How to Start with Food Photography: A Quick-Start Guide
Silvain • updated November 5, 2022 • 5 min read
Silvain • updated November 5, 2022 • 5 min read
There’s no better subject for photography than food; gorgeous food. From home-cooked feasts to all the deliciousness at brunch with your best friends, learn how to capture every bite with these smart and creative food photography tips.
Art history is full of beautiful still life featuring fruit meals and the last supper. And it wasn’t long after the invention of photography in 1839 that we were aiming our cameras at our favorite subject: food.
The rest, as they say, is history. Tasty, beautiful food photos filled cookbooks and advertisements around the world.
Photographers have devoted their entire careers to food photography as an art form.
With the rise of social media and powerful digital cameras in every pocket (or smartphone), it has become even more popular. Today, food photography is a passion for millions of people who enjoy sharing their homemade creations and culinary discoveries with the world. Everything you need to know for good food photos.
Whether you’re photographing your brunch at a cool cafe or your last tray of homemade cookies in your kitchen, natural light is your friend.
Not only is it versatile and flattering, but it’s also free! That’s why many food bloggers eat lunch instead of dinner.
Avoid using flash when photographing food, as this can result in harsh and unnatural-looking photos.
Food photography is all about getting really sharp and detailed shots. Tripods make this much easier. They prevent camera shake, which is caused by our hands.
Tripods come in countless shapes and sizes, and they are available for both smartphones and large SLR cameras.
If you want to take foodie photos while traveling or visiting restaurants, you could invest in a very small tripod that you can place directly on the table.
A large tripod is a better choice for your own cooking creations, as it gives you full control over your composition.
Whether you’re shooting with a phone or a professional system camera, you’ll always need a low ISO to take sharp and tasty food photos.
An ISO of around 400 or below will ensure clean images without noise or grain. This is crucial for food photography, as you can make sure that no details are lost.
A large aperture setting, such as f/2.8 or even f/1.8, is popular with portrait and fashion photographers. They are more flattering and draw the viewer’s eye to the subject by blurring the background.
Use the same methods to make your food photos even more beautiful, so open the aperture of your lens as wide as possible. Conversely, decrease the aperture to around f/8 or f/11 if you want everything in your shot to be sharp.
Some dishes look better when photographed from the same height. For example, piled-high burgers and pancake towers look even bigger when photographed from a low angle. Here are the 3 camera angles for food photos.
However, some dishes look stunning when photographed directly from above.
Think colorful pizzas, salads, and pasta dishes. Flat overhead shots like these are also great for photographing multiple dishes at once.
A tripod can be very helpful when shooting this way, as it can be awkward and uncomfortable to shoot this way for an extended period of time.
The most important thing is to experiment until you find the right angle for the dish you’re photographing, try some shots from below and some from above until you see what works best.
To take beautiful photos while eating, you should sit at a table near a window. This will give you the most of the natural light.
It also allows you to use a lower ISO (400 or lower is ideal) and a faster shutter speed (1/250 or slower is best). If the scene is too bright, take your plate in hand and place it on another table further away from the window to get your shot.
Open the aperture as wide as you can to blur the background and let the food take center stage.
Food photography at home is great because you simply have more control. Move the food from room to room to follow the sun, and test out different window lighting and use natural light.
For example, your kitchen window might be perfect for capturing morning light, while your dining room might be better lit in the evening. Also, experiment with lamps, diffuser, and reflectors to shape and control your light.
Set your phone or camera on a tripod for sharp food photos. Still, choose a wide aperture to blur the background and let the food take center stage.
With good light and a tripod, you can use a lower ISO of around 100 or 160 and faster shutter speeds of 1/500 and above for nice sharp images.
Food photo ideas:
The biggest challenge when photographing food at outdoor markets and foodie festivals is the bright sunlight you’ll likely be shooting in.
The good thing about this is that you don’t need a tripod, as you’ll have enough light to shoot at fast shutter speeds like 1/500 and above, as well as the lowest ISO possible (e.g. 160 or lower).
Use a larger aperture like f/8 or f/10 to get the entire market stalls in focus, or open the aperture to f/2.8 to get just a specific subject in focus while blurring the background.
If you’re buying something from a food truck or stand, find a shadier spot where you won’t have to photograph your food in the blazing sun.
Styling your scenes and using creative props can make your good food photos great. For example, try incorporating some of the ingredients and cooking utensils used to prepare the dish – a whisk, rolling pin, or chef’s knife.
A wedge of fresh lemon can add a bit of color to photos of a lemon crumble cake. Or sprinkle a handful of blueberries on pancakes to add some color and contrast.
Use bright sauce bottles and oils to brighten up the background. Or use towels and place mats to add extra detail, color, and texture to your shots.
Always make sure the colors you use match the food you’re photographing. Remember that the star of the show should always be the food.
Give your food style a human touch. Ask your partner, friend, or child to grab a fork or spoon and reach out. That way, the viewer can better imagine what it would be like to have your beautiful dish in front of them.
Whether you’re photographing salads, cakes or steaks, beautiful plates or bowls can work wonders. Round plates are much easier to photograph than square or rectangular ones.
Also, plates with pretty patterns and bright colors are perfect for making plain food look more appealing. Try to match your plates to your props and overall food styling for a cohesive image.
Just make sure they don’t eat it all before you’ve taken your shots! And don’t forget to ask them to clean their hands and fingernails if you want to zoom in close.
Sprinkle your savory dishes with fresh herbs and spices or add a dab of salsa. Crush peppercorns or chop chilies to add the finishing touch to your dish.
Grate some cheese to jazz up a pasta dish, or drizzle your fruit dishes with honey or syrup to make them shine. Garnishing your plates is the secret to beautiful food photos.
Just make sure the combinations taste as good as they look. Hot peppers may look great on a chocolate cake, but the picture won’t look right because we all know how weird that would taste.
If you’re photographing alone, you can also get creative yourself. Take a bite or two of a cookie, or scatter some crumbs on the plate or table. Making your pictures even more realistic in this way will make them all the more enticing.
Food photography is perfect for documenting your restaurant adventures, whether in your kitchen or at a local café. Don’t be afraid to break the rules and try something new.
No food around, get your camera and give outdoor portrait photography a try, we have written extensively about this.
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