You’ve mastered the basics and you’re thinking about camera angles, lighting and styling your plate. But you’re ready to move on to the next step and take your pictures up a notch. So here are my top tips to take your food photography to the next level.
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In terms of photography, “composition” refers to the way that the items (food and props) are laid out in the picture. Photographers like to talk about the “rule of thirds” a lot; this states that you should divide your picture up into 3×3 boxes and ensure that the focus of the picture is not in the centre, but rather along one of the intersecting lines. The idea being that things slightly off centre (or organised in groups of odd numbers) are more pleasing to the eye:
See how these images all have the focus to the side?
All photos from The Food Brood (that’s my blog!)
Tell a story with the food
Plan your story in advance; by that, I mean think what you want your photographs to communicate. What is the cuisine? the setting? the event? What do you want your audience to feel when they see your photographs?
If you know what you’re trying to say, you can pick props and backdrops to tell your story and add in extra clues, like wine glasses, fresh herbs or party hats.
And by thinking about your job beforehand, you’ll be able to plan the shoot way before you have a plate of food going cold and stale, and you’ll have a better chance of communicating your message.
Some examples include:
All photos from Pexels
#1: A romantic dinner for two featuring lobster, risottos, steaks and decadent chocolate desserts, set out with candles and wine;
#2: A fun, family-friendly picnic with a cheerful blanket and picnic basket;
#3: A healthy salad or stir fry with glasses of flavoured water and natural-textured napkins and wooden chopsticks or salad servers;
#4: A casual evening party with friends with giant sharing platters of food and jugs of sangria or beers.
Consider what you want to highlight (and lose)
What is the dish’s selling point? Is it the crunchiness, freshness or something else?
Can you highlight this with contrasting colour? layout? Some foods work best when mixed up randomly; others when lined up perfectly:
Photograph from Rustic Foodie Girl
Conversely, what are you trying to hide? Perhaps the dish didn’t come out the way you’d hoped but you don’t have time to remake it. Can you zoom in on an element that did work e.g. a single leaf or drip?
Layer it up – and drizzle butter on it
In my opinion, there is no recipe (or recipe photograph) that can’t be improved with a golden, melting knob of butter or a waterfall of sticky syrup. Rather than simply laying your food out flat, stack it up and get drizzling. You’ll have your audience drooling in no time:
Photograph from Rustic Foodie Girl
Play with your food!
Food that looks good enough to eat looks even more delicious when it is half eaten, as you get the impression that somebody is already enjoying it and so would you, too.
Prime examples of this are twirls of spaghetti, bites taken out of pizza and crumbs left on a plate of cake. Have fun and make a bit of a mess! It’ll look more realistic and you’ll get some great “action” shots.
This photograph from Pexels makes you want a cookie too!
Invest in new props
If you feel your photographs are looking a bit tired or samey, then it’s time to invest in some new props.
New plates (matte ones are the best because they don’t reflect their surroundings), antique silverware or glassware and an array of new napkins and backdrops can quickly make the improvements you need. If you’ve exhausted all your local shops, try online stores such as etsy for more “investment” pieces. Then play around with adding accent items in their background of your photographs.
The props should complement the food, not overshadow it, so a few patterned ones are fine but white is always best, and don’t pick anything that will steal the limelight:
These photographs by Daria Shevtsova for Pexels show how you can create an entire flat lay with food and props
Use a tripod
Not only does a tripod stop the dreaded camera shake (and guarantee you sharp photographs even in low lighting), but it also opens you up to new photographic possibilities including shooting steadily from above. If you don’t already have a tripod, get one NOW, it’s a surefire way to take your food photography to the next level.
Learn to edit your photographs
The final stage in photography brilliance is what you do with your photographs after you take them.
I want to state this right up front: I am totally against people who stage their food photographs using artificial colours/brighteners or somehow fake their dishes. I want my audience to know that when they cook my recipes, they will actually look something like the pictures I’ve posted on my blog.
Difficulties with lighting – particularly in our miserable British winters – and other problems such as camera shake and blurring mean that sometimes mistakes have to be rectified – and that’s where photo editing comes in.
At the very least, learn how to correct the white balance of your photographs (artificial or poor lighting can leave whites looking yellow or grey); and make the best use of free software such as PhotoScape to do it. When you get really invested, consider upgrading to Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom for more advanced editing needs.
And if you’re ready to take your foodie photos from yuck to yum, check out my FREE 5-Day Email Challenge: “Improve Your Food Photography”!
What’s your favourite photo-taking tip? Tell me about it in the comments!