There is one subject that is always available to photograph no matter where you are, even if you don’t leave the house: food. It’s no surprise there is such a strong interest in food photography given that we all need to eat. Being able to take a good photograph of food is not just a good way to document the way you break bread with your friends and family, but is also a great way to learn a new photography skill by honing your lighting skills, compositional techniques, and post-processing methods.
Whether you are a food enthusiast that loves taking photos of your meals for the gram, or you’re looking to earn a spot on the cover of Bon Appétit, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite food photography tips to level up your skill and help you create more thought-provoking and refined imagery.
Get Up Close & Personal
Don’t be afraid to get in closer with your lens, or phone camera, to capture all the details. This video is a great example of the power of cropping and getting close to show off the herbs, spices, cheese, and other tasty details. If you are shooting on a phone camera, you can try using portrait mode or zooming your lens in.
Use Food Photography Backdrops
One of the greatest tools you can invest in for professional food photography is an inexpensive food photography backdrop. You can make your own for a pretty low cost by buying foam board and applying contact paper on it. I’ve also seen people purchase single square tiles from home improvement stores to create a surface to shoot food on. Some of our favorite professional quality food backdrops are Replica Surfaces. But if that isn’t in your budget I highly suggest the DIY route.
Create a Unique Perspective
This is my favorite and also the most creative trick on this list. Most captivating photographs usually have one thing in common: they showcase a unique perspective that otherwise wouldn’t be seen or created.
Do a scan of your scene to see how you can build context into your photos to create an experience in an image rather than just focusing on taking photos of food. When you pair perspective with unique and interesting angle choices, you’re more often than not going to yield a more provocative photo that is sure to make people think. You can get close to objects and use them as your foreground to create the perception that you’re seeing it from the angle of the object, like we did in this photo to simulate the idea of taking the food out of the oven.
Here are some basic food photography tips if food photography has been peaking your interest and you’ve been wanting to give it a try.
Make sure you vary your angles when shooting food. Even food has a good side – you’re not going to shoot cupcakes the same way you’d shoot a bowl of hot soup. Tilt your camera a bit, shoot from above, from the edge of the table, sitting at eye-level. Also, if you’re shooting for a client, they will want quite a bit of variety so have that in mind.
Learn Lighting for Food Photography
Master the use of daylight techniques for food photography. Put that camera flash away and snap photos next to a window. Natural light will make the food look more appetizing. Your angle of light is very important as well – back-lighting will bring out all the textures, and any steam or smoke coming from the food.
Most food photography in the marketplace right now is either using or mimicking daylight. The general principle is to use or create a very large light source (i.e. the sun) then soften and shape that light to flatter your subject.
Use a Napkin to Scrim Hard Light
Seems like a pretty obvious statement, but you would be surprised how hard it is to find good light in kitchens or outdoor areas. This is a fun trick you can do pretty much anywhere and works great for when you are in need of a scrim. Grab a napkin and hold it over your food to cast a shadow and scrim the sunlight from hitting it. This creates a diffused light source that is perfect for food photos.
Know The Food You’re Photographing
If you are interested in food photography, learn about food. One of the great benefits that I have had in my career is an intimate knowledge of my subject matter.
Know Food Styling…or a Food Stylist
Partner with a stylist. It is really hard to cook, style and photograph food on your own. If you have someone to share in the creative process with you, both will progress much faster. For more information and inspiration, read our article on food styling.
Bring In The Props
Props definitely enhance food photos, making them look even more desirable. Whether they show how the food is made by the raw ingredients placed around it to the color of the napkins and bowls, try to think about what props will tell the story of the dish you’re preparing.
Understand Your Food Photography Gear
You don’t need a fancy set-up when taking shots of food, but a few basic things like a tripod and some reflectors are always good to have. A tripod will help with your stability when getting those close-up macro shots. Reflectors can add a new element, whether it’s to bounce the light back onto the plate and reduce shadows, or if you want to cast a gold or silver tone to set the mood.
Learn the camera you have. If you really want to shoot food or anything else, you need to understand your tools. If you can master whatever camera you have and learn how to get the results you want out of that camera, then you’ll always have the skills that translate to any camera. Teach a man to fish…
Know How to Edit
Either learn how to use Photoshop or partner with someone who does. You will need to shoot RAW images, and you will need post-production expertise to make those RAW files into usable images. This is an essential skill for photographers.
If you don’t want to cook all of the dishes yourself, that’s understandable. You can’t wear all the hats, so reach out to others and collaborate. Chefs, specialty baristas, bartenders, bakers, culinary school folks, all these people already know how to present the food in all its excellence. Not only will you get a good end product, but you can also take some shots of these people preparing the goods, which is an added bonus.
Food photography has been booming in the recent years with many photographers ditching portrait and wedding gigs to concentrate their whole business solely on this niche. Since food will always be a necessity, it’s something pretty secure. Of course, you do need to network just like any other specialty niche, but the possibilities are endless: there’s restaurants, bars, coffee shops, small deli’s, farms, magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. People will always be searching for that next delicious meal, or drink, so companies seek out photographers to capture the food’s good side.
If you want to see more of these bite-size (haha, get it) tutorials make sure you follow us on TikTok where we teach unique photo concepts no matter what gear you own. You’ll find more techniques like this in our newest course, Creative Photography 101, where we used only an iPhone camera to capture all images in the course just to show you how you can train yourself to see beyond what your eye sees.