Are you looking for food photography ideas to get inspired? You’ve come to the right place.
Professional high-end jobs in food photography often have a producer, an art director, a home economist, and a food stylist – or a subset of these. But if you’re just starting out, or you use food photography for your blog, you have to take care of everything on your own.
These food photography ideas are meant to help – and cover lots of key information, from picking the props to editing the photos. So keep on reading!
1. Use non-reflective props whenever possible
One of the most difficult technical challenges in food photography is dealing with reflections. Usually, plates, glasses, and cutlery are made with reflective materials that can be very tricky to photograph. That’s why I advise you to work with matte props if possible.
Consider the two cups above. To make a good picture with the shiny, ceramic cup, I would’ve spent a lot of time and effort managing the reflections in-camera – and I would’ve probably finished the job in post-processing. But with the matte cup, I had no issues; the downside is that it’s not always easy to find non-reflective props.
Salt-glazed ceramic or terracotta are good choices for plates and bowls depending on the look you want to achieve. As for cutlery, find tarnished silver or wooden utensils. But it needs to make sense with the mood of the photo.
Finally, you can try a matte finishing spray for bottles and glasses. There are some professional options, but you can also experiment with deodorant and hair spray.
2. Practice every chance you get
Practice makes perfect, so you should be practicing your food photography as much as possible.
Going out to eat is a great way to practice because it will give you a different setting as well as challenging lighting. Plus, practice photos are also great for your social media; you can post food photos on sites like Instagram to build your brand and grow your business.
You won’t have much control when shooting in a restaurant, especially if you’re using your phone – but that’s a challenge that will help you improve.
And you can do some things, such as:
- Choose the right camera angle
- Arrange the elements on the table in a pleasing way
- Carefully exercise composition guidelines
Actually, if you enjoy it and you become good at it, photographing restaurant food for social media can be your area of specialization. Many restaurants are currently hiring professional photographers to populate their own social media channels.
3. Pay attention to composition
Food photography composition refers to the positioning of elements (food, bowls, cutlery, etc.) within the frame. It’s an essential food photography factor because it will define how the viewer perceives the entire scene.
There are many compositional guidelines you can use to make your food photography stand out. Keep in mind that these guidelines aren’t universal; while a “rule” may fit one image, it might not be right for the next one. It all depends on the elements in your scene and what you’re trying to communicate.
For example, straight lines and a square composition convey stability, while diagonal lines and triangle compositions make for a dynamic image.
Most cameras have a grid with the rule of thirds, which is a basic composition guideline that suggests you position key elements a third of the way into the frame. However, many camera apps offer a wider selection of grids, such as the golden ratio – so experimenting with your smartphone can be a good way to train your eye.
Keep in mind that you can always improve the composition in post-processing using the Crop tool. In fact, Lightroom and Photoshop offer composition grids to guide your crops.
4. Learn to use – and prioritize – the camera settings
There are three settings to consider when you expose your image: the lens opening through which light travels (aperture), how long the light comes in for (shutter speed), and the extent to which the light is amplified by your camera (ISO). But you must be careful because each of these camera settings comes with other effects that can ruin a photo.
So what should you use to adjust the exposure?
Widening or narrowing the aperture will determine how much of your image is in focus. This is known as the depth of field. So if you have a still subject and you’re using a tripod, first adjust the aperture to achieve the desired depth of field. Leave the ISO at 100, then slow down your shutter speed to properly expose the photograph.
Now, with a slow shutter speed, all moving objects appear blurred. If you want to freeze motion, you have to keep a fast shutter speed. So for food photography scenes with movement, you should prioritize the shutter speed. Then set the aperture based on depth of field concerns. Finally, adjust the ISO.
Note: The higher the ISO, the more noise you’ll have in your photo; the lower the ISO, the smoother and sharper the result (all else being equal). So you should always use the lowest possible ISO.
5. Choose the right angle
Your choice of camera angle can make or break a photograph. There are three main camera angles in food photography:
- The top angle. Most commonly known as flat lay, this is a trendy style on Instagram. To create a top-angle shot, you should have the sensor parallel to the subject’s plane. (For top-angle inspiration, search Instagram for the hashtags #flatlayphotography or #flatlaystyle.)
- 45 degrees. Position your camera at a 45-degree angle from the flat table or surface on which the food lies. This angle mimics the way you normally see food.
- On a level. For this angle, you must drop the camera down to the subject’s level (your lens will often sit just above the table).
6. Choose the right light
The type of light and lighting setup you use will determine the mood and ambience of your food photography.
Do you prefer to do dark, moody shots or light and ethereal ones? Do you like to use artificial light or daylight? Should the light come from the side, the back, or the front?
There isn’t a hard rule that says what’s right or wrong. Make lighting choices based on what you want the image to communicate.
7. Take some macro shots
Macro photography produces magnified food close-ups, and it can be a simple way to add some variety to your food photography.
To achieve macro magnifications, I recommend a macro lens or extension tubes, though you can do near-macro photography with a telephoto lens.
You might capture macro images of a small ingredient, or you can highlight a detail from a bigger dish. It’s a creative approach that can enhance common subjects. Here are a few tips to get you started with macro food photography:
- Always use a tripod. At macro magnifications, even the smallest movement can change the focus and composition. A tripod will lock in your focus and keep the composition consistent.
- Use the rear LCD and focus manually. In macro photography, the depth of field is very shallow. If you want to nail the focus every time, you should forget about the viewfinder and work with the LCD screen of your camera. Then you can zoom in and manually adjust the focus.
- Use the self-timer or a remote release. This will avoid any camera shake from pressing the shutter button.
8. Food is culture, so step out of the studio
As Penny De Los Santos, a former National Geographic, award-winning photographer, says: “A food photographer is a visual food anthropologist. It’s not just about food on a plate; [it’s also about] the moments, the connections, the scenes, the places, the stories.”
Most people think of food photography as a prepped-in-the-studio job or as quick smartphone photos at a restaurant. But photographing a harvest or a food market allows for other types of food photography (that blend with genres such as travel photography and documentary).
So to enrich your food photography experience and to expand your creativity, give this a try!
9. Develop your personal style
Food photography is a vast field with many different approaches. What type of food photography do you want to do? Lifestyle photography? Still life? Product shots?
Another way to think about this is to start with the type of subject you want to shoot. You can choose between raw materials or cooked dishes. In any case, the decisions you make will determine your personal style and aesthetic.
Don’t worry, though; you don’t have to decide everything at first. Once you’ve made a few basic choices, your style will develop as you go. Then you can reflect on it, make conscious decisions, and perfect it with time.
But remember that your editing process will influence your style, so pay attention to it, too.
10. Retouch your photos
If you’re not working with a home economist or a food stylist, you might not have the perfect-looking dish or ingredient every time.
That’s where your retouching skills come into play. In Photoshop, you can perfect the edge of a rough cookie, color the border of a not-yet-ripe fruit, or reposition the cherry on top of a cupcake. You can also get rid of any unwanted reflections.
11. Use presets
Using presets and actions is a great way to speed up your editing and develop a consistent workflow. You can make your own presets, or you can get them from other professionals. There are many options on the market either for free or for sale.
Food photography ideas: conclusion
Well, that’s it:
11 food photography ideas to get your creative juices flowing. So have some food photography fun!
Now over to you:
Which of these food photo ideas is your favorite? Do you have any food photography shots you’re proud of? Share your thoughts (and photos) in the comments below!