5 Important Things to Keep in Mind When Photographing Food

Bob Books
5th April 2016

Whether you need a regular stream of high-quality photos for your foodie blog or are hoping to learn how to photograph dishes and ingredients for restaurant menus, culinary websites, food magazines and cookbooks, the following pointers will help you start strong. 

1. Use natural light whenever possible

Food tends to look better when shot in natural light, so rather than playing around with your camera’s built-in flash, which could ruin the photos with its overly harsh light, look for a spot near a large window or skylight where you can get plenty of soft, natural light. 

Keep in mind, though, that on a sunny day even natural light might be too bright and cast harsh shadows, so if this is the case, you can try draping a white sheet over the window to diffuse the light, or move the food further away from the source of light.

2. Stabilise the camera

If there’s one thing food photographs need to be, it’s sharp. The best way to accomplish this, especially when shooting in lower light without a flash, is to use a tripod to stabilise the camera. 

If you don’t have a tripod, you can try stabilising the camera by placing it on a table or other firm surface, but this will greatly limit your ability to move around and try different angles, so a tripod is definitely a good investment if you intend to photograph food on a regular basis. 

3. Style the food

If you want food to look appealing, you can’t just plop it onto a plate and start taking pictures of it. Think about the dish or food item you’re photographing and use props that will enhance it. 

For instance, a photo of a freshly baked croissant could include some butter and jam in the background, while a handful of whole coffee beans might complement a steaming cup of black coffee and a sprig of Rosemary could make those expertly roasted lamb chops look even more appealing. 

Avoid overcrowding the plate and background, however, as you want the subject of your photo to be easily identifiable. Also, remember the rule of thirds when composing your image.  

4. Try a few different angles 

Certain dishes, such as soups or pizza, might look more appetising when photographed from directly above, while others, such as tiered cakes or hamburgers, would be decidedly unimpressive when shot from above and will require a more head-on angle. 

The easiest way to figure out what looks best for each dish is to try shooting from a few different angles, so don’t be afraid to move around and experiment with height and depth. No matter what angle you choose, though, make sure you keep your camera straight, as camera slant will produce confusing and unattractive images. 

5. Pay attention to the details

Food and menu photography is all about the details, so spend a moment taking everything in before you start shooting. Never use glasses or dishes that are smudged or dirty, and be sure to wipe up any unappealing crumbs or grease that may have found their way onto the plate or table while you were cutting or moving the food. 

Also, keep in mind that the longer food sits out, the less appealing it will look, especially when it comes to dishes that are meant to be served hot or cold. With this in mind, you should always get your lighting and props sorted out before the real food comes out so you can begin shooting immediately.  

For tips on how to improve your photography skills and help to capture those all important moments, read our 20 essential photography tips.