Food Photography

Food Photography Tips

March 20, 2023 by

This is a guide covering food photography tips.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What is Food Photography?

Food photography is a still art photography genre that involves capturing photos of food in different forms.

It is often said that if you can choose only three things in life those would be good food, good wine, and good friends.

In this article, we shall talk about the first. More specifically about food photography tips. 

Many beginner food photographers feel that to take food photos all you need is a plate of food and a camera. You just need to aim and shoot.

Nothing can be simpler. Right? 

Well, this is where you are off-target. Food photography is an art.

And just like any other art form, it requires a patient understanding of the elements that go into making great food photos.

What Makes a Good Food Photographer?

Apart from a keen sense of lighting, and exposure a food photographer needs to have a good understanding of how to present food.

Food presentation is a critical aspect of the whole food photography sub-genre. 

Just like a good chef must know how to present the food onto the plate and in front of the customer, similarly, a food photographer needs to have the same knowledge. 

This is why expert food photographers employ the services of professional food presenters who know how to present the food to the table.

food photography example

How Can You Improve Your Food Photography?

As a beginner food photographer, you might be doing some simple mistakes in your composition, lighting, and presentation.

Correcting these simple mistakes can add to the overall value of your production.

We have detailed some tips below. Hopefully, these tips will help you to produce get food photos.

11 Food Photography Tips

These ultimate food photography tips for beginners we have listed here will hopefully give you some pointers to improve your game.

1. Shoot With Natural Light

A lot of beginner food photographers prefer to shoot with natural light.

Which is a good thing if you can use a large window along with some white translucent cloth and some white reflectors. 

The white translucent fabric will ensure that the light is soft. The white reflectors will take care of the shadows.

The only problem is natural light will change throughout the day and that means you will have to keep adjusting to it. 

2. Invest in Some Good Quality Artificial Lights

The unpredictability of natural light is what drives professional food photographers to use artificial lights.

Artificial lights are stable, and predictable and you can shoot with them for as long as you want to without having to worry about the changing nature of the light.

food photography example

3. Continuous Lights or Strobes?

Continuous lights are well, continuous and they make it easier to set up and check how the shot will appear even before you press the shutter release.

The only problem is continuous lights are not as powerful as strobes.

So, the coverage of the lights is not that great.

You can go for larger continuous lights but then it will mean issues with space and set-up. Alternatively, you can opt for multiple continuous lights. 

On the other hand, strobes are more powerful. They produce a lot of light.

You can use the light to bounce off of a card or a modifier (such as an umbrella) to expand the throw of the light and cover a larger area. 

We recommend using strobes. Smaller strobes or flashes as they are more popularly known are the best solution for beginner food photographers.

4. Experiment With the Lights

Artificial light is an integral part of the whole food photography equipment stuff.

But refrain from using the lights straight up or from the sides only.

Experiment with your food photography ideas by altering the position of the lights. If you have more than one light, use one to light up the broadside, the side facing the camera.

Use the second light to fill in the shadows. Remember the three-point lighting setup:

three point lighting
3-point lighting

Those who have a single light to work with can use the front lighting technique. This will put a lot of light onto the front of the food and even with a single light, you will be able to get a proper photo.

We would still recommend using some reflectors or whiteboards which you can use to reflect the light and bounce it around.

Food photography results are the best when there are not too many shadows in them. 

food photography soup example

You could experiment with the background and use something dark and exaggerate the food. But having harsh shadows don’t work well. 

5. Camera Angle – The Top Straight Down Shot

The camera angle is also very important. There are some cliched angles that everyone uses, for example, the top-down view.

top down food photography photo

You can try that one as a starting point. You will need a small ladder.

Set up the food on a table, complete the presentation, and get the ladder as close to the table as possible. Use a zoom lens to shoot straight down.

6. Shoot Up Close

This is one angle that we encourage every food photographer to try. You don’t even need a macro lens for this.

You can use a zoom lens and take the images from a little further away.

The idea is to get a close view that fills the frame. For example, a burger that shows the layers one after the other.

food photography burger

The ingredients, the juicy tender chicken, the fillings, the lettuce leaves everything should appear fresh and enticing as if you can almost smell them.

7. Fill only 3/4ths of the frame

Sometimes it is not necessary to fill the entire frame with the food plate.

You can simply fill 3/4ths or less and leave some negative space around.

food photography cherry tomato

It serves two purposes:

  1. Sometimes hotels and restaurants want to have some copy with the food and leaving some space around helps them to do that.
  2. The second reason is compositional. It is simpler, clutter-free, easy to understand, and draws the attention of the viewer straight to the food.

8. Work on the Rest of the Frame

The rest of the frame in which you put the food plate is important too. We recommend that you experiment and see what works in the specific case.

Some food has a lot of color in them. Check if a cluttered background works better or a simpler one.

Ensure that the focus should not shift from the background to the food.

Let’s say that you want to capture the ingredients that go into preparing a dish. So, the final dish is served on a plate and the ingredients are both going to be in the image.

In this situation, a cluttered frame cannot be avoided. And as a matter of fact will look interesting.

9. Experiment with the Background and the Backdrop

Most entry-level food photographers would feel that the background of the dining table or the kitchen table on which the ingredients are mixed is fine. It works depending on the color and texture of the food.

Let’s say that the food has a single dominating color, in that case, a simple solid background can work.

In other situations, a textured background works better.

food photography shrimp

Pro tip – various kinds of tabletop flat lay backgrounds are available. You can get them from hobby stores or online.

Having a few with you every time you shoot food photography can ensure that you have some options to experiment with.

10. Take as Many Images as you Can

Once the lighting is set up and the food is on the table, make the most out of the setting by taking as many pictures as you can.

Take a top shot, a side angle, a 3/4th shot, and even a close-up.

Experiment with the rest of the frame and the background.

Once the plate is in position and the food is fresh make the most of the time you have before the food starts to appear getting stale. To make the food appear fresh even after a long time has passed by photographers use many different techniques. 

But ideally, you shouldn’t get into that situation. 15 mins for each food plate is more than enough time to capture the best images. 

11. Keep the Post-processing Tasteful

Ensure that the post-processing aspect is as simple and as tasteful as possible.

Don’t overdo the highlights and don’t try to overdo the saturation and contrast sliders.

Try to keep things normal and believable. It is very easy to go overboard with the sliders on your favorite photo editing software.

To further explore the subject of food photography tips, we also recommend this video by Rainbow Plant Life:

Final Remarks

Food photography is a highly gratifying genre. It takes very little to get started.

Most of the things you need you already own them. The only major investment is in a couple of strobes/flashes and light stands with softboxes.

These would not break the bank but will help you shoot other genres of photography as well.

The trick to shooting great food photography as has already been expressed before is to pay attention to the presentation. Ensure the light is soft, experiment with the camera angles, and finally, use subtle post-processing.