Thanks to the technological advances of the mobile phone, everyone is taking food photos these days. Out of the billions of food photos on the internet, only a relative handful of them are any good.
It shouldn't be that way; taking great food photos is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is follow a few basic guidelines, and it doesn't take long to incorporate them into your photography (and eating) habits and making your food look glamorous (even if it's mac and cheese).
Artificial light can cast dull hues and dark, awkward shadows on your subject, so it’s really important to use natural daylight when you take food photos, even if it’s cloudy outside. If you’re eating indoors, try and position yourself near a window so you can borrow some natural sunlight.
To capture the full spectrum of the colors and details of your delicious meal, you need to make sure that it is well and evenly lit. If you take a photo in which the sole source of light is positioned behind your beautiful ramekin of crème brûlée, you’ll end up with a silhouette that resembles a black hole more than it does a delicious dessert.
Evenly distribute natural light throughout your image, and you will end up with a colorful and dynamic photograph that pops.
From cupcakes and ice cream cones to eggplants and bell peppers to squid and chicken thighs, food comes in all shapes and sizes. At any restaurant, before your food reaches your table, someone has arranged your plate, playing on the food shapes to make your meal look more attractive, and the theory behind this custom is backed up by science.
Likewise, the more thought you put into composing your homemade dishes, the more attractive and delicious your images will appear.
And playing on shapes doesn’t stop at the food on your plate; the plate itself also needs to be taken into consideration. Everything on the table should look attractive. If you’re eating at a restaurant, you probably won’t have to do much setting up before you take a snap.
You know the saying that goes along the lines of, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach?” My mom used to say it to me when I put far more food on my plate than I was capable of eating. The saying sort of applies to taking food photos as well, except the phrase would be more literal, like “Your table is bigger than an iPhone screen.”
Stick to one subject. Otherwise, you might overwhelm your photo. If you want to include more than one component in your food photography, make sure they are positioned in a way that takes the viewer’s eye on a smooth tour around your supper.
Sometimes food photos have to be a bit cluttered to get the full story across.
In that case, it’s particularly important to keep background distractions to a minimum. Solid or negative space in the background will give your food some breathing room.
Neutral backgrounds with mild patterns, such as a wooden tabletop, can also free up some space and add extra depth to your images.
Wide angle lenses increase your camera’s field of view, allowing you to give your images a wider frame with an increased depth of field. And you no longer have to be a professional photographer with an SLR or DSLR camera to use them, wide angle iPhone lenses are easy to find and very affordable, plus there are some pretty simple macro photography tips for beginners.
Keep in mind that wide angle lenses can add a fisheye distortion to photos, and food photos are particularly vulnerable to this risk because they are typically taken from a closer distance than landscape photos, for example. But don't worry, it's nothing that a bit of photo editing won't fix! Some tips for shooting macro photography on your iPhone will also help you out.
Imagine something beautiful. Maybe you are imagining the sun setting over a windy river or a historic piece of architecture such as the Hagia Sofia or Notre Dame. Perhaps you’re thinking of Angelina Jolie’s face or your neighbor’s new kittens. Whatever it is, its beauty would be far less compelling if it weren’t for some element of symmetry.
It is imperative to make your images somewhat symmetrical to prevent them from being lopsided. You want the eye to feel comfortable moving around and exploring your image without losing balance. Take your time when you set up your food photo. Arrange and rearrange until the image is symmetrical—just don’t take so much time that your food gets cold in the process!
An understanding of color theory is crucial to making your food photos pop. Color can add a great deal of balance, harmony, and dimension to your plate of food, making it look so good that you feel guilty eating it.
As you prepare to take your photo, think about which element you want to stand out; just a tiny splash of a complementary color can have a significant impact.
Take color theory into consideration when you shop for your next meal; what will be the color of your main dish? What garnishes are you planning to use? Do you have any vibrant dishes or linens, or even a white napkin that will accent the colors in your meal?
Some people have a natural eye for matching colors; others need a bit of help. If you’re part of the latter camp, try playing around with an interactive color palette generator such as Paletton to see which colors go well together.
If you want your food photos to be compelling, it needs to convey a message. Is there an overall story or message that you want your images to tell as a collection? Hang on to some common themes to make your portfolio cohesive.
If there is a common thread connecting your images, it’s easier to decide which pictures are worth taking. Why do you want to take a photo of this meal? What is particularly beautiful or appetizing about it, and why? Is its history or tradition reflected in its presentation?
There are billions of food photos on the internet and a relatively minuscule number of good ones. Don’t just point and shoot—make your food photography interesting!
Including people in your food photos is a great way to splash some life into the picture’s story by making it more relatable to viewers. Try new things with your friends, and you will get some good shots worth hundreds of thousands of words every time.
Adding props to your compositions can also add a great touch. Does your restaurant table have an interesting centerpiece or some cool memorabilia? See if you can incorporate it in your image. Did you just bake a loaf of bread? Why not place an oven mitt in the corner of the image?
And now, for my final tip...
Imperfection is perfect.
Those guys at the next table who are making fun of you for taking food photos? Don’t be afraid to include them in the background. Did you burn that loaf of bread? Use your new knowledge on color theory and composition to turn that black crust into a beautiful image.
Practice the tips and tricks I've shared with you in this article, and you will soon be very proud of how far you've come.