Food photography tips may seem somewhat of a modern phenomenon, but let us not forget that one of the most famous images of all time was a red pepper shot by Edward Weston!
That said, the dawn of smartphones has placed a camera in every person’s pocket, and a cultural interest in food photography has grown as a result. But whether you’re shooting your lunch on your phone or a Canon 5D Mark III, getting an image that looks how you want is no mean feat.
There’s more to food photography than simply snapping your plate, and below we’ve rounded up 10 essential food photography tips to help your images look more professional.
01 Try natural light
Natural light is great for many different types of images, not just food photography, but for it to really work you need the light to be strong so that it brings out colour and contrast. Location is therefore very important when shooting food photography using natural light. Set up your shot next to a large window – or even think about taking your subjects outside.
02 Bounce flash
While natural light is our preferred option for food photography, a small burst of light from a flashgun can also help lift your images if the available light is a bit flat. However, watch out for ‘specular highlights’ when using flash. These small, bright spots on your image are the result of firing your flash directly at your subject. Try bouncing your flash off a sheet of white card instead.
03 Less is more
Of all the food photography tips you may read here or elsewhere, this is perhaps the most important: keep it simple. Keep your compositions minimal, but it’s OK to add a couple of props, such as luxury crockery or rustic cutlery. These can add style and context, or even just a needed splash of colour to a composition. However, use them sparingly and make sure the props you choose don’t conflict with the mood you’re trying to convey.
04 Posing your food
With food photography, like portraiture, you also need to think carefully about how to arrange your food. Does your subject have a more interesting angle? Are there more than one? Strong geometric shapes work really well, so think about perhaps cutting your food into a more attractive shape or arranging it with other items on the plate.
05 Add a garnish
When we think of striking food photography we often picture bright green vegetables or vibrant red fruit. But a lot of food, such as pasta, is quite drab and can look flat and bland in your frame. Adding a simple garnish like parsley or a sprig of rosemary can add a focal point to these plain-looking dishes and make them more appetising.
06 Small depth of field
Shallow depth of field where only your subject is in focus works very well in food photography and is a great way to make your food stand out. For the best results, try using a macro lens or a telephoto lens at its widest aperture.
07 Maximise your colour
Increasing the saturation of colour is a great way to add impact to your food photography. You can do this in-camera or at the post-processing stage. If the latter, shooting raw files will give you more flexibility.
08 Try a scene mode
Whatever camera you are using, it will have a range of scene modes, creative filters or picture styles that accentuate different colours in an image depending on what your camera thinks it’s photographing.
A landscape mode, for instance, plays up the blues and greens in a scene, while sunsets emphasise reds and yellows. Based on the colours of your subjects and background, try setting one of these modes that best suits the colours you’re working with.
09 Experiment with White Balance
Another way to experiment with colours is to set the ‘wrong’ white balance setting for your scene. A Tungsten setting, for instance, will add a sharp blue tint, while others like Daylight and Shade will provide colour casts at the other end of the spectrum.
10 Gather steam
You can get the colours right, the composition perfected, the light falling in the right place, but sometimes it’s that extra small detail that really makes an image. If the food you’re photographing is typically served hot, then try to photograph it as it’s steaming! Pop it in the oven to let it get warm; meanwhile, set up your shot and get everything ready. When you take your subject from the oven, take a few shots in continuous mode and capture the steam as it rises.