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.
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 chefs 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 insure 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
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.
Ways to improve your table scape:
Add a lovely tablecloth or use an intentionally bare table (when searching online for linens, try key words 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
Consider the Lighting
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 photos 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.
How to improve Your Lighting:
Learn to utilize your camera’s settings
Place your table scape 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, dish ware, and accent pieces.
Consider the Angles
I try to avoid the directly from above food shot that has been so overdone on Instagram, because I find it’s not only become a cliché, but it 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.
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 butters, 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.
When selecting dishes for food photography:
Vary heights of dishes and glasses
Include multiple courses in one photo
Break out the 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 (nut crackers, butter knives, lemon forks, etc.)
Place food on a salt cooking block
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.
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 dish, pats of butter, etc.)
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!”
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.
Ice Cubes Full of Fresh Flowers
Interesting vintage glasses, mason jars, or silver cups
I hope you found these tips useful for improving your food photography! Let me know what you think in the comments below, and be sure to tag me in your food photos @AnnieWearsit and @AnnieFairfax!
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