I’ve been taking travel pictures for nearly a decade but my love for food photography has been a more recent thing (you can follow along @AmarEats). We can all get better at our craft and there’s always a new trick or tip that will help improve your food photography. I asked some of the world’s best and brilliant food photographers and stylists what their top food photography tips were. Here’s what they said…
50 Food Photography Tips and Tricks
Tell a Story
The most important thing in food photography is to tell a story. There is no way that your viewers can taste your food photograph, so you need to explain it to them in a way that makes sense.
This often means showing ingredients that are in your dish but may not be visible. Throwing some slices of chilli next to a curry can give an indication of how spicy the food may be. Likewise, deconstructing food to show how it feels, stringy cheese on pizza is usually a good example of this. Remember that the aim of any food photograph is to describe how the food tastes and what the mood of the place was like when you were there.
Get the Guide
Buy the guide book for your camera – it is so much more user friendly than the manual and explains when and why to do things.
I like to use layers when I am styling a scene and build up from the back drop. this can be done in several ways. For flatlay images try placing items on top of something and use different textures.
For example, if you are photographing some cookies try placing them on a cooling rack and add a layer of baking paper underneath, this then builds interest. This means you have several layers. The back drop, the paper and the cooling rack and then also the cookies them self can be seen as a layer and the decoration on them, meaning that there is a lot of different textures and layers that help tell a story and make the photo seem more composed.
Think and Shoot
Think and shoot instead of shoot and think. The camera is there to record not create. You’re the artist, the eye, not the camera. Shoot more and more! Practice makes you better!
Composition and Rule of Thirds
One of the most important things to think about in photography, particularly when your subject is a table full of food (#foodieflatlays #onthetable), is composition. Think about the lines your dishes create; the balance of the composition; the symmetry of plates and glasses; their proportions.
To help you putting together the perfect food picture, follow the ‘Rule of Thirds’. Most smartphones have grid lines built into their camera lens, making it easy to follow this rule. Simply use the grid lines as a guide to where to place your food on a table. Choose your subject/s (the “hero” dish you want your viewers to focus on), and then place it/them on the focal points, where the lines intersect. This helps to draw the viewer’s attention to the pretty latte art or oozy poached egg yolk!
Lighting Is Everything
Always natural light over artificial for me so my one top tip would be finding a window to photograph your food by so you have directional natural light (light coming from one side and avoid light coming from above or multiple angles). If there are artificial lights hitting your dish, then find something to block it (a menu will do!). Cloudy days are best to shoot food but if you’re dealing with direct blazing sunlight find something to diffuse it like some parchment paper!
Invest in a Great Lens
I would say that my top tip for beautiful food photography is to use a great lens. I love the 50mm f/1.8 because it takes beautiful photos and it’s affordable. My absolute favorite lens is the 100mm, it’s more expensive but definitely worth it!
Man Handle Your Food
Don’t be afraid to man handle your food! Think about moving your dish to natural light and pairing it with other dishes, condiments and decorative items. Take pictures from different angles and consider picking the dish up or simply holding the plate or cutting into the food. Be confident and creative!
Invest in a Tripod
My top tip for food photography is to invest in a tripod! This allows you to precisely compose your shot with the framing staying the same, rather than it be slightly different every time you put down the camera to rearrange things and take another photo. I have one with an overhead arm that I love that allows me to take the overhead shots you see on my Instagram account.
Don’t Over Edit
Please do try to keep the retouching to a minimum! Enhance a bit but not a full blown out effect. When we look at an image if your eyes see first the retouching or effect then you’ve over done it. Its like a model with too much make up or a dish with too much seasoning of salt and pepper !
Choose Your Background
My one top tip for taking beautiful food photography would be to choose the background. That will define everything about your image – the mood, the colour palette, the contrast, the props, the story. This always works for me! An old rustic table that I bought from the ‘banjaraas‘/gypsies in Gurgaon is one of my favourite backgrounds and it cost 500 rupees. It appears at all my food styling workshops and in so many of my images.
Play With Camera Angles
Think about what camera angle will bring out the best in the food. Burgers and other tall foods like pancakes look best shot straight-on so we can see the their layers, while overhead shots are best for flat foods and giving a graphic pop to the images. Overhead shots flatten depth, which emphasizes shape, and it’s a great angle for getting a lot of elements into an image, like in a tablescape.
Create Depth With One Light Source
Light, light light – chase the natural light! But the effects you get can vary. Light coming from above (i.e. a skylight) or from all directions (i.e. a really bright room with windows all around), minimises shadows and can create a flat image. You ideally want just one source of light, coming side on (i.e. next to a bright window), to create an image with both light and shade and therefore, more depth.”
Source Unique Tableware
I love styling by using props like tableware (bowls, cutlery and plates) in my photography. Whenever I travel, I enjoy picking up hand-painted crockery that I know will add a unique feel and look to my photos. White plates are great for photographing certain foods, on the other hand colourful or slightly patterned props add vibrancy and will catch people’s attention, but just make sure they complement and don’t distract too much. I also use various fabrics, which add a different dimension.
Sketch Your Shot
Before you even get the lens cap off sketch your shot. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, mine are often just shapes (props) and arrows (direction of the light). With practice, you should find that it really brings your image to life.
Use Off-camera Flash
My number 1 tip for taking beautiful food photos is to learn how to use off-camera flash. It gives you total creative control by being able to manipulate the light in so many ways. You can shoot at any time of the day or night and don’t need to rely on the sun or the light at your location. It also helps you be more consistent and edit faster because the light is from the same source.
Practice Makes Perfect
The best thing you can do for your food photography is to practice. Practice every single day, learn your camera, learn your light, learn how to edit. Eventually you’ll find your style and your groove.
Try and source small bowls and plates for your food photography. Food is always more appealing when it looks to be bursting out of the bowl, although in reality this can create a lot of food waste if you over-make food for each shoot. Look out for small, unique pieces of crockery in antique or charity shops.
Make the Food the Hero
The dish you want to take a picture of should be the most vibrant colour in the picture. Try to stick to props that are a paler version of the colour of the food or go for complementary colours. Don’t overcrowd the picture and always ask yourself the following: Is the dish the first thing that my eye is drawn to? You do not want flowers in the background or the odd glass or bowl to steal the show.
Capture the Action
If you’re photographing restaurant food, try to capture the moments of joy. I like to take my photos just as the sauce is being poured over a dessert or someone is sliding their knife into an otherwise perfectly presented plate of food.
Use the Environment
One of our favourites is to use the environment around us – sometimes the most beautiful textured backgrounds are on the floor or using vintage material to help bring out the features of a dish. Our go-to background is actually an old painted luggage trunk that we use as our coffee table in the living room!
Indirect Light Is the Best
When it comes to food, we want to make it look as appetizing as possible. So try to take the photo from a place with lots of natural light. Indirect light is the best – place the food next to a bright window that isn’t directly hit by the sun. If you are outside, try to get the photo from an angle that goes with the light, instead of against it. On the editing phase, I would keep it as simple as possible – food tends to look unappetizing if you edit it too much!
The Human Touch
Another thing I like to do is to add a human element to my photographs. This is usually in the form of someone’s hands. This makes the photo relatable to the viewer and more natural.
Shoot in Natural Light
My top tip is always try to shoot food in natural light. In a restaurant ask to sit by the window and block out spotlights by covering with the menu! It will make the food look more appetising and vibrant, and avoid any dark shadows.
Find and Develop Your Own Style
You don’t need the worlds best camera to take great food photography. It’s what you do with the camera which is most important! Having a good eye and developing your eye will give the very best results. Be inspired! But don’t limit yourself by only being inspired by the work of only other food photographers – Instead draw inspiration from painting, films and everyday life. This will be what makes your food stand out. Every photograph is a story and it is up to you as the photographer to tell that story.
Props Remove Ambiguity
Don’t be afraid to use props when you have a dish or drink that needs all the visual help because it has one colour, no texture and could be anything. Pink liquid isn’t self-explaining but once you add a watermelon wedge and strategically placed lemon slices it’s clear what it is and it looks very natural and refreshing.
Play With Your Shadows
When photographing food try to get to the restaurant early so that you can get a table by the window. Photograph the food towards the light, so that the shadows fall to the bottom of your frame. Play around with the angles of the shadows. They don’t need to go straight to the bottom, angled is fine, as long as they fall in that general direction.
Ignore the Rules
Be bold, sometimes the answer to making an extraordinary shot is to forget the norms and do something little bit out there. go high, go low, set fire to it, ignore the rules and do something extraordinary and every now and again you will get a killer shot.
Backdrops Enhance Your Images
The thing that dramatically improved my food photography was purchasing some professional backdrops and surfaces. The surface and/or backdrop that you use in food photography can make or break your photo.
Backdrops should not overpower your food, rather they should enhance the food and make it pop. With the proper backdrop or surface, you set the tone for the look and feel of your photos and you can create a branded consistent style with the backdrops or surfaces you use. If you study the best food photographers on Instagram, you’ll notice they use interesting and textured backdrops and surfaces to make their food shine.
Be a Lighting Jedi
We don’t always have the luxury of sun light streaming through a window when travelling. Think creatively. Be a Jedi with your lighting environment. Use a candle or have a friend hold up a phone with a cigarette paper over the light to soften the effect. Get them to hold the phone to the side or behind your subject. Other great weapons can be white paper plates or tinfoil as reflectors. Be one with your lighting 🙂
Use Negative Space
Give the subject of your photo some space to breathe. When composing your foodie photo, leave some around the dish so that it doesn’t fill the whole frame. Some close-up food photos are great, but consider leaving some negative space to create a more pleasing composition and place a greater emphasis on the shapes and colours of your dish.
Avoid the Shadows
The single most important factor to consider when photographing food is the light. Take photos in natural daylight and avoid strong sunlight, which will create huge shadows and look very harsh.
Show the Surroundings
I love food photos that tell stories. Food looks better and more tempting when you can feel the environment in which it has been cooked or served! Select carefully the props for each food shot. Show some part of the surroundings of the food object: a cup of tea or a glass of wine, a napkin with interesting colour and texture, a moody background, even some furniture around…The photo will be much more intriguing than just showing the food by itself.
Think About Backdrops
I’m a big fan of using quality printed boards as backdrops; they can give the illusion of a plaster wall background for example or for overhead photos a wooden table.
Understand Your Light Source
I would say my biggest tip for taking beautiful food photography is understand your light source and what style it is you are trying to achieve. ( dark, moody, bright, breezy etc..)
Everything in food photography is about light. Bad light can make good food look terrible & good light can make bad food look incredible! There are so many aspect to consider when taking photos of food: styling, props, lenses, depth of field… etc… but I would say if you can master the light first, you can make any food look great!
Use a tripod and shoot tethered on manual from your laptop with live preview. The software is free and with live preview it will vastly improve your images as well as saving hours in post processing.
Don’t Over Prop
Use small plates so that you don’t pile on too much food, which can look bulky and clumsy. Don’t over prop and use tinfoil as a reflector.
Use Window Light
If there were a fly on my wall each time I photographed food it would tell you my dirty little secret: I only use window light. The truth of the matter is that food looks beautiful with natural light which is why it’s always my go-to light source. Plus it’s free fairly reliable easy to work with and if you’re lucky enough to have a window with diffused light coming in then you have the perfect setup for food photography.
Keep It Simple
Keep the set simple, focus on making the food look as good and appetizing as possible and capture it quickly at the peak of it’s look, which often is just a few seconds.
For example in the pea soup in the Instagram post below, the oil drizzle and foam, faded away within a minute.
Follow Food Stylists
Hire an amazing food stylist 😉 or at least follow one or two and keep your eyes open for tricks of the trade. I work as a food stylist. I get paid to shop, create, and fluff food for the camera, print and motion. And I have the great opportunity to work with amazing food photographers, prop stylists and art directors to create gorgeous images. It’s all about the team effort.
Sit by the Window
The best food photos are taken in natural light. When dining in a restaurant, try and go during the day and make sure to ask for a table by the window – your photos will look so much better for it!
Make the Most of Daylight
One of the most important things for me, is natural lighting. You definitely don’t need tons of expensive studio lights if you shoot by a window that gets a lot of natural light (the more windows in a room, the better). Plus, if you’re going down the natural light route, the time of day you’re taking photos really matters. In the winter, I wake up early to make the most of daylight and once the sun has gone down, I don’t even attempt to take food photos until the next day. I’d say it matters more than your camera!
Focus on the Food
You don’t need a prop room filled with napkins, plates, and cutlery. Focus on the food!
Set up the Lighting To Avoid Over Editing Later
When it comes to food photography, light is everything. People know and love food, they know what looks natural and what doesn’t, so you don’t want to have to use much post-production to fix up a photo – you don’t want it to look heavily edited. I try to get the scene looking perfect with exact the lighting I need before I hit the shutter, so that it’s ready to straight off the camera with only perhaps need minimum editing to balance levels or tweak the white balance.
Get on the Level
Get down to the same level as your food. In a world of flat lays, side-on photography can stand out and give your audience more of a sense of scale.
Adobe Lightroom can take out the heavy lifting when it comes to editing photos. It’s particularly great at fixing white balance issues and generally an incredible useful tool. Best of all it’s really easy to use and if you over edit or don’t like what you’ve done, it’s not difficult to roll back your changes.
Use Cooking Oil Spray
Spray on cooking oil can be applied to food to make it look like it’s just come out the oven or pan even if it’s stone cold. Really simple but it so useful on long shoots.
Don’t Neglect the Cutlery
There’s often a tendency to focus on the type of tableware you use in your food photography. Whether you opt for minimalist white or colourful ceramic plates, give some thought to the other utensils in your picture. Be on the look out for cool, funky, different or vintage cutlery. A vintage spoon or carved wooden ladle can add something unique to your image.
Envisage a Michelin Star Dish
Think about top quality restaurant food. How busy are the plates? They aren’t full to the brim and the styling isn’t clunky. Less is more and simple, elegant styling gives that high quality look.
Make a Set of Simple Tools
Of course your camera is the most important tool when it comes to food photography but there are other simple tools which can make all the difference. Cotton buds are good at cleaning up small messes, brushes are necessary for oiling and tweezers can help move even the smallest of small food or items. Perfection can be achieved using these basics.
There you have it. The ultimate collection of food photography tips. Is there any we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
Amar was born and raised in England and embarked on an 11-country round-the-world gap year after graduation and then became well and truly hooked. The first gap year inspired a second, which ended up being a 23-country down-the-world trip from Canada to Antarctica. Since then, Amar has spent the last 14 years traveling the 7 continents.