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40 Simple Ways to Wildly Improve Your Food Photography

Whether you’re a food blogger who creates her own recipes, a foodie who loves taking the perfect shot for Instagram, or someone who just enjoys making their food look lovely for their friends and family, these 40 tricks for improving your food photography will make your food photos look sharp, eye-catching, and absolutely beautiful. Read more of my photography advice, here.

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40 Simple Ways to Wildly Improve Your Food Photography. Advice, tips, examples, and ideas. Food Photography Inspiration

Many of these tips can be used either at home or in a restaurant, but remember to be respectful and self-aware if you’re going to do anything in public. I never decorate another chef’s work, so I don’t recommend that you decorate another person’s space or dishes when out in public; however, you can keep these tips in mind when ordering your meal to ensure your photos are interesting. Keep an eye out for my forthcoming Photographer’s Guide to Respectfully Taking Photos in a Restaurant, if you plan to use these tips in a restaurant setting.

Consider the Table Scape for Food Photography

What’s in the background of a food photo is just as important as the main focus of the image, presumably a single dish, or collection of dishes. By taking a moment to thoughtfully plan out the background of your image, including details that might not be in focus in your photo, you’ll create a more cohesive food image. arrange multiple, smaller, or less in-focus items in the background of the photo to achieve your desired look, you’ll not only better highlight the main focus of your image, but you’ll also significantly improve your food photography.

Above: Left: Gaijin in Traverse City, MI    Middle: Summer House Santa Monica in Chicago, IL   Right: Pizzeria Portofino in Chicago, IL

Ways to Improve Your Tablescape  

Add a lovely tablecloth or use an intentionally bare table (when searching online for linens, try keywords like ‘eyelet,’ ‘hemstitch,’ ‘whipstitch,’ ‘vintage,’ ‘linen,’ ‘salvaged,’ and ‘distressed’)
Use cloth napkins with or without napkin holders (don’t be afraid of prints!)
(Fold napkins or place them haphazardly under dishes)
Include fresh flowers in a beautiful vase
Utilize props like a vintage camera, rings, purses, hats, etc. in the background
Use name cards or place-setting cards
Feature the menu or course cards in the photos when applicable

Syoka Luxury Restaurant in Nara, Japan Teorisushi Build Your Own Sushi Rolls in an Elegant Japanese Style Tea House Luxury Restaurants of the World by Annie Fairfax

Above: Syoka Restaurant in Nara, Japan

Consider the Lighting to Improve Food Photography

The most important aspect of any photo is finding the proper lighting, without which no photo can hope to turn out properly. If possible, take photos near a window, away from direct sunlight. You can completely control your photo’s lighting by learning to use your camera’s settings properly. Keep in mind that many dishes look better and more dramatic in a low-light setting, so don’t feel like you have to keep your photos bright and airy to make them beautiful.

Above: Left: Charlotte Restaurant in Seattle, Washington    Middle: Aquamarine at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Orlando, FL   Right: Aerie at Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City, MI

How to Improve Your Lighting

Learn to utilize your camera’s settings in low-lighting
Place your tablescape or sit near a window
Invest in a lightbox or DIY
Avoid using flash
Arrange items to avoid shadows

Consider the Color Scheme

Unless the theme of your meal is rainbows, having too many colors at once can be distracting and take away from the main focus, the food itself. Select a color or two, add in a neutral like beige, white, black, or even metallic colors like silver, bronze, and gold, and perhaps add one pop of color in the flowers, napkin holders, or coasters, and stick to those colors as closely as you can when it comes to selecting linens, dishware, and accent pieces. This will help improve your food photography!

Açai Bowl Garden Table Farm-Table Transparent Plant Based Dining in Indianapolis Luxury Restaurants of the World

Above: Smoothie Bowl at The Garden Table in Indianapolis, IN

Consider the Angles

I try to avoid the directly above food shot that has been so overdone on Instagram because I find it’s not only become a cliché, but also neglects to showcase the depth of the dish that was so carefully prepared for me. Instead, I opt for profile shots, that is to say, “head-on shots”.  Shots that show the subject from interesting angles that allow a glimpse of what’s behind the main subject of the photo are things I use regularly too. The profile shot is particularly useful in table settings that include multiple, stacked dishes, trays, charges, and food with height rather than width.

Don’t be afraid to rearrange the food on your plate, or change up the plating in between shots too. Simply rotating the plate the food is on, or standing up to change your angle of approach can make all the difference.

Dining at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

Above: Dessert at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI

Consider the Dishes

While some of my favorite food photos have been taken on plain white plates, they worked well only because the background of a European cafe, or tropical Caribbean beach made up for what the dishes were lacking. Using interesting plates can really make a photo “pop,” and some of my biggest inspiration in food photography has come about after seeing a unique dish in a thrift shop or yard sale. Don’t be afraid to forgo convention and use unusual objects as dishes, for instance, an old paint palette can be used to serve oils and herbed butter, or serving small bites on marble coasters can add interest to an otherwise plain side dish. If you’re in a restaurant, you won’t have much control over the dishes used, but you can ask for any sauces or dressings that might come with your meal to be served on the side so that you can control how much sauce is used and where it is placed on your dishes to draw attention and add color where you want it.

Above: Food at Kin Toh Treehouse Restaurant in Tulum, Mexico

When selecting dishes for food photography

Vary heights of dishes and glasses
Include multiple courses in one photo
Break out fine china
Place food on unique trays (silver, wooden trays, mother of pearl, acrylic, antique, etc.)
Use mismatched/eclectic dishes in one color scheme
Add textured cups and dishes
Incorporate vintage and unique silverware with monograms, swirls, filigree, inlays and more
Use functionally specific utensils (nutcrackers, butter knives, lemon forks, etc.)
Place food on a salt cooking block

Tinker Street in Indianapolis Luxury Restaurants of the World by Annie Fairfax

Above: Toasted Marshmallow Dessert served on a slate slab at Tinker Street in Indianapolis, IN

Consider the Plating

Plating food is just as important when photographing food as it is when serving it. Learn to present your food in the most appealing manner possible, and experiment with color distribution, textures, garnishes, and more to improve your food photography. Just as you can’t really control which dishes are used in a restaurant setting, you can control the amount, color, and type of dressing, sauces, and garnishes that come with your food if you request them on the side and add them yourself.

Lemon Magdalena Cake at Morocco Inside Epcot World Showcase Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival by Annie Fairfax

Above: Lemon Magdelena Cake with Edible Flowers & Jam Slip at Epcot in Walt Disney World

Try Adding

Edible flowers
Straws (spiral straws, metal straws, glass straws, bamboo straws, novelty straws, etc.)
Vary the food textures and colors (berries, salads, vegetables cut into shapes or spiralized, etc.)
Add breads like croissants, bagels, muffins, thick toasts, etc.
Use condiments to add interest and fill in the gaps (jams, butter dishes, creamers in ceramic or metal dishes, pats of butter, etc.)

Chocolate Brownie Aerie Restaurant at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme Traverse City Michigan Photographed by Annie Fairfax Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Fresh Berries

Above: Fresh fruit & fruit preserves decorate an otherwise ordinary brownie and ice cream at Aerie in Traverse City, MI

Don’t Forget the Drinks

Drinks, whether they’re alcoholic or not, can add interest, color, and texture to food photography, even if they aren’t the main focus of the image. Adding in a glass of bubbly, a colorful smoothie, or even a glass of ice water with flower ice cubes and fresh herbs can take a food photo from plain to exciting as quickly as you can say “cheers!”

Above: Left: Lychee Drink at Shanghai Terrace in Chicago      Right: Pim’s Cup at Prost in Frankenmuth, MI

Accessorize Your Food Photography

Straws (spiral straws, metal straws, glass straws, bamboo straws, novelty straws, etc.)
Fruit on the edge of glasses
Fresh Herbs in drinks, on dishes, inside ice cubes, etc.
Coasters
Swizzle Sticks
Ice Cubes Full of Fresh Flowers
Interesting vintage glasses, mason jars, or silver cups

Gaijin Japanese Restaurant in Traverse City Michigan Best Places to Eat in Michigan by Annie Fairfax

Above: Drinks & Ramen at Gaijin Restaurant 

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I hope you found these tips useful for improving your food photography!

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25 Comments

  1. These tips are amazing. Food is hard to photograph, can’t wait to try these out!

    XOXO
    Cathy

    1. Thanks for reading Cathy, I hope these tips help! Can’t wait to see your food photos!

  2. Wow your food photography is stunning!! Whenever I take pics of food they never seem to look as good as the good does IRL, but you’ve totally figured it out. I need to bookmark this!!

    xx Mollie

    1. Thank you so much Mollie, you just made my day! I hope this guide helps you! Food photography is so much fun once you get the hang of it!

    1. I used to be too! I just needed to figure out how to use my camera, how to perfect the lighting, and how to compose the shot, nothing else is as important as those three things!

  3. These are such great tips!

  4. This is amazing girl! So helpful and comprehensive. Definitely not an expert at food photography so will be bookmarking for sure!

    xx, Danielle | Pineapple & Prosecco

    1. I hope these tips help! Food photography is so fun and such a great creative outlet!

  5. The food photography on your page is always fantastic, so these tips were super helpful to read! Thanks for sharing your insight!

  6. You are seriously a pro!! This post is so helpful! I am always so bad with taking food shots and then I go out to dinner with my family and they are EVEN WORSE!! Now I can give them some helpful tips so we ALL don’t suck! haha

    1. Thank you so much Ashley! Don’t be afraid of trial and error. Find what works best for you and just have fun with editing, angles, etc. and invent your own style! That’s one of my favorite things about photography, no one can tell you what’s wrong or right and I think that’s incredible

  7. Everything looks yummy and beautiful!

  8. Love your photos – what kind of camera do you use? I can’t resist taking a good cocktail photo especially with a fun rim ?