How to Take the Perfect Food Photo

Toronto Life

Good photography sells and good food photography should make you hungry. How to take fabulous food photos is a popular topic nowadays, as almost everyone wants to share a picture of their Sunday dinner or a masterpiece birthday cake. If you think that a professional result requires professional gear, a food stylist and hours of post-processing, you might be surprised at how easily you can improve the quality of your photos just by following a few easy steps. Take the journey of showing food at its best with this short guide for beginners!

Good photography takes time

We all know the feeling: the meal is finally in front of you and you can't wait to taste it. In order to get a great shot, you must do more than take an impulsive first photo of it. Think about what you see: how does your plate look? Is there enough light? Is there anything disturbing in the background? What is the best angle? These are just some of the many questions you have to ask yourself during the photo shoot.

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2 How to shoot food
The built-in flash made the upper photo flat - here are no structures. The window light created a different, realistic look with all the shadows at the lower photo.

The gear

No, you really don't need a professional camera to take good food photos. You can start even with a basic point-and-shoot camera if you use it well, not to mention any entry level DSLR (a digital single-lens reflex camera) like the Nikon D3300, currently about $460, or a Canon EOS T5, currently about $550. Professional photographers use lenses that allow them to highlight the subject of the photo, but the result can be pleasing with any basic lens, too. However, if you want to step your photos up, it's good to invest in one of the fixed lensesthe most popular choice of food photographers. "Fixed" means that you don't zoom in or out; you must move closer or farther away in order to change the composition. This all sounds good but not practical, right? But the result will actually be a nicer image with less distortion and the light conditions don't have to be perfect as these lenses can pass through more light than zoom ones. That's why both a 50 mm f/1.8 and 35 mm f/1.8 lens are a great choice even for beginners; they are inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use and small. Also, consider buying a good tripod as details and sharpness are very important in food photography.

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4 How to shoot food
Wrong settings of the white balance: the tonality of the first picture is blue, which is definitely not authentic. This time it was corrected by changing the settings in the camera to "Auto White Balance" which is usually a good start for achieving a realistic picture.

The light

Light is the first step in the difference between shooting an unappetizing photo and one that looks like it's from a classy magazine. The most important rule is to always move around and find the best light source. Natural light works great as it gives depth and an authentic look to the image. To get a great food photo, never use your built-in flash and don't place your food directly in the sun; shoot right next to the window and turn off all of the other lights around, just as many professionals do! Think about how the light affects the look of the dish and learn to white-balance your shots. You can do it either while shooting or in the post-processing to avoid the simple mistake of colour distortions, an effect that results when the colours of your image (the so-called "tonality") looks different than the reality (usually with a blue or yellow tinge).

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6 How to shoot food
A bit of chaos. This photo shows the dish prepared for eating rather than for taking a photo: the background is disturbing, the food doesn't look appetizing and it's not really organized. Also, the tonality is a bit yellow-ish and the picture is not really sharp so the viewer cannot find an exact point to focus on. Just arranging the details of the dish and taking the photo next to the window radically changed the character of the picture. The 50 mm f/1.4 lens helped to capture the exact part of the picture where the eye of the viewer should focus.

The details

A good food photo is well-composed and precise. Some dishes look better from above while others need to be shot from a lower angle, so the key is to always try a few angles. Playing with the textures and colours by varying the backgrounds, plates and other items of the composition helps a lot as well. Get everything as close to perfect as you can while shootingeven the smallest misplaced detail can be disturbing for the viewer and even if it could be removed during the post-process, keeping everything clean and organized during the photo shoot saves you a lot of time. On the other hand, a bit of mess sometimes adds charm. A few crumbs or a cut steak can make the composition authentic in some cases, so feel free to break the rules as long as the result feels good.

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8 How to shoot food
Too late. It's important to keep the dish fresh - and you will learn it really easily with ice creams!

The dish

You might not always have a chance to decide about the overall look of the dish on your plate (especially in the case of restaurant food) but every time you have the opportunity, prepare the food to look good first and taste good second. Plating is the art of setting food in the way that makes the dish tasty even for a person who doesn't try it. The composition should be eye-catching, so keep all the ingredients fresh and shoot quickly, right after cooking. Keep the portions smaller to create space between the plate and food.

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10 How to shoot food
This is what happens if you place your food directly in the sun: the harsh light and the shadows make it difficult to perceive the actual object in the picture. The second picture is a classical shot with a diffused window light. The composition is simple and the repeating colours are creating a pleasing combination.

Practice, practice, practice

Always try to think what attracts you to each image. Seek the inspiration! Think about the various ways of shooting the same dish. Search for the strongest angle. Take creative photos of the ingredients and the cooking process to make your photos more original and dynamic. Trust your instincts; if the composition doesn't work, don't hesitate to start from scratch and set up a new one. All of this will help you to make your images mouth-watering.


3 thoughts on “How to Take the Perfect Food Photo

July 31, 2015 at 10:21 am
Jess says:

I kind of like the first out of the last set of photos. It’s much more interesting than the other one. The second one looks like from an ad or something.

August 12, 2015 at 12:43 pm

this is super helpful, thanks. I’m about to invest in my first DSLR so all these tips are great 🙂

August 20, 2015 at 2:52 am
sunny mama says:

Thank you for these very useful tips and interesting advice!
Every week I post a recipe on my blog and I enjoy making photo’s of my home made dishes very much. And although I’m getting the hang of it, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Greetz from Amsterdam!

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