Food photography has become a bit of a cliche. Our social media streams are full of colourful lunches and eye-catching brunches that some no longer take the genre seriously. But food photography is still big business.
In this article, we’ll give you the best food photography tips to make your food stand out from the crowd. We’ll help you prepare mouth-watering images suitable for any food editorial or publication.
1. Get It While It’s Hot
There’s little in life that is more appetising than a loaf of bread straight out of the oven or a steaming bowl of freshly-served soup. And if you can capture that in your food photos, you’ll have some hunger-inducing images.
The problem is, hot food doesn’t stay hot for long. And to make things more difficult, steam is more visible in cold environments. Time is limited, so you need to be prepared. Make sure you set your scene before you serve your food.
Your camera settings, such as white balance and shutter speed, must also be set correctly. You can do test shots to make sure the settings are perfect. You can use a bowl of hot water to imitate a bowl of soup. Or you can use microwaved wet cotton buds to mimic steaming food.
You need a good light source to illuminate the steam. But a white or bright background will cause the steam to blend in, and you won’t be able to see it. For good steam in your food images, you need good light with a dark background.
If you don’t have a direct natural light source, like a bright window, you can use artificial lighting. Light reflectors are an excellent tool for directing light, allowing you to bounce light in any direction.
2. Chose an Appropriate Background
With food photography, a lot of attention is given to what’s on the plate. But the background is also an important consideration when shooting food.
As we said above, dark backgrounds work well with steam. But it’s not just a matter of light and dark. Your choice of background sets the scene and creates the atmosphere of your food photographs.
If you’re working with a theme of home cooking, you can include a background of a home kitchen. If you’re doing flat lay photography, a wooden tabletop will give the impression of a home kitchen scene.
Gingham tablecloths inspire thoughts of summer tea parties and picnics. And stainless steel work surfaces give the look of a professional kitchen. If you’re shooting on location in a professional kitchen, use it to give your food photos a strong sense of place.
Using backgrounds in food photography helps the viewer imagine themselves eating the food. If the location relates to the food, they can imagine themselves there. They can see the sights, hear the sounds, and smell the smells.
3. Use Food Props to Tell The Story
Always use the food to inspire the props. There should be a direct connection between your edible subject and the props in your images.
If you’re shooting cakes for a cookery magazine, include some of the cooking utensils used to make the cakes. You can include the cake dishes, the mixing bowl, and some spatulas.
Copper pots and pans and wooden utensils fit the farmhouse kitchen aesthetic perfectly. Oriental crockery and chopsticks transport your scene to the far east.
Taking photos of food isn’t only about making it look good. You need to use your food photography resources to set your scene and tell a story.
4. Use Close-ups To Highlight The Food
In certain situations, the food might be the only exciting thing you have to work with. An ugly tablecloth, scratched silverware, or clashing colours could ruin your photograph.
Zoom in to take your chance to get close without any distracting elements. Focus on the food by using a tight frame.
Close-ups are a great way to make the food the true subject of the image. And it’s an opportunity to capture the delicate textures of the ingredients. Make them the star of the show.
You can use a shallow depth of field to focus on the plate. One particular item can stand alone while everything else is out of focus.
By showing close-ups of the food from different angles, you’re bringing the focus onto the plate. Whether you use artificial or natural light, using different angles can highlight the different qualities of the food.
5. Use Lighting to Set the Ambience
The light sets the tone of your food photos. And you want the style of your photos to match the food you’re presenting.
We eat certain foods at different times of the day, which means we associate those foods with particular lighting situations.
Breakfast foods associated with the morning will want a bright and airy atmosphere, so you’ll want a scene with lots of natural light from the morning sun. Restaurant lunches have a subdued yet airy natural feel. And romantic evening dinners require a darker setting.
Your location might determine the lighting and ambience of your shots. If you’re shooting in a restaurant during the evening, the lights will be artificial and dim. Embrace these conditions for some moody restaurant food images.
You can also influence the lighting to make it meet your needs. Using artificial lights mimics direct sunlight. Using reflectors removes dark shadows if you want a bright scene.
6. Use a Tripod For More Camera Control
If you’re shooting in a dimly lit restaurant or in the evening, the lack of light could become a problem. Using a tripod for your food photography is the perfect remedy.
A tripod gives you the freedom to play with your camera settings to get the exact shot you want. You can slow your shutter speed down without fear of camera shake. And you can even get a great bokeh effect when light is at a premium.
Using a tripod also lets you set your scene and get the perfect frame before the food is presented. As we’ve said, food doesn’t stay hot for long. Having the camera in the ideal position when the steaming food arrives will help you get that perfect shot.
7. Celebrate the Colour of Food
What we see plays a vital role in whetting our appetite. Of course, that is why good food photography is so important. But to make the pictures come alive, a photographer should embrace the colours of the food.
Some dishes are filled with bright colours like reds, yellows, and greens. In these cases, you can let the colours sing for themselves. Use your camera to highlight the beauty of the ingredients to make your images pop.
If you’re dealing with food with more muted tones, that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with drab and dreary images. You can complement the food’s colour with backgrounds and props, creating a cohesive photograph.
8. Interact With The Food
Food photography can often seem still and lifeless. Still life is a wonderful area of photography, but food is an experience. From the preparation to the eating, there is a sensory experience that you need to capture when you photograph food.
You can add life to your food imagery by including human interaction in the shots. You can show a baker kneading dough. Or you can have someone pouring syrup over a pile of hot pancakes.
Adding human elements stops your photos from feeling too abstract. The viewer will have a stronger connection to the food. It helps them identify with the person in the image.
9. Use Varied Camera Angles
When you’re positioning your camera, you should think about the story you’re telling. From which person’s point of view is your story being told?
The diner’s view is perhaps the most common. Many food blogs and publications are aimed at the people who will eat the food. You put your camera in the position of a diner in a restaurant, giving their perspective of the food.
A chef’s-eye-view could be very close up as if they’re checking for imperfections at the pass.
Overhead shots have become very popular and are often used for photos that show a home cook’s view. You can use flat lay photography techniques to create a rich food photo for this kind of shot.
10. Experiment with Creative Plating
Dynamic presentation has become a core part of the fine dining experience in recent years. If you’re shooting in a professional kitchen, you can let the chefs work their magic on the plates. But if you’re styling your own food, you can mimic their techniques.
Food presentation, the plate is your canvas. You bring the colours and the textures to the image with the food. But you can also use the colour of the plate.
Colourful food pops on a white plate, especially if you get your white balance correct. But you can also use wooden boards and tiles of slate, which are popular in restaurants.
Look at modern cookbooks for inspiration. You can also watch cooking programs to see the latest plating styles and techniques.
11. Try These Tricks to Keep Food Fresh
Times moves quickly, especially when you’re working with food. Look away for a second, and your lettuce has wilted, and your apples have turned brown. Hot food cools down, and cold foods melt.
If you’re using green vegetables and garnishing leaves, keep a bowl of iced water nearby. Keep them in the bowl until you need them to keep them crisp and vibrant. If they’re starting to wilt, give them another dunk to revitalise them.
If you’re shooting fruit and vegetables, use a water atomiser to give them a spritz. For cut fruit and veg, keep them in water mixed with lemon. This mixture stops the oxidisation process, preventing them from turning brown.
When meat or fish start to dry out and lose their vitality, give them a spray of vegetable oil. It will give them a lovely sheen.
Food photography isn’t just about a few ingredients on a plate. You set a scene and tell a story. You need to create a connection between the viewer and the food.
Check out our Edible Images ebook to create the most mouth-watering images possible!