Whether you are a food blogger or just enjoy sharing your photos online, these steps will help you improve your food photography regardless of technicals skills.
Step One – Keep it simple
You don’t need anything fancy to get started. You can either use a camera or cell phone both work well. And you don’t need any special software. If you want to edit the photos, you can find free photo editing software online, and if you are using a cell phone, you can use Snapseed, a free app built by Google.
Step Two – Consider your crop
Consider here where you’re going to share your photos. Are you going to share them on Flickr? In which case, photographing a horizontal photo may be a good idea since horizontal images take more space on a computer monitor. Or are you going to share your images on Instagram? The square crop on Instagram is trendy, but you can also use a vertical crop, so the image takes more space on a cell phone screen.
Step Three – Chose your point of view
Here is where you consider your audience. How do you want them to experience your photo when they look at it? Do you want them to look down on the scene like the popular tabletop style you see on Instagram? Or do you want your audience to be at a table level and feel like they are partaking in the food experience? I tend to favor shooting food at the table level.
Step Four – Select a light source
Here you can use natural light, usually the sun coming in from a window. Or you can use artificial light such as a portable desk light that you buy at a store. Or you can also use the ambient light wherever you are, like overhead lights inside of a house or a restaurant.
Here are some things to consider with each light source:
With the sun coming from a window:
It’s a huge light source that can help soften the shadows and produce a soft, diffused light.
The sun moves rather fast, and once it does, you lose light intensity, and the temperature of the light will change. The light can go quickly from warm to cold introducing blue tones into your photos.
With artificial light such as a desk lamp:
It won’t move or dim on its own, so you have full control. Depending on the type of light you get, you can make it brighter, darker, warmer, cooler.
It tends to be small compared to the window. You’ll need to diffuse it if you want soft shadow transitions, and some argue it doesn’t produce as beautiful light as the sun coming through the window.
With ambient light:
Positives: It’s inside the house or the restaurant. It won’t change or move. In a pinch, it can be useful.
It’s hard to control because it’s high up on the ceiling or the walls, you can’t move it around to suit your needs, and there can be multiple lights, which is hard to manage and can introduce a funky color cast and make the food look dull or un-appetizing.
Step Five – Find your props
Here is where you gather the gadgets and tools you need to build a scene and bring interest to the photo. You can use plates to showcase the food, add some utensils to introduce some intention. You can also add glasses and bottles to bring some details to the background. Be creative, and also be selective. Only use props that add to the composition and do not distract the viewer from the main subject.
Step Six – Introduce some texture
Here is where you can think of your surface. Do you want to photograph the food on a table? Or do you want to use a wooden board or the kitchen counter? Or get some faux marble or faux granite surfaces online? I prefer going to a salvage store and buying some tiles to photograph using natural surfaces instead of fake ones. You can also add textiles such as napkins or table cloths to add to the scene. Lastly, if you are photographing pastries or baked goods, you can add some flour or sugar to the scene to stage the photo’s environment. This step is another place to be creative. But pay attention that nothing competes with the food for attention.
Step Seven – Check your composition
You can study the scene you built and see where the points of interest in the photo are. A great place to start is the rule of thirds, where you divide your composition into nine parts and place important parts of your scene at the intersections to get a stronger composition. Sure, you can study composition, but most importantly, look at your photo and see if it’s pleasant. Does it make sense? Do your eyes go where you want them to go? Or is there something else within the composition that keeps pulling your attention? For instance, is there a bright spot? Or an intense color? Or a shape that feels out of place? Does the scene feel balanced? Does it grab your attention for a few seconds?
Step Eight – Make it looking appetizing
Now, take a close look at the food and see if it looks delicious or if it needs some work. Perhaps, the food is getting a bit dry, and the colors are no longer vibrant. Or the herbs on the salad are starting to wilt. Here are a few tricks that can help. First, prep your scene without the food and add the food when you are ready to start shooting. Second, don’t garnish the food beforehand and add sauces, dressings, or syrup at the last minute. Once you plate the food, you can use some oil drops or even water drops to bring life to some of the ingredients in your scene. Use edible products so you can enjoy the foods you prepared after the shoot.
Step Nine – Offer a bite, a meal, a feast, or mix it up
Are you photographing the entire cake? Or are you closing in on a slice? Or are you shooting the whole table with the cake? Or a little bit of each? The table, the cake on a plate, or the slice on a fork. Be creative. Move around the scene. There’s no right or wrong. See what looks best and makes your mouth water and get a shot.
Step Ten – Shoot eat, edit!
Step ten is the best part! Not only do you get to shoot the food finally, but you also get to eat it.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with a couple of book recommendations.
Book Recommendation One
Book one is, “That photo makes me hungry by Andrew Scrivani.” Andrew is an editorial photographer for the New York Times. I selected this book because I love how he keeps the food looking real and delicious. Also, Andrew is a proponent of not wasting any food during his commercial shoots. He shoots with that end-goal in mind, and after a commercial shoot, he says he feeds his crew and his neighbors, even the neighbor’s dog.
Book Recommendation Two
Book two is “Food Styling: The art of preparing food for the camera by Dolores Custer.” Dolores is a food stylist, and she used to teach courses in food styling at the American Institute of Culinary. I selected this book because this is an excellent place to start if you like to learn more about food styling for photography.