10 Tips for Mouth Watering Food Photography - Digital Photography School

10 Tips for Mouth Watering Food Photography

A Guest Post by Dario Milano of Food Pixels

baba4web.jpgFood is in front of us every day – 24/7. On our plates, in magazines, on TV and even on computer screens.

If we are not eating it we are talking about what we just ate or about what we are going to eat! We are what we eat; our diet reflects our lifestyle, our choices and our beliefs.

I am a food photographer and I love my job; but I haven’t always been just a photographer of food… I am actually a qualified chef and I spent 15 years of my life in kitchens around the globe; I love my food and I love to photograph it!

Let me give you 10 great tips for taking mouth watering pictures of food.

1. Choose fresh and locally grown ingredients, don’t over manipulate the food and keep it simple.

Let the food speak for itself and tell its story. I am bored with seeing pictures of strawberries, but I haven’t seen as many pictures of custard apples!

2) Let the food tell you how it wants to be photographed

Is there something about the food or dish before you that has caught your attention, what was it? is it its shape or is it the texture? Answer this and you’ll know if you are going to need a hard or a soft light, answer this and you’ll know which angle is gonna be best to photograph your subject from. Let the food inform your approach to photographing it.

3) Keep observing your subject.

Is it colourful and vibrant? Food is the king, select props and background that complement your food without being overwhelming; keep an eye out for contrast.

greenteaoysters4web.jpg

4) Get the shot you had in mind, then switch camera angle.

Explore and experiment: the best shot is often not the one you planned.

5) Use a Tripod

I can never stress enough how crucial this is. A tripod will reduce to almost zero any chance of camera shake and will allow you to take longer exposures – which is handy in low light situations – i.e. restaurants and bars with dimmed lights.

6) Since I mentioned restaurants and bars, my 6th tip is about White Balance

White Balance (WB) – every modern camera, even point and shoots, have a control for WB, so use it. Sometimes an orange cast makes for a warm and intimate mood but sometimes it’s just annoying. Besides this, the white balance control can be used as a creative tool; just explore the different options.

7) Coming back to our subject, and how we are going to capture it – which type of lens is more suitable?

Generally speaking, shallow depth of field works very well with food because it isolates the main subject against the background – drawing the viewer’s attention straight to it. If I had to recommend just one lens for food photography, it would be a 50 mm f 1.8: it’s small and light, it’s not expensive. It’s a fast lens and can be used for any other type of photography too.

8) Go for the details and feel the frame with your subject

polpo4web.jpg

Sometimes less is more, especially when food is the hero.

9) Try to get the picture right in the camera

Don’t rely too much on Photo Shop to correct mistakes; post processing should only take between 2 to 5 minutes per image.

10) Take lots of reference shots

i.e. take shots of the lighting set up, shots of backgrounds and props. Take notice of your mistakes, let others inspire you and seek other people’s feedback. Amen!

Ah… one more thing, eat the props!!

Get More Food Photograpahy Tips here

Check out more of Dario Milano’s work at Food Pixels.

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Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to DPS. Please see their details in the post above.

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  • Kathleen Mekailek

    I made blueberry waffles and turkey sausage for dinner and gave it a try- this is the shot I am most pleased with. I would not have thought to shoot it at an angle if it wasn’t for your tip to explore and experiment!

  • NgMai

    I think this photo is good with props and background but in my opinion it will be better if it has more light :)

  • http://www.event2photos.com Dan Sulla

    Nifty fifty the best lens.? Hmmm I have worked with and for some very high priced food photographers with national clientele. A fifty isn’t even a consideration. Think twice or more “normal” lens so a 105mm minimum for a full frame and a 75mm for cropped.

  • Stoffers

    I was going to say the same thing, more light, especially in the back would make the shot much better.

  • Stoffers

    Are they scared if the camera gets close to the food it will be eaten? The lense really doesn’t matter too much in a situation where the subject won’t move and you have all day unless you need a wide open aperture.

  • http://www.event2photos.com Dan Sulla

    Lens choice is always important. Most food photography relies on lighting and in order to have lighting options one uses a longer lens. These are not rules of course but principles. I learned them from photographer that not only made his living shooting food but kept his studio open and staff payed with great work. I look at the fruit on the tree. So no the camera isn’t going to eat the food.

  • http://www.event2photos.com Dan Sulla

    And you don’t have all day when shooting food. Once food hits the set it needs to be shot quickly.

  • Dana Rich

    Trick photography isn’t just a mediocre form of photography because one must have creative ideas and technical skills to be able to accomplish a perfect shot. http://www.learntotrickphotography.com/

  • Mamatha Bochala

    I made Hasselback style roasted red potatoes with Rosemary. and pancakes with Roasted Red potatoes for breakfast.

  • http://minoritynomad.com JohnnySwolls

    Love this shot. I think more of the background being in the shot was a great choice creatively.

Some older comments

  • Lizel Geldenhuys

    June 6, 2013 01:27 am

    Hallo, great tips!! I did a international photography course about a year ago( with exams and all that) and would love to only do food photography. I go through endless amounts off information through DPS, but would like to really learn food photography.

    Is there perhaps a accredited course in food photography that i can do with something to show for it in the end?

    Looking forward to hear from you.
    Lizel

  • Kishan

    September 8, 2012 12:17 am

    So only once I tried food Photography. I pictured a sandwich with my kit lens and was pretty impressed with the result :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/76601665@N00/6422815265/in/photostream

  • arturomar

    September 7, 2012 04:05 am

    Sure, that 50mm f1.8 Canon lens is excelent if the subject is there waiting for you and you already set the illumination as is the case here.

    But if there is low light or the subject is moving it's another story.

    In my Canon 40D, if I choose only the center point for autofocus in relatively low light, the lens fails to focus, is strange, may be only my copy.

  • Juan

    September 4, 2012 12:54 am

    I read this back in 2010. The food still looks fresh and delicious!! As to the lens, I like my 50mm f1.8 a lot.

  • Trick Photography

    September 4, 2012 12:31 am

    This might be subtle or it could just be me, but food pictures taken in portrait mode always looks more delicious than those taken in landscape.

  • raghavendra

    September 3, 2012 03:07 am

    Delicious food my grand mother's preparation :)

    raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/07/delicious-food-by-grand-mother.html

  • fete paleta

    May 13, 2012 09:10 am

    I truly appreciated this gorgeous weblog. Make certain you maintain up the excellent function. Finest Regards .

  • Sanjiv

    March 11, 2012 01:00 pm

    i am really impressed with the tips and i did not know before that i was using one of the camera angles for shooting the pictures of the food. it really works...

  • Mehreen

    August 16, 2011 06:57 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mak98/6040825341/in/photostream
    Really good advice. My mom's a chef and I'll be sure to use it.

  • Kenny Haner

    March 28, 2011 12:19 pm

    "Choose fresh and locally grown ingredients"

    This is a great tip. Fresh is obvious and essential as anything less will make your job that much harder. I really like the idea of locally grown ingredients! Trying to replicate a recipe and finding out that some obscure ingredient is not available to you can be frustrating. Fantastic post.

  • jason

    March 18, 2011 05:10 am

    I am in middle of arranging a photo shoot for a local bakery. They'll be using the pics on a display in store and I will be taking pics while the products are still on shelf.

    I suspect that I'll be taking a fair amount of shots, but don't know what I should charge. The owner mentioned that she might want me to come back periodically to take shots of new product as its shelved... any help would be appreciated.

  • Mary Stephens

    March 5, 2011 11:30 am

    one of the things i have found that has helped me a lot is to search around for images i really like and then try to recreate them if i can. mostly just for practice. i don't normally share those images (not tryin to plagiarize, just see if i can do what they did...) but if i did one that was really good then i know i can change it around and make it my own!

    and "feeling" the frame is different than "filling" the frame :)

  • Denver Food Photographer

    January 13, 2011 06:03 pm

    lol... You gotta love the ability to eat the props... something us portrait photographers certainly can't do.

  • theresa galindez

    December 6, 2010 01:01 am

    your photo made my mouth water, so clear, so inviting which is bad for me because i'm on a diet.

  • Shutterbugdeb

    November 27, 2010 09:44 pm

    Trying to include the image. Hope this works.

  • Shutterbugdeb

    November 27, 2010 09:24 pm

    Ooops, didn't include the image. Hope this works.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/25154062@N02/5197919385/' title='Apple cake' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4089/5197919385_8a1e693237.jpg']

  • Shutterbugdeb

    November 27, 2010 09:22 pm

    I've been experimenting with food photography. This is my latest effort - apple cake.

  • Matthew

    August 15, 2010 06:32 pm

    Great advice. I made 2 big mistakes this week, but still uploaded them to remind myself that less is more and not to shoot something that has a dark color, against a dark background. The best advice I found in this article though was the part about white balance. I will keep that in mind the next time s place uses mood lighting.

  • dave

    August 14, 2010 06:08 pm

    I'll try a couple more...
    [eimg url='http://i245.photobucket.com/albums/gg67/zooloader/Fun%20Stuff/Lecesbirthdaybrunch.jpg' title='Lecesbirthdaybrunch.jpg']
    [eimg url='http://i245.photobucket.com/albums/gg67/zooloader/Fun%20Stuff/Lecesbirthdaybrunch_1.jpg' title='Lecesbirthdaybrunch_1.jpg']

  • dave

    August 14, 2010 05:58 pm

    My sister-in-law's birthday brunch last weekend had tons of scrummy stuff to eat, I felt I had to at least try and capture it for posterity!
    http://i245.photobucket.com/albums/gg67/zooloader/Fun%20Stuff/Lecesbirthdaybrunch_2.jpg

  • Norman Rosenzweig

    August 14, 2010 07:08 am

    fabulous!

  • Kushal

    August 14, 2010 04:11 am

    I was inspired by your pictures and I gave it a try to shoot some shrimps.

    http://sanjaal.com/studio/558/food-photography/shooting-the-shrimps-the-tasty-way/

  • ASO

    August 14, 2010 03:46 am

    oops, I did send responce to wrong place - sorry

  • ASO

    August 14, 2010 03:45 am

    In the week I visited the area that came covered with volkano ash this spring. The vegetation has come far to take over and the Icelandic common bluberries thrived very well. They looked perfect and tasted eaven better. [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/anna_soffia/4888733468/' title='The common wild bluberry - Vaccinium uliginosum' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4134/4888733468_6264f73ce7_z.jpg']

  • dario

    August 13, 2010 03:44 pm

    @lauren
    Hi Lauren, I wouldn't throw away a very expensive macro lens if I had one, they are fantastic for food photography; with a macro lens it's a complete different type of photography, the lighting changes, the composition changes, the background becomes less important, it's all about the food, and it's all about details.
    I took a lot of photos with a Sigma 105 mm 1:2.8 which is definitely another lens I recommend for those who want to experiment a bit more without having to sell the house….
    But the 50 mm f1.8 is very versatile as we said and does a lot of things for you :-)
    Dario

  • Lauren

    August 13, 2010 04:55 am

    Hi Dario, thanks so much for this article. I have assisted on quite a few food photography shoots and I've been wanting to get into it myself for a while. I thought I would have to buy an expensive macro lens but I'm glad to hear that a 50mm will do the trick! I've been wanting to get one for portraiture so I'm glad to hear I can use it for food too. Thanks again for your tips!

  • KBK

    August 13, 2010 02:24 am

    I will be shooting food this weekend with a Canon 50mm 1.2 - sublime lens....

  • Bhimaprasad Maiti

    August 13, 2010 01:59 am

    A very infomative article.But for practising ,I cannot save. Is there any other way tosave.Pl.advise, if you respond. Thanks.

  • Nichole

    August 10, 2010 10:15 pm

    This is great. I've taken a couple good food shots here and there, but I attribute that more to the food itself looking SO good than anything else. :) I will definitely try these tips out. So far I have not mucked with the white balance a whole lot, because for some reason it's been a little intimidating. Any extra tips on that aspect would be much appreciated -- I've never really gotten it to work the way I'd like.

  • dario

    August 10, 2010 09:04 am

    @mattew blassey : it's all dslr work….so far; but I like medium format cameras and have been tempted to purchase one for quite some time!

  • dario

    August 10, 2010 08:57 am

    @Kirstine Vergara Thanks for your comment and for adding to the post; you're right, never shoot on an empty stomach!

  • Kirstine Vergara

    August 9, 2010 06:24 pm

    Great article! I used to work in a advertising photography studio and food photography had always been one of the most tedious projects we've done. Why, because it took more time to shoot food rather than talents. I have a few tips I've learned during my stay there:
    - Bring extra products so you can choose the best one.
    - Have something to enhance the food. E.g. olive oil to make the food look like it was just cooked.
    - Do not shoot a product on an empty stomach. Since you're hungry, you might not be able to know if the shot is really mouthwatering or not because your mind is telling you that you want food.

  • Jonathan Lim

    August 7, 2010 03:07 pm

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/glimjo/4782737734/

    Picture of a custard apple 8D

    Very good tips.

  • dario

    August 7, 2010 12:23 pm

    @Mei, yes it is a octopus salad gently pressed into a mould and then plated :-)

  • Digital Photography

    August 7, 2010 11:06 am

    I’ve never had the luxury of working with a food stylist; if you aren’t well-known, you will most likely take on this role yourself. While I lack the massive collection of props that a professional stylist would own, I do have at my disposal some place settings, backgrounds, and typically some degree of control over how food is presented. I don’t tend to use stand-ins or other tricks to get the results that I want, but remember that those are available if you need them. Whether I am at home or out shooting at restaurants, I am always challenged to use my on-hand supplies and creativity to create the right mood and draw the viewer in without distracting them.

    I'd love for some of the photography enthusiasts’ to visit our site. We have many articles on Digital Photography , Business Photography, Camera Reviews, Photography articles

  • Mei Teng

    August 7, 2010 10:37 am

    The last photo is that of an octopus dish?

  • gaby

    August 7, 2010 07:40 am

    Here is one of my favorites, Ñoquis

  • Kat Landreth

    August 7, 2010 04:18 am

    I'm so glad you suggest eating the food when you're done. I know a lot of food photographers rely on inedible food to get the "best" shots... but you really don't have to go that rout every time. Shrimp can look mouthwatering without a glaze of motor oil!

    I was a professional fine dining cook for years and I know if food can make it from the kitchen to the table and still look fantastic, it can look great in photos too. Loved this post. Thanks!

  • mattew blassey

    August 7, 2010 03:55 am

    Dario, do you tend to shoot all of your food assignments with a dslr or do you also use a medium format camera to produce that tilt shift focus ?

    great samples of work !

  • Laura Stolpman

    August 7, 2010 03:52 am

    I take food pictures in restaurant kitchens frequently. I just did a set at The Publican in Chicago:

    http://chicagoist.com/2010/08/05/food_pr0n_the_publican.php

    For my shoots, which are normally very fast paced, there is no option of using a tripod though I would agree with it being the first choice for food photography. I also tend to like catching a shot of the food just as it is - as it would be served to a guest - and not terribly over-styled.

    White balance is my other largest challenge. I tend to fix it post-shoot and should take more time to learn how to use all of my camera settings. I admit to being a novice and needing to spend more time at the controls (partly why I read DPS!).

    Excellent tips, as always!

    Laura

  • Caroline

    August 7, 2010 03:34 am

    WHAT is that last thing?

  • Annie

    August 7, 2010 03:18 am

    A macro lens is great for capturing textures of your food bec you can get up close and personal!

  • Marcelo

    August 7, 2010 02:56 am

    What is that last dish? Octopus? Where can I eat it??? Looks delicious!!!!

  • Ryan (@MeiTeng)

    August 7, 2010 02:24 am

    He wasn't talking about the prime 50mm but the cheapest 50 Canon makes. It may not have the best glass, but the f 1.8 is a great lens. The 50mm f 1.2 Prime isn't worth the extra cash if you ask me.

  • Scott

    August 7, 2010 02:22 am

    Here's a little different take, from the DPS "Fruits and Veggies" assignment.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4354331800/

  • Scott

    August 7, 2010 02:20 am

    There are a lot of other articles, even on DPS, about food photography. It's a much more extensive subject than I ever realized. DPS had a series of food assignments awhile back.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4371198620/

  • Calaelen

    August 7, 2010 01:30 am

    Ah… one more thing, eat the props!!

    Best tip ever :D

  • MeiTeng

    August 7, 2010 01:06 am

    I agree that the 50mm prime lens is a must for food photography. Using suitable props is another important tip.

  • andrea @ Food Not Fuss

    August 7, 2010 12:50 am

    Great post! I've been trying to teach myself about food photography for my blog. I think I'm pretty good at following most of the tips you suggest, but you've convinced me that it's time to pick up a tripod.

    And you're right -- definitely eat the props. It's the best part of food photography!

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