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Tips & Tricks

8 Common Food Photography Mistakes to Avoid

By Guest Contributor on March 14th 2016

These days, everybody is a food photographer. The accessibility and ease of taking food photos have now become both a blessing and a curse. The smartphone has enabled many to dip their toes in the food photography world to capture some enticing dishes, but it’s also resulted in some terribly unpalatable photos. Here are eight food photography mistakes to avoid to ensure that your feed is full of delicious, beautiful photos that won’t make someone lose their appetite.

1. Using Flash

Unless you’re working in a studio with pro level equipment, don’t use flash. It’s garish, flat and not to mention disruptive in a restaurant space. It seems obvious, but there are a ton of photos out there that seem to have missed that memo. In the end, nothing beats natural light when it comes to food photography.

2. Focusing Incorrectly

In food photography, a shallow depth of field is a great way to highlight the food. However, it also means that focusing can be a problem. While it can create an ethereal, dramatic effect, make sure you’re using your focus points correctly. If your AF points aren’t cutting it, manually focus the image. When shooting aerial, top-down photos, steer away from higher apertures to avoid blurry images.

3. Getting Too Close

We all know that some of the most delicious food are not necessarily the prettiest, especially when it comes to delicious, gravy-filled, saucy foods. In these cases, the last thing you want to do is zoom in and highlight its “bad” side. Instead, try panning out and setting up a scene. Top it with bright garnishes and set it on a table with a napkin, plate, and other utensils. Bring emotion into the view through mood, rather than just through the dish itself.

4. Shooting Food At The Same Angle You Eat It

In photography, angles are crucial. The same goes for food photography. Most of the time, the angle of which you eat the food isn’t always the most appetizing. That classic 45-degree angle doesn’t give the food justice— bend down and shoot it straight down from the side, or from a top-down view (a social media favorite). Experiment and don’t be afraid to move (mostly advised when shooting at home, perhaps don’t do this at a fine dining establishment…).

5. Plating With Odd Colors

There are a few colors that very rarely complement food. Bright green, orange or red plates can be very hard to work with and will detract from the main subject of the photo. Stick to neutral plates in white, black or gray. Of course, feel free to venture, but make sure to stay aware of the color play of food and props.

6. Not Taking In the Scene

Shooting food live, in a café, restaurant, etc., means that there are a lot of distractions. You’re in a hurry, trying to shoot before people get hangry, and often, that means you’re so focused on one thing you might miss another. That also means dirty napkins, messy plates or a half-eaten bone laying in the corner of the photo that you don’t realize until later. When shooting, make sure to stop and take a look at everything in the frame.

7. Shooting Like Everyone Else

We’ve all seen a cup of coffee and a pastry, and I know I’m guilty of shooting those two subjects from the top-down. But while aerial shots are known to get a lot of likes, it’s good to get out of the rut and challenge yourself to shoot differently than others. Instead of always shooting perfectly placed food, take a bite of the food, or have hands reaching for dishes to add life.

Whether it’s playing with light, angles or props, make sure to experiment when photographing food, that’s what makes it fun!

8. Overediting

We all love filters, but don’t overdo it. That applies to presets and actions as well. Food is meant to be consumed and natural, and the editing process should reflect it. Stay away from adding too much and err on the side of doing less. And please, never use an HDR filter on food.


@orgnlwhtsvn A creative edit layering two photos together.


With these tips in your arsenal, you should be all set to shoot some beautiful pictures of food.

About the Guest Contributor

Nanette Wong is the Senior Social Media Manager and a Photographer at PicsArt. PicsArt is a mobile photo editor that provides people with a canvas for creating, collaborating, and exploring, so they can beautify the world. With their full creative suite for photo editing, PicsArt makes it easy to create beautiful images, no matter where you are.

Download PicsArt here, and show us your shots on PicsArt or Instagram with #MadeWithPicsArt.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Manav Mathur

    Any tips for the videos as well? I am going to start a youtube channel for my Indian Recipe site

    I can surely use some advice. Thanks :)

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  2. Sri Natarajan

    Good to know that you are doing great.

    Cheers Loganayaki

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  3. Hien Nguyen

    I disagree with point #1 about using flash. If you know how to use flash correctly, then use it. That’s the only time you will have complete control over the lighting. You don’t need a pro camera but need to know how to use flash. Natural light, as beautiful as it is, is not always available, and unless you are sitting by the window with diffused light, will be unreliable. I shoot practically all my food photos with flash.

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    • Nanette Wong

      I hear where you’re coming from, which is why I prefaced that point with “Unless you’re working in a studio with pro level equipment, don’t use flash.” :)

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  4. Sada Domonkos

    So-So … Flash is always good if you are not afraid to use and know hot to use it… Big scrims or softbox are much much better than praying for nice big windows and nice weather…

    What will you do on a rainy day whan the shoot was set on that day ? ;D so natural light could be just an option if the conditions are good.

    Leave big fstops behind , diffraction is a real thingy with today 20+ megapixel bodys … so get focus stack if you want real sharpnes overall.

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    • Lauchlan Toal

      Absolutely – it all comes down to context. Are you eating at a restaurant and want a photo to post on Snapchat to show what cool food they have? Don’t use flash, that’s just disruptive.

      But if you’ve been hired to take photos for advertising purposes, are making stock photos, or are taking photos for your website, flash will make your life a lot easier. You could use a window and dozens of mirrors to get the perfect lighting, but a couple well placed speedlights to bring out the textures plus a reflector or two for fill will give you much more control and result in better photos. Starting out with ambient light, then constant light sources is a good way to learn, but eventually you’ll want to move to flash for the power and versatility it provides.

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    • Nanette Wong

      I understand what you’re saying. I am all for using flash if you’re in a studio and know how to use flash, which I had also mentioned. I’m referring mainly to using the generic flash that comes with phones in spaces like a restaurant where it can be disruptive to the dining experience. Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Raoni Franco

    Great article, thanks. But, here´s the thing……..I hate do´s and don´ts lists. They are, in general, very simplistic to say the least, or just plain wrong. Do this, don´t do that………this kind of advice can be very limiting in the mind of a photog that is just starting out. This is not computer programmig, not just 0s and 1s. For example, you say that “Unless you’re working in a studio with pro level equipment, don’t use flash”. Sorry, I just can´t agree with that at all. That´s the kind of statement that pushes people away from all the possibilities they could explore in their art. It makes people stiff. In this particular case, flash can open a whole new world of possibilities and can be only a cheap speedlight. Maybe you don´t have a big window with beautiful natural light, maybe you only can or wish to photograph at night or at times of the day when natural light isn´t ideal, maybe your food is on a counter that can´t be moved and you would like to see what it looks like if the light was comming from another direction. Anyway, you get the point. That´s why, in most cases, I hate dos and don´ts lists.

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    • Raoni Franco

      By the way, I love the one with the hand serving pasta, So simple, true, effective, beautiful.

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  6. Callib Carver

    Love it. I took some shots awhile back and I’m seeing some of these problems in my shot. I also see a few of the suggestions in it.

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  7. William Irwin

    Good article overall but I think this sentence might confuse some “When shooting aerial, top-down photos, steer away from higher apertures to avoid blurry images.” I think you meant avoid wide open apertures or use a higher number f/stop for greater depth of field.

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    • Bill Bentley

      Yes. And every image should have the exif data included so we can learn from it.

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    • Nanette Wong

      You’re right, thanks! I should’ve said steer away from wide open apertures. :) Thanks for commenting.

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  8. Daniel Thullen

    Thank you Nanette. All great suggestions.

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