Food is the spice of life- when you have a beautifully prepared and deliciously tasting meal, you want to share it with the world. Food presentation in and of itself is an artform! With the rise of sharing on social media, food photography has become a prevalent subject matter in our day-to-day lives. This has opened up a need for photographing amazing dishes, even going as far as creating brand new jobs in the food photography industry!
If you are as passionate about pictures as your taste buds are about good meals, you need to know all of the tips and secrets. Here is our guide to creating the most incredible food photographs!
How To Create Amazing Food Photography Images
Food photography looks elusively simple, but it’s actually not that easy! A lot of successful food photography relies on a bit of movie magic to bring to life. Here are the steps:
1. Your Equipment
The first component to food photography is the equipment that you use.
When considering a food photography camera, a screen that can tilt will make your life so much easier to get those perfect angles, so look for that! Instead of uncomfortably contorting yourself to see if you got the right shot, you can adjust the screen to see what you’re doing from a more comfortable position.
You can find tilting screens in most all Mirrorless cameras and most new DSLR cameras.
But to capture all of that detail, such as every flake of black pepper on a rare steak, a camera with a large megapixel count becomes important. As you may deduce, the more megapixels, the higher quality the image because there will be more details.
Megapixels impact the editing room, in which the more pixels there are the more details you have to work with when retouching a photograph. If you need to crop an image, if the photograph has a lot of megapixels you can crop and still enlarge really big with no trouble.
Cameras also have different sensor sizes. Sensors can be full-frame (large sensors that capture an entire scene) or APS-C / Crop sensors (sensors that are smaller than full frame and only photograph a portion of the image).
As to what you need… for the most part, that depends on your budget, what equipment you will be investing in, and what you photograph. For the non-editorial and non-commercial food photographers, either one is great.
Crop sensors are less expensive on average than full frame cameras, and the corresponding crop sensor lenses are less expensive than full frame lenses.
However, for those with a career in producing food photography for companies and establishments, you’re really going to want to use a full frame camera. Not only are you going to be capturing the entire frame, but full frame cameras also have higher megapixel counts than crop sensors and that matters with commercial work.
You want to use a lens that is very sharp and high quality, as details are important in food photography.
The best bet is to use a fixed lens, or lens that does not zoom. Because fixed lenses do not move, their design revolves around getting the most out of the static focal length. Fixed lenses are extremely sharp and tend to be quick to focus. As well as this, fixed lenses have much wider apertures than zoom lenses because there is more room to make the lens wide. This allows you a tremendous amount of control over your depth of field, allowing it to go from shallow to deep.
You don’t want to use a lens with any sort of distortion, so a standard focal length is the way to go. The 50mm lens is a very popular choice.
Tripods help stabilize your shot, and if you’re doing an overhead image, a tripod may help steady your camera the best.
As well as this, if you’re capturing a lot of reflective surfaces, use a polarizing filter on your lens. Polarising filters are thin panes of glass that are attached to the front of your lens. Polarising filters reduce glare from reflected surfaces. They work by being made up of specially adapted glass that when turned at an angle to a light source will reduce glare.
2. Camera Settings
Food won’t run away from you- so you don’t need to go to the extremes with your camera settings! Place the camera on a tripod or hold it handheld, and set your exposure to what your meter says is best for the scene.
Speaking of the meter, it is suggested to set to Matrix / Evaluative Metering in order to expose for the entire frame- as the whole composition matters in food photography. You want to make sure that your shadows and your highlights are exposed evenly.
Keep your ISO to a minimum to reduce noise, and shutter speed preferably above 1/150 if you’re going to be shooting handheld (to minimize camera shake). Food photographs have to be clear and sharp, especially the detailed shots!
As for the aperture, that depends on the depth of field that you’d want. Depth of field refers to how much of an image is in focus. Deep depths of field have a lot of focus, shallow only have the subject in focus. For photographs that show the entire dish and ingredients, use a deeper depth of field (an aperture of F/8 works very nicely). For detail shots, shallow depth of field is brilliant to draw attention to the appetizing aspects of your dish (F/1.4 is wonderful for this).
As much as most photography can do just fine with Auto White Balance, food photography is not one of them. Make sure your white balance suits the lighting available at your shooting location to ensure that the colors of the food are accurate.
3. The Location and Props
Like product photography, food photography is as much dependent on the location and props as it is on the subject itself. These ‘background’ elements create the story, sell the idea, and push an emotion in photography.
Many professional food photographers purchase aesthetically pleasing bowls, plates, cups, napkins, serving trays, and platters just for their pictures. You don’t necessarily have to do that, but it is good to keep the props in mind. Cohesion is key, try to pick out utensils and plates that match one another.
That being said, know when to simplify your frame. If you use too many props, that will take away from your food subject. Use ingredients as props, not just table settings!
As for the location, look for flat surfaces that are either solid in color or have just a wee bit of texture to them (such as wood). You can use a blanket, cutting board, tray, or paper as a surface to shoot on.
4. The Lighting
Natural light works best for food photography because it brings out an organic shine and color to the food. Try placing your dishes in front of a window! White thin curtains act as a great diffiuser for the light.
Capturing dishes during the golden hour is also a great idea due to the beautiful even lighting produced at that time. The golden hour includes the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. It is named as such because the sun being parallel to the camera creates a glow of gold light that washes over the image.
If natural light isn’t an option, studio lighting is a great solution. Grab a continuous light softbox (a studio light that does not flash) and place it directly overhead of your dish. That will do the same as a beautiful even daytime light.
5. The Styling
Remember, you’re making the food to photograph- not necessarily to eat! As such, presentation is key. Style the food so that it looks eye-catching and interesting. Add extra spices to the top so that you’re able to see the seasoning, arrange the dish on a plate to make a beautiful pattern, and chop ingredients in larger chunks so that they are most noticeable. Pay attention to the balance of food in a shot so that the frame doesn’t look cluttered or busy.
6. Perspective and Angles
As you may have noticed from trial and error, most of the best food photographs come from a large variety of unique angles. Overhead shots are really popular, as are the overhead tilted images! The goal is to make food look the most flattering, and traditional perspectives don’t always tend to cut it.
Some plates of food look better from above, like round dishes such as pizza and pasta. Some are better from the side, such as burgers and sandwiches. Drinks tend to look best at a 45-degree angle.
Try taking photos at various angles so you can pick your favorite later.
7. Make the Food Look Appetizing
There are some tricks to make sure the food looks superbly appetizing. For vegetables, lettuce, and salad greens- store them in the fridge with a wet napkin to preserve the moisture and greenery!
Steam coming off of hot foods makes them look tantalizing. There are many ways to add artificial steam to the shot, one of which is to microwave water soaked cotton balls and place them behind food.
Freeze certain dishes to preserve their shape and only take them out when you’re ready to shoot. Oil will add shine to food that may have been out of the oven too long, and water will keep your herb garnishes fresh.
Pleasing composition is easy on the eye and attracts people to look at your photograph. Poor or bad composition looks awkward, doesn’t attract viewers, and tends to shy people away from an otherwise good photograph.
For food photography, framing is really important. Surround your subject so that the viewer’s eye will go straight to your delicious food!
Still life such as good does great with the Rule of Thirds. This rule states that if you divide your photograph evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, the subject of the image needs to be placed at the intersection of the dividing lines. Any of the intersections!
9. Get Creative
Think outside of the box! Don’t just snap food the way it lays on a plate, think about energizing the senses and adding something extra to the shot. Maybe you sprinkle around some flour? Maybe you make a creative mess? Maybe you add sparklers into the shot? Who knows! Make it your own by being imaginative.
10. Post Processing
As much as you try to get it right in the camera, the camera cannot always express colors properly. As such, use editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom to bring the beautiful saturation and vibrancy back into your shot! Photographs that are eye catching attract the most attention. Try to adjust color tones to make them more complimentary to one another. Add clarity to texture, such as the grooves in a sponge cake!
- Write down your vision on paper prior to creating the dish and photographing it. Some food doesn’t last long (such as ice cream), so having a plan ahead of time will help!
- Use fake food as stand-ins to get your settings in order prior to using real food.
- Don’t take the food out of the fridge until you’re ready to shoot.
- Consistently look at other food photographs for inspiration and ideas.
Food photography has swept the nation, from rising popularity in social media to the influence of recipe blogs on Pinterest! So much of our culture revolves around dining, so it’s no wonder that this photography niche has become so significant. If you implement the above tips and steps into your work, your food photography will certainly stand out above the rest!