6 tips for making your food photography shine

6 tips for making your food photography shine

1. Find the light

Just like photographing people, lighting is a key component for food photography. You do not need a fancy light set up either, natural light will be great. With food photography you can use the light to set the mood and enhance the food. The right lighting will make your food pop off the screen in a way that has people running for their kitchens to cook. It is important to have accurate white balance when photographing food in order to have it look tasty. White balance can be tricky if you are shooting in the kitchen with indoor florescent lights so it can be helpful to use custom white balance (I use either the kelvin settings or my Photovision target to set my white balance when photographing food). For this image of the artichoke I saw the light streaming in through the window first, then placed the plate down in the spot where the light was shining. This turned out to be a different image than I originally planned but I used the lighting to my advantage.

beautiful food photography tips by Allison Jacobs

2. Use props to help set the scene

You do not need to spend a ton of money or get really elaborate with props but they can help set the mood and the scene with food photography. Do you want to set the stage for an afternoon tea while photographing cookies? Try using an antique plate, napkin, and silverware. Do you want to show what dinnertime looks like with the kids? Try using fun, colorful plates and napkins. I have used my everyday dishes for many of my food shots (see the artichoke above) while adding in some fun touches like colored cloth napkins. For these grilling images I wanted to show what it would be like to actually be cooking and eating outside on a summer day (which is actually what we were doing!) so I used a light colored tray and dishes to help set the scene.

beautiful food photography advice by Allison Jacobs

3. Set the scene before you add in the food

When I am photographing food I am usually photographing the food that my family is going to be eating. This often means that my husband and son are standing there waiting for me to get the shot before they sit down at the table! If I plan ahead then I can set up the table before the food is ready where I want to shoot it, add the food when it is cooked, shoot, and still eat it while it is hot. For this veggie burger shot, I knew I wanted a rustic feel so I had the cutting board and brown paper already there. I set my white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed before I even sat the burger down to help me get the shot quickly. When the burger was in place I just made the needed adjustments which were much easier since I had planned ahead.

food photography advice by Allison Jacobs

4. Use items to help add to the composition of the image

Composition is just as important with food photography as it is with any other kind of photography.  You want the subject (food) to clearly be the star but you are also telling a story with the food and trying to draw the viewer into your image. Here is an example of where I could have added in another item to help round out the composition.

I like the colors and the focus on the food but if I had added in a tall glass of something to drink in the background then it would have added some height to the image making a triangle with the composition therefore making it a more pleasing image. There is always next time, right?

5. Don’t be shy & take your camera out with you

This one can be tricky because you don’t want to annoy other guests or the people you are dining with but it can be really fun to shoot while you are out to eat. The food is already cooked and styled for you. This isn’t really the time to move items around or take a large number of shots (be sure to be aware of any special limitations the restaurant may have against photography). When I want to shoot while I am out to eat, I will typically pull out the camera, adjust my settings including white balance, then take one or two quick shots. Sometimes when I am out to eat with the family or at a crowded restaurant I don’t want to take the time to pull out my DSLR. In these cases I will use one of the many wonderful camera apps that are available on my iPhone. There are even phone apps available that are geared toward food photography like Evernote Food and Foodspotting. It can be quicker to use your phone camera plus these type of apps have the advantage of allowing you to keep track of the restaurant name and additional information like what you thought of your meal.

beautiful food photography tutorial by Allison Jacobs

6. Shoot the process

It can be a great storytelling experience to shoot the cooking process as well as the end result. I tend to do this most often when my son is helping me in the kitchen. It is fun to capture him enjoying cooking.  Plus, if he is helping, then I have a little bit more time to shoot the story. The images may not stand up alone as a portfolio image but they will tell a great story when shown together! Photograph the ingredients before you start (maybe even include the recipe or cookbook in the shot too), a few of the actual steps, then photograph the final product. I will snap a few of the people enjoying the food too when they let me!

food photography tutorial by Allison Jacobs

Most importantly, have fun when you are cooking and photographing your food. Take your time to set up your shot (it can be nice to photograph something that won’t move and doesn’t need to be chased) then be sure to share your results in the food section of the Clickin Moms photography forum!

About the Author:

Allison is a natural light photographer dedicated to shooting everyday life as it unfolds in Southern California. She loves seeing her life through the lens of her camera while photographing the people and moments that she doesn’t want to forget in her life. She's had a love for photography for as long as she can remember and she obsessively learns everything she can about it. Allison shoots Canon, drinks coffee, and loves her Lensbaby Spark. She is a food lover, runner, and reader but not always in that order. Visit Allison Jacobs online.
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39 Comments

  1. Valerie Sep 24 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Great tips, and gorgeous images!!! love this post!! 🙂

  2. Jenny Woodward Sep 24 2012 at 11:54 am - Reply

    I adore food photography but feel like my attempts always fall flat. I love your work – thanks for sharing some tips. Now to try a few!

  3. Kat Sep 24 2012 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Nice job Allison! I am really inspired by your b&w food photography. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Stacey Sep 24 2012 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    LOVE the post Allison! The image of the artichoke you composed is one of my favorites.

  5. teamhumphries Sep 24 2012 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Beautiful work Allison and really helpful tips! Thanks for putting this together. (and now, i'm craving a veggie burger!) 😉

  6. Tiffany Sep 24 2012 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Awesome, Allison! Love these images and those are some fantastic tips for food photography!

  7. Danika Sep 24 2012 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Great tips Allison, thank you so much! I'm slowly getting into food photography and really appreciate this! 🙂

  8. Sarah Mazza Sep 24 2012 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Allison, these were amazing tips and your images are gorgeous!

  9. Holly Thompson Sep 24 2012 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Allison, awesome tips and gorgeous photos! Photographing food is fun because you can have so much control over your subject. These suggestions are awesome for making our food images really shine. Thank you!

  10. Valeria Sep 24 2012 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Lovely work.

  11. Julie Anders Sep 24 2012 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    What a great article Allison! I love your food shots, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  12. Erica Sep 24 2012 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Great article! Beautiful images. I'm hungry now 🙂

  13. Dana Foley Sep 24 2012 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Great article Allison! I love your artichoke shot! Thanks for all the great tips!

  14. Megan Moore Sep 24 2012 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Gorgeous photos, Allison, and great tips!

  15. celestejones Sep 24 2012 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    these images are so pretty and tasty looking. you make it look easy! thanks for the tips. i may give it a try:)

  16. Vicki Utting Sep 24 2012 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    What an inspirational article and some wonderful photography Allison. Thank you!

  17. Jessica Sep 24 2012 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Alli, I just adore these images! Food photography has always eluded me–this inspires me to give it another shot. Thanks so much for sharing!!!!

  18. Kim - Liv Life Sep 24 2012 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    Allison, what fabulous tips!! I know what you mean about having the family standing over you saying 'can i eat now?" and you don't have your shot yet. Well done to plan so far ahead… and I'm loving the simplicity of the burger shot as well. The brown paper was idea. Well done and a wonderful post!

  19. jennyo Sep 24 2012 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Great tips thanks Allison! Your photos have made me hungry and I’ve already eaten!

  20. Julia Sep 24 2012 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Fantastic post!! These images are gorgeous and the tips very helpful. Now I want to get my camera out…and I'm hungry!! 🙂

  21. Tammy Bilodeau Sep 24 2012 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Whoo Hooo Allison Great article and as always, gorgeous images. 🙂

  22. Lacey Meyers Sep 24 2012 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this, Allison! These are all such great tips! I love photographing meals to post with the recipes I share on my blog and these tips will help so much!

  23. goodetribe Sep 24 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Allison, I love the first image, so much! Thank you for these helpful tips, I'll be implementing them!

  24. Kristin Dokoza Sep 24 2012 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    This was an awesome read Allison! Love the tips you shared. The first image of the artichoke? WOW!

  25. gigi Sep 24 2012 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Beautiful Allison and great tips! I'm going to start pestering you for recipes to go along with all this eye (edible) candy!

  26. Pam Korman Sep 25 2012 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Beautiful work and amazing tips. Thanks so much for such a helpful article!!!

  27. Jen Jentz Sep 25 2012 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Alllllright. Now I'm hungry. :DDD I loved reading this article – and looking through these incredible images!! You have such an eye for perfectly tailoring each shot. I love how your processing draws out the colors and really captivates the viewer! This is definitely something I'd like to try and pull out your tips when the moment strikes (you know – the I've just cooked something amazing and MUST photograph it, moment!!!) 😀 Fantastic article, Allison!!! <3

  28. savynaturalista Sep 26 2012 at 10:26 am - Reply

    I am fascinated with your great ideas for photos.. I do not have shutter setting on my camera so I think I will just add more props when I do a recipe next time.. I love the veggie burger who knew paper bags could make a photo pop!!!

  29. Phyllis Sullivian Sep 26 2012 at 11:01 am - Reply

    These are insanely delicious shots!!! I could almost taste it while looking at it. Great tips Allison! Thanks for sharing…

  30. coppola smith Sep 28 2012 at 1:26 am - Reply

    christenson roberts

  31. Alfred Chris Oct 02 2012 at 5:24 am - Reply

    Great tips. The way you have taken photos of those recipes, they look even more delicious in those pictures. Great work. I like it. Keep it up.

  32. Kim Lane Oct 02 2012 at 7:42 am - Reply

    Hi Allison, Great tips, thank you!! Your images are outstanding too.

  33. Photograph Review Oct 07 2012 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    I love your post and it is so great and I am gonna save it. One thing to mention is the indepth analysis this article has is greatly remarkable. No one goes that extra mile these days. Well Done.

  34. Darrell Haning Oct 15 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my own personal blog and want to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Appreciate it!

  35. buttercream bakehouse May 18 2013 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Your photography is amazing. I learned so much reading your blog. When you are photographing in natural light what settings do you set your ISO, white balance and aperture? I can’t seem to get this right. Do you use any lighting systems or are all your photos just natural light>

  36. phan nhuom toc Oct 31 2014 at 5:06 am - Reply

    Great!
    Thank for this post.
    This things will help me so much.

    Thank you!

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