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.
#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.
|Lighting from the front and to camera right, notice how flat it seems?|
|Lighting from behind makes the salad glisten and look more appealing to the eye.|
|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.
#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.|
#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.|
|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.
|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. 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?|
#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.
|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!
|French toast at the Byway Diner in Portland, Oregon.|
|Cafe latte and beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans|