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11 Essential Food Photography Composition Techniques

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Composition is crucial for food photography. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide that works for every image. We’ll show you all the techniques you’ll need!

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11. Read the Image to Arrange the Elements

To make the most use of compositional theory, we must understand how our eyes move through an image.

In the Western world, we read from left to right. That means the viewer’s eye travels through an image in the same way. We move towards the most significant point of interest and work our way around the scene.

Understanding this concept will help you better arrange the elements within your image.

Olive oil being poured into a bowl

10. Use Angle and Orientation to Compliment the Food

In food photography composition, your camera angle and orientation are crucial. They not only affect how you present the dish, but they also shape how people perceive your image.

The main camera angles for photography of food are 90 degrees (overhead), 45 degrees, and straight-on.

The type of dish often dictates the angle you choose. So choose the perspective that bolsters the appeal of your main subject.

Tall foods like burgers look best using a straight-on angle. It not only emphasises the food’s height but it also shows their layers.

In food photography, the overhead view is a popular angle because it creates visual order. It also helps you minimise height issues when there are several elements in the image. I shot the mussels below overhead instead of in a bowl to show the breadcrumbs and garnish.

Mussels graitnee on blue plate on an indigo background

But viewers react best when you shoot your food photos at 45 degrees. Why? Because it replicates how they usually see their meal when eating on a table.

Now, how about orientation in food photography?

Pro food photographers use both portrait and landscape orientations all the time. But in most cases, they prefer portraits when working on magazines, ads, and cookbooks. Why? Because their pages tend to be vertical.

In this burger image, I chose portrait orientation to emphasise its height and ingredients.

lamb burger on cutting board

9. Improve the Composition With a Focal Subject

Whether your photography food style is minimalist or not, it is best to only use one item as your “hero”. Of course, you can have more than one main subject. But generally, having one point of interest makes your composition much more coherent.

Use one primary subject and a couple of supporting elements when composing your shot. That focal subject should also dictate the placement of the other items in the frame. Furthermore, include props that have different sizes, so they counter-balance each other.

Create a Focal Point to Emphasise the Main Subject

The focal point refers to the specific spot on your focal subject that you want to emphasise. You can create focal points with light, colour, isolation, or contrast. It could be anything from a raspberry on a cake or even the tip of a knife.

You’re free to have two or three focal points within the grid. But one must be more dominant than the others.

8. Use Negative Space to Provide Balance

Positive space is the area your food and props take up. Meanwhile, negative space is the area where your eyes can rest. It provides balance, a bit of breathing room, and emphasis on the subject. Because it’s mostly blank, it brings your attention to the details in the food.

Negative space can also portray movement and give context to food images. Apart from that, it provides a story that captures the viewer’s eye.

In food photography, there is a tendency to shoot with a lot of empty spaces to create a spot for text placement. You’ll notice this a lot in magazine shoots, product packaging, or ad work. When there is too much going on in an image, the viewer is unsure of where to look.

Diptych cookbook food photography of a jar of green liquid, the right image with the recipe text overlayed

7. Visualise the Composition with Crop Guides

Crop guides help you fix your composition when post-processing food photography.

You can find crop guides in Lightroom, Photoshop, and Capture One. Use them to help you visualise your composition.

You can easily imagine your focal point on a phi-grid. But visualising a golden spiral ahead of time can be much more challenging.

It can take years for a photographer to master composition rules just by imagining the lines. But these crop guides are invaluable by showing us exactly where to place our main subjects. They can even speed up the process of learning to compose intuitively, which is the ultimate goal.

Do you shoot food photography with your camera tethered to a computer? Then use the Live View function to help place your main subject.

Once you take the image, check how it looks with the crop guide of your choice. You can then make adjustments to your composition.

Food photography composition using a grid guide
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

6. Use the Rule of Odds to create Balance

When photographing a group of objects, use an odd number of elements in your image.

Odd numbers create a sense of balance and harmony. Of course, it also provides a resting point for our eyes. An even number of objects can divide our attention and compete with each other.

In food photography, the aim is to have three or five props. Of course, you can have more than five items. But the result will be different and not pack the same punch compositionally.

When I shot these gin grapefruit cocktails, I used three glasses instead of four. I also arranged them to form a triangle. Doing so created harmony and balance in the image.

three grapefruit gin cocktails

5. Place Main Elements Using the Rule-of-Thirds

When learning about food photography composition, you will come upon the rule of thirds. It’s a grid that divides the frame into nine equal sections. The crucial elements in the scene fall along the grid’s lines, or at the points where they intersect.

A diagram of the rule of thirds for food photography composition

The rule-of-thirds helps you figure out how to place the main elements in your food photos.

4. Create Interesting Composition With the Phi-Grid

The phi-grid is much like the Rule-of-Thirds when it comes to food photography composition. Both grids look almost the same, but the centre lines of the Phi Grid are closer together.

A diagram of the phi grid for food photography composition

3. Make Creative Choices With the Golden Ratio

The phi-grid follows the Golden Ratio, which is 1:1.168. This ancient mathematical concept creates a balanced and pleasing composition.

You can find the golden ratio anywhere from nautilus shells to the petals in flowers. It even appears in the human body as well as DNA molecules! Perhaps that’s why we gravitate toward it.

Nature aside, we can use this knowledge in our food photography composition. Incorporating the golden ratio in images helps our brains process the visuals easier.

In the images of doughnuts below, I cropped the one on the left using the rule-of-thirds grid. Then I cropped the image on the right using the phi-grid. It’s not a big difference, but the image on the right allows for better movement and flow.

In the image where I used the rule-of-thirds, I had to cut off both sides of the frame. As a result, it made the picture feel claustrophobic.

There is certainly nothing wrong with using the rule-of-thirds when appropriate. But using both tools will allow you more creative choices when doing food photography.

Diptych photo of sugared donuts

2. Guide the Viewers Gaze With the Fibonacci Spiral

The phi grid is just one of several interpretations of the golden ratio. You can also use the Fibonacci Spiral and Golden Triangle for food photography composition.

The Fibonacci Spiral is a sequence of numbers that make up the golden ratio. You can use this numerical pattern to draw a series of squares, as pictured below.

a diagram of the fibonacci spiral for food photography composition

If you draw an arc from one corner to the opposite corner in each square, you create the Fibonacci spiral. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

So how can the Fibonacci Spiral help you with your food photography composition? By putting your subjects along a curved line rather than a straight line. Doing so creates flow and movement, gently guiding your viewer’s eye around the image.

This composition technique works particularly well for overhead shots. It also creates balance when there are several elements in the frame.

For the picture of the lentil stew, the curved placement of the cilantro leads the eye to the bowl. It then moves to the top part and, finally, to the focal point, which is the piece of carrot.

Overhead shot of two bowls of food with golden spiral composition grid overlayed

You can flip or turn the spiral when arranging your composition. The direction of the flow is not crucial.

What’s important is that your focal point falls in the smallest part of the spiral. You should also place other essential elements along the curve.

Use this food photography composition technique to help you create more minimalistic images. Or even to keep flat lays or tablescapes from looking too cluttered or disjointed.

1. Use the Golden Triangle to Draw Attention

Another powerful approach for food photography composition is to use triangles. These shapes keep the attention of the viewer within the frame. Why? Because it makes the eye move from one point to another in a continuous loop.

Why are triangles powerful composition tool when creating food photos? Because horizontal and vertical lines suggest stability. It works great for some compositions. But for others, adding a sense of flow and movement has more impact.

It also helps that triangles have three points. Odd numbers provide a sense of harmony and balance.

So how do you use triangles in your composition? First, draw an imaginary diagonal line across your frame. Then create new ones from the other two corners so they’d meet the long line at right angles. It should look something like this:

A photo of olive oil, spices, and other seasonings using triangle composition technique

Your points-of-interest should be where the lines meet. Placing your main subject in one of the intersections draws the eye to the focal point.

overhead of fresh tortellini with cream sauce

Another way to use this concept is to imply triangles within your composition.

In the image below, I placed the corn cakes and dip in triangles. It gives that sense of movement and pattern.

When you repeat elements in a frame and them in triangles, the eye will follow them naturally. The plate is in the centre of the frame. But the image still carries tension due to the triangles.

kale and corn cakes food photography

Conclusion

Becoming a better photographer involves studying your work. Always think about the various composition tools to help you improve your food photography.

Apply the crop guides to some images you have taken and analyse them. Did you place your subject where the eye will naturally gravitate? Did you use triangles to place your elements in your scene? Did you set your focal points on the intersecting lines of the Phi Grid? Did you include some negative space?

Ultimately, the point of the composition is to create balanced dynamic images. The stronger your composition, the better food photography you create.

Eager to improve your food photography shots even more? Then check out our articles on food styling tips or tools!

For all the best food photography tips, read our eBook – Edible Images, today!

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