Over the last decade, food photography has become a popular and creative niche in the photography industry. What once began as a method of capturing cuisine for menus and restaurant marketing, has now evolved into a category infused with lifestyle, design, and community.
Whether you photograph food for restaurants, your personal cooking blog or recipe cookbooks, there are multiple ways to create captivating and unique imagery of life’s delicacies. Let’s discuss six tips for beginning food photographers:
- Focus on Composition
- Use Natural Light
- Choose the Right Lens
- Infuse Color
- Add Movement and Action
- Create a Cohesive Set Design
Tip 1: Focus on Composition
When photographing food, it is necessary to focus on creating a good composition.
Composition refers to the way multiple elements such as color, patterns, texture, symmetry, and depth work together to form your image.
In food photography, you will want to examine the objects you will photograph and assess your setting to understand the way they work together to create a visually appealing layout.
In order to build the composition, you will need to photograph the same setting from a variety of viewpoints to infuse variety and creativity. For example, let’s say you are photographing a bowl of pasta on a wooden table.
To create various forms of composition, you may photograph the scene from a bird’s eye overhead view, a few feet from the table at eye level, or close up for detailed shots. In this case, you have adjusted nothing in your scene but rather change your own perspective.
In composing food imagery, you will want to highlight the aspects of your layout that will visually appeal to the viewer. This could be that the texture of the food, the detail of the dish on which it is presented or the arrangement of the design elements infused into the set. Understanding the way each element compliments each other will create an image with intentional framing and composition.
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Tip 2: Use Natural Light
When creating food photography, choosing the proper lighting can make or break your images. Using lighting that is harsh or artificial can result in images that appear fake, unrealistic and create unnecessary distracting elements such as shadows or glares in your frame.
In order to avoid undesirable lighting conditions, it is best to aim for the use of natural light. Natural light creates softness in an image that will highlight your plated subject.
If you are photographing a scene outside, natural light is easy to use and readily available. The real task is for creating images that are shot inside. In order to avoid competing for light sources, it is best to turn off all fluorescent or tungsten overhead lighting.
Instead of relying on your artificial lighting source, find a place in your setting that allows for the most natural light. This may involve creating your layout on a table next to the window and allowing the light to illuminate your dish.
In other scenarios, advanced food photographers will use a continuous, external light source for their imagery. Since lighting setups can be a more intricate process, we recommend that as a beginner you develop your images in the most natural lighting situation. Be intentional and creative in your process and understand how to utilize and manipulate the natural lighting to your advantage.
Tip 3: Choose the Right Lens
Determining which lens to use for photographing food all depends on what kind of images you will want to create.
- Will you focus on close up, detail images?
- Or will you be capturing the entirety of the layout – food, utensils, plates and set design elements?
Each scenario will consist of various framing methods, requiring different lens choices for you to consider.
In the majority of your shoots, you will want to use a fixed focal lens. Since using a wide angle or zoom lens can easily create distortion in your images, you will want to integrate the use of a lens that is of one focal length, adjusting your position as necessary.
For food photography, using a combination of 35 mm or 50 mm lenses would create variety in your image set.
A 50 mm lens can be used to create sharp close up shots, as well as overhead compositions if given plenty of space between you and your subject. The 35 mm lens would allow for more room in the frame and would be best to use if you wanted to photograph multiple dishes, the length of a table or full meal spreads.
Choosing a lens is specific to the intention and style of the photographer. Once you have determined the intended composition and framing of your food photography, you can then decide which lens will be the most beneficial in creating your work.
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Tip 4: Infuse Color
One simple way to create visual appeal and interest in your food photography is to infuse color.
In most dishes, color is the defining element that makes a plate appealing to the viewer. Depending on the type, origin and cultural influence of the dish will determine the colorfulness of its ingredients. If you are photographing a dish that lacks the vibrancy to capture your viewer, there are a few ways you can spice it up.
Fruits and vegetables are guaranteed to create a variety in your color palette. If you find your dish looking bland or boring, consider pairing it with a complimentary fruit or vegetable. You can choose to add it directly to your plate or even place in close proximity for added visual cohesiveness.
You can also add color by using herbs and spices to garnish your meal. As you can see in the image, the use of spices such as chili powder, cumin or crushed red peppers creates a dynamic array to an otherwise simple dish.
The last way you can add color to your food photography is through your choice of plates and utensils. Instead of choosing to add color to the food itself, integrate the use of a bright and vibrant dish. This technique will automatically draw the viewer’s attention to your main course.
Tip 5: Add Movement and Action
Integrating the use of movement and action gives a human touch to your images. As photographers, we are always telling a story through the photographs we create and this is no different for our food photography.
Food photography brings forth the concept of gathering, community, and memories around the table. In order to bring your still images to life, it is necessary to add action to your creative process.
To create movement in your images, you can show the process of cooking rather than just the final product. This technique is effective in scenarios such as recipe building, where you can show step-by-step the building of your meal.
For instance, you can capture the chef pouring syrup onto a plate of pancakes, sugar being sprinkled onto a batch of fresh cookies or cheese being tossed onto the pizza dough.
You can also use a model to showcase the act of preparing, prepping and eating the meal. Make sure that your framing is intentional and that any human elements do not distract from the overall food image.
By adding movement and action to your images, you are allowing the viewer to feel connected and engaged with the act of building a meal.
Tip 6: Create a Cohesive Set Design
The final tip for creating quality food photography is to integrate the use of a creative and cohesive set design.
As previously mentioned, your goal and intention should be to tell a story through your images. In order to capture the viewer’s attention and ignite interest, you will want to create a layout that is visually detailed and engaging.
Some ways to achieve professional food photography can be:
- to create a theme that correlates to the dishes you are photographing,
- focus on a specific holiday or celebration or
- tailoring your set design to the season that correlates with your dish.
You can create quality set designs by choosing decorative elements such as well designed plates, cups or utensils, delicate napkins, bouquets of flowers, splashes of spices around the dish or even handcrafted backdrops. Use the entirety of your setting to its fullest extent, adding and removing elements as you see fit.
It is important to remember that high-quality food imagery is not only about what is on the plate, but is the overall aesthetic and creative design that tells the story of your meal.
As you can see, creating captivating food photography can be done through composition, color, natural light, movement, design and using the proper gear. Are you a food photographer or interested in breaking into the world of food photography? Share with us your experience and insight in the comments below!
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Food Photography Tips Summary (Infographic)
Shannon Ciricillo is photographer working with digital and film formats, she is currently based in New York City.