11 Food Photography Tips

by Stephen Harker
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Did you know that you can make some extra money all throughout the year by taking pictures of food? There are several ways you can try.

Local restaurants may need images for their menus or for online advertising. Local food delivery services may want an image or two of meals from popular venues.Food blogs may pay you for your own illustrated recipes. 

In addition to a money making opportunity, food photography can be a lot of fun. Social media is full of pics of someone’s lunch or holiday dinner. Those can get a little passe, though, so making really good images could help your account get and keep followers and views.

Food photography can be pictures of a meal, images of the steps involved in the making of the dish, or photos of raw items. Enjoy these tips for helping your own food photography images stand out. Many of these tips will work whether you are using a smartphone camera or an interchangeable lens DSLR.

cooked food photography


1. Treat It Like a Portrait

A portrait of food! Consider how much effort and technique goes into making a good portrait. Then, use those same thoughts but applied towards food. Many of the same lighting configurations, composition rules, exposure methods, and other techniques work whether taking photos of people, places, or things.

2. Pose the Subject

Just as with a portrait subject, posing the food items can turn a documentary photograph into an artful image. You might be thinking in terms of composition, but  what I mean by posing is take the items in your composition and place them in a way that enhances the image. Your composition may have the food item in the bottom third of the image area, but posing will have turn the item to face one direction or another.

3. Change Angles

Sometimes, it’s better to change the direction of the entire composition instead of relying on moving around the food items. By changing the angle of the shoot, you could be changing background, highlights and shadows, and other aspects of the image. 

In addition to moving around from one side of the table to another, changing the height of the camera may make a huge difference in the final image. Shooting from table top height will emphasize size and shape of individual items, while shooting from higher up may show how each individual food element complements each other.

4. Rearrange the Food

Piling the food on a plate may make your mouth water, but arranging it in a pleasing balance will convey its appeal beyond seeing and smelling it in person. Keeping it all neat is one of the methods that works well. Unless you’re trying to show a huge pile of something, separating the items is usually a better idea. 

5. Vary the Composition

The same basic rules of composition that work well for other types of photography will make great images when applied to food photography. The Rule of Thirds, for instance. If you are photographing a single item or type of food, placing the food in the bottom 2/3rds of the image often appears very natural.

If you are imaging multiple items, the intersections of the thirds divisions seems like a good idea for many pics. The grid feature in many smartphones and other cameras is perfect for this method. In fact, several aftermarket smartphone apps have grids specifically made for applying the Rule of Thirds.

Breaking the ‘rules’ is also a good option to keep in mind. Sometimes placing the subject dead center creates the most interesting composition. Since we’re mostly talking digital imaging, use the camera or phone viewscreen to review the images and see what composition style works best for this pic.

6. Use Natural Light

Especially with smartphone apps, natural light is often a great choice. That’s because the “flash” function of most smartphones is not really very good. Since that light source is so close to the lens axis, the resulting images tend to look very flat and uninteresting.

With natural light, however, you can get some modeling of light and shadows. A window open to the Sun provides an appealing light quality. Put the platter of food next to the window to get some nice side lighting. Reflectors can be used to help control the natural light for opening up shadows if necessary. 

7. Use Artificial Light

Sometimes, you just need to just need to control the light better. Artificial light, either flash or continuous, will let you do that. Going back to our portrait analogy, a simple portrait lighting configuration will allow you to evenly light the composition, add modeling shadows, or a combination of effects. 

Smartphone users can join in on the fun, too. Many very portable, battery powered continuous light kits are available from several manufacturers. As an extra bonus, you can use those same continuous lights for illuminating your video footage.

8. Decorate the Scene

Adding in other food or even non food elements can enhance your food images. Be careful not to overwhelm the main subject, though. Fresh spices, complementary edible items, cool looking utensils, interesting plates, can all help turn a good photo into a great image.

9. Watch Your Background

A cluttered background can distract from what you’re trying to show. Sometimes, using tip 3 may be all you need to do. Other times, you may need to use some other methods. If you’re able to open up your aperture (or f-stop), then you can employ selective focus. You can also do this by means of creative smartphone camera apps or with computer or mobile device post processing programs.

taco food photo tip

https://unsplash.com/photos/vzX2rgUbQXMAs a tip within a tip, having a dark background and fairly strong front or side lighting can make the steam rising from a hot dish more noticeable. 

10. Isolate the Subject

Excluding extra photographic elements can keep attention on the food being imaged. This can be done by creative camera and subject placement, controlling the lighting, or by selective focus. 

11. Experiment

Your smartphone camera app, DSLR, or post processing program may have other creative controls available. So, experiment. Play with colors, convert to black and white, use soft focus, or expose for high key or low key images. Just have fun! And after you’re all done, you can eat the subject. Not something you can say with too many other types of photography.

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