One of the most fun and yet challenging types of photography is food photography. While it may sound simple enough, many beginners don’t really know how to get started with taking stellar pictures of their food. There are many reasons for doing so too. Maybe you want to start your own blog, create a nice IG account focusing on food, or do so professionally. Whatever your reasons may be for wanting to get into still life food photography, you should familiarize yourself with some basics of the craft.
In this comprehensive guide, we will go over some of the basic information you need for the photography of food and give you some great tips and tricks to make your life easier.
The Gear You Need
Before moving on, we first need to decide what the best camera for food photography is. A lot of people new to the craft ask this question, but it doesn’t matter as much as they think it does. You can take very good images of food even with your phone. That is the reason why iPhone food photography is a thing. A lot of modern phone cameras are good enough for casual and even pro-level work so it is more important to learn about lighting and composition than about cameras.
Still, if you wish to get the best possible results, you should invest in a camera that allows you to change the lenses. Most of these cameras would let you achieve a shallow depth of field, or bokeh, too so you don’t have to spend a lot of money on the best full-frame camera out there. Get something you can afford, and then invest your money in a great lens instead.
For beginners, using a lens that has a ‘normal’ field of view might be the best option. The best lens for food photography doesn’t really exist, just like the best lens for anything doesn’t. But you can take more pleasing photos with a lens that doesn’t stretch or compress your images too much like a wide-angle or a telephoto lens would do, respectively. A nice zoom lens with a bright aperture might be the best way to go for a one-lens setup.
An important thing to consider with your lens is its maximum aperture. The wider the aperture, the brighter your images will be and the more bokeh you’ll be able to get if you’re going for it. A wider aperture will also allow you to shoot better in low-light situations. However, even if you don’t have such a lens, you can still do a lot with a humble kit lens if you focus on food photography lighting, and composition more.
So, now that you are familiar with what kind of camera and lens you can use, let’s go over some food photography techniques you can use to take better images.
Tips for Food Photography Equipment
1. Use a Fast Shutter Speed
A faster shutter speed will allow you to ‘freeze’ the frame quicker. This will help in reducing any camera shake or blurring effect that you may get with a slower shutter speed, especially if you’re taking the photos handheld. You may want to stick with a safe number, like 1/125th of a second, to make sure that your images don’t get affected by camera shake and come out sharp.
2. Be Mindful of the Aperture
As stated earlier, when choosing a food photography lens, go for one with a wide aperture. This will help you capture more light from the scene and also allow you to use a faster shutter speed. Not only that, but a wide aperture can also let you draw the viewer’s eye towards a certain part of the image while blurring everything else out. You can get some very nice and creative images in this way.
However, if you want the whole frame to be tack sharp then you can use a narrower aperture. This will reduce the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor but create a more evenly focused image.
3. Use a Lower ISO Value
The ISO value controls your camera’s sensitivity to light. In simple words, a higher ISO value can brighten up your images quite a bit. But this also comes with more noise. So, the best idea is to use a lower ISO and couple that with a wider aperture and a slower shutter speed to get the most light into your sensor without having to rely too much on ISO. It’s best to take some test shots with your camera at different ISO values to see when visible noise starts to creep in.
4. Use a Tripod
If you want the sharpest results you can get, you should use a tripod to carefully set up your shot. A tripod will take away any jitters that could come into play if you were shooting handheld.
5. Use a Timer
If you decide to use a tripod, consider using a short 2-second timer to take the photo. This is important because it almost completely eliminates camera shake as the camera will have 2 seconds to stabilize completely between the time you press the shutter and the time it takes the photo.
6. Get a Prime Lens
If you have some cash, get a prime lens to start your journey. Getting a humble 50mm f/1.8 or a 35mm f/1.8 won’t cost your too much but the results you will get can be worthy of professional gourmet food photography. A prime lens is usually sharper than a zoom lens too and will mostly be a significant upgrade from your kit lens.
7. Maximize the Use of Resources
If you are a beginner then you likely won’t have all the best equipment with you. This is where being a little crafty will come in handy. Check out online tutorials and figure out how you can use the resources you do have in the best way possible. There are many people out there who can create excellent food images just using their phone, a window, and some photo editors.
8. Go Macro
For photographing details of food, get a macro lens that lets you get in really close to your subject. Macro food photography is a big thing and it can help you capture some amazingly detailed and moody shots.
9. Try Different Settings
Don’t get too caught up with what settings you should use. Try out different settings and see what works best for the kind of image you wish to create. Be creative and you might end up with some great moody food photography that sets you apart from the rest.
10. Keep Backup Equipment
When you for professional shoots, always keep some backup memory cards and batteries with you. You never know if or when some of your equipment fails. And there’s nothing worse than not being able to take the photos you are being paid to take.
Tips for Food Photography Composition
11. Look for Inspiration
To get some cool ideas for your images, look towards social media or other platforms for inspiration. A great way is to check out some free food stock photography. Such examples will help you come up with new compositions and also give you a better understanding of lighting.
12. Try Different Heights
If you want to photography multiple items and are going for a creative shot, you can try a top-down shot and place different items at different heights. This will add some depth and dynamism to your food photography setup instead of making it look flat. For example, you can place something on a cake stand, or make a plate seem like it’s floating by placing it on top of a glass.
13. Try Adding Actions
To make your images more dynamic, you can incorporate some actions into your setups. For example, you could show someone pouring milk into a cup of coffee or a fork going through a cake. You shouldn’t force such actions but do use them if they make sense for your scene.
14. Don’t Be Afraid of Negative Space
As far as composition goes, don’t cram in the whole frame with objects to look at. Use some negative space in your images that add dynamism to the frame but also give the viewers some space to breathe.
15. Focus on the Strength of the Dish
Try to figure out what the most important aspect of a dish is. Maybe it’s a cake that is supposed to be fresh and moist or a curry that is supposed to look spicy. When you know what the food’s strength is, focus on that in your image. You can showcase different things based on how you light up your scene or edit your images.
16. Use Textures and Layers
If you’re into rustic food photography, be sure to include some textures in your shots. Maybe line the base of your plate or tray with a napkin or some sort of textured mat. When you add texture, your images will look more realistic and not seem like they’ve been manufactured in a lab.
17. Use Harmony and Contrast
When it comes to photography of food, using principles of visual art can go a long way. Use harmony of colors and textures but also utilize contrast to create visual interest. This contrast can be used in many ways. You can include contrasting textures and colors to create interesting images. Place a white piece of smooth cake on a dark textured plate and you’ll see how these little decisions can create striking images.
18. Sketch More
One of the best tips for food photography you will receive is to start sketching more. Before going for a professional shoot, take a sketchbook or a notepad and draw your setup. This will help you come up with ideas and visualize your images before you go to shoot them. Draw compositional elements, textures, and even the lighting if you can to get a good base to work off of.
19. Make it Look Ready
If you want people to fall in love with your food shots, make sure that the food looks like it’s ready to eat. This means removing the caps off bottles, taking stuff out of the packaging, straws being inserted into drinks, and forks lying next to pasta, etc. These little touches will make your setup look real and not manufactured just for a nice picture.
20. Use Portable Backgrounds
Instead of lugging around large pieces of wooden boards or other backgrounds, you can get high-resolution textures printed on vinyl and roll them for portability. These backgrounds for food photography are not only easy to travel with but also look very good in your images if you want to add some visual texture. Don’t use such graphics for macro shots though as it will become very obvious that they are printed and not real.
21. Use Corn Syrup
Using corn syrup is a great idea when you want things to stick together perfectly. For example, if you want to photograph some sweets covered completely in sprinkles, brushing some corn syrup on them before adding the sprinkles will ensure that everything stays in place.
22. Toothpicks are your Friends
To make things stay in place, use toothpicks. Whether you need to make a tall pancake stack or make one piece of fruit sit in a particular place, you can do so with the humble toothpick.
23. Experiment with Angles
Try out different angles based on what you want to photograph. A top-down angle is great for large dishes where you want to show everything in even focus. For smaller dishes, using a 45-degree angle will add a nice perspective to your setup. You can also shoot images parallel to the surface of the food if you wish to show the height of the layers of the food, for example in the case of a slice of cake or a sandwich.
24. Fill the Plates
Something that often leads to bad food photography is using images with plates and bowls not filled up. Make sure that the soup you’re photographing is filled to the brim of the bowl or the salad is nicely presented on its plate. Of course, you don’t always have to do this if you’re taking images of an exotic food item at a gourmet restaurant. But more often than not, it’s better to show a good amount of food in your frame.
25. Be Selective of the Food
The best food photography out there puts the hero of the dish in focus. If you have multiple items on the plate, select the one that’s perfectly cooked and place it in front or on top, depending on your angle. A medium-rare steak that is perfectly seared with juices flowing out of it will look much better than one that is well-cooked and grey in the middle.
26. Scatter Some Crumbs
For lifestyle food photography, it is important to make the scenes look natural. One way to do so is to use a small blower to scatter some crumbs or other food particles onto and around the plate. This will give an air of realism to your scene and will make the food look like someone’s actual lunch or dinner.
27. Don’t Overdo Props
Props are important to make a scene look realistic. However, don’t overuse them to the point where the eye gets distracted from the food itself. Some good props include background textures, cutlery, and napkins.
28. Use Oil and Ice
To keep your food looking fresh, you can use oil and ice in different situations. By using oil, you can add shine to some food items while ice water can keep salads and garnishes looking fresh.
29. Shoot in Color
Color is one of the most important elements of creative food photography. Again, the idea with food product photography is to make the viewers want the food. And without color, edibles usually don’t look as inviting.
30. Use Leading Lines
Leading lines aren’t great only for architecture or street photos. They can also make a huge difference to your food photography composition. These lines can be anything from actual lines in the background to objects like spoons that direct the viewer’s eye towards the food.
31. Select Neutral Backgrounds
For food items that are brightly colored or have rich tones, use backgrounds that are neutral and have darker tones. This will help the dish pop out and become the hero of the frame.
32. Use a Wet Napkin for Greens
For green items that need to stay looking fresh in your photos, it’s a good idea to keep them wrapped in a wet napkin and take them out right before you have to take the photo.
33. Include a Human Element
If you want to create some amazing food photography, you should consider including a human element in the scene. Maybe have a person holding a cup of coffee or holding a spoon about to dig into a bowl. Such decisions will make your scenes more relatable and realistic.
34. Use Natural Styling
While you can get very creative to do some fine art food photography, for commercial food photography, you should try to use natural styling so that viewers can feel like the food is approachable and real. Using warm tones and natural light are great ways to achieve this effect.
35. Use Ingredients as Props
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on props if you’re just starting out. Instead, a good idea is to use the ingredients in the food as props. This can make your photo look like an actual scene where the food has been prepared just a few minutes ago.
36. Use Clean Plates
If you’re going for ultra-clean and non-rustic shots, make sure that the plate your food is sitting in is sparkling clean. A single spot on a white plate can take away from a perfectly good photograph.
Tips for Food Photography Lighting
37. Adjust White Balance
Adjusting your white balance is crucial for making sure that the colors in your photos are as accurate as possible. You can adjust this in-camera or in post. Adjusting the white balance is also great if you’re going for minimalist food photography as you can create brighter whites that are often associated with a minimalist vibe.
38. Use a White Sheet for Light
To create a simple food photography lighting setup, you can use natural light coming in through a window. However, in order to diffuse the light and make it more even, you can use a simple white sheet or any other similar object to disperse and diffuse the light.
39. Use a Reflector
For some nice DIY food photography lighting, use a simple reflector to balance the light in your scene. For example, if the light is coming from one side of your setup, place a reflector on the other side to create a more even light. You can also use multiple reflectors to control how your scene is lit up.
40. Use Even Light
One of the best things you can do for your setup is to use even light instead of that coming from one direction. Directional light can often cast shadows that you don’t want in your image. Overhead and even lighting is one of the best ways to go. If you don’t have overhead lighting, then use reflectors to balance the light properly. Also, you could use directional light if you’re going for a creative shot with shadows, but be sure that’s something you want to do.
41. Use Artificial Light
If you don’t have access to natural light, you can definitely use artificial light for your scenes. A lot of editorial food photography is done in simple lightboxes because they provide even lighting for the whole scene. And using artificial light also means that you don’t have to rely on the time of day for your shoots.
42. Don’t Use Direct Flash
If you want to use external lighting, either use a constant artificial light source or bounce the flash to create fill light. Never use direct flash on the food as it will likely lead to weirdly colored images that also look boring and dull.
43. Don’t Disregard Shadows
You can use shadows in very creative ways. Shadows are often what takes food photography from snapshots to great shots. Soft shadows can create a subtle depth in your images and make the elements look real while harsh shadows can become a creative tool to end up with moody or evocative images.
44. Use Anti-Glare Spray
If you have cutlery in your scene, spray it with an anti-glare product to remove unnecessary reflections that you’d have to spend a long time fixing in post.
45. Side Lighting for Steam
If you want to showcase some steam or spritz in your image, you should be using a dark background and some side lighting.
Tips for Commercial Food Photography
46. Be Consistent
If you’re looking for food photography jobs, you should be very consistent on social media. Consistency is one of the most important factors of reaching larger audiences on social media platforms. When you reach larger audiences, your prospects of getting paid work also increase.
47. Be Unique
There are a lot of food photographers out there doing the same thing. Be sure to create your own style in some way so that your images can become recognizable over time.
48. Promote Good Food Only
If you want to become a blogger or someone who gives their opinion on food, you should only photograph and promote food that you actually like. This will increase your credibility as a food critic or reviewer if that is something you’re going for.
49. Shoot for Yourself
One of the best ways to improve is to take pictures for yourself without any pressure of creating amazing images for commercial work. Experiment with different lighting and compositions and see what works. Practice as much as you can and your food photography will improve by a lot.
50. Use Learning Resources
Whether you’re interested in a food photography blog or you prefer books written by experts, investing in some learning resources will go a long way in helping you take your food photography career to the next level.
51. Write About Food
If you’re really serious about your food photography, start writing about it for yourself. When you write about your favorite foods, you will come up with ideas about how to make them the hero of any image. Writing also often leads to a better understanding of what is more important in a certain item.
52. Take Multiple Shots
Even if you have a very strong idea, it’s best to take different shots with varying angles and lighting. You never know if you might prefer another angle later on when you’re viewing the images on a larger screen.
53. Small Spaces are Enough
You don’t need a food photography studio to take some excellent images. All you really need is a clean desk, some props, and a window to get started. You can even place items on a clean floor and create wonderful photos. Don’t feel like you need to have a huge studio for professional food photography.
54. Use Mood Boards
When you go and see a client for a job, make sure you take along some inspirational images or a mood board that everyone agrees on. This is a great way to make sure that everyone involved is on the same page and there is not a lot of room left for subjective interpretation of ‘moody’ or ‘minimalist’ shots.
55. Do Some Prep
Before showing up for a shoot, it’s always best to do some prep. Having some ideas sketched out or some lighting ideas already in your mind will go a long way in helping to get your work done in lesser time.
56. Price Your Work Carefully
Before handing over any images, make sure you are clear on who owns the images. If you’re selling the copyrights for your images to the client, you need to include that in your pricing.
Tips for Food Photography Editing
57. Shoot in RAW
Shooting your images in RAW will allow you to control how they look later on without degrading their quality. You can adjust the exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation, and way more in a RAW editor if you take photos in this format. The best part about this is that you will not absolutely destroy your image by editing a jpeg.
58. Invest in Presets
There are some great food photography presets out there for Lightroom that you can use to quickly edit your photos when you don’t have a lot of time to dive into all the settings yourself. Presets give you a very good starting point for your edits and can often give you cool editing ideas too.
59. Don’t Crush the Shadows
While it may be attractive to push that shadows slider way back to get a ‘moody’ photo, don’t do that. You should keep some detail even in your shadows to make the scene look natural. Otherwise, you might as well have shot the image in a lifeless darkroom.
60. Use Healing Tools
No matter which image editor you work with, chances are it will have some sort of tool to ‘heal’ your photos. Especially in overhead food photography, you will often see some tiny particles on or around your plate that would ruin the image. Removing them is usually pretty easy with such healing tools.
61. Keep it Realistic
When editing, don’t overdo anything. Don’t go overboard with the saturation or the sharpness. Don’t push the overall tone too warm or too cold. Keep the images looking as realistic as possible so that you don’t end up with weird-looking food.
62. Embrace the Imperfections
Sometimes it’s the little imperfections that make an image look great. Maybe you left the spoon upside down, or a crumb fell somewhere you didn’t plan for. If it looks good, don’t worry about it. There’s no formula to perfection when it comes to photography so just create photos that highlight the food in the best possible way.
63. Make Local Adjustments
If you feel like a certain part of the image needs to be adjusted, don’t change the settings for the whole frame. Use masking tools to adjust only the areas you want to improve.
64. Use Color Mixing Tools
Another great way to adjust only a part of the image, particularly the colors in a certain part, is to use color mixing tools. Let’s say you want the greens to pop a little more than the reds. You can make that happen by selecting the green channel and adjusting it to your needs without changing the other colors at all.
65. Don’t be Afraid to Crop
If you feel like the image should be framed slightly differently, you can just crop it. Too many people worry about cropping images even a little bit because they think it would ruin the quality. Cropping your photos slightly, or even more than slightly, will not have a noticeable impact on how they look.
Bonus Tip: Just Have Fun!
Whether you’re doing food blog photography or taking images of food for commercial purposes, make sure that you enjoy it and find some room for creativity. If you treat it just like any other job and never have any room for coming up with new ideas or trying something new, the experience will get stale very quickly. If you don’t have creative control over commercial projects, do it for yourself so that your love for photography doesn’t get affected in any negative way.