Do you want to take amazing food photos? Or just eat your way through local cuisine? Either way, the best way to get great food photos is to use a technique called “food styling”.
In this post I’ll show you how to create the perfect setting for your food photos, then I’ll demonstrate some cool props and techniques that I’ve picked up over the years.
1. Cameras For Food Photography
To take visually appealing food photos, you don’t necessarily require a high-end camera. For the time being, you’ll be fine with a point-and-shoot camera. Consult the manual, set the macros, and put your skills to the test!
A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) will give you complete control over your exposure and focal length when you’re ready for it. Truly, it’s a financial commitment! About every four years, I replace my camera, and my current model is the Nikon Z6. Wow, that’s incredible.
DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon are nearly identical, so there’s no reason to choose between them. Comparable cameras will take photos of comparable quality, so go with the most expensive model.
Before making a purchase, research the product online or in person at a nearby camera shop. You should buy a camera from a particular brand if the user-friendliness and comfort of the camera in your hand are better. For food photography, the lens you use is more important than the dSLR body, so I suggest purchasing both the body and the lens separately.
2. Lenses For Food Photography
fixed-focus 35mm f1.8
Compact, fixed lenses are my go-tos. Because the lenses are fixed, I can’t physically get closer or farther away from the subject to get the shot I want.
Fixed lenses are my favorite kind of optics because they are more compact, less expensive, and faster than zooms. The wider the apertures, the more control I have over the depth of field and the more freedom I have when taking pictures.
The Nikon 35mm f1.8 that came with my old cropped format camera, which I loved, is no longer available. With it, I was able to take better overhead photos of the food on my table than I had with my old 50mm lens.
Following an expensive full-frame camera upgrade, my primary lens of choice is the Nikkor Z 50mm f1.8. Nikon Z-format cameras are optimized for use with this lens. To anyone who owns a Nikon DX camera, I’d suggest the 50mm f1.4 lens (the 50mm f1.8G lens is almost as good).
But hold on a second, when I upgraded cameras, why did I switch to a longer focal length? This is because a cropped-format camera’s 35mm lens is equivalent to a full-frame camera’s 50mm lens. It’s a bit perplexing, to be honest. If you didn’t spend a lot of money on your camera, chances are it has a cropped format, but you should check just in case.
3. Other Photography Equipment
To bounce the light back onto the plate and reduce shadows, I use cheap white foam boards as reflectors and diffusers. A black foam board will help bring out the shadows even more. Craft stores and Target are where I get my foam boards. To soften the light, I’ll hang sheer white fabric from the window sill from time to time.
Even though I usually shoot handheld for the sake of portability, I’ve come to accept that using a tripod gives me more control over my settings and helps to ensure that my photos are of the highest possible quality. The Manfrotto Studio Pro Triman Tripod and a heavy-duty arm let me shoot overhead while I was shooting my cookbook. This set-up is FABULOUS!
4. Using Harsh Artificial Light
Food photography lighting, like in any other area of photography, is critical to mastering because it can make or break your images. Natural light is preferred by some photographers because of the superior results that can be achieved. Artificial light is preferred by some photographers because it provides consistent lighting and white balance throughout the shoot, saving them time and effort in the editing process.
With artificial light in food photography, they can also work at any time of day or night because they aren’t constrained by daylight hours.
Instead of using a direct flash or even worse, an overhead tungsten light, use an off-camera light source. It’s wise to spend money on both an excellent flash and a reflector/bouncing card. If you point the flash at the food, the light will fall harshly, obscuring the details and making the food appear lifeless and unappealing.
The best way to illuminate food is with a reflector. To get the best results when photographing food, play around with the angles, camera settings, and light intensity.
5. Not Setting The Light On Different Sides
As long as you don’t stick to one side when you set the light, you can do a lot with food photography lighting. Try different lighting techniques on the food photography backdrops, such as front lighting, back lighting, and side lighting.
Take a look at those three images of dishes and tell me how they differ.
When using front lighting, there will be less shadow cast on the food, making it a safe choice. The end result is decent enough without any additional work.
Side lighting is commonly used to highlight the textures and contrasts of food while also bringing attention to the finer details.
Even though it’s difficult, using backlighting is well worth the time and effort. As a result, the background is clear and bright, which helps draw attention to the food while also bringing out all of its wonderful details. To become proficient at backlighting, you must practice a lot (wrong exposure and automatic settings can cause dark shadows on your food, so always use manual settings).
Persevere in your attempts until you discover which methods work and which do not. Having mastered this, you’ll be able to take food photos that have a polished editorial appearance.
6. Not Using Fresh Ingredients
Food photography tips are all about capturing the visual appeal of the food, so make sure everything is in tip-top shape before you begin shooting.
It only takes one piece of wilted lettuce in the salad or a bruised tomato to utterly ruin your shot, so don’t even consider trying to find an angle that will hide the flaws.
To avoid having to put in additional time and effort, only use the freshest ingredients.
7. Shooting Only After The Cooking Is Done
If you wait until after the food has been cooked to take pictures, you’ll miss out on many good photo opportunities.
Don’t begin after the food has been cooked; rather, begin prepping the ingredients long before cooking begins! Some foods don’t look their best after they’ve been cooked (think of boring soup, pasta with white sauce, or brown dishes like chili, beans, or stuffing).
When adding a garnish doesn’t make a difference, you might want to consider photographing the cooking process instead. Sometimes, the raw or half-cooked ingredients look more appetizing than the finished dish.
8. Choose Your Angle
When it comes to food photography, there are only a handful of common camera angles you’ll see time and time again. However, you must choose wisely. The type of story you want to tell will be influenced by where you place the camera.
Prepare the food in advance. Its dimensions, form, and height, as well as what makes it special. Then position the camera in a way that you believe best showcases these characteristics. Some dishes look best when photographed from directly in front of the dish, while others look best when taken from directly above the table and looking down. If you look at the cupcakes below, the spiraled and delicate frosting really pops when viewed from the front, but when viewed from above, the viewer has no idea how big or small they really are!
To be fair, if you shoot from the front, it’s difficult to see everything in these salmon tacos, so the angle from above was the best choice.
9. Not Taking Photos With Negative Space
When it comes to photographing food, many photographers use one of two methods:
+ completing the picture to reveal the entire dish;
+ obtaining close-up photographs of the food in order to reveal all of its delicious details
+ They neglect to take photos with negative space, which is an important technique to know.
So be ready to accommodate your clients when they need a logo or some writing in a photo, leave a blank space.
10. Natural Is Best Modified
Food photography can be taken to the next level by mastering the art of manipulating light. If you don’t know how to use light properly, your story will be ruined and your audience will lose interest immediately. As a result, avoiding distracting elements in your lighting will greatly improve the quality of your food photography.
Direct natural light can give really hard and defined shadows like beneath the lemon cake on the left. Where those shadows are softened in the image to the right, with a little help from a cheap diffusor.
The first thing you should do is put a diffuser between your window and your table. A diffusor (or even a thin white bed sheet) will greatly improve the quality of light when working with direct sunlight. Softening the harsh, dark shadows and glaring highlights that come from the sun’s rays.
Using white and black cards really gives you control over the shadow areas. A white card was used to brighten up that lemon frosting on the left, but if you prefer more contrast than grab a black card and you’ll get an image like the one on the right.
White and black cards are the next two to be dealt. Foam core boards, available at any craft store, can be used to create these. Use white cards to bounce light into shadow areas, revealing important details, or black cards to intensify shadows for more contrast. Size them to your needs.
Nothing really changes between these two images except for a black card that was used to stop light from hitting the background, making sure the cake was the brightest area of the photograph.
For those of you who prefer to work with natural light, there’s a trick to it. My term for it is blocking (also known as “gobos”). Natural light can sometimes fall on your background or props and make them as bright as or even brighter than your subject.
If the brightest spot in your photo isn’t your subject, it can detract from the rest of your story. You can prevent light from illuminating areas that compete with your subject by using your black cards. This is also a critical technique for achieving a darker, more subdued aesthetic in your photographs.
Here is the final image, with a diffusor softening the window light, a white card to fill in the shadow on the lemon frosting and a black card to block the light on the background.
11. Using Too Much Food For Plating
While it may be alluring to pile as much food as possible on the plate, it will not look appealing when captured on camera. The more there is to eat, the more difficult it will be for the audience to focus on the most important things.
When it comes to food photography, simplicity is key, so leave plenty of room on the plate so that the subject can be clearly seen. When it comes to fashion, less is more!
12. Letting The Food Sit Around For Too Long
Some foods necessitate rapid movement and completion of all tasks as soon as they are ready.
Salad greens, for example, will begin to wilt after a short time, while meat will begin to dry out after a long period of time. Do your setup ahead of time so you’re ready to go when the food arrives.
Empty plates and bowls can be used to set up and then replaced with full ones when the food is done.
13. Not Paying Attention To The Props And Styling
Props and styling, like a little makeup, can make or break a photo shoot. Styling for food photography appears simple, but it’s not.
This can be accomplished best by keeping everything as simple and uncluttered as possible, especially the props. Because the food should be the star of the photo, avoid using crockery and other tableware that might draw attention away from it. This is true even if the items are visually appealing. Props and backgrounds should be in muted colors, and the food should be the star of the show.
There will be a lot of close-up shots, so make sure everything is spotless. Ensure that your prop is free of crumbs and liquid (unless you deliberately do that for style). When you zoom in to see the finer details of the food, any flaws become apparent and detract from the overall presentation.
By incorporating photo printing products into your food photography tips, you can come up with creative prop ideas that will look stunning in your images.
14. Keeping The Food As It Is
Never stop taking pictures of the food once it’s on the table for you to photograph it. Serve up a few bites after you’ve dug in.
Slices of this cake, for example, make it look more appetizing because they reveal the colors and textures of the cake’s interior, giving the audience a better idea of what it tastes like.
You can also include human elements and movements in your photographs, which will liven up an otherwise dull image. The photo below shows the sauce being poured into the dessert in motion, making it more visually appealing than a still image of the dessert and sauce alone.
15. Not Adding A Story Or Depth To The Photo
Go the extra mile by including a story about the dish, such as where it came from or what time of year it was harvested.
Tagine pot, banana leaf, and chopsticks can all be used to serve Moroccan tagine or Thai pad thai. If you’re serving pumpkin soup or apple pie, use brown and dried leaves as decorations. If you’re serving something colder, add a few Christmas decorations.
Do not overthink your choice; instead, keep it simple and understate your case.