Top 10 Tips for Tantalizingly Good Food Photography

Whether you own a restaurant or resort, want to show off your cooking skills, or just want to take your instagram page to the next level…here are 10 simple tips that anyone can follow to create better food images.

  1. The plate: First thing’s first: arrange the food neatly and creatively. Food photography is an art, not a science, so definitely wipe any smudges or smears off the plate and make sure the dish looks like it’s been plated with care and panache. If you want to achieve symmetry, one tip is to arrange the food starting from the middle and work your way out. By separating ingredients that aren’t cooked together it tends to look neater and also clearly display what the meal consists of.


2. Lighting: As a general rule for food photography, always shoot in natural light (near a window). For the best results control the shadows by also lighting the subject from behind, or by using reflectors (a big piece of white card or paper works well for this). It is advised to avoid flashes or bright lights aimed at the front of the dish as it can create harsh and over-exposed highlight spots. You want to aim for no extreme white highlights or black shadows.

3. Composition: As not to outshine the food, it is best to use a neutral background, one that compliments the colors and textures in the food. Your instincts will guide you to a balanced composition, so if something doesn’t seem quite right, try arranging the table in a different way. Don’t be afraid of negative space as the dish may need some breathing room, and minimalism is a very modern aesthetic. However this doesn’t mean that you can’t also get creative with decorations using the food’s ingredients or props that hint towards a certain lifestyle or message you may want the food to be associated with, and tell a story with your image.

4. Color: It may seem obvious that colors make a meal look fresh and interesting, but if you want to take your food marketing a step further, you may want to consider the psychological effects certain colors have on us. Studies have shown that warmer colors (such as reds, oranges and yellows) can stimulate an appetite, while we associate shades of green with food that is healthy and more organic.

5. Angle: The three most common and fail-safe angles to shoot from are eye-level (the natural angle that you would see the food if it was in front of you on the table), bird’s eye view (what’s known as a top shot), and level with the food if you are shooting close-ups and playing with focus depth. To choose the best angle, think about which element of the food you would like to emphasise and make sure that this detail is clear and in the foreground. For that “instagrammable” look, top shots are very popular, while eye-level shots give a very natural and immersive feel if you are trying to advertise your restaurant, and close-ups allow you to get creative with focus depth and create a photograph with wow factor.

6. Focus: Again, the best way to go here is to think about which elements of the meal you want to bring the most attention to. With a camera phone, the depth of field of your photograph (how much of it you want to be in focus) is more difficult to control, but with any basic DSLR camera it is simply a matter of adjusting the aperture. You can choose to have the whole image in focus or get more creative and combine a good angle with a shallow depth of field to make one element of the meal really pop out of the picture.

7. Action: One great way to bring life to your food photography is to add a human element. This is usually a hand holding a fork or the chef adding a final garnish to the dish. Keeping the shot tight and only including details of a person (such as a hand) rather than an entire figure will ensure that the meal doesn’t get lost as only a small piece of a big scene. Another way to add a little action to the food is to try capturing movement such as a pour or sprinkle. This can be achieved on a camera phone with burst shots, or to make sure the moving element does not blur when using a DSLR, increase the shutter speed.

8. Sharpness: For the crispiest looking crust or the most glistening sauce, the sharpest photograph possible is always ideal. You may feel as though you stood perfectly still while taking the picture, but sometimes even the slightest twitch can blur away the smallest details. Professionally, food photographers would usually mount their cameras onto a tripod and then either set a two second timer or use a shutter remote, so that even the action of clicking the button doesn’t cause the camera to shake. If you do not have access to a tripod, the best advice is to hold your breath! By finding a steady standing position and holding your breath for the second it takes to fire the shot you can minimise a lot of the movement. One final tip for optimum clarity is to always favor moving physically closer to the subject over using the camera’s digital zoom.

9. Freshness: Hurry up! Catch the food while it’s still looking fresh and steamy. It may surprise you how quickly food can start to visibly lose its freshness. Maximise those first few minutes as much as possible by making sure you have a plan beforehand of potential table compositions, angles and ideas you would like to try. Set the table up and have your props ready. One perhaps lesser known professional food photography tip is to give the food a little spritz of water to make things like salad or fruit look dewey, or a cotton ball soaked in water and then heated in a microwave will give off a visible flow of steam that you can hide within or behind a hot meal or beverage.

10. Editing: Enhance saturation and contrast to taste, adjust the white balance if needed, but most of all keep it real and aim to achieve an image that rightly portrays the natural deliciousness of your food.