Whether you’re a pro chef, a food blogger, or simply a passionate foodie, there’s something undoubtedly delicious about being able to capture great food photos. Nowadays, everyone is an amateur food photographer, and social media is blanketed with images of decadent entrees and tempting desserts taken by casual diners and pros alike.
But if you’ve ever struggled to make your food look as mouth-watering in a photo as it does on the plate, you know food photography isn’t as simple as pulling out your smartphone and snapping a quick shot. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be complicated either. This guide will walk you through the art of food photography, from the basics to expert tips. In no time, you’ll be capturing photos that make your friends drool with envy.
How to Get Started with Food Photography
Before we dive deep, these are the essential elements of photographing food that you’ll want to keep in mind for any dish, any time.
1. Get your food photo-ready
Plating is how your food is presented and styled at the table, and good plating is a kind of magic. In fact, studies show people perceive well-plated food as healthier and tastier. (The inverse is also true—it doesn’t matter if that bowl of chili was delicious in real life if it looks like a bowl of brown mush in your photos.) Plating your food carefully helps you bridge the gap between real life and photography, letting your audience imagine the smell and taste of the food. If you want to step up your food photography game, study professional food plating and pay attention to the balance and precision of the presentation. Good food photographers are often great food stylists.
2. Make use of lighting
Like plating, lighting can help you convey the highlights of the dishes you photograph. For example, you can light from the side to showcase the juiciness of a steak or use soft lighting on colorful pastries to prevent harsh shadows and emphasize their delicacy. Whenever possible, opt for natural lighting and use light modifiers to enhance your shots.
3. Experiment with framing
There’s no one-size-fits-all frame for food photography. You’ll need to change up your approach for different dishes and environments. With that said, here is a list of things to keep in mind:
· Minimize clutter around the food
· Use focused, close-up shots
· Avoid shooting from a front-on angle
· Allow for negative space around the food
You can also use the rule of thirds to guide how you position your dish in the frame.
How to Improve Your Food Photography
Once you’ve played around with the basics, here’s how you can add some extra spice to your shots:
1. Use a narrative perspective
Food photographers often shoot from an overhead perspective, and that’s a great option—but it isn’t the only one. Chefs generally plate their food according to the diner’s perspective, so if you’re not satisfied with how the food looks from overhead, consider capturing the dish from an angle that’s similar to what you would see if you were sitting at the table. The best option will depend on the specific plate you’re photographing, so feel free to experiment!
2. Pick a hero object
When you’re photographing a plate with several kinds of food, or a composition shot of multiple dishes, pick one element to use as your focus (your “hero object”). This might be the main dish of a meal or a specific ingredient you want to highlight. Focus on the most important elements to avoid distracting or overwhelming your audience.
3. Use fun props and extras
China and silverware, exciting backdrops and tablecloths, ingredients, cookware… the possibilities are endless. Props can add visual appeal, a sense of story, and context around the food. Consider sticking to a neutral palette and using related objects or ingredients for props, so the food itself pops. For example, if you’re serving a fruit pie, you might choose to accent the plate with whole fruits or a dollop of ice cream. If you’re photographing baklava, you might use whole pistachios or a dusting of ground nuts and a swirl of honey. You could also choose a patterned tablecloth, distinctive dishware, or other props to emphasize the regional or cultural identity of the food.
4. Think about color
Remember that the goal is to center your audience’s attention on the food, so aim for balance and subtlety when selecting props and accessories. Usually, white and neutral plates and tableware are the most versatile and will make the colors of the food look more vibrant by comparison. Additionally, pay attention to your camera’s white balance—food photography should look natural and accurate to the appearance of the real food, and you can tweak your white balance to ensure you’re capturing the right tones. Did you know that certain colors make people hungrier?
5. Be careful with backdrops
While it’s fine to experiment with exciting backdrops, you’ll most often see professional food photographers relying on white or gray backgrounds for the same reason we recommend neutral palettes for props—it prevents your audience from being distracted from the food itself. But if you want to add a little more oomph, you can try switching it up with something dark, colorful, or rustic. Just be sure your food is the star of the shot.
6. Use leading lines in your composition shots
Composing food photos involves more than just setting a table in a pleasing way and styling your plates. You also need to consider the lines and layers of your photos, which guide the viewer to look at the most important elements and help highlight what you want them to see. This technique is called leading lines and it’s used in many types of photography, but it’s useful to study how it applies to food photos in particular.
7. Create a look: messy, minimalist, staged
There are countless ways to style your food photos, and many of them come down to your personal preferences as a photographer, so this is another great place to experiment and find what you like best. Are you the type to capture a half-eaten plate of pasta with utensils askew and lipstick-smudged napkins? Or do you want a slick and polished aesthetic, like a page out of a cookbook? Maybe you want a stark, minimalist look where the focus is solely on the food, with no distractions whatsoever. There are no wrong answers—just add a pinch of creativity and make it yours.
8. Invest in post-production
While you should do everything you can to make your photos look great unedited, don’t expect them to look perfect without a bit of help. Post-production editing can help you subtly bring out the best in your photos, correcting color and exposure issues and enhancing the natural beauty of your shots. With that said, editing requires a light touch, and unprofessional editing can lead to unappetizing results. A simple way to improve your photos in a few clicks without investing in professional editing is to use an AI photo editor like autoRetouch.
9. Game-changing editing:
Food photography is an art. While many aspects of the genre depending on how you are plating the dish, there’s still room for subtle touch-ups. Editing food photos doesn’t have to be complicated. But, it still requires a definite level of expertise for a professional look. If you don’t want to present unnatural and unappetizing outcomes for your viewers, you can use autoRetouch to add a unique edge to your photography.
Troubleshooting Common Food Photography Problems
Not satisfied with how your food photos are coming out? See below for solutions to some of the most frequent issues new food photographers experience.
· The images are blurry.
Unsteady hands can quickly ruin a focused close-up. Potential solutions include:
1. Practice holding your camera as steadily as possible and find postures that allow you to support the camera more effectively.
2. Use a tripod, with or without a remote.
3. Use a faster shutter speed.
4. Shoot under more light.
· The images have unnatural colors.
Colors are essential in food photography for maintaining a natural, evocative look. If the plate looks very green, blue, yellow, or pink, you can use your photo editor’s white balance setting to fix it. It’s best to shoot your photos in RAW format whenever possible, as this makes them much easier to adjust in the post-production stage.
· The food images don’t pop as it does in professional photos.
This will likely be an issue if you’re using a smartphone camera, which doesn’t generally capture the depth of field like DSLR cameras do. However, there are some tricks and apps you can use to create a similar effect. If you have a DSLR camera, you can adjust the depth of field to capture professional-looking closeups. Sometimes a few tweaks are all it takes to really make a photo pop.
Food photography takes hard work, patience, and a lot of experimentation to master. You don’t have to try all the tricks of the trade at once—start by choosing a few ways to improve your photos, and you’ll be able to build a foundation of solid food photography skills over time. With a bit of dedication, we promise your photos will soon be a feast for the eyes. And the best part? Along the way, you’ll also have many feasts for the mouth.