors of your background can make an entire photo look different.
4 – Do not use plastic or Styrofoam dishes. While convenient, they look cheap both in person and in a photograph. Any time you can, use real dishware.
5 – Photograph your food items as closeup as possible to show detail.
6 – Keep your props simple. A few cutlery items such as spoons or forks is all that’s needed in a set of dishes. Their size and placement will be what makes them interesting and hold the attention of the viewer more than the items themselves.
7 – Keep your backgrounds simple as well. A few props that complement your dishes instead of distract from them are a great addition to the photo.
8 – Keep your food items sparse, neat and organized. Remember that you will be taking photographs of it, so it should look presentable and appetizing even in black and white. Work in layers to achieve this by arranging your food in circles around the dish so that you don’t have to move a lot of things around when taking photos.
What is the best angle for food photography?
Most chefs and food stylists recommend shooting food from a high angle instead of looking down on it. This makes your audience look bigger than the food, giving the illusion that they can eat more. If you’re shooting an entrée, take its photo from above to show how large it is.
When taking photos of cakes, shoot them from low angles so you can use the whole cake as a background and reduce photo editing time. This also makes the cake look even bigger and more impressive.
If you have a passion for food photography, you can really start to explore your creative side and become inspired to focus on other areas of photography outside of food. You shouldn’t limit yourself to just taking photos of food, though, as there are lots of different types of creative photos that you can take, like landscapes or portraits.