Food photography tips and tricks

Food photography tips and tricks

These days food photography is ever-present in Instagram feeds and Pinterest pins. Food is a great connector. Whether you’re a lifestyle influencer, a die-hard foodie, or a baking pro, here are our top food photography tips and tricks to take your food shoot to the next level – from prepping to editing your pictures.

Tips and tricks to improve your food photography

Look for inspiration

Be inspired by the pros and their mastery of photography. Don't hesitate to turn to your favorite food blogs, Pinterest food pins, or take a look at the Canva pool of food photographs. Put your creative hat on to explore different ways to approach your shoot.

Making a mock-up or mood board is a great way to preview how the scene might look and to experiment with different elements and framing. By sketching out the photo, you can get a better idea of how all the elements come together and decide which composition works best for you.

Tell a story

What’s your story? Do you need to create a set of food photos for a restaurant’s websiteor photography for a cooking book? What do you want to communicate? Always turn to this question to plan all the aspects of the shoot.

A grid of 20 flavors of ice cream in little saucers displayed in one shot might work for a gelateria to demonstrate its menu, whereas a single ice cream cone with triple-stacked, melting scoops will make someone long for summer and the beach.

Create a consistent aesthetic

There are so many ways to give life to an idea. Are you after a realistic, “work in progress” type of look with flour spread by a rolling pin, or shaves of dark chocolate by a mocha bundt cake? Picture a cheeseburger with a big bite, a half-eaten plate of pasta with the utensils askew, a top shot with lipstick-smudged napkins. It’s all about giving your photos an edge — in this case, a beautiful mess with people making an appearance.

Or are you after a more slick and polished aesthetic, with glistening ingredients and dramatic shadows, like you see in cookbooks? A single plate of food shot from above will emphasize the dish and usually have a more premium, produce-focused feel. Whereas a spread of a bunch of dishes in a festive table set up might have a homelier vibe, creating a mood of togetherness.

Another option is going minimalistic. Bringing everything down to an elemental level. The simplicity of the shot elevates the importance of the dish. In this case, less is definitely more.

Whatever you want to shoot, make it yours, and add a pinch of your creativity and edge.

Choose the right camera for the job

With so many brands and options available in the market, it can be overwhelming to choose a camera for food photography. However, there are a few considerations that can make your decision easier.

First, it is important to determine your budget and decide if you need interchangeable lenses. Mirrorless cameras tend to be smaller and lighter, which can be beneficial for food photography.

When selecting a camera, it is essential to consider the file size you want to work with. Larger image sizes are necessary if you need to print your food photography for clients for in-store displays. Additionally, it is recommended to opt for a camera body that prefers well in low light situations where a high ISO may be required. Shooting in raw format is also advisable, as it makes it easier to edit the images in post-production.

Choose the right focal length for your scene

Here’s a quick cheat-sheet of different lenses and their benefits.

  • 50mm is a good all-round lens, especially if you don’t have a zoom, good for shooting food from top-down and tablescapes.
  • 24-70mm zoom lens is a favorite of many food photographers for its versatility.
  • 60mm macro, to avoid distortion.
  • 100/110mm macro, good for portrait-style and vertical framing
  • 80mm prime works for wider set-ups.

Food photography backdrops

Consider different surfaces. For instance, dark, smooth, shiny wood might convey a premium restaurant. While, light, rustic wood will provide more of a country vibe. Make sure your surface is as flat as possible and if you plan to shoot on location, make sure you can lift it.

Hardware stores, timber yards, garage sales, and antique stores can be great places to rummage for unique pieces.

You can also look online for specialist backdrop creators who make one-off surfaces for photographers.

Suggested props

Cooking props, serving props, silverware, china, a tablecloth… the prop possibilities are endless in food photography. Always remember to add whatever contributes to your food story, and avoid cluttering the shot. Consider sticking to a neutral color palette that you can use over and over without the pieces becoming too memorable, so the food stays the hero.

Pick a color palette

Consider how a combination of colors will play out in the final composition, the ingredients in a plate, against the background, and some props. Do you want a muted palette or clashing colors? Either way, you want to create a harmonious picture.

Maybe you can add a touch of Classic Blue, 2020 color of the year by Pantone.

Expert tips for working with light in food photography

Set the mood

This is perhaps the simplest and cheapest trick of them all. One of the greatest tools you have available to you in food photography is light and the ability to control it. The tiniest gleam reflected off a juicy orange can create a highlight that makes you want to lick the fruit. Similarly, background darkness might have a more serious feel, and cleverly created patterns or shapes from shadows can create a designer look.

Natural vs artificial light

Some photographers love natural light, while others swear by artificial spotlights. But remember, harsh direct sunlight can wash out food, especially if it’s a light color such as white bread or mashed potatoes. Find shade or set up your shot near a window so that the light bounces off the food instead.

For a more controlled environment – so you don't have to rely on the weather – use artificial lighting with a reflector or bounce card. Start by working with a white tabletop, backdrop, and plates to familiarize yourself with your camera’s settings and limitations. Work your way towards incorporating more colors and patterns. Always light the scene from top, side, and back, to add shadows and depth.

Use reflectors

Matte black cardboard folded in half and carefully placed around your shot can create dark shadows or absorb excess light, where white cardboard reflected back onto a dark area will reduce unwanted shadowing and help to create highlights.

For more extreme highlights, reflective and shiny surfaces, such as aluminum, can create great effects similar to flash photography without creating unexpected shadows and flattening of your image.

Essential food photography composition techniques

The composition is the essence of good design and any artistic expression.

Frame it

Use the rule of thirds if you’re not sure where to place your dish in a frame. Divide the frame into nine imaginary squares. Then put the food where the lines of those squares intersect. Thankfully, most cameras have a grid line or cropping function which you can turn on if you’re having trouble visualizing those lines. Once the gridlines appear on the screen, you’ll have an easier time composing your image.

Allow for negative space

Compose with some negative space around the main focus of the picture. It will breathe better and is easier on the eyes.

Vertical or horizontal?

Horizontal compositions are a great option when it comes to print advertisements. This is because the wide format of a horizontal composition allows for larger spreads in print media, which can really showcase the image and make it stand out. These compositions are also perfect for adding text, such as captions or taglines, as there is more space available for them to be placed without cluttering the image.

When designing print materials, it's important to consider the overall layout and how the image will interact with other elements on the page. A horizontal composition can provide a lot of flexibility in this regard, as it allows for more creative placement of other design elements.

Overall, whether you choose a vertical or horizontal composition for your food photography depends on your specific needs and goals. Vertical compositions tend to work better for online platforms and social media like Pinterest. Vertical shots are also easier to crop down, allowing for greater flexibility in how the image is used. It's important to experiment with both formats to determine which works best for your particular project.

Create depth of field in your food photography

Mastering the art of the flat lay – the top shot popularized by Instagram –, is a valuable skill to portray food such as pizza, salad bowls, and open-faced sandwiches. Different types of food are best seen from other angles. Food with layers, such as burgers and cakes are best shot from the side to show all the details that would otherwise be out of view in a top shot.

Shooting from a 45-degree angle is a good compromise and works for most types of food.

When it comes to food photography, it is important to make sure that the food is the main focus of the image. By placing the food in the forefront, you are able to separate it from the background props and surfaces, which can create a shallow depth of field - also known as a "blurry" background. This helps to draw the viewer's eye directly to the food, making it the clear focal point of the image.

It's important to note that achieving a shallow depth of focus requires careful attention to the aperture settings on your camera. A larger aperture, indicated by a smaller f-number, will create a more shallow depth of focus, while a smaller aperture, indicated by a higher f-number, will create a more broad depth of focus. Experimenting with different aperture settings and distances from the subject can help you achieve the desired effect in your food photography.

The art of plating: Tips for designing stunning food photography

Here are some tricks to make your food look delicious.

Garnish

Garnish adds a dash of reality, freshness, a pop of color and textures to the shot. Consider cooking ingredients like herbs, pomegranate shiny seeds, pepitas, chocolate shaves, and spread them gracefully.

Pick your produce

Choose your produce wisely. Fruit and vegetables don’t need to be perfect, and often, a knobbly bump or a leaf will enhance rather than detract from your scene. Instead of making your dish perfect, think about humanizing it by including scattered ingredients or crumbs on the side of the shot. This way, you don’t have to spend as much on props and can introduce the produce in its natural state before it goes into the dish.

Glaze hot food

Food can dry out extremely quickly, especially when it’s hot. This is true with anything that has been fried or baked, which can look tough and shriveled on camera. To fix this, brush hot food with oil over the top. Use a basting brush and get your garlic glistening, so it has a tasty sheen for the camera.

Include drinks when styling

Often, you’ll want to shoot a nice cold, refreshing drink alongside your perfectly-plated dish, especially in summer. Reinvigorate a tired glass of bubbles using a fork, or for a really flat beverage, by adding a pinch of salt, which will get the bubbles rising. For icy cold drinks, real ice cubes are great for quick shots, especially with a range of ice trays now available in every imaginable size and shape. Otherwise, for all-day shoots where you want plenty of time to style and frame your shot or for when you want to be able to reuse the drinks for the next pic, specialist acrylic cubes are now available online.

Create the illusion of heat

Use your creativity to manipulate the scene and make the food appear hot. For example, to get perfect grill marks, you need to get your grill nice and hot and press down the food with just the right pressure, but instead of going through all the trouble, you can use a hair curler or even a brown eyeliner or eye shadow to create them.

Another trick is to undercook dishes like roast chicken or carrots, so they don’t turn too brown or shriveled. This is a nice way to keep your shots fresh and bright. Don’t forget, food often shoots best without too much interference, so consider your image and recipe beforehand.

Use long-handled tweezers

Many chef long-handled tweezers available on the market are perfect for food styling. These will be your saving grace when it comes to fussy clients or when you want to get your sesame seed placement just right. The ones with the pointy tips are excellent for getting into tight spots without disturbing the rest of the dish.

Show human interaction

Following the success on Instagram of the minimal, flat lay look, one of the classic styles in food photography is making a comeback – a variation of the movement trend now is showing human interaction and enjoyment of the food. Behind-the-scenes shots also work well on social media.

Techniques for achieving proper exposure in food photography

This is the trick to give a crisp or soft look.

The balance between aperture and shutter speed

Like any type of photography what we want to achieve is the correct balance between the aperture of the lens (the amount of light you let in) and the shutter speed (how long you let that amount of light in). That will affect the final image, for a crisp or soft look.

A wide aperture produces a more shallow depth of field, meaning that objects in the foreground are in focus and the rest of the photo is blurred. If you take photos with a narrow aperture to have all the aspects in focus, you’ll need enough light. You can achieve that by playing with the shutter speed to let more light in the camera. So, aperture and shutter speed go hand in hand. When you tweak one, you should adjust the other.

A tripod will allow you to shoot with a slower shutter speed, which you may need for lower light conditions.

Food photography editing software

The final touches can make or break a picture, but by using an AI Photo Editor, you can easily make complex edits and make your food photography stand out and catch the eye of potential customers.

Photo editing software

Editing can bring your photo to life. It’s your opportunity to reframe it and play with the exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows. The Adobe Lightroom app is extremely user friendly and a go-to for many food and non-food photographers.

Now that you’re armed with a toolkit of tips and tricks, let’s get snapping. And remember, like everything, it takes time to come up with the perfect shot. And it takes practice. The same way that baking practice makes a perfect souffle, it will take a while until you achieve the stage where everything you shoot is a feast for the eyes.

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