Fruits and vegetables are some of the best and most interesting subjects to shoot in food photography.
They are naturally attractive, colourful, and full of texture. Playing up their best features just takes a bit of planning before you pick up your camera.
Here are 11 tips to help you create mouthwatering vegetable and fruit photography.
11. Use the Best Quality Produce for Better Images
When it comes to shooting fruit and vegetables, choose the cream of the crop.
Spend extra time picking your produce. Make sure it’s perfect. This might mean going to the farmer’s market instead of the grocery store. Or hitting up some of the better quality organic shops.
Food stylists have been known to drive around to several stores in search of the best items they can find.
Check carefully for bruises and blemishes, or any wilting in your greens. Look for the general freshness of the items. Produce that is even slightly tired will look terrible to the camera.
If you have a choice, photograph only what is in season. It will naturally be at its peak and looking its best.
Some fruits and vegetables will stay fresh looking while you shoot them. Others, like artichokes or cut apples, might brown quickly.
A styling trick is to soak the fruit or vegetable in a mixture of water and ascorbic acid. This is a component of vitamin C, and will help keep them fresh.
This product is readily available. The most popular name brand is Fruit Fresh.
10. How to Light Fruit and Vegetable Photography
Whether you’re shooting in natural or artificial light, the quality of that light will be the biggest factor in the quality of your image.
If you’re not confident using flash, use a constant light. That way you can see how the light is falling on your subject. Or you can stick to natural light.
Plan to shoot at a time of day when light is abundant and diffuse it for a softer look.
If you want to really bring out the texture in your subject, use backlighting. Make sure your light source is coming from behind. Bounce some of it back onto your scene from the front with a reflector.
Backlighting has the tendency to blow out the back of an image without casting enough light on objects in the front of the frame. Make sure that the light is balanced by playing with the distance of it to your set.
Side lighting or side backlighting are also great options.
Don’t light from the front. This can create unwanted shadows and cause the image to fall flat.
To get the most out of your lighting, always use reflectors to block or bounce the light. Use diffusers to soften it.
9. Style Your Fruits and Veggies With a Spritz of Water and Glycerin
The aim of food photography is to highlight the best features of the food. It should make your viewer want to eat it.
This might mean placing some peaches or plums in a bowl. And giving them a spritz of water to give the viewer the idea that the fruit has been freshly picked.
If you’re taking this approach, I recommend getting a small spray bottle with a fine mist. Use a 50/50 mix of water and glycerin to get your produce camera ready.
Glycerin is an inexpensive item you can find in the beauty section of the drug store. Combining it with water will make sure that your water droplets don’t evaporate immediately after you spray the produce. In fact, it will last until you wash it off.
Just make sure you don’t take a bite out of those plums. Glycerin is not food safe.
Get creative with your styling.
Try cutting the fruit into pieces to show their insides and add different shapes to your scene. Use drips of juice or water to add the idea of freshness and juiciness.
8. Take Macro Photos of Fruits to Highlight Their Texture
Fruits and vegetables are the perfect subject for those macro shots.
It doesn’t always make sense to take a super close-up shot of a lasagna. The viewer might not understand what they are seeing. But the same treatment given to a kiwi is immediately translatable.
When you’re working with macro photography, you have a very shallow depth-of-field. A lot of your subject might be out of focus.
If this is not suitable for your subject, you might want to take three images with different focus points. Combine them using focus stacking in Photoshop for one image that is sharp throughout.
7. Use Few Props to Keep Attention on the Main Subject
A simple approach is usually best when photographing fruits and vegetables.
They are already beautiful subjects that can stand on their own.
A dish like pasta usually needs a bowl of parmesan, some cutlery or linen, or other small touches to create a good composition. With fruits and vegetables, they are perfect on their own and don’t need much except great lighting.
If you’re using props, one or two will add a bit of context but not detract from your subject.
6. Include Pattern and Repetition in Your Food Photography
When you’re working in a minimalist style, you need to pay particular attention to the principles of composition. How you lay out your fruits and vegetables within your frame will have a big impact on your final result.
A couple of the most useful guidelines for adding interest to an image are pattern and repetition.
In the picture of the brussels sprouts below, I used both of these principles to add a sense of flow and movement to my image.
I cut open one of the brussels sprouts and placed it in a focal point area to create the greatest point of interest.
When using these principles, make sure that you leave some negative space. Images that are too busy with no area for the eye to momentarily rest will feel a little claustrophobic.
Be sure that you also break up the pattern in some way, or it will become monotonous.
There are various ways to create a break in pattern. You can use a break in color, shape, size, or texture. Where you place this break is crucial.
You want to place it in one of the focal points or along intersecting the intersecting lines on the rule-of-thirds grid or phi grid.
5. Choose Backdrops Following the Colour Wheel for Better Compositions
A colour wheel will tell you what colours work best together. It’ll help you make important choices in your props and backdrops.
The backdrops you choose in food photography matter greatly.
Backgrounds and surface colours that are too bright can detract from your subject. They should be chosen with respect to the mood you’re attempting to create, as well as in harmony with your chosen elements.
Cool and dark colours such as navy blue and black recede. Light or warm colours like yellow bring objects forward.
It’s best to stick with neutral or cool tones in your backdrops. Try blue, grey, brown, black, and white. But there are times when colours can really enhance a story.
Keep in mind that anything with an orange tone will be magnified by the camera. It can look really unappealing next to food. Put away that warm wood cutting board. Stick to something more neutral, like a deep espresso tone.
Colour combinations can be monochromatic, when they are tonal variations within a single hue.
This approach has its place. But using complementary colours is a particularly wonderful technique to apply to food photography.
These are colours that appear directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green, or blue and orange.
The colour scheme you choose will in part be dictated by the fruit or vegetable that you’re shooting.
4. Use a Single Prop to Add Context to Your Image
When too many props are used in food photography, they detract the eye from the main subject.
Using a single prop can add context to your image. It can make a powerful difference without overwhelming the viewer.
This can be a knife, a bowl, or another object that might be used when preparing fruits and vegetables for cooking, like a colander.
Choose a prop that complements your food and backdrop and makes sense in the scene. A spoon next to a cut open grapefruit makes sense. The same spoon paired with stalks of asparagus doesn’t.
When shopping for props, look for items that are unique, such as vintage or antique pieces. You can find these at thrift stores for a fraction of the cost of new ones.
Vintage pieces tend to have a patina to them. This is an extra bonus, as the reduced glare will make them easier to shoot than shiny new pieces.
When choosing knives, make sure that they look sharp enough to actually cut vegetables!
3. Try Shooting Dark and Moody Fruit and Veg Photos
If you’re used to shooting light and airy food photography (or maybe your style is bright and bold) try something a little different – dark and moody food photography.
Darker shots with a lot of shadows are dramatic and mysterious and provide a different sense of atmosphere.
These kind of shots make great kitchen prints because they tend to have more of a fine art appeal.
To achieve this striking look, have one light source. Use black foamcore to block the light and kick in shadows where you want them.
In this style of photography, you don’t need as much light hitting your set.
If you’re working with artificial light, then I recommend diffusing it. If you’re using natural light, you may not need to, depending on its intensity.
Keep in mind that a dark style isn’t appropriate for every subject. Think about the purpose of your image and what you are trying to convey.
If you haven’t shot much in this style before, challenge yourself and see what you can come up with.
2. Try the Shoot in a Box Technique to Create Heavy Shadows
This is a little trick that is fun and easy to do. It gives fantastic results if you want that dark and moody style but struggle to achieve it.
All you need is an old wooden box and a three pieces of black cards for negative fill.
Place the cards around the box and leave one side open for your light source to hit your subject. Shoot your subject from above. Preferably with your camera on a tripod with an extension arm.
You’ll have to play around with the height of the fill cards to get the shadows that you want.
This technique creates a lot of heavy shadows. It’s ideal for a single subject, like a bunch of grapes or a cabbage head.
1. Tell a Story to Capture the Viewer’s Attention
Another option to macro or minimalistic photographs is to shoot the opposite.
Pictures with various produce or several props can have a storytelling aspect to them that is intriguing to the viewer.
A narrative quality in an image evokes the viewer’s emotions and pulls them into the scene.
In the image below, the bowls and linen on a cutting board, the placement of the knife and sliced strawberry gives the idea that someone is in the middle of baking a pie.
If you’re using this approach, try putting an item or two on the edge of your scene. Like one of the bowls and the knife here.
Cropping them out a bit gives tension to the composition. It gives the idea that there is a larger scene going on that what the viewer can see in the image.
Something else you can try is to photograph a variety of fruits and vegetables together at ninety degrees. The more elements you have, the harder the shot is to compose. Take the time to assess and adjust the placement of each subject on set.
This might even mean having to replace some wilting items by the time you are ready to shoot.
Shooting produce can be a great way to practice your composition and lighting skills. You won’t have to spend the extra time required to cook and style complicated dishes that will start to look bad after a few minutes in front of the camera.
Plus, fruit and vegetable photography is sought after. It can make an important addition to your online or stock portfolios.