Food photography is all the rage these days, with thousands of Instagram users posting their drool-worthy kitchen creations and restaurant meals everyday. It's easy to assume these photographers are using high-end equipment or are blessed with amazing natural light in their kitchens. While a DSLR camera and gorgeous lighting will help you take better photos, there is a lot more that goes into making stellar food images. The following steps will get you on your way to improving your food photography.
Find the best natural light in your house
The best lighting in the house often isn't in the kitchen. When you do have beautiful light in the kitchen, you may need to move your food away from the stove or counters and over to the window to create crisp, bright images. When you don't have beautiful light in the kitchen, set up your food shoots in a different area of your home that lends itself better to photography.
Alternatively, use artificial lighting
When you're struggling to shoot in the available natural light in your house or don't want the daylight hours to restrict your shooting, consider an artificial lighting setup. When executed properly, artificial lighting produces consistent, bright shots. Typically, I use two desk lamps with daylight bulbs and two DIY Lowel EGO lights for my artificial lighting setup.
Minimize clutter in your shooting space
Getting rid of unnecessary items and other distractions in your food photography is critical for creating clean, focused images that allow the food to shine. When you begin a food photography session, clear your shooting surface of miscellaneous cooking gear and other household items. If you aren't shooting against a neutral background, such as a white wall, create your own backdrop with a wood board, patterned paper, or even poster board.
Add a garnish or other finishing touch to your dish
A garnish or other finishing touch will take any food photography shoot up a notch, boosting your results from casual, amateur shots to polished, professional images. For example, if you're photographing hummus, add a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a few sprigs of parsley. If you're photographing a bowl of soup, top it with a sprinkling of cheese.
Style your food with nice dishes and a couple of props
Choosing dishes and other props specifically for your recipe makes your images more intentional, creating a more powerful visual story. Start with items you already own. Taking the time to style a sandwich on a plate with a napkin and glass of water makes the whole meal together. If you want to expand your prop collection, scout thrift stores and rummage or estate sales for interesting pieces on the cheap. Etsy and eBay are also great options for affordable, unique, vintage items.
Clean up any drops and splatters
You'll complete the polished, professional aesthetic for your images by taking an extra few seconds to wipe up any drips on the plate or pan. If the pot is really dirty or the bowl has more splatters than you can easily wipe up with a single paper towel, plate your food with clean dishes.
Convey interaction with the food
Set up a tripod or enlist a family member or friend to help you with your food photography shoot, so you can create a few interactive shots. Pouring the dressing over the salad or getting ready to lift the soup spoon up to your mouth further adds to the narrative. It will take some trial and error to perfect these shots, but it's well worth the effort.
Experiment with different angles
When you're preparing for a food photography shoot, allow time to take ample shots, photographing the dish from at least three or four different angles. You may be really happy with your initial idea for the shoot, but it may take a little while to nail the best angle for a particular dish. To get the classic overhead shot you see so frequently on Instagram these days, grab a chair or stepstool, so you can get above your food (safely!).
Consider “in progress” shots for recipes and other food-related blog posts
In progress shots, such as the cookie dough mixed in the bowl or the meat cooking on the stove, further add to the story you're telling. As you're preparing for your food photography shoot, jot down a short list of ideas, so you won't forget to take a few in progress shots as you make your dish. Sneak peek or behind the scene shots also make great teaser content on social media. If you’re planning to publish a new recipe later in the week, publish a shot of your ingredient spread in the kitchen or the empty cookie mixing bowl a few days before the recipe goes live.
Shoot with a prime lens
Many food photographers shoot extensively, or even exclusively, with prime lenses. While you may want a zoom lens to capture a few wide angle shots of your spread, most likely you'll want to shoot the majority of your images with a 50mm, 85mm, or even 100mm lens. Getting up close with your food brings people right into your kitchen, which is key for making food enticing when someone can't actually be there smelling and tasting it. Personally, I shoot most of my food photography with a 50mm lens, using a 100mm lens selectively for a few really tight images, such as the hummus image above.
Pick up a diffuser or reflector to minimize shadows
Harsh shadows often leave sections of an image underexposed. For certain types of photography, you may want to create this sort of aesthetic. However, for most food photography, harsh shadows are less than desirable. A diffuser or reflector is a simple, affordable way to minimize the shadows in your food shoot. The easiest, cheapest way to create an effective reflector is to fold a piece of white foam board in half.
Adjust your aperture manually to ensure proper depth of field and focus
Ideally, you want to shoot in manual mode, so you have full control over the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for your food images. If manual mode is too overwhelming right now (and that's okay!) or you prefer to work with your camera's priority mode, choose aperture priority mode. Take care to shoot with an aperture wide enough to keep the image in proper focus. A few images with a narrow focus to highlight certain aspects of the dish will add to your story. But you don't want all of your shots to have a narrow focus. It's rare I shoot wider than 3.2 for food photography. The 9/21 Photorec.tv Instagram challenge is food. Submit your best food photography images by tagging them #PRTV_food2 and #PRTV. The challenge closes at noon EDT on 9/27. Limit two entries. Recent photos only. Check out the full list of PRTV challenges to participate in future challenges.
Do you have any tips to improve your food photography?
Leave your best advice in the comments!