Scroll through your Instagram or Pinterest feed. Which photos stand out, and which ones do you scroll past?
If you’re anything like me, you’re drawn to brightly colored images with a clear focus. Maybe that’s a photo of a friend’s pizza from a local pop up, or one of a remote destination, highlighting the white sand beaches and bright blue waters.
Before diving into food photography tips, here’s an assignment: scroll through social media or flip through a food magazine and find 10 food photos that you love. Write out what it is that you like about each image — it’s ok if you don’t know technical terms. Use these photos for inspiration and to create a list of ideas to try when taking pictures of food in the future.
With the right knowledge, you can take beautiful photos of the food you make — no fancy equipment or cameras needed. Whether you’re taking food photos on your iPhone or a DSLR, these tips can help make your drool-worthy food look a little more mouthwatering.
So much of photo quality comes down to lighting. The easiest way for home bakers, cooks, and food artisans to take advantage of good lighting? Check the weather, and base your photo schedule around it. Leading food photographers recommend that you take your food photos near a window or another source of natural light — and the lighting won’t be any good if it’s dark and stormy outside.
Instead of taking a photo on your kitchen counter under your overhead lights, move closer to a window.
Supplementary lighting can be added in the way of soft boxes, the flash on your camera, or even by moving a lamp closer to the scene — but nothing really beats natural lighting. In fact, I’d recommend that you not use the flash on your camera because it tends to draw out the worst in your photo. But the easiest (and cheapest) way to improve your food photography is by harnessing the natural light.
After light, there’s color. Natural lighting helps unlock the true colors of your dish — without the right lighting, the bright or muted tones of your food might not come across on camera.
Adding color doesn’t have to be difficult. Think: a white edible flower on a dark colored cake from your home bakery, or a green parsley garnish on a meal that you offer as part of your meal prep business. Look to a color wheel for optimal color pairings. Colors that are across from each other on the color wheel will be the most complementary to each other, and add visual interest to draw viewers in.
Most food photos are taken in one of three ways: overhead, straight on, or at an angle in between those two. Think about the textures of your food and how you can best convey them to the viewer, and select a few angles from there.
It’s worth trying out a variety of angles to see what you like best. Different foods will call for different photo styles. Experimentation with overhead shots or other angles will help create your Instagram feed’s signature style, too.
There’s a fine line between just enough and too much when it comes to arranging and staging your food. You should always focus your photo on one singular item (your homemade food, in this case), moving it to the front of your scene.
One professional photography tip I’ve picked up is the toothpick trick. Have a rogue berry that won’t stop rolling around, or trying to stack something up high? Use a toothpick to hold it in place.
You should also try to remove any random items or wrinkles that will make editing more difficult later. Things like shiny surfaces, dirty tables, and splatter on plates can be fixed in editing, but if you can, it’s better to just take care of them in real life.
Let’s say you’re taking a photo of a fresh pizza. It’s hot out of the oven, giving the perfect cheese pull. It’s basically Instagram-like bait! Now think about how it would look if it had been in a box for 45 minutes and was lukewarm. The cheese would probably be a little more firm, the pepperonis might not be as crispy and shiny, and it would generally look… old.
The easy fix for this is to take photos of food that’s fresh out of the oven, off of the stove, or straight from the freezer. Photograph food at its optimal state — the way you’d like to eat it.
Always take more photos than you need, too. It’s better to have too many than to realize you didn’t get a good photo.
Antique shops and thrift stores have great food props that tend to be affordable. Always be on the hunt for glassware, linens and napkins, vintage plates, old flatware, and flat dishes that can be used for photo backgrounds. Browse other photos for inspiration — remember that list of photos you made earlier? Were there any special props or “extras” that you really liked?
A few props can make all the difference when it comes to setting the scene and creating a certain mood in your photos. Even showing someone’s (manicured, moisturized) hand grabbing a slice of cake or picking up a brownie can add visual interest to your photos.
If you’re a home-based food entrepreneur or cottage cook, you’re probably taking photos for your website or social media. When you’re shooting for social media, consider taking photos vertically more often than horizontally. Why? It’s simple — they take up more room in other people’s social media feeds. When you’re scrolling through Instagram, a vertical photo stretches to fill more of your phone’s screen than a short horizontal one does.
By default, Instagram crops photos to squares, but you can post vertical images to your feed with one extra step. Once you’ve opened the photo you’d like to post on Instagram, select the small crop icon in the bottom left of the main image screen to un-crop the image.
There are countless photo editing apps and tools out there:
The list goes on and on. No matter which tool you use to edit your photos, keep in mind the look and feel that you want to convey on your social media feeds and on your website. Your photos should be edited to complement that feeling. Some cooks choose a certain filter or preset in an editing app that they use across all of their photos to create a consistent look and feel.
It can be helpful to watch video tutorials and read guides on photo editing. In general, you don’t want to edit your photos beyond recognition — your photos should be true representations of the food you’re cooking and selling.
Your photos will be more clear and will look more professional if they’re not blurry. Even if you have steady hands, a tripod simplifies food photography. A tripod with a 90 degree arm or a side arm can be especially useful for top down videos and photos. Even a small, table-top tripod can make a big difference in your photo quality.
If you don’t want to buy a tripod, use your elbows as a makeshift tripod. To steady yourself while photographing your food, place your elbows on a stable surface while you hold your camera or phone.
Photography is an art — and it’s not something that you can learn in one day. Through the process of trial and error, though, you’ll learn what works for your environment and what suits your preferences.
Play around with lighting, angles, colors, and backgrounds to find a combination that you like. Use the world around you as inspiration — magazines, newspapers, social media posts, and more are fodder for new ideas to try when you’re taking food photos.