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10 Secrets for Professional Smartphone Food Photography

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Most food photography today is captured on a smartphone.

Modern phones have great cameras but it’s not so much about the quality of gear but what you do with it.

Here are some smartphone food photography tips and techniques to take your images to the pro level.

A person taking a food photography shot with a smartphone[Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]

10. Use Natural Light to Make Your Photos Look Fresh

When you shoot with your smartphone, ensure that you are using natural light.

Most food pictures regular people take in restaurants look horrible because of artificial lighting. Fluorescent and other types of artificial lights create unwanted colour casts. As a result, they cause your pictures to look hard and flat.

Your food needs to look as fresh as possible to look appealing. To achieve this, natural light is the way to go. Professional food photographers use large and expensive strobe lights to mimic natural, diffused daylight.

But how can you do food photography at home without strobes or expensive equipment? Simply bring your plate to a window with natural light or shoot outside in the shade.

Make sure you stay away from the bright sun as it creates hard shadows in your scene. If you can’t avoid it, shield your dish with a small diffusion disc or panel. It works much like a window in softening the light.

A person holding a chocolate sprinkled doughnut with a bite taken out of it

9. Get the Perfect Exposure with Bounce Cards

iPhones can take correctly exposed pictures in ideal conditions. But you don’t always get the best lighting when it comes to food photography.

Smartphone food photography requires constant problem-solving. But a bit of creativity combined with what’s already around you can go a long way!

You can boost the brightness of your scene by using a piece of white foam core as a bounce card.

As the name suggests, a bounce card reflects some of the light from the main light source onto the set.

You can also invest in a reflector kit and bring it to a restaurant to diffuse the light. Or you can open up reflectors to bounce more light onto the dishes.

Your smartphone also has a feature called ‘exposure lock’. It keeps the exposure at the level you want to create a well-lit image.

To do this, tap on the screen, and you will see a sun icon appear. Move your finger up or down, and adjust your exposure accordingly.

photo of hands holding a smartphone to take a photo of plates of food

8. Make the Most of Your Phone’s Wide-Angle Lens

So how do you capture food photography accurately with your smartphone?

One of the biggest mistakes people make when shooting food with a smartphone is choosing the wrong angle.

Smartphone cameras have a very wide-angle lens. This means that certain angles will cause your images to look distorted.

To get the best results, shoot overhead or straight on to your subject instead.

The reason flat-lays and overhead shots have become so popular is because of the 90-degree angle. It eliminates depth and makes your photos pop. You can fit a lot more elements in the scene, and it’s relatively easy to compose.

However, this angle doesn’t work for everything. It’s terrible when taking pictures of tall foods such as burgers.

When you shoot tall food like burgers, lay your camera on the table for a straight-on shot. That way, you get to showcase all the ingredients in the dish.

From this angle, the wide-angle lens also helps make the food look bigger than in real life.

photo of a hamburger with a side of fries

7. Use Neutral Backgrounds to Highlight the Food

In food photography, you want the backdrop to be neutral. The food is the star, and anything else in the image needs to support it and not detract from it. A background that is too colourful or textured draws the eye away from the main dish.

With smartphone food photography, it’s hard to get bokeh. So keep your background simple.

A bit of creativity will serve you well. You don’t always have to shoot food on the table. I sometimes put the dish on a concrete floor or neutral-colored tile with an interesting pattern.

Another thing is that a lot of food pictures on Instagram look messy. And I don’t necessarily mean the food itself, but the environment. Often, there are too many props that distract the viewer.

One of the best food photography tips I can give you is to go for a tight shot. Close-up and macro shots of food can look great. Just be sure that you are not shooting so close that the viewer won’t be able to tell what food they are looking at.

Also, don’t overlook drips or smears on plates that look unintentional. They can be distracting and challenging to fix in post-production.

photo of smoothies in different glasses in front of a neutral background

6. Compose Your Smartphone Food Shots Using a Grid

Composition is a crucial skill you need to learn when it comes to taking pictures.

I think of composition rules as guidelines, because they don’t always work for every image. However, you should still keep them in mind to get the most out of your pictures.

A close up overhead shot of a pink iced doughnut on light blue background

First, you need to understand the negative and positive space in the composition.

Negative space is the area in the image that is empty. Meanwhile, positive space is the area your subjects take up.

Negative space allows the eye to rest as it moves through the images. In contrast, filling up your frame can give the viewer a claustrophobic feeling.

Now, let’s discuss the Rule of Thirds. It’s arguably one of the most useful food photography tips you’ll get for composition.

The Rule of Thirds is a compositional guideline that divides an image into nine equal sections using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. The critical elements in the scene fall along these lines or at the points where they intersect.

A diagram explaining the rule of thirds in photography composition for better food photos

Think of an imaginary grid that divides the image into nine equal parts, like a tic-tac-toe grid. The ratio is 1:1 per rectangle.

This grid helps add harmony to your images and will aid you considerably in creating your composition.

If you want to take this concept even further, read about the Phi Grid. It’s an even more powerful compositional tool that works particularly well for smartphone food photography.

Thankfully, your smartphone already has this grid as an overlay when you turn on your camera.

All you have to do is place your focal point where the lines intersect. Your main point of interest could be anything from garnish to a piece of meat you want to showcase.

Overhead food photography shot of a lucious looking lunch served on rustic wooden table

5. Use a Colour Wheel to Create Visual Harmony

Food photography is unlike other kinds of photography in that it’s best not to use filters when editing. The colors need to be natural and work together for your images to look their best.

The color wheel shows you what colors easily complement each other. It is your guide to harmonious compositions.

I refer to mine all the time when I’m planning my shoots. You can move the arrows and triangles around to see which tones work best together.

Combinations that work very well are blue and orange, purple and yellow, or red and green. These colors are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

A diagram explaining color theory for better food photos

4. Style Your Dishes for Delicious Results

Styling is essential in food photography. You can have the right angle, perfect exposure, and an excellent subject. But if the dish looks sloppy, the result will be unappealing.

If you’re shooting at home, use herbs and garnishes to elevate the aesthetic of your image. You can also use other elements like chunks of bread or some extra sauce. Sometimes, I even have some coarse salt or pepper to sprinkle onto my surface to give some context to my food story.

Props also give your photos character.

Whether shooting with an iPhone or a DSLR, photographers usually bring items like vintage cutlery or squares of linen to restaurant shoots.

Doing so adds a bit of pizzazz to what is sometimes dull and typical flatware.

photo of different toasts with a checkered tablecloth, a magazine coffee beans on a table

3. Elevate Your Food Photos in Post-Processing

As I’ve mentioned, it’s best not to use filters on food photography. But your pictures will still need some editing to look great.

The best approach is to use apps like Snapseed, VSCO, or Lightroom Mobile. Of course, there are many other great photo editing apps but these are three that I would recommend the most.

Make sure to adjust your images for exposure and brightness, white balance, and saturation. If necessary, you can also add a bit of clarity for contrast.

If you manage to find some filters that look good, don’t use them at full strength and make adjustments to the image as needed. One-click edits to food photography usually don’t work.

A close up smartphone food photography shot of people sharing a scrumptious looking brunch at a table

2. Tell a Story with Your Photos to Engage Your Viewers

Closeups of images look great, as does a minimalist approach. But what about adding a narrative to your pictures?

Give your viewer an idea of a broader story taking place beyond the confines of the frame. It could be anything from a table setting with partially cropped out elements, or someone’s hands serving food.

Remember that including people in your food photography gives context to an image and makes it relatable.

The next time you are shooting lattes in a cafe, take a picture of your friend’s hands holding the mug. Or if you’re at a restaurant, take the shot just as they are tucking into their brunch.

A smartphone food photography shot of a person eating a scrumptious looking brunch at a table

1. Develop Your Individual Style for Consistent Results

Success in social media these days means having a consistent brand.

Your images don’t have to look the same. But there should be certain elements that are cohesive throughout.

This could be a palette made up of two or three of the same colours, or backgrounds in a similar tone in all of your images. It can also mean that all of your pictures are dark and moody, or conversely, light and airy.

If you look at the most successful accounts on Instagram, you will find that most of them have repetitive elements. All of the images have a specific style and look.

Take a good look at your images and figure out the consistencies you see. Through that, you’ll develop a style over time. The more specific you can be in your approach, the tighter your feed will look and will draw an audience that resonates with it.

A smartphone food photography shot of a person pouring milk into a coffee

Conclusion

Smartphone photography should be fun! Take some of these tips and play around with them. Explore what works and what doesn’t and experiment with different techniques.

With a little practice, you’ll hone your style and compositional skills and be posting pro-quality images in no time.

Looking to take your food photography skills to the next level? Why not check out our ebook Edible Images next!

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