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Photokore’s Stock Photography Tutorials

Getting Started in Food Photography

One of the most common requests we get is for advice on how to take good photographs of food. Taking good photos of food is not as easy as it looks - lighting, composition, angles etc are all potential problem areas. This tutorial is a starting point for budding food photographers.


Taking photos of food is one of the most difficult skills a photographer can master. To learn how to take photos of food, photographers must acquire knowledge of light, camera angles and the nature of the food being photographed.

Texture and Color
Taste and smell are the two things people most often associate with food. However, because neither sensation can be captured in an image, photographers taking photos of food must rely on texture, color and presentation.

For texture to come through, food photos usually need to be taken at close range. When trying to capture a food’s texture, look at the food you’re photographing for its most dominant texture. If you were photographing grapes, for instance, you would want to focus on their smooth, silky texture.

Alternatively, you’ll want to emphasize the bumpy curds if you’re using cottage cheese as your subject. Food photos that can capture texture are invariably better than those that don’t.

Preparation for Photographing Food

Preparation is essential when photographing food. For the best results, you’ll want to shoot the food a few minutes after it’s been prepared.

Food quickly loses its luster and photogenic appeal. Crisp greens wilt, desserts melt, sauces congeal. Because of this, you should be completely prepared to shoot before you bring the food to the set.

Take the time to prepare your shot. Use an empty plate to set up your shot considering all the steps laid out here. Once everything is to your satisfaction, and the food is ready, replace the empty plate with your plate of food and begin shooting.

1. Setting
Choose a setting that enhances, but doesn’t distract from your food. Simple, plain backgrounds and tablecloths work well.
Plates whose color contrasts with or harmonizes with your food, work better than those that are the same color.

Before you start shooting, make sure there isn’t any distracting clutter in the background of the shot (stray people, silverware, whatever).

2. Arrangement & Styling
The way food is set out on the plate is as important as the way you photograph it. Every imperfection is magnified under the camera. Don’t overfill the plate. Smaller is better. Larger plates, bowls and pots are much more difficult to frame.

Pay attention to the balance of the food in your shot (color, shapes, etc) and use leading lines and the rule of thirds to help guide your viewer’s eye into the dish. One of the best ways to learn is to get some cookbooks to see how the pros do it.

Hint: Get the details right. Try to cut foods in somewhat geometric shapes for a more professional presentation. Arrange items on plate in a manner that showcases the strengths of a dish and its high-value ingredients. Use sauces and garnishes to add color to drab shots (i.e. Adding chopped parsley gives spaghetti green specks that bring out the red color of the sauce; adding a lemon wedge to iced tea gives a touch of color to a glass of brown liquid). Check the edges of your plates and glasses for stray food, and wipe away any smudges.

3. Steam
Having steam rising off your food can give it a ‘just cooked’ feel, which some food photographers like. Of course this can be difficult to achieve naturally. Microwaving water soaked cotton balls and placing them behind food is one way the pros do it.

4. Props
Don’t clutter the photo with a full table setting but consider one or two extra elements such as a glass, fork, flower or napkin. These elements can often be placed in secondary positions in the foreground or background of your shot.

Garnishes and accessories can transform average pictures of food into art. They can add interest to food photos and even tell a story.

The Shoot

Pictures of food generally look best when taken at close range.  If possible, zoom-in and fill your frame with the food. You don’t want to have a lot of empty space in your shot.

Carefully choose the best angle for taking the photo. Examine the shape and features of your dish, to determine whether it looks best from overhead or from a side angle. Shoot photos of food at an angle to give the illusion of three dimensions. The lower the angle, the taller the food will appear.

A mistake that many beginner food photographers make is taking shots that look down on a plate from directly above. While this can work in some circumstances – in most cases you’ll get a better shot by shooting down close to plate level (or slightly above it).

If shooting from above, aim for an angle between 10 and 45 degrees above the table. Angles from above work best when photographing large spreads of foods, such as holiday dinner layouts.

Hint: Take lots of pictures. Move around the food and see what angle looks best.

Treat the food you’re photographing as you would any other still life subject and ensure that it is well lit. One of the goals of food photos is to make meals look three-dimensional. Proper use of light and shadow can achieve this goal.

Shoot in natural light whenever you can. The ideal set-up is a next to a large window, with a white curtain to diffuse the light. Flash photography is possible but not preferable and takes some gear and experience to execute well. Flash photography is too harsh for food’s delicate sensibilities. It flattens everything out and makes for unappealing shiny spots. When shooting in low light, move the food to the brightest part of the room. Turn up your lamps and other light sources.

Hint: Use a white card or foam board to bounce light onto your subject. This can be used to illuminate the darker areas of your scene. Most art supply stores have a range of white card, or foam boards available.

White Balance
When shooting indoors, be aware of the lighting. Fluorescent lighting for example, will give your image a blue tint that makes the food look unappetizing. To retain the all-important natural colors in your images, determine whether the light source is incandescent, fluorescent or halogen lighting, set the white balance accordingly, and take the shot.

Hint: Take a shot with a white balance setting that matches the light source (or auto white balance) and then take a second shot with your camera on the cloudy setting. You’ll often find that the cloudy white balance setting will add a bit of color saturation, making for a richer, tastier-looking image.

Aperture and Focus
In general, most people like to take shots where the food is in focus, and the background is blurred. To do this, set your camera mode to Aperture Priority mode. This will either be an A or AV on your camera. Then adjust your aperture to the lowest aperture number possible. If you’re in doubt, refer to your owner’s manual, which should tell you exactly how to adjust aperture.

Hint: If you’re new to food photography, set your camera to the Macro setting, or Portrait setting. This is a quick way to get started in food photography.

Use a tripod or stabilizer.
Close-up shots are less forgiving to camera shake than photos taken at a distance. For close-up photos of food, a tripod is a must.

Work Quickly
Food only looks really appealing for a short period of time, so you’ll need to be well prepared and able to shoot quickly after it’s been prepared.

Know what not to shoot
Some things will just never look delicious, no matter how hard you try. Meals that are all the same color and brown sauces are best left alone.

These suggestions should help you on your way to getting good food photographs. Food photography is a way many amateurs break into professional photography. Good luck!

For more photography tutorials, visit our Tutorials Page.

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