How to take pictures of food

Last week I talked about how to take pictures of people, today I want to focus on how to take great food photos.
It certainly requires a bit of practice, but I believe that you can totally do it if you apply some simple tips.

1. Clean background and surface
Make sure you’ve got a setup that will put the focus on your food by keeping it simple. Decide on what style you want the surface to be (e.g. rustic, glamorous, dreamy …). Also consider the colour, material, and texture of your backdrop. E.g. a wooden table will look natural, colour coming off the wood will look rustic. You can see different examples here and here. Will it make the food stand out, and will the colours of the food go with the colour of your backdrop?
Finally make sure there is nothing distracting lying around in the background or on the sides. If you can’t find a clean background just put up a simple piece of cloth.

2. Props
Before you start shooting have all the props ready that you might want to use. Think of what ingredients are included in the recipe, e.g. I used cinnamon as a ‘prop’ in the photos for my apple cinnamon cake.
You might also want to have a few different plates ready, as well as cutlery, and other items that can make your photos look more interesting.

3. Light
Light is always so so important! I prefer working with lots of natural, indirect light. You can also use a piece of white styrofoam (or something similar) to reflect some light.
If you have direct sunlight coming in through the windows make sure you have a light curtain to diffuse it.

4. Composition
Experiment. Move around, try some close-ups as well as wide shots to give an overview of the scene. In general make sure there isn’t too much going on, you don’t want the picture to look too busy. You can do so by putting your main piece of food in the centre/focus of the photo - not necessarily the actual centre of the frame, but considering the golden angle.
Also add and remove some items and props, take pictures of different combinations of food and items.

5. Perspective
Try some shots from above, from the side, on a slight angle. Again it’s all about experimenting and seeing what works in relation to what props you are using. Some plates and other items look better from above, close-ups of food might look better taken on a 45° angle from the side/above.

6. Focus on the fundamentals
Focus on the basics of the food - both in terms of actual camera focus, as well as keeping the set-up simple. What do you want the viewer to look at instantly? Where do you want the eye to go first?

7. Add some details shots
In addition to photos of the actual food take some detail photos of some of the props and ingredients. Shoot close-ups of spices, chocolate pieces, cutlery, etc. to mix things up a bit and to make the overall set of photos look more interesting.

8. Vertical and horizontals
This one is simple - shoot verticals as well as horizontals. You never know which one looks better until you’ve tried.

9. Edit your photos
Finally, this one will really enhance your photos, and get the most out of them. It will add that little extra in the end. Use whatever editing software you’re comfortable with, it doesn’t have to be fancy. To start with, all you want to be able to do is to crop, colour correct, adjust contrast and brightness.

In general you should have enough time to set everything up, and take a lot of photos. Don’t do it if you’re in a rush, or if you can’t wait to eat your food (yes, I’m always tempted). Also take more than one picture of each set-up variation, so you will end up with a whole lot of photos to choose from in the end. This is especially important if you are just starting out and aren’t quite sure yet what works.

I hope you’ve found this advice helpful. As I’ve said, you won’t become a pro overnight, but you can certainly improve your food photos if you apply these tips.

P.S. The pictures above are some of the outtakes from the apple cinnamon cake shoot.

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  1. Loved this post! It will be so useful to me! Thanks!

  2. These are some great tips! The only one that I don't really find necessary is the editing... Aside from the resizing and the cropping, I use the original image and its natural light; I don't photoshop my photos. :p

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Liz! I'm happy that some of the tips apply to you.