Tutorials |How To Photograph Food at Christmas

HOW TO... Photograph Food at Christmas

cutting out biscuits

Okay so there’s the tree and the decorations, the presents and the dressing up as elves and Father Christmas, but food is right up there as one of the most important parts Christmas. Shops are full with attractively packaged temptation and the long dark nights are the perfect time to crank-up the oven and do a bit of seasonal baking.

The great thing for photographers is that all the festive food is fantastic camera fodder. Even better news is that if you enter your shots in the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year, the world’s leading awards recognising the art and diversity of food photography and film, you could win the top prize of £5,000! So let’s take a look at how to photograph food this Christmas and answer some of the questions that photographers ask.

01 What lighting for food photography?

Natural light is often the best choice for photographing food, but light levels can be low at this time of year so you may need to move closer towards a window. Side or backlighting is often the best bet as it brings out the texture of the food.

If you need extra light, household lamps can do the job, or a flashgun, but avoid using a camera-mounted flash as it will result in harsh illumination and uninspiring images. Even candles can be used to add a little extra light and atmosphere.

02 Do you need a tripod to photograph food?

As I mentioned before, light levels tend to be low in winter and this makes using a tripod sensible because it will allow you to keep the sensitivity (ISO) level down for better image quality. It also means that if you’re shooting a family portrait around the table, you’ll be able to use the self-timer (or a remote release) and feature in the shot.

03 Which white balance for food photography?


With mixed lighting, the white balance needs careful consideration. One of your camera’s preset values may work, but a custom or manual white balance setting is often the best option.

Ideally set the custom white balance to suit the most important part of the scene. This means positioning a white balance target such as a piece of white paper or a photographic grey card in the same light as the subject and then setting the manual or custom white balance. Once it’s set, you can take the card out of the scene and shoot the photographs you want.

It’s also advisable to shoot raw files as these give you the best chance of perfecting the colours post-capture.

04 Which lens for food photography?

A macro lens makes a great choice of lens for photographing food because it will let you get nice and close. However, a wide-angle lens is also likely to be of use if you want to capture the whole table set for Christmas dinner.

05 How to photograph food at Christmas

Food photography tricks: 04 Change your point of view

Although it’s possible to produce strong images from directly above food, shooting this way can often result in dull ‘record shots’. Look around the food and try to find an interesting point of view. Food often looks good from a low angle, looking across the surface with some shine from side or backlighting.

Going in close with a wide-angle lens can also produce some interesting images. The food will look big in the foreground but you’ll be able to capture more of the background. That could be Santa Clause licking his lips, a table laden with food or a Christmas tree with twinkling lights.

It can be helpful to compose images on your camera’s screen rather than in the viewfinder as this will give you a larger view and avoids having to stoop down to see into the finder. It’s especially useful if you need to focus manually as you’re able to magnify the target area and make sure the focus is spot-on.

06 What food to photograph at Christmas?

baking ingredients

There are lots of potential subjects; the displays in shops and markets, food preparation in the kitchen, all the elements of the traditional Christmas dinner and the numerous sweet treats. When you’re selecting the food to photograph, look for the ‘most perfect’ examples and take care to arrange it attractively. If food styling isn’t high on your skill list, why not try shooting the raw ingredients or the cooking process instead of the finished products?

07 Shoot while it’s fresh

Take the photographs whilst the food is fresh to ensure the glossy tones and texture aren’t missed. This means speed is of the essence, especially if you want to capture steam.

08 Pick the right surface and background


6 quick Christmas food photography tips

First, pick the surface you’re going to shoot on, or find somewhere to move your plate for a more beautiful shot. Some food photographers refer to this area as the “deck” – the space where you’re positioning your subject – and it’s important to make sure it’s the right sort of colour, styling and texture so as not to distract from the dish itself.

Try an environmental shot showing a steaming cup of hot chocolate or a scrumptious mince pie on the coffee table in front of your tree, with the twinkling fairy lights blurred out in the background – or get up close with macro shots of the edible decorations on the tree itself.

09 Get the right props


Many of the best food shots don’t just have the dish in view.

Photographs are enhanced by the clever placement of other suitable accessories, such as napkins, tea towels, knives and forks – or even portions of ingredients if you’re going for a more behind-the-scenes look.

Of course, they mustn’t detract from the food itself, so select them carefully!

10 Consider the aperture setting carefully

Christmas photo ideas: 03 Food

If you’re shooting a top-down flat-lay, shallow depth of field will work to get everything in focus, presuming that your food isn’t stacked tall, so you can use a wide aperture. But if you’re shooting through a scene with depth, think about whether you want the whole scene in focus or just a detail such as a specific ingredient or decorative flourish.

11 Which category of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2022?

There are lots of categories in the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year Awards 2022 and Christmas food would be a suitable subject for several of them, but Food for The Family, Food at the Table and Food for Celebration sponsored by Champagne Taittinger are perhaps the most logical choices.

The judges want to see shots of celebratory, festive food from across the world. Images could feature tables laden with festive food and people preparing or eating celebratory food.

Follow the link to register with the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year and get ready to enter.