Food photography is an art. Think about it! Food pictures are all the rage on social media… but not everyone can take food photos from the right angle and in the right lighting. But, if you can capture the food correctly, the right image can make any mouth water.
If you’re looking for the best way to create tasty-looking images, use these food photography tips for pro shooting and staging.
1. Arrange the Food Artfully
At 5-star restaurants, presentation is everything (aside from taste, of course). Since your viewer won’t be tasting this food, be sure the arrangement of the food on the plate is beautiful. For some foods that may mean neat, crisp edges. For others, it might mean a meticulously careless dash of sauce to create a visual accent. Great food photography doesn’t happen without great food staging.
2. If Photography is the Priority, Cooking Can’t Be
Some of the best food photography is of food that actually would taste terrible. Why? Because food that’s fully cooked doesn’t stop cooking as soon as it’s removed from heat. Meat especially tends to go from plump to shriveled when fully cooked before staging.
If you are planning on spending a lot of time staging the food, you probably shouldn’t eat it afterward anyway. If you can shoot it quickly, then fully cooked food you’ll eat is okay. If you need lots of time to shoot it, consider cooking the food just enough to get the shape, color, and texture you need.
Drinks like smoothies or protein shakes will often separate quickly, so use less water and more dry ingredients. Adding some extra oil to foods like grilled or roasted vegetables can help them keep that gorgeous glistening look.
3. Allow for Negative Space
When staging food for photography, it’s more important to create beautiful presentation than to accurately represent one person’s exact serving size for a meal. That may mean using a unique plate or platter instead of a traditional dinner plate or placing the food differently than you would if you were serving up Tuesday night dinner for a family of five. Don’t be afraid to let the plate shine through if it serves your composition!
4. Try Shooting from Multiple Angles
We rarely shoot people from above and we rarely shoot food from one side, but there are cases to be made for both. Shooting from above is often the easiest way to shoot great food images, but also consider shooting from one side if there are layers with visual interest. A diagonal shooting angle can help capture more of the table scene.
5. Carefully Evaluate the Background
If your photos are meant to showcase the food, a busy background will compete for the viewer’s attention. Simple or neutral backgrounds are the best starting point. Try starting with a dark brown or black table, a white or very light stone or marble counter top, or a wood butcher block for your shooting surface.
6. Shoot in (or Simulate) Natural Light
Color is one of the most important elements in food photography. Shooting in unfiltered, artificial light means risking orange or yellow casts that can destroy even the most perfectly composed photos. Natural, diffused daylight is best because you’ll avoid harsh shadows and exposure issues.
7. Manage Your Shadows
Harsh shadows can be distracting, and no shadows at all can make an image look surprisingly fake. While great food photography is often meticulously staged, the viewer wants to see it as spontaneous and real. Subtle shadows, which are generally achieved when shooting with diffused fill light or bounce light, can create subtle depth and dimension that elevates your photography.
8. Use Color to Reinforce the Story
Is your food telling a story of calm and comfort? Use calm and soothing tones for textiles and props to elevate that story. Is your food telling a story of vibrancy or passion? Bright and dynamic colors can reinforce that message to create an especially strong image.
9. Consider Ingredients as Scenic Elements
Adding ingredients to your composition can help tell the story of the recipe. Many spices that are rich in color are also very photogenic. If your composition is already busy, you may want to save this tactic for another shoot.
10. Include a Human Subject
Including someone’s hand or arm, shooting over a shoulder, and so on are all ways to add another layer to the story your photo is telling. Introducing a human to your shot can make things that much more complicated, however. You’ll have to consider and adjust elements like lighting, depth of field, and framing, just to name a few.
11. Don’t Be Afraid of Post-Production
Even if you master the tips above, you may still want to enhance the colors of your food in post-production. As always with post-production editing, try to balance your desire to create a striking image with the need to keep the image believable.