With the popularity of social image sharing apps like Instagram, food photography has exploded in popularity. Seriously – pick up your phone and browse through Instagram. We bet every third photo will be of someone’s lunch. If you want to be a food photographer in this competitive online world, it’s important that you know how to make your photos stand out from the crowd.
A great food photo needs to capture and celebrate a meal’s textures, colours, traits and overall deliciousness. If your food photographs don’t make you hungry, you’re doing something wrong. So here are some tips to make sure you get food photography right. These tips can apply to shooting on a smartphone or camera – it’s not the tools, it’s how you use them!
Don’t underestimate the importance of the ‘setting’ of your photograph. The food is the star, but the background and setting are very important for setting the tone of your photograph and adding dimension and personality. Napkins, utensils, garnishes (like herbs, grated cheese, chilli, chives), glassware, raw ingredients – make sure that the all the elements you choose to have in your photograph complement each other and the tone of the dish. We recommend that you learn the basics of the colour wheel, as this will help you to know which colours look best together.
Avoid cluttering your photo with too many accessories – the food should always be the focus. This seems obvious, but always make sure that the setting and all accessories are spotless, and, if you’re going for a clean and professional aesthetic, don’t forget to wipe any splashes of food from the sides of the plate/bowl/board you’re using.
Don’t want to use accessories or have a background? You can also zoom in and have the entire focus of your photograph be the food. The main thing to bear in mind is that your staging and photographic techniques should be thoughtful, intentional and planned.
The right lighting is one of the most important aspects of great food photography. If you want naturalistic and wholesome photographs, natural, indirect lighting from a window is often the best choice. A shady spot on a sunny day is ideal, as it will give the food a bright, even glow without tinting the colours (like indoor lighting does). If you’re shooting at home, it’s often best to set up near a window. If the light coming through the window is too harsh, diffuse it with a white sheet. Ideally, place your food so that the light illuminates it from a slight angle or from behind, as this will create shadow, highlight texture and prevent the food from appearing flat. Avoid direct sunlight, as this tends to create dark and distracting shadows and make the whites and light colours so bright that they lose all texture and shape. Also… never use a flash! As tempting as it may be, the flash will hit your food too directly and create harsh reflections and glare. Pictures taken in low lighting can easily be fixed with the right editing software.
Check out the rule of thirds, as this should be your guide when composing photographs. Your phone or camera should have a ‘grid’ option in its settings – enable it when you are taking photos, as it will make adhering to the rule of thirds much easier. Generally, try to avoid placing your subject in the direct centre of the frame, as this can appear unbalanced and a little amateurish.
In terms of the angle you shoot at, food often looks best when shot as if it’s being presented to the viewer on a plate… this is usually from the front, at a 45 degree(ish) angle. Dishes that are completely flat, like soup or pizza, can be photographed from above, but other more textured dishes will likely be flattened by a bird’s eye view. For more information on camera angles, see great camera angles for food photography.
To Zoom or Not to Zoom?
This comes down to what you are photographing and the type of picture you want to create. Sometimes, a specific element of a dish is more exciting and enticing than the dish as a whole. In this case, zoom in on this area and snap away. Other times, the food may appear greater and more interesting when taken in a zoomed out manner that captures the whole (a mixed platter or a selection of cheeses, for example).
Depth of Field
Depth of field refers to the range of distance that is in focus with a photograph. A shallow depth of field, which is very common in food photography, has only a small range of distance in focus – meaning it draws the viewer’s eye to a particular aspect of the image. Take the image below, for example, which we shot for Restaurant Two. We wanted to include a background in this image (to add a sense of place), but we didn’t want the background to detract from the main point of the photo (the delicious dessert). So, we used a shallow depth of field to isolate the dessert and make sure that the viewer’s eye is on the food and not the wine glasses in the background!
For more information about depth of field, see understanding depth of field for beginners.
We could go on for pages about food photography, but hopefully these tips are enough to get you started. Being a food photographer is one of the best jobs out there, so we wish you the best of luck.
Need a food photographer?
At Porfyri Photography, we are passionate about photography in all its forms. When it comes to food photography, our goal is to bring food to life through exceptional photographs and dedication to our craft. We have taken food photographs for numerous business throughout Australia, including the Coffee Club, Dumpling Republic, Ribs & Rumps, Chez Nous and many others. We love the thought and work that goes into creating mouth-wateringly fantastic images – So, If you need a food photographer, we’re your team. Contact us to find out more.