In a world where we are constantly flooded with images, it’s no wonder that food photography has become one of the most popular genres. As a food photographer, you are constantly competing to grab the viewer’s attention, and while anyone with a smartphone can snap a photo of their dinner, there are more than simple steps to improve your photos.
The aim of my work is to teach you how to enhance your food photography skills and create killer images. With some practice, you can take mouth-watering photos that will make your audience drool.
Composition is key
I could sound cliche, but composition is the base of food photography and any photography genre. There are a lot of composition rules to follow, but you don’t need to overwhelm; I will be more practical, showing you some fantastic ideas that you could apply to your food shots.
- Look for a balance in the frame; never center the food right in the middle unless it has a purpose, for example, a menu dish.
- Using props, try to place elements entering or exiting the frame without distracting the main dish or element. Once again, to balance the composition.
- If there is any geometrical shape in the food, like straight lines, try to lead the eye to the essential element. The idea is always to grab the attention of the hero.
- If using some geometric shape background, use it to your advantage to lead the eye. Usually, “straight” lines always work well as a diagonal.
Perspective on Food Photography
Perspective on food photography is no exception; you can use it to your advantage. Some purist photographers will say that you need to use one type of lens in particular to get the most accurate representation of the food, but it depends on what you want to portray.
I’ll give you some examples: Imagine you want to photograph a burger and highlight how juicy the patty is. In this case, I would use a 50mm lens or even a 35mm shooting from a low angle close to it to make the patty look like a superhero and more prominent than usual. Remember that perspective is very subjective. Play with it.
If you want more basic info about perspective, here are some standards:
- Flat lay shots are always famous on Instagram and restaurant menus because it shows the whole dish.
- A 45-degree angle shot is usually the all-around shot for many uses, it shows details of the dish, and you can play with more depth.
- Straight-on angle is often used to show details of the food; it is perfect for a hero shot where you want to highlight some ingredients or part of the dish. Sometimes these kinds of shots are close-up ones.
Props to enhance the scene
Food photography can use many props to make the subject more interesting. Some standard props include plates, silverware, napkins, tablecloths, cutting boards, and knives. These items can help set the scene and make the food look more appetizing.
Textured backgrounds such as walls, countertops, or DIY backdrops can also add depth and interest to the photo.
If you think out of the box, anything could be a prop. Imagine the dish is a delicious bolognese spaghetti dish with tomato sauce just out of the stove, think about the ingredients of that dish, and there you have the props, some fresh garlic, some sliced tomatoes to show texture, and a piece of parmesan cheese.
Another great prop that always works excellently is hands holding utensils or some of the food.
One thing to keep in mind is that less is often more. Too many props can make a photo look cluttered and busy. It is also important to use props that complement the food rather than compete with it for attention.
Add Color to the Scene
If the food you photograph is all one color, it won’t stand out. The use of a variety of colors really enhances your images. Use as many colors as you can in every photo you take.
Some practical and easy tips:
Try to use analogous colors with the background and the food. For example, if you photograph some eggplants, you could use a purple-ish backdrop to match the eggplant color.
Try complementary colors with props, backdrops, and food garnish. Imagine you are photographing some bananas, a complementary color would be a tone blue.
Try to create a natural environment to aim for an organic feel. This kind of shot always works as a lay flat. Take care of the composition within the mess. Experiment and, of course, add color.
Editing your photos
My editing process for food photography is pretty simple because I always try to get the best shot on camera and not leave it for post-production. But there are always ways to improve your food photos in the editing process. Here are some excellent tips that will help when you get to the editing part.
- Shoot several photos from the same angle on a tripod without moving the camera or focal length, trying to move the props and main element. This will help you choose the best frame or even mask some elements in the frame to get the perfect composition.
- As mentioned, shoot different frames where you can play with bounce cards to mask the part of the frame you like better in photoshop.
- Less is better; try to use fewer colour profiles. I personally use a flat profile that gives you more flexibility when editing and a natural look.
- When developing the photos in lightroom, or any other software of your preference, change the parameter one by one and check on every step before and after to avoid overdoing any value. My starting point is 30% – 40% up the highlights and blacks, open 15% – 30% the shadows, add around 10% vibrance and saturation, and 30%-40% sharpening. Be aware that all these parameters depend on the resolution of your photo and the exposure you shoot at.
These tips should help you improve your food photography skills. With practice, you should be able to start producing great food photos. One of the best value tips I can give you is experimenting with different exposures, angles, lenses, light, and composition. Mess it up so you understand what is wrong and what you should avoid. Making mistakes is the best way to learn because it creates that memory.