Progress over Perfect
Here’s a fun fact: I’ve been taking food pictures since the 6th grade! Was it always amazing? NO! Especially in the beginning, a lot of the pictures were off-centered, angled awkwardly, or just had terrible color composition. But here’s what I’ve learned in my 10+ years of food photography: your daily progress matters more than finding that one-time “perfect” shot. With each day that you practice, you’ll make different mistakes. But here’s the cool part: you get to keep learning from those mistakes until one day, you realize you’re getting the hang of this after all!
I started food photography with a simple iPhone camera, and while I’ve since upgraded to my trusty Canon 5D Mark III, taking great food photos doesn’t have to involve owning expensive equipment or being a professional photographer. With the modern technology available these days, you can easily create professional-looking photographs on something as simple as your built-in smartphone camera!
Now that I’ve given my spiel on why anyone can learn the art of food photography, here are my top 8 tips to improve your food photography skills now! So pick up your phone or camera, follow along, and let’s make drool-worthy images!
An actual “me in action” shot by my friend Nicole circa 2016 and the finished photo
Food Photography Tip #1-2: Let’s Talk About Lighting
Understanding the way light works, its various intensity, and how it hits the subjects at different angles is KEY to not only great food photography, but any kind of photography!
1. Prioritize Natural Light.
Personally, I am a fan of natural light because it captures so much of the “authentic” nature of the food. If your shooting conditions are less-than-ideal, try using accessories such as the reflective bounce card or mirrors. As much as possible, try not to use overhead lights or your built-in flash, as those often create harsh shadows.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Move Around
Sometimes, the best lighting conditions just isn’t in your kitchen. That’s okay! When taking food photos, try to be flexible with where you shoot depending on the time of day, overall feel you’re going for, and other applicable lighting conditions. For me, I often shoot in my kitchen in the morning, my living room around noontime, and in my bedroom in the afternoon!
Food Photography Tip #3-5: Intentional Plating
Food plating is the art of arranging and decorating food on a plate to enhance its presentation and make it look attractive. In other words, it’s food styling! I’ve found that the more time you spend on plating, the more efficient your workflow will be when it comes down to taking the actual pictures. So, what are my top 3 plating tips? I’m glad you asked!
3. Choose Simple Tableware
I know, that decorative China you got from your grandmother is gorgeous, and you may be tempted to use them. BUT, intricate and highly-detailed tableware can often detract from the visual emphasis of the food. For more effective and visually appealing shots, opt for high quality, plain tableware in neutral colors.
4. Don’t Overcrowd Your Plate
Often, less is more. While you may think it’s generous to pile on lots food, an over-crowded plate can be overwhelming and make it harder for your audience to focus on the actual details the food you’re trying to capture. Everything that is placed alongside the main subject you’re shooting should have its purpose. So if that fork or extra lemon doesn’t add aesthetic value to the picture, take it out. The main focus should always be the food you’re shooting.
5. Capture Natural Movement
If you’re human like me, chances are good that eating is a process! Believe it or not, your also-human audience can relate to this too. The trick to get that drool-worthy food photos is to allow for natural “movement.” Just as any lifestyle photographer look to capture movement in their subjects, you can add life to your food photos by incorporating natural movement!
Food Photography Tip #6-8: Composition Basics
6. Implement the Rule of Thirds
Imagine a picture divided into nine equal parts – three vertically and three horizontally. The food you’re taking photos of, or any main subject for that matter, should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Not only will it add more life into the photo, implementing the rule of thirds will also lock in your audience’s attention more effectively than perfectly centered subjects would. Why, you ask? Studies have shown that when looking at images, “people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot.” To learn more about the rule of thirds, visit https://digital-photography-school.com/rule-of-thirds/
7. Go for Background Contrast
Sometimes, shooting white on white can make a visual statement. More often, however, I find that shooting in contrast to the background helps make the food stand out. So if you are shooting a light-colored dish and plate, go for a dark background. In contrast, if you are shooting a vibrant-colored dish and plate, go for a simple white background.
8. Try taking photos from multiple angles.
You may already realize this, but there is not a “one-size-fits-all” angle in food photography. While most food items (including pizza!) are best taken from a top angle, some dishes look best from a side (such as burgers and drinks), or even 15-degree or 45-degree angle! Always take various photos of the same setup from multiple angles so you can choose your favorite during the editing process.
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