11 Quick Food Photography Tips to Make Mouth Watering Images

One of my first jobs in photography involved shooting food, including doing shots for a cookbook. I learned a lot about food styling and choosing the right props. If you’ve ever needed to take some food photographs or think this is something you might want to try, here’s a few quick tips for you to get started.  Feel free to add your own tips or ask questions.

Food Photography Tips

 

#1 – PICK THE FRESHEST INGREDIENTS



If the skin looks wrinkled, scarred or damaged take it out and get a new one – or angle it in a such way so as not to see the bad side. This seem obvious but sometimes it’s easy to miss. You’re often photographing these things really close up so even the tiniest flaws will show up. Check them over closely and be ruthless when you buy our vegetables.

quinoa-salad

#2 -LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING!


Backlight is key to texture and making it appetizing looking. This will also allow any steam to show up in the image.  Steam or smoke will show up prominently when lit from behind. Notice how much more appetizing the corn and bean salad looks in the second image, and the only difference is the angle of light. The one that has the light skimming across it from behind makes the salad look crisp and fresh, the other one just seems flat and unappealing.

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Lighting from the front and to camera right, notice how flat it seems?

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Lighting from behind makes the salad glisten and look more appealing to the eye.

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Dramatic lighting doesn’t have to be fancy, this was shot on my kitchen floor using light from the patio window.

#3 – KEEP IT SIMPLE


Take out stuff you don’t need. Take out things on the table that are distracting and pair down to just one plate of food.  If the food once cooked is unattractive only show a portion of it. Brown soup doesn’t really seem visually stimulating but if you have to do something with it, get creative with props and cropping and when in doubt follow the “more is less” rule of thumb.

QuinoaKaleSoup

#4 – USE SIMPLE PROPS INCLUDING RAW INGREDIENTS


Simple plates, cutlery, etc. and raw ingredients make great extra props. When I did a lot of food photography I had a cupboard full of different plates, placements and bowls, but only one of each!  Stick to non-patterned plates and bowls so the food stands out more.

If you don't have props use raw food bits
If you don’t have props use raw food bits.

#5 – SHOW A BEFORE AND AFTER SHOT


Showing steps in the cooking process including chopping, in the pot or in process helps people understand the final image. Show one shot before, and one after it’s cooked or step by step images. This works well for things that just don’t look all that great cooked.

Super green soup in the pot before blending shows the ingredients well.
Super green soup in the pot before blending shows the ingredients well.

super-green-soup
After blending it doesn’t look like much so use the before and after, and prop with raw ingredients to help its appeal.

#6 – SHOW IT COOKING


Along the lines of #5 showing it cooking is sometimes better than showing the finished product.

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In the pot and human element added. This was actually photographed on my deck in mid-winter. Can you guess what the background is?

#7 – ADD A HUMAN ELEMENT


Adding a hand stirring a pot or holding a plate allows you to show scale and adds a human element which is often more appealing and real to viewers.  (see photo above)

#8 – DON’T COOK IT COMPLETELY


When meats and vegetables are fully cooked they keep cooking after you remove them from the heat. So to keep them looking plump and juicy remove them from the stove or oven a bit early – take your photos, then put it back it to finish cooking before you eat it. This will keep things from looking shrivelled.

#9 – KEEP THE PLATES CLEAN


This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. The plates and props holding the food must be absolutely 100% pristine, clean, flaw free. When you shoot close up, like most food requires, any imperfections will show up and look like the dish is messy or incomplete.  Like this one.

Oops!  I should have cleaned the pot better.
Oops! I should have cleaned the pot better. Notice how messy it looks?

#10 – VARY YOUR CAMERA ANGLE


Try different angles of view when shooting your food items from directly overhead, tilted, shooting into the edge of the plate or table, and so on.  Get creative and try to show it in a different way than most people would see it.

A little tilt and diagonal lines just adds interest. Notice the back lighting again?
A little tilt and diagonal lines just adds interest. Notice the back lighting again?

#11 – ADD A BIT OF OIL


To make vegetables glisten brush them with a bit of olive oil, or mist a salad with water. It will make them look fresher.

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These veggies were marinated in oil and herbs so notice how they glisten so nicely?

#12 – BONUS TIP FOOD SHOTS EATING OUT


Yup I’m one of those people that takes a photo of my food before I eat it, especially if it’s particularly nicely presented. I feel I owe it to the chef who took such great care in preparing it. Perhaps it my food photography background and I just can’t help myself!  I often just use my iPhone but when I do have my camera I will usually set it up before I eat it and take a few shots.  Here’s a couple of mine.

Okay let’s see how you put this to use!

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French toast at the Byway Diner in Portland, Oregon.

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Cafe latte and beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans

7 Tips for Better Food Photography

For the past couple of years, many of my monthly photography assignments have been food related. This type of assignment has its benefits! Aside from eating really well, and discovering a ton of great new restaurants, I’ve been able to gradually raise my food photography game with the best possible coach- experience.
 
Here are seven basic tips to help elevate your food photography game.
 
 

1. Fill the Frame


Beautiful, sweeping table scapes a la Pottery Barn are always cool, but often times restaurants and environments where you would shoot food commercially just don’t have the beautiful, highly styled environment to make a zoomed out shot work. Closeups are usually more appetizing and get your idea across more quickly and effectively. How to shoot an effective closeup?
 
Choose a featured item (in this case the beautiful slice of fresh apple), lock focus on it, and build your shot around that. Use a shallow depth of field to de-emphasize the little bit of background that you will see. Side note: a red linen was used because green and red are a classic complimentary color paring and help balance the green and red in the overall image.
 
 

2. Go Vertical


One thing I see beginning photographers doing a lot is shooting only about 10% of their shots in the vertical camera orientation. Do something different and shoot vertically! Some subjects like these “goat cheese popsicles” dictate a vertical composition by their shape.
 
Other times, it may not be as obvious. Magazines and cookbooks like vertical compositions because they can easily be a full page print or if you’re lucky, a cover shot which often times pays the photographer a usage bonus.
 
When in doubt, try to capture a horizontal and vertical version of the same dish and have both in your library. (Another common color wheel combination, is blue and orange).
 
 

3. Use the Foreground and Background for Depth


In many cases, food photographers show background items out of focus (salt and pepper in this photo), to give a sense of place and context to the image. You can expand on that by adding the hint of an object like this glass in the foreground. This will help give your images a three dimensional quality and anchor the edges of the image visually.
 
Similar to landscape photography, think “foreground, middle ground, background”. If you have all three, you’ll have an enhanced sense of space and depth.
 
 

4. Backlight It


This eggs benedict photo was made with a very simple lighting setup- a shoot through umbrella from behind the food and a large handheld reflector in front. If you can use daylight through a window and a reflector in front, all the better. Soft backlight (light coming toward the camera) is probably the most common way to light food. Look at your favorite magazines and cookbooks and note the direction of the shadows. Backlight helps define the texture and edges of garnishes while not looking too flat or boring on the front of the dish.
 
Use a white or silver reflector to kick some light back in from the front (camera side) of the plate.
 
 

5. Experiment with Focal Length


There’s a big difference between moving in with your camera and zooming in with a telephoto lens. When we zoom out or use a wide angle lens and move physically closer, it’s easier to show more of the environment. This Thai restaurant had an environment that went along with the dish nicely and gave an editorial feeling.
 
If your goal is to isolate the dish and make a more compressed photo, move physically farther from your subject and let the telephoto lens do the zooming.
 
 

6. Act Fast


If you don’t have the benefit of a professional food stylist helping with the photo shoot, time is of the essence. Hot dishes make herbs and garnishes wilt quickly. Sauces can run away from you in a hurry and oils can separate out of them.  Have a simple, reliable setup that you can execute quickly and without letting the food sit for too long.
 
Alternatively, you can shoot a “stand in” dish before bringing in the “hero” plate. Use a simple, repeatable lighting setup or daylight to speed things up. (see #4).
 
 
 

7. Include Some Action


When shooting static subjects, a bit of action can always add some interest and dynamism. Flames burning, liquid pouring, hands lifting something etc, can all add a spark of motion or interest to a still photo. Some off-camera flash mixed with a slow shutter made the above image an easy one to produce in a limited time frame.
 

Food Photography – An Introduction

Food Photography
Interested in learning about Food Photography? Read on for some introductory tips.
 
Visit any bookshop and head for the cook book section and you’ll be overwhelmed by the array of books filled with scrumptious recipes accompanied by wonderful photography of the meals being written about.
 
Colorful stacks of vegetables drizzled with rich sauces on a clean white plate with glistening table settings – you know the shots.
 
Sometimes the photography is almost the true focus of the book with the recipes taking a secondary role.
 
But how do you photograph food and get such great results?
 

1. Lighting

 
Treat the food you’re photographing as you would any other still life subject and ensure that it is well lit. Many of the poor examples of food photography that I’ve come across in the research for this article could have been drastically improved with adequate lighting. One of the best places to photograph food is by a window where there is plenty of natural light – perhaps supported with flash bounced off a ceiling or wall to give more balanced lighting that cuts out the shadows. This daylight helps to keep the food looking much more natural.
 

2. Props


Pay attention not only to the arrangement of the food itself but to the context that you put it in including the plate or bowl and any table settings around it. Don’t clutter the photo with a full table setting but consider one or two extra elements such as a glass, fork, flower or napkin. These elements can often be placed in secondary positions in the foreground or background of your shot.
 
Photographing-Food

3. Be Quick


Food doesn’t keep it’s appetizing looks for long so as a photographer you’ll need to be well prepared and able to shoot quickly after it’s been cooked before it melts, collapses, wilts and/or changes color. This means being prepared and knowing what you want to achieve before the food arrives. One strategy that some use is to have the shot completely set up with props before the food is ready and then to substitute a stand-in plate to get your exposure right. Then when the food is ready you just switch the stand-in plate with the real thing and you’re ready to start shooting.
 

4. Style it


The way food is set out on the plate is as important as the way you photograph it. Pay attention to the balance of food in a shot (color, shapes etc) and leave a way into the shot (using leading lines and the rule of thirds to help guide your viewer’s eye into the dish). One of the best ways to learn is to get some cook books to see how the pros do it.
 

5. Enhance it

 
One tip that a photographer gave me last week when I said I was writing this was to have some vegetable oil on hand and to brush it over food to make it glisten in your shots.
 
Food-Photo

6. Get Down Low

 
A mistake that many beginner food photographers make is taking shots that look down on a plate from directly above. While this can work in some circumstances – in most cases you’ll get a more better shot by shooting from down close to plate level (or slightly above it).
 

7. Macro

 
Really focusing in upon just one part of the dish can be an effective way of highlighting the different elements of it.
 

8. Steam


Having steam rising off your food can give it a ‘just cooked’ feel which some food photographers like. Of course this can be difficult to achieve naturally. I spoke with one food stylist a few years back who told me that they added steam with a number of artificial strategies including microwaving water soaked cotton balls and placing them behind food. This is probably a little advanced for most of us – however it was an interesting trick so I thought I’d include it.