10 Tips to Improve Your Food Photography Styling - Digital Photography School

10 Tips to Improve Your Food Photography Styling

This is a guest post by Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

While portrait photographers need to be skilled in the art of getting their subjects to relax in front of the camera to get a great shot, we food photographers have things a little easier. At least our subjects (mostly) can’t talk.

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But that doesn’t mean you should forget to apply a little charm in the food styling department.

The more time spent making the food attractive as possible, the easier things are when it comes to taking the shot.

So here are 10 tips to help you improve your food styling, naturally.

1. Use less food than you normally would

While it may seem more generous to serve plates piled high with food, an over crowded plate can look less appealing than a minimalist spread. Think about how you can use the white space of the plate to frame your dish.

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2. Use paper to add texture to plates

Lining plates with parchment or baking paper helps to add visual interest and soften the lines of your plates.

3. Look for contrast with backgrounds

While there are times when all white on white can be visually striking, I find I get better shots if I go for contrast. So a pale coloured food and plate gets a dark background where as a vibrantly coloured dish tends to be best with a simple white background.

image3guest.jpg

4. Allow food to spill over naturally

Getting a bit messy really helps to add movement and life to your photographs, rather than having everything confined to plates and bowls.

5. Choose simple crockery and tableware

While highly decorative China and napery are beautiful on their own, they can detract from the visual impact of the food. Plain plates, especially classic white allow the food to be the star.

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6. Emphasise the natural beauty of the food

Try and think about what it is that makes a particular dish look delicious and then serve it in a way to flaunt it.

For example, I love the golden, cripsy skin of a well roasted chicken. Rather than carve the chook into individual slices with tiny slivers of skin visible, the whole bird tends to look best.

7. Get some work-in-progress shots

It can be easy to focus on getting the final plated-up food shot and miss out on some great opportunities along the way. Try taking a few shots during the preparation and cooking process.

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8. Try and capture the ‘yum’ factor

Think about what makes your subject really delicious and then aim to highlight this characteristic in your shot. Ice cream is a great example. It’s all about smooth creaminess and licking drips from the sides of your cone or bowl.

9. Always be on the lookout for ideas

Inspiration can strike from anywhere. When you’re eating out or even just flicking through your favourite food mag, take note of what looks appealing and what doesn’t.

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10. Dig in and reshoot

Once you have a shot of the whole food that you love, eat or serve some out and then take another shot. Often a half finished plate is more appetizing than the original whole.

A few great food photography blogs:

For more tips on improving your food photography see:

Also check out our Snapn Food Guide to food photography.

Jules Clancy is a qualified Food Scientist, and self-taught food photographer. She blogs about her commitment to cooking recipes with no more than 5 ingredients over at Stonesoup.

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  • ScottC

    Interesting article, and great photos to go with the advice. Food doesn’t have to “relax” for the camera, but it can become stale looking if you wait to long.

    I’ve taken several food photos, it is a fun but challenging subject:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157625691582656/

  • http://www.valeriejardinphotography.com Valerie Jardin

    Great article and beautiful food images Jules! I mostly shoot on location in restaurants. A food stylist is rarely available and I often work directly with the chef. The trend is for a more organic and natural approach which your images reflect well.
    You can see samples of my food images here: http://www.valeriejardinphotography.com/Food.html
    A recent shoot I did for a pastry chef which let me be more creative is featured in this blog post:
    http://valeriejardinphotography.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/up-close-and-personal/

    Thanks!
    Valerie

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    Great tips and advice on food photography. Setting up the lighting is key, often shot inside a large softbox. I tried something different with this shot of a slice of orange. I suspended it on glass over a black background and lit it from underneath. This makes the slice glow!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/labelled/

  • http://andromeda.qc.ca Sherry

    I agree about the “eat some and re-shoot” idea. Depending on the food, taking a bite allows you to see more of the food’s texture especially if it’s something enclosed like a pie or a casserole.

    I love food photography!

  • allen furst

    I enjoyed reading this article but I want to say that I disagree with #4. Maybe I’m a clean freak, but to me stuff dribbling over the sides detracts from the presentation and elegance of a well-prepared dish.

  • http://rizalenio.blogspot.com Rizalenio

    Very informative post again. Now that I read this, I’ll buy more white plates. :) Thanks a lot for this very helpful tips.

  • Mei Teng

    I love food photography too. As for tip#4, I believe it should not be over-done. Otherwise, the presentation tends to end up looking messy.

  • http://www.indraphotography.com Bali Photographer

    This info are really simple and easy to try. I believe all to be happy with this. I am a Bali Photographer say thank you for sharing with us the information

  • http://thestonesoup.com jules

    sherry
    yes! especially for things with fillings, exposing the goodness on the inside can make a bi difference. It can also bring things to life more… giving the impression of action.

    allen & mei
    well I guess it depends on your aesthetic… I like mess and prefer rusticity to perfection. but good point that it can be overdone.

  • http://www.duaego.com john harris

    Hard work went into this article. As for Tip #4 . . . for me, that and other diversionary images, has been a money-making tactic. Finished a complete menu project last year and, added human hands and flatware props to the photo and, lo and behold, that particular menu item increased in sales tenfold for the restaurant owner/operator. Most were skeptical of the idea but, asked them to kindly review the results. That project increased sales for me as well.

    Thank you . . .

    duaego

  • http://stevoes.wordpress.com/ Stephen

    TY for the tips! I enjoy taking photographs of food items and these tricks will help me out I know!!

    http://stevoes.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/img_5817.jpg

    ^ Picture of my beer-can chicken on a crock skillet, Tip #5

  • Raphael

    I am sorry to say but i cannot believe this article! The food does not look appetizing at all! Spilling the food like in the pics up here makes it looks messy and yuk! What a mess! The one with the dirty pan with wayyyy too much oregano on the side, with the way too large bowl of tomato sauce with spilled tomato all over the saucer! Disgusting! The ice-cream one with cream that drips like sperm from the side! Yuk! And the last pic : it looks like the spoon has vomit on it! Perhaps this self taught “photographer” should get some lessons from a professional photographer AND a stylist!

  • Raphael

    Correction: I meant basilicum not oregano!

  • http://richcopley.com Rich Copley

    Love this, and being married to a cook, I know I’ll have chances to put some of these tips to work.

  • Ashley

    Not that it looks bad, but #5 makes me think it’s sitting on top of a pair of folded jeans–like someone set down the chicken on the laundry.

  • Ashley

    #6, rather :)

  • http://kaidensevenphoto.com KaiKaiKai

    awesome article.
    i will try some of these soon!

  • http://www.ralphvelasco.com/blog RalphVelasco

    Really great, short and to the point hints and tips, much appreciated. The photography is well-done, too, great example images, thanks!

  • michael

    The photos are unappealing similar to scribbling between the lines.There is an art and beauty in the presentation of food missing

  • http://thefloursack.blogspot.com/ Brooke (The Flour Sack)

    Thanks for a great article. I’ve just recently started a food blog and am learning the ropes of food photography. Each picture seems to improve a little from the one prior, so I am hopeful. It is exciting learning these things! I appreciate the simple yet effective tips here. The examples really help, too!

  • http://thestonesoup.com jules

    michael
    thanks for sharing your opinion. I never was very good at colouring between the lines..

    brooke
    awesome that you’ve started your blog! and I like your approach of trying to make each picture a little bit better than the last. enjoy

  • David Marlow

    I agree with both Allen Furst and Raphel. Food spilling over the plate / dish is off putting and not for me.

  • http://www.harryhilders-fotografie.com Harry Hilders

    Great article! Very useful!

  • http://www.whitepetal.co.uk Paul

    Useful, although I don’t shoot food on a day to day basis, there is always the wedding cake!!

  • http://www.digital-camera-photography.blogspot.com abhishek

    Good food and photography as well…
    see my food photography – Food Photography

  • http://www.13-Design.net Bones

    Great article. I have made an adaptation (+ credit) of this article for the french photography website bokeh.fr.. You can see it here : http://bokeh.fr/blog/technique-photo/10-astuces-pour-ameliorer-vos-photos-culinaires/

  • amber

    since this blog came up when googeling for helpful tips & tricks, I thought it has some useful content but instead I found information the author is unable to use himself. although the content may be right, there is a tremendous lack in the use of basic photografic principles in terms of light and composition in all pictures and the food does not at all look fresh, appealing or tasteful. please work on your self-reflection before spreading stuff like this on the internet! make way for people who really are able to contribute with professional advice and can convince by presenting the results. for everyone who is interested in professional information on photography, look out for the best people out there and try to find out where and how they share their knowledge, i.e. books, workshops, training-videos

  • http://thestonesoup.com jules

    Amber,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective.
    I hope you find what you’re looking for somewhere else.

  • http://zwickerhillphotography.com Maine Wedding Photographer

    I love food photography. I wish I had more time for it. I’m going to have the opportunity to take some photos for a local BBQ restaurant for their website and your tips should come in handy. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  • http://www.barrykidd.com Barry Kidd

    Thank you for sharing. Though food isn’t what I normally photograph I’m working on a small project this week and looking for information that will help me get decent results.

    Just a group photography group I belong to and Sunday’s theme is BACON!!

    If I’m going to do it I may as well try and do it right.

    Barry

  • http://www.sineaspantry.com Sinea

    Thanks for the helpful tips and I’ll be sure to try out some of these. :) I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to food photography but the photos in this article are mouth-watering!

  • http://thestonesoup.com/blog/ jules

    Thanks Sinea!
    I’m so glad you liked the photos

  • http://www.trovephotography.com Beth @ Trove Photography

    Wow this is awesome! Food photography is not a part of my business, but I’ve always admired it and wanted to play around with it more on the side. Number 10 is a particularly great tip. ;)

  • http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2013/04/21/ Sabina

    I think this is nice post. Last days I’m into food photography and I think I have some great work, so if you have time, look:
    http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2013/04/21/
    http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2013/01/24/
    http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2012/10/28/

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeraldwilliams/ Emerald

    Great tip about using less food than normal.

    Valerie, your photos are mouthwatering and very inspiring.

    I love food photography. It is always a challenge to do justice to a dish

    Here is my set of food on flickr :http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeraldwilliams/sets/72157623427595835/

  • http://www.5daysago.wordpress.com michelle deiter

    Love the tips ! Thank you, it will help. Please look at my blog if you have a second …. any advice would be helpful ! Thanks….

  • parvez bam

    Certain fruits do not look attractive.they appeal only when they are arranged

  • http://www.philipharper.info Philip

    1. Use less food than you normally would

    Great tip, also using oversized plates helps draw the eye to the food.

  • Keith Starkey

    Excellent! Out of the box a bit, which is what it’s all about!

  • http://clippingpath.in/ Jack Rose – Clipping Path

    Background are the most effect for food photography.

Some older comments

  • Philip

    September 13, 2013 01:02 am

    1. Use less food than you normally would

    Great tip, also using oversized plates helps draw the eye to the food.

  • parvez bam

    May 31, 2013 12:26 am

    Certain fruits do not look attractive.they appeal only when they are arranged

  • michelle deiter

    May 9, 2013 05:45 am

    Love the tips ! Thank you, it will help. Please look at my blog if you have a second .... any advice would be helpful ! Thanks....

  • Emerald

    May 3, 2013 09:29 pm

    Great tip about using less food than normal.

    Valerie, your photos are mouthwatering and very inspiring.

    I love food photography. It is always a challenge to do justice to a dish

    Here is my set of food on flickr :http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeraldwilliams/sets/72157623427595835/

  • Sabina

    April 27, 2013 05:32 am

    I think this is nice post. Last days I'm into food photography and I think I have some great work, so if you have time, look:
    http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2013/04/21/
    http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2013/01/24/
    http://www.photoblog.com/NoraSabino/2012/10/28/

  • Beth @ Trove Photography

    March 9, 2013 01:57 am

    Wow this is awesome! Food photography is not a part of my business, but I've always admired it and wanted to play around with it more on the side. Number 10 is a particularly great tip. ;)

  • jules

    February 5, 2013 05:25 pm

    Thanks Sinea!
    I'm so glad you liked the photos

  • Sinea

    February 5, 2013 12:13 am

    Thanks for the helpful tips and I'll be sure to try out some of these. :) I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to food photography but the photos in this article are mouth-watering!

  • Barry Kidd

    December 4, 2012 10:43 am

    Thank you for sharing. Though food isn't what I normally photograph I'm working on a small project this week and looking for information that will help me get decent results.

    Just a group photography group I belong to and Sunday's theme is BACON!!

    If I'm going to do it I may as well try and do it right.

    Barry

  • Maine Wedding Photographer

    February 10, 2012 03:50 am

    I love food photography. I wish I had more time for it. I'm going to have the opportunity to take some photos for a local BBQ restaurant for their website and your tips should come in handy. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  • jules

    July 28, 2011 06:27 pm

    Amber,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective.
    I hope you find what you're looking for somewhere else.

  • amber

    July 24, 2011 10:56 pm

    since this blog came up when googeling for helpful tips & tricks, I thought it has some useful content but instead I found information the author is unable to use himself. although the content may be right, there is a tremendous lack in the use of basic photografic principles in terms of light and composition in all pictures and the food does not at all look fresh, appealing or tasteful. please work on your self-reflection before spreading stuff like this on the internet! make way for people who really are able to contribute with professional advice and can convince by presenting the results. for everyone who is interested in professional information on photography, look out for the best people out there and try to find out where and how they share their knowledge, i.e. books, workshops, training-videos

  • Bones

    May 25, 2011 01:24 am

    Great article. I have made an adaptation (+ credit) of this article for the french photography website bokeh.fr.. You can see it here : http://bokeh.fr/blog/technique-photo/10-astuces-pour-ameliorer-vos-photos-culinaires/

  • abhishek

    May 13, 2011 05:33 pm

    Good food and photography as well...
    see my food photography - Food Photography

  • Paul

    May 6, 2011 09:12 pm

    Useful, although I don't shoot food on a day to day basis, there is always the wedding cake!!

  • Harry Hilders

    May 4, 2011 10:45 pm

    Great article! Very useful!

  • David Marlow

    May 4, 2011 04:17 am

    I agree with both Allen Furst and Raphel. Food spilling over the plate / dish is off putting and not for me.

  • jules

    May 2, 2011 09:04 am

    michael
    thanks for sharing your opinion. I never was very good at colouring between the lines..

    brooke
    awesome that you've started your blog! and I like your approach of trying to make each picture a little bit better than the last. enjoy

  • Brooke (The Flour Sack)

    May 2, 2011 02:06 am

    Thanks for a great article. I've just recently started a food blog and am learning the ropes of food photography. Each picture seems to improve a little from the one prior, so I am hopeful. It is exciting learning these things! I appreciate the simple yet effective tips here. The examples really help, too!

  • michael

    May 1, 2011 04:30 am

    The photos are unappealing similar to scribbling between the lines.There is an art and beauty in the presentation of food missing

  • RalphVelasco

    April 30, 2011 05:53 am

    Really great, short and to the point hints and tips, much appreciated. The photography is well-done, too, great example images, thanks!

  • KaiKaiKai

    April 30, 2011 05:34 am

    awesome article.
    i will try some of these soon!

  • Ashley

    April 30, 2011 01:44 am

    #6, rather :)

  • Ashley

    April 30, 2011 01:43 am

    Not that it looks bad, but #5 makes me think it's sitting on top of a pair of folded jeans--like someone set down the chicken on the laundry.

  • Rich Copley

    April 29, 2011 02:23 pm

    Love this, and being married to a cook, I know I'll have chances to put some of these tips to work.

  • Raphael

    April 29, 2011 06:40 am

    Correction: I meant basilicum not oregano!

  • Raphael

    April 29, 2011 06:36 am

    I am sorry to say but i cannot believe this article! The food does not look appetizing at all! Spilling the food like in the pics up here makes it looks messy and yuk! What a mess! The one with the dirty pan with wayyyy too much oregano on the side, with the way too large bowl of tomato sauce with spilled tomato all over the saucer! Disgusting! The ice-cream one with cream that drips like sperm from the side! Yuk! And the last pic : it looks like the spoon has vomit on it! Perhaps this self taught "photographer" should get some lessons from a professional photographer AND a stylist!

  • Stephen

    April 29, 2011 06:06 am

    TY for the tips! I enjoy taking photographs of food items and these tricks will help me out I know!!

    http://stevoes.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/img_5817.jpg

    ^ Picture of my beer-can chicken on a crock skillet, Tip #5

  • john harris

    April 29, 2011 12:50 am

    Hard work went into this article. As for Tip #4 . . . for me, that and other diversionary images, has been a money-making tactic. Finished a complete menu project last year and, added human hands and flatware props to the photo and, lo and behold, that particular menu item increased in sales tenfold for the restaurant owner/operator. Most were skeptical of the idea but, asked them to kindly review the results. That project increased sales for me as well.

    Thank you . . .

    duaego

  • jules

    April 28, 2011 10:06 pm

    sherry
    yes! especially for things with fillings, exposing the goodness on the inside can make a bi difference. It can also bring things to life more... giving the impression of action.

    allen & mei
    well I guess it depends on your aesthetic... I like mess and prefer rusticity to perfection. but good point that it can be overdone.

  • Bali Photographer

    April 28, 2011 12:02 pm

    This info are really simple and easy to try. I believe all to be happy with this. I am a Bali Photographer say thank you for sharing with us the information

  • Mei Teng

    April 28, 2011 10:40 am

    I love food photography too. As for tip#4, I believe it should not be over-done. Otherwise, the presentation tends to end up looking messy.

  • Rizalenio

    April 28, 2011 07:56 am

    Very informative post again. Now that I read this, I'll buy more white plates. :) Thanks a lot for this very helpful tips.

  • allen furst

    April 28, 2011 04:39 am

    I enjoyed reading this article but I want to say that I disagree with #4. Maybe I'm a clean freak, but to me stuff dribbling over the sides detracts from the presentation and elegance of a well-prepared dish.

  • Sherry

    April 28, 2011 03:14 am

    I agree about the "eat some and re-shoot" idea. Depending on the food, taking a bite allows you to see more of the food's texture especially if it's something enclosed like a pie or a casserole.

    I love food photography!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    April 28, 2011 01:23 am

    Hi

    Great tips and advice on food photography. Setting up the lighting is key, often shot inside a large softbox. I tried something different with this shot of a slice of orange. I suspended it on glass over a black background and lit it from underneath. This makes the slice glow!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/labelled/

  • Valerie Jardin

    April 28, 2011 01:17 am

    Great article and beautiful food images Jules! I mostly shoot on location in restaurants. A food stylist is rarely available and I often work directly with the chef. The trend is for a more organic and natural approach which your images reflect well.
    You can see samples of my food images here: http://www.valeriejardinphotography.com/Food.html
    A recent shoot I did for a pastry chef which let me be more creative is featured in this blog post:
    http://valeriejardinphotography.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/up-close-and-personal/

    Thanks!
    Valerie

  • ScottC

    April 28, 2011 12:48 am

    Interesting article, and great photos to go with the advice. Food doesn't have to "relax" for the camera, but it can become stale looking if you wait to long.

    I've taken several food photos, it is a fun but challenging subject:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157625691582656/

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