Are you curious about what makes a food photograph perfect? Our food photography guide contains all the tips and tricks you need to be successful in the craft.
What is Food Photography?
Food photography is a branch of photography that focuses on food as the main element.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But in actuality, it extends much more beyond taking out your smartphone to click a snap of your lunch.
It is the art of capturing food in the most elemental form and giving it a new dimension through manipulation.
In a nutshell, using creative styling methods to make food look more appetizing is food photography.
How Did Food Photography start?
Food photography dates back to the 1800s. The first food photograph, captured by William Henry Fox Talbot, is a static image of peaches and pineapples.
What started in the 1800s as a form of documenting food has now become a viable commercial venture and a lucrative business opportunity. How amazing is it that we’ve gone from clicking a simple arrangement of food to the elaborate pictures we’re used to now?
The financial success of food photographers like Francesco Tonelli, Laura Muthesius etc., is a testament to the fact that one can make a great living in this profession.
When I was developing recipes for La Cucina Italiana, I ended up testing them and also styling them for photoshoots later, which continued for the next eight years.Francesco Tonelli
I think food and design pair very well together, in just the kitchen alone there are so many great things to discover.Laura Muthesius
Depending on the intent and purpose of the shot, food photography can be done by a single person or can even involve a team of creatives like an art director, food stylist, set designer etc., that combines their expertise to bring together the perfect shot.
This certainly explains why fast food looks so massively different (and might we add more appetizing) in advertisements compared to real life.
In our opinion, food photography is a skill worth having and monetizing. If not for your own business, then as a service, food photography can help you earn big bucks.
Why Does Food Photography Matter?
One uniformity you must have noticed across all big restaurants and hotels is their use of professional photographs for advertising.
And it doesn’t stop there. Those images are compiled in the form of videos to play on advertising billboards, printed on takeaway menus and uploaded to their website. Infact, 70% of the companies invest heavily in visual marketing.
Ever wondered what is the common denominator here? Given below is the explanation:
1. Great first impressions matter.
You know what they say about first impressions: It is the best impression.
Close your eyes and imagine eating KFC chicken. Do you imagine what’s advertised over social media or how the actual food looks? The former, right?
This is why big corporations shell out good money to get professional food photography done. So people remember the version they see first.
And the professionally shot version will always be more impressive than what the actual food looks like.
Infact, a study reports that people recall 65% of the information better when it is accompanied by a visual.
2. Sales skyrocket with food photography.
When someone says pizza hut, what imagery comes to your mind? We know it’s either the advertisement you saw in the magazine or the photo plastered across its menu. Right?
Although everyone knows the actual product won’t look similar to what is being advertised, the image alone is enough to lure the customers into ordering again.
The same study we quoted states that visual communication is 84% more successful.
3. It builds your brand.
Have you ever noticed that specific terms invoke definite imagery in your mind?
For example, you’ll imagine a different burger for Wendy’s and Chick-fil-a. You’ll never confuse between the two.
Here’s another example for you to think about: Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola look the same, but we still distinguish between the two solely based on looks.
That’s because we are conditioned to recall what is being advertised as their food throughout the years.
Need we expand more on how strategically advertising professionally shot food photographers can make customers relate more with a staged shot than the actual product?
When you retain an aesthetic-looking food item, you’re highly likely to order it again. The Food industry has decoded this a long time again and is using it creatively to their advantage.
What are the Uses of Food Photography?
Food photography is heavily used for marketing and advertising purposes, especially by restaurant owners for their promotion. Big restaurant chains and famous restaurants often spend a fortune to get a proper food photoshoot done, all in a bid to build their brand and increase sales.
The reason is simple. Ultimately, the visual appeal of food is undeniable.
Even on menus, don’t we order what looks the most appetizing to us? Here’s where the theory of “Eating with our eyes first” comes into play.
That’s why professional food photographers are very sought after by editorial magazines, restaurant and hotel owners, publishing houses ( for cookbooks, coffee table books) and everywhere else, high-quality food images are required.
What Makes a Food Photograph Great?
Great food photography is not by fluke. What looks like a simple perfect shot on Instagram takes a lot of time and effort to put together.
All those enticing burger shots and video commercials that you see plastered across your feed involve complex styling behind the scenes. For every photo and video shoot, proper food staging and lighting setup are done. Sometimes this can take hours on end!
Take a look below at how a simple burger photoshoot is done.
Remember that food photography is not a science, but an art. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula that you can follow to click alluring photographs.
A good food photograph invokes the food’s best traits visually, but a great food photograph invokes an emotional response of desire in the viewer’s psyche.
Remember how some photographs bring the food’s taste to your mouth; that’s precisely the goal you should be chasing in your food photography journey.
Don’t think of food photography merely as “documenting food.” Instead, think of it as your attempt to breathe life into food as we know it.
Take a look at our common observations about the best food photographs:
1. Angle makes all the difference
Notice the difference between the effect of the same food clicked from different angles. While the photo on the left showcases tacos lined after one another, the right one evokes the emotion of a scrumptious and filling meal.
2. Sharp images for the win
Softness and noise in any photograph are very off-putting. It becomes incredibly frustrating with food photographs where you risk losing out on details.
Take a look at the image given below. The small details in the image, that is, the outlines of the seed, the texture of the yoghurt, and the veins of the leaves are all clearly visible.
Practice how to click sharp images manually to ace food photography.
3. Minimal backgrounds and props
When setting up your background and props for staging a photo, ensure they don’t become the focal point of your photograph. Opt for a muted backdrop that does not blend with the photographed food item.
4. Introduce movement in the shot
Add life to your shots by introducing some movement in the photograph.
Take a look at the two images given below. You’ll realise that dynamic images invoke greater emotions than static ones.
5. Create patterns with food.
A popular way of staging photos is using the food item to create grids and patterns.
This not only draws focus to it but also nicely populates the photograph without any additional props.
How to Get Started in Food Photography?
Thinking of learning food photography? Just bring your passion for food and photography onboard.
Apart from that, you also need to brush up on the basic principles of photography and understand how to use standard photography equipment.
Knowledge about concepts like aperture, ISO, shutter speed etc., will help you improve your skills significantly. Being well-versed with their influence on your photography will help you grow in the right direction.
Learn the basics of food photography
For example, shooting images in raw mode, using aperture to isolate and highlight sections of the image, and using light and shadows creatively are useful insights you must have as a food photographer.
Down below is a quick recap of the principles you should know going into food photography:
1. Shutter Speed
The time span for which your camera’s shutter is exposed to the outside world while taking a picture is called shutter speed. The difference in the time taken to click your photo can drastically alter the image’s brightness.
It is also helpful in creating the blurring and freezing motion.
The longer the shutter speed, the brighter the image.
It is a measure of your camera’s sensitivity to light. Thus, it can be used to click brighter photos in darker environments without bothering the aperture and the shutter speed settings too much.
Higher the ISO number, the greater the brightness of the image.
It controls the amount of light that reaches your camera lens. It controls the depth of field and thus adds dimension to your photographs.
So next time you want to capture the entire background or give a shallow effect to your pictures, make sure you adjust your aperture accordingly.
Larger the aperture, the brighter the light.
4. White Balance
Have you ever paid attention to how indoor and outdoor lighting can change the way food items are photographed?
That’s because light from different sources has varying colour temperatures.
Without understanding the concept of white balance, you’ll pictures can turn out to look very bizarre. Thus, white balance in photography takes care of colour correcting the image while it is getting clicked.
Depending on where the image is getting clicked, the camera balances the warm and cool tones in the image to produce a white image.
Even with the above-mentioned knowledge, it takes a lot of trial and error to find out your niche and style when it comes to food photography. Then there’s the whole ordeal of making food look as appetizing as possible.
When starting out, don’t be afraid to get creative. The sooner you make experimentation your second nature, the faster you’ll see your photography skills improving.
Before we jump into how to get started, let’s clear one thing once and for all: No, you do not need any fancy equipment or expensive lenses to click good photographs of food.
We’re not saying that having high-end apparatus hurts, but extravagant gear means nothing if there’s passion missing from the equation.
Take the case of celebrated food photographer Penny De Los Santos, who still uses her mobile camera to click still black-and-white images of food.
If you are thinking about why would a renowned food photographer would use her phone camera, she simply explains:
You have to be engaged and in love with your subject. If you aren’t, you won’t do it justice. Any photography, food, portraiture, or photojournalism is about exploring the subject. You have to have an insatiable curiosity.Penny De Los Santos
Now that’s out of the way, let’s proceed with the steps:
Steps To Getting Started with Food Photography
1. Drawing Inspiration
Food photography is an art. Like any other art form, you can’t pour from an empty cup. For your creativity to flow, it’s vital that you keep yourself updated with the latest trends in the industry and fads.
- Always be on the lookout for better food photography. Just search for hashtags like #foodphotography or #foodstagram on Instagram and Pinterest.
- Look for inspiration online. There’s plethora of images over Google images to inspire you as well.
- Following food photography and styling blogs is another great way to learn and grow in the trade. Famous food blogs like We Eat Together, `Two Loves Studio etc., serve as excellent resources.
- You can also browse through free stock image resources like Pexels, Unsplash, Getty Images, iStock etc., to determine what other photographers capture or what type of photos people appreciate.
Inculcate a habit of analyzing what draws you to an image you like. Once you can pin it down, try replicating it in your own style.
As a beginner, you don’t necessarily have to invest in high-end gadgets.
It’s okay to start with your smartphone’s camera first. Especially if you plan on showcasing your work on Instagram. And we mean, why not? These days, smartphone cameras are giving stiff competition to professional ones.
A lot of food photographers still use their smartphones to click food photographs.
A great example of passion triumphing position is the food blog of David Griffen, who runs a wildly successful food photography blog full of phone food photography. His blog contains tips for budding photographers who do not want to spend a fortune on professional cameras. He quotes:
If you can get the right lighting conditions to shoot the food, the type of camera you use to shoot for a blog / Twitter / social media sharing does not really matter.David Griffen
It’s a good starting point to practice techniques before you jump onto the gear that pro photographers use.
But if you are serious about going ahead in this profession, investing in a good camera can make a huge difference.
Depending on your budget, there are options starting from as low as $800 for Sony’s A6400 all the way up to $10k+ for Hasselblads.
Talking about cameras for food photography, opting for full-frame or cropped sensor digital cameras is a good bet.
Do you know? ?
A full-frame sensor utilizes the full focal length available on the lens. This means you get more detail in every shot. But it comes at a premium cost. For reference, Canon’s full-frame series start from their 6D model (~$1500). Budget cameras, on the other hand, have a cropped sensor. Their sensor doesn’t utilize the full available focal length and ‘crops’ specific details around the boundary of the image. To put this into perspective, a standard APS-C cropped sensor has a crop factor of 1.6x, meaning when you pair this with a 50mm lens, you’re not going to get true 50mm, but 80mm instead. (50*1.6)
Most professional photographers use high-end options like the Canon C series or the Nikon D series. Although, we suggest assessing your intent with food photography to analyze how much you should really invest.
Here are our top picks for anyone thinking of taking up food photography professionally:
1. Canon EOS C70
2. Nikon D3400
3. Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR
4. Sony Alpha a6400 mirrorless cameras
Besides cameras, prime and zoom lenses also come in handy as they provide a wider aperture and depth of field. 80 mm and 50 mm lenses are professional photographers’ most popularly preferred prime options.
Having such high-powered equipment helps manipulate the aesthetics of the picture a lot. The below-given example clearly illustrate the difference these lenses create in the final output.
Apart from the camera, there’s one more piece of equipment that most food photographers swear by: a Tripod.
Having a tripod is an indispensable part of food photography. Not only is it handy to set up, but it also helps keep the camera stable and eliminates any noise (or visual distortion in layman’s terms) in the shot.
Tripods can be broadly categorized into the following four categories: Compact, Travel, Professional and Studio. Depending on your use case, you can choose which one to invest in.
Do you know? ?
Usually, for food photography, it usually helps to opt for a tripod with a fluid mount or a ball head and a retractable center column. This gives you the freedom to experiment with the angles that look the most appealing.
Photos taken top-down of a delicious gourmet meal does get your taste buds tingling, right? But do not eliminate the magic that other angles can do.
Having a freely moveable tripod allows for more variations of the same setup. Meaning you get to click multiple photos from different angles for variety of choices.
The image below perfectly illustrates how angles can manipulate how one food item looks.
The most significant advantage of having a tripod is how beneficial it is for taking still shots of your composition.
3. Staging and Styling
How you stage your photo can make a drastic difference in the output of the photo. Staging a food photograph is all about letting the food and the items around it communicate a story.
Here’s a few popular ways of maneuvering food that you can use to stage your photograph better:
1. Arrange food in the form of a layout. (Flatlay being the common one)
2. Incorporate human touch (in the form of hands and fingers) to add a comfortable and lifestyle feel to the photograph.
3. Playing around with negative space to maintain balance and create breathing room so that eyes can take a rest.
4. Using food’s texture and aesthetics to create patterns and grids.
5. Prop up food items to give them some dimension and create varying depth in the photograph.
Over the course of photographing food, you’ll become intuitive about whether the shot will look better static or with some movement.
Before you finalize a look, make sure you mess around with multiple ways of framing the shot. Switching how food is placed, or using a different clicking perspective can put a totally different spin on the photo’s narrative.
Pro Tip ?
There are little hacks like brushing food with oil (for steaks, burgers etc.) or spraying water (salads, fruits etc.) that you’ll learn along the way as you progress in your photography journey.
Let’s talk about food props now. Everything and anything that can be used to spruce up a photograph can be categorized as a food prop.
Here’s a list of the most common props you can use for styling:
- Fancy napkins
- Artificial flowers and leaves
- Fine ceramics
- Textured cutting boards
- Rustic parchment papers and baking trays
When it comes to food props, less is more.
Although food props can elevate a food picture by multi-folds, always remember that the food is the hero of the image. Don’t overcrowd the setting with props that take the spotlight away from it.
Lighting is the most crucial aspect of clicking good food photographs. Without learning how to set up lighting properly, your food photographs will never match the level you are eyeing.
Usually, 3-point lighting is the standard protocol for still and video production.
The more you’ll browse through food photographs, you’ll notice how the type of light used in the shot dynamically modifies the mood of the image.
While many photographers prefer to work only with natural light, additional artificial lights are also helpful, especially wherever depth needs to be added to the images. They are also easier to process more drastically as compared to naturally shot photos.
This is the reason why certain food items are always edited in a particular way. Every color has a different influence on human psychology.
It’s no coincidence that coca-cola uses the colour red, and MacDonald’s uses yellow for their product promotion.
If you lean more towards natural light, make sure you maximize on natural sunlight and the golden hour.
Do you know? ?
The golden hour is that period of the day when the sun is just around 6 degrees closer to the horizon. It creates a beautiful warm highlight on your subject. It depends on a location’s latitude and longitude, but it usually happens for roughly 30 mins around dawn and dusk. And if artificial light is more your speed, avoid using very harsh lights and make sure you scatter it across your layout using softboxes or reflectors.
The common equipment food photographers use are as followers:
It is used to distribute light evenly across the photograph’s subject. It is recommended to place the diffuser near the light source (the window in most cases). The light that filters through is soft and photographs well.
It is used to “fill the scene” with the light. These are placed opposite the light source to bounce the light back to the subject.
For professional and editorial-style photographs, you need strobe lighting in your setup. A strobe emits a short yet powerful burst of bright light.
There are many other pieces of equipment that professional food photographers use, but these are great for mastering lighting foundations.
Apart from the ever-lasting debate on natural versus artificial light, lighting angles also play a crucial role in altering the shot’s outcome.
1. Front lighting is your safest bet if you are just starting out. It is the least complicated and the easiest to work with as a newcomer.
2. Next up is side lighting, which takes a little time to figure out what details to focus on. Universally considered to work well for almost all setups, sidelight is a hot favourite of all photographers. As the name suggests, it is kept on the same side as the camera and the subject.
3. The trickiest is backlighting, if done right, it can give you that top-quality editorial look you were chasing.
If we had to summarize the significance of proper lighting, we’d say it can make or break a shot. Once you master light setup and manipulation, nothing can stop you from producing beautiful food imagery.
Processing and Editing
The food photographs you see around you are not how it looks while taking them. Colours in raw images do not jump put on their own. This is where editing comes in.
Do you know? ?
Photo editing means manually altering an image to produce the desired result. Whether is it colour grading or quality enhancement, there’s a lot that photo editing softwares can optimize in your shot.
Photo editing helps in:
- Colour correction
- Error removal
- White balancing
- Removing unwanted shadows
When it comes to editing food photographs, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are your best friends. These powerful softwares are all you need to edit and categorize your shots.
One glance at the photos given below is enough to understand the important role that editing has in the world of food photography.
As with other things with food photography, even perfecting editing will take time and ample practice.
How you edit photos also depends on your purpose and intent with it. Generally, all photographers use warm and cool tone editing.
Here’s what this jargon means:
- Warm editing: Warm colors (red, brown, orange) tend to give a feeling of excitement and warmth. It is generally used for soul food, heavy dishes and hot beverages.
- Cool editing: Cool colors (green, blue and violet) give a rejuvenating and refreshing look to the food items. This type of editing is done for light, soothing food and cold beverages and desserts.
Depending on what the type of food and the intent that needs to be addressed, the photographer can choose between the two tones.
Take a look at the images below. Notice how the editing brings forth how these food items make you feel. The warm editing on the soup bowl and the cool tone perfectly complements the desserts photographed.
Pro tip: Although it is tempting to furnish a highly saturated picture, tone down the editing and let the food do its magic.
Apart from editing, it’s also important to properly catalogue your shots.
All throughout our article, we’ve elaborated on the importance of playing around with the setup and staging. Having all images together helps put in perspective what works and what doesn’t. Adobe Lightroom helps you properly label and store multiple images you have captured.
This is a good stage to analyse what angles, lighting and setup are your forte and what needs work.
Again, food photography and its editing is about trying until you succeed and then setting your sights on leveling up further.
Food Photography for eCommerce
If you’re wondering why food photography is important for the eCommerce business, think about the last few transactions. We bet you too are among the people who shop online and purchase items based purely on face value.
The following points shine a light on what advantages food photography can offer to your online store:
1. Improves the aesthetics of your business:
If someone is browsing through the menu of your online store, they’ll associate the aesthetics of your food item with what they see on the menu.
And if it comes across as appetizing and tempting, chances are they’ll quickly order just based on the looks.
2. Creates a mystery:
Imagine yourself browsing through the catalogue of a cookie store. If asked to make a selection, you’ll choose the one that looks the best on the menu.
In a world of “all that glitters is gold”, appealing photographs rouse the customer to buy to verify if the food tastes as good as it looks.
And there you go, that’s all you needed to make a sale.
3. Reflects professionalism and brand integrity:
Your products might be the best in the market, if they aren’t marketed in pretty packaging, people won’t be attracted to them.
Similarly, today’s aware customers judge a store based on how they are promoting it. Advertise your eCommerce store using good photos, and you’ll find regular footfall in your store.
When you have unique photos of your products updated on your store or website, it reassures people of your commitment to your business.
Our Best Tips That You Shouldn’t Miss Out On
As a food photographer, you need to capture the mood and the complexity of the food, apart from showing its texture and aesthetics.
Whether you want to take professional food photographs for your restaurant business or want to learn the same to offer as a service, our tips can help you ace food photography.
It might take some time to reach a level where your food photography directly represents the visualization in your mind, but abiding by the tips given below will help you take steps in the right direction.
If all this information has left you feeling confused, fret not, our tips are a good recap of all the information given above.
Now let’s jump to the tips and tricks you were waiting for:
1. Always start by planning out your idea. Ideate a brief and the concept of the shot thoroughly first. Once you lock in on the idea, then start with the next steps of gathering the props, setting the layout etc.
2. Go into the shot with clarity about what aspect of the food needs to be highlighted. Shine focus only on its most significant feature.For cakes and other baked products, focus more on the texture, while for pizzas and lasagna, concentrate more on the finishing.
3. Use fresh ingredients and food to take your shots. Flaws like wilted lettuce or bruised tomatoes can’t be easily manipulated during editing. (and can often take away from the final product)
4. Lose your one-track mindset when it comes to food photography. It’s not mandatory that only shots of fully cooked food are taken. Based on what needs to be captured, food can also be captured in various steps of cooking.For example, braising process is quite photogenic and draws the audience’s attention more than the finished product.
5. Break free of your self-created mould every once in a while. Meddle with your typical style and try out different styling approaches.
6. Make food the hero in your shot. Make sure the surrounding props do not overshine in the shot.
7. Make sure you always use muted or complementary backgrounds. You don’t want the edges of the food item to blend into or clash with the background.
8. Never overcrowd the shot with multiple props and items. Always make use of the positive impact of negative space in picture composition.
9. Do not overcrowd your plate with food. Use big plates, bowls and cutlery to stage small portions of food.
10. Use warm or cold tone editing based on the mood you are going for and the food item in question.
11. If needed, don’t hesitate to create movement in your picture. For example, a shot of a hand drizzling syrup on pancakes is much more eye-catching than a static image of syrup-soaked pancakes stacked on top of one another.
12. Feel free to play around with the lighting of your frame to understand what works the best for the particular food niche you are photographing.
13. Use artificial light if you need consistent lighting and maintain white balance in your photographs. Switch it up with the front, side and backlighting depending on the food you are trying to capture. While working with artificial lights, it’s beneficial to invest in good quality sidelights, diffusers and reflectors.
14. Raw images can be manipulated the most during editing. Try to click manually in raw format.
15. During editing, bump up the colors but be mindful not to over-saturate your shots. Otherwise, the photos will end up looking unnatural.
16. Don’t underestimate the importance of camera angles when it comes to clicking rich and captivating pictures of food. Shooting from 75° and 25° can help in determining the hero angle.Like you take your photo from a flattering angle, likewise food photography should always be done from the most optimum angle.
17. Many photographers and stylists recommend using empty plates and cutlery to stage the layout of the shot, and only bring in the food when it is shot ready. This helps capture minute details like steam coming out from momos or stiff peaks in whipped cream.
18. Make sure that your setup/plating is spotless. Even the minutest discrepancy can wreck the final image’s look.
19. Spruce/ prop up food items between shots. Often times food sitting under harsh lights for long might start looking stale. Touch up wherever required if it is a long shoot.
If you’d like to post this infographic on your site, please feel free to do so! We only ask that you credit us with a link.
Saving the infographic and reuploading it to your server is totally fine, but if you prefer to embed it, just copy the code below:
1. Is food photography a good career option?
Yes, for sure! Food photography is a very lucrative career option. These shots are in great demand and are being used everywhere, from coffee table books to the hospitality sector to editorial magazines.
2. What is the role of a food photographer?
A food photographer is tasked with taking professional and high-grade striking photographs of food for various use-cases. Some food photographers also offer food styling services.
3. Why is food photography difficult?
Food photography is considered difficult because it requires constant practice and some monetary investment. You need to spend considerable time and attempts to find your own style and forte. Contrary to popular belief, it becomes easier with time and consistent learning.
4. Why is food photography important?
Food photography is important from a marketing and advertising point of view. Restaurant owners, editorial magazines, food networks, publishing houses etc. make use of food photographs for various business endeavours.
With food photography, the best way to evolve is to follow your heart and go after what feels good to you. Don’t be afraid to break rules and carve out your own style.
Every time you feel dejected, remind yourself that developing your style will definitely take time and effort. And given how profitable this niche is with the right skill set, all this effort will definitely pay off one day.
As Vincent Van Gogh puts it, “As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.”
If you are taking food photographs for your business, practice daily till your images look as tantalizing as your food.
And if you feel you are ready to monetize your food photography skills as an entrepreneur, Dukaan is the perfect platform to offer your services through your personalized store.
Confused about how to get started? Watch this video!