Taking a great food photo easily comes down to 5 simple step!
- 1. Deciding your angle / perspective
- Choosing a feeling (moody, light, lifestyle)
- Food styling (Props and background)
- Camera settings Lens choice
Here’s my best food photography tips all in one simple guide.
How to get started taking food photos
One of the reasons that people think they can’t take great food photos is because they don’t have an expensive, fancy DSLR camera. And yes, the right equipment can make a huge difference but there’s nothing to stop you taking great photos with the camera on your phone.
Smartphone cameras are awesome
If you look at a comparison of the camera on the iPhone 8, the Samsung S8 and a camera such as the Canon 5D Mark 1, you will quickly realise that those phone cameras are pretty impressive. They have a similar number of megapixels, similar image resolution and can take amazing video. (If you want to learn more about this, check out my post )
But what about making the most of your smartphone? There are two options – you can either buy special lenses for your smartphone or use an app to fully utilise the native camera. The aim is to go for a wide angle to be able to get all of the food into shot. Yes, you should be shooting in DNG (Raw for smartphones)
If you have a DSLR or are ready to start with one, then the best lens for food photography is the 100mm macro lens. Macro lenses are designed to get a hugely detailed shot of a small area while making the rest of the world blur out beautifully. They have moderately wide apertures and moderately long focal lenses. The 100mm macro is the most popular, although you can get 150mm, 180mm and more.
The macro lens is ideal for the two classic food photography shots (more on them in a minute) – the 45 degree and the straight above shot. It allows you to pick up all of those amazing food details without the background coming along and causing confusion.
Food styling and composition
Mention composition rules and people start to get nervous – it is like being back in school, with algebra and all that stuff! But the truth is that photography rules of composition are more like guidelines, inspiration or a way to understand how great food photos work.
Food photography composition comes down to three questions:
- Where do you put the main subject (in this case, the food)?
- What do you want to include in the shot?
- What do you not want to include in the shot?
There’s no doubt that some of the key rules of composition that are used in all kinds of photography play a big part in food photography. One of the classics is the Rule of Thirds – easy to put into action and always effective. By having three equal parts and a grid on your camera screen, you can place the focus of the picture at the points where those lines cross. It brings the eye away from the middle of the picture and makes for an interesting shot.
Another classic is leading lines, using elements to draw the eye along the line. You see this a lot in landscape and travel photography but it can also work with food photography. Cutlery, a chopping board or the edge of a square plate are examples of creating a leading line in your food photography.
You can also arrange the elements in the image to create shapes or figures that make the photo better. An example is laying them out so you can draw an ‘S’ through the main elements. Another is the use a triangle design with the points of the triangle at the main elements of the photo.
Angle of the shot
Think about your favourite food photos – I bet they are one of two angles. The two most popular angles for food photos as well as for flatlays is either straight above the elements or at a 45 degree angle.
Shots from straight above are ideal to get all of the details of the food. Dishes like noodles, pasta, soup and others that are in a dish or on a plate can look amazing from above because you can see all the ingredients. Pizzas or pies also work well straight above. Other dishes such as burgers or sandwiches look better from a 45 degree angle because you can see the layers in the dish – straight above just shows you the bread!
Props and colour theory
You may have heard me talk about colour theory before and it is a very important part of choosing the right props for your shot. While there are lots of things to be said about colour theory, for foo photography, it is good to look at complementing colours.
If you have a dish that is shades of orange and yellow with a little herb on top, then choose props that are in shades of red, green and maybe a neutral like a grey for the background. Don’t have too many colours involved! And don’t be afraid to use white space if you are unsure – not every part of the photo has to have something in or a colourful backdrop.
When it comes to finding props, don’t think you have to invest in ultra-expensive stuff to get the right photos. One of my favourite tips for students is to go to the nearest flooring tile shop and buy an odd tile. This will make a great base for the photo and is far less expensive than buying a box of tiles.
Use what you have around you, pop to the local charity shop or check out the pound shops. You can get all kinds of inexpensive props that will work well in your food photos without costing a fortune.
Top 5 food backgrounds I love to use are:
- Baking sheets
- Chopping boards
- White foam boards
- Don’t be afraid to use anything that feels right.. There is no right background.
Top five food props:
Lighting and food photos
Lighting is a key part of any type of photography. Without light, we can’t see and we surely can’t photograph! With food photography lighting, there are a few basics to think about but also a couple of tips to remember that will help you find it less stressful.
Always remember your basics of lighting. You want to have softer, diffuse light that doesn’t create heavy shadows (unless that’s the look you are going for). There are lots of ways to do this but something as simple as white piece of card to work as a reflector can do an amazing job. By placing it opposite the source of light, you can reduce those shadows, easily lighten the whole shot and there’s no complex set up needed to do it.
Outdoors is always best for photography, especially in the Golden Hour just before sunset. But I know that doesn’t always work for food photography – especially if you want to eat the meal afterwards. So if you are photographing inside, look for windows that don’t have direct sunlight or if they do, have a diffuser (white translucent panel, aka shower curtain) to help diffuse that light. You can buy these on Amazon for a small amount of money and they fold up small for storage.
Editing food photography
People tend to get really stressed about lighting for their photos but the key thing is to remember you can edit almost anything. If you use natural light, it is then easier to edit the photos into what you need. That’s because natural light is balanced and easier to adjust than artificial.
I have a simple process for editing that takes just 7 steps but ensures you get the results you want in as little as 3 mins. If you want to know more about it, you can find out here.
My top 5 food photography tips just for you
Equipment, composition and lighting are the three core elements that you need to learn to take great food photos. Once you have those food photography basics in place, you are ready to start learning your own style, what you love best and how to take photos consistently. So here are a few of my top tips to help you develop
Have a consistent style and set up
It is tempting to bounce around, try lots of different things and experiment with every type of food photography backdrops you can find. That’s fine but you want to start quickly narrowing down what you want your photos to look like. That means having consistent lighting, using an editing process that gives you the same results and even the angles that you use.
Repeat elements in your composition
Sometimes you want to do more than just photograph a plate, some cutlery and a few little herbs scattered around. One tip to make this easy to do is to repeat elements. So you have cooked a meal for two? Then feature two plates or bowls. Maybe it is a cookie recipe – then use a stack of five cookies rather than just the one. Repeating elements can create a brilliant food photo.
Those herbs scattered around are important! Garnish of any kind adds extra features to the shot and should complement the central pieces of the composition. It also makes the picture more interesting and can bring in touches of other colours. Consider using ingredients from the recipe where possible.
You can shoot dark and moody food photos
Go onto Pinterest and many of the photos you see will be light, bright and white. That’s great and these are the most common types of food photos to take. But you don’t have to limit yourself – you can go dark and moody sometimes. The key is to have dark props, surfaces and backgrounds and ensure the food itself is the most colourful thing in the shot.
Use negative space
Negative space, also known as white space even when it isn’t white) is the area where nothing is happening. And it is an important part of a good photo. Don’t think you have to fill the shot every time, step back a bit, have some of the surface showing with no elements on it and give the focal elements some space.
My favourite food photographers