11 Quick Food Photography Tips to Make Mouth Watering Images - Digital Photography School

11 Quick Food Photography Tips to Make Mouth Watering Images

One of my first jobs in photography involved shooting food, including doing shots for a cookbook. I learned a lot about food styling and choosing the right props. If you’ve ever needed to take some food photographs or think this is something you might want to try, here’s a few quick tips for you to get started.  Feel free to add your own tips or ask questions.

Food Photography Tips

#1 – PICK THE FRESHEST INGREDIENTS

If the skin looks wrinkled, scarred or damaged take it out and get a new one – or angle it in a such way so as not to see the bad side. This seem obvious but sometimes it’s easy to miss. You’re often photographing these things really close up so even the tiniest flaws will show up. Check them over closely and be ruthless when you buy our vegetables.

quinoa-salad

#2 -LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING!

Backlight is key to texture and making it appetizing looking. This will also allow any steam to show up in the image.  Steam or smoke will show up prominently when lit from behind. Notice how much more appetizing the corn and bean salad looks in the second image, and the only difference is the angle of light. The one that has the light skimming across it from behind makes the salad look crisp and fresh, the other one just seems flat and unappealing.

_MG_2962-600px

Lighting from the front and to camera right, notice how flat it seems?

_MG_2969-600px

Lighting from behind makes the salad glisten and look more appealing to the eye.

_MG_0703-600px

Dramatic lighting doesn’t have to be fancy, this was shot on my kitchen floor using light from the patio window.

#3 – KEEP IT SIMPLE

Take out stuff you don’t need. Take out things on the table that are distracting and pair down to just one plate of food.  If the food once cooked is unattractive only show a portion of it. Brown soup doesn’t really seem visually stimulating but if you have to do something with it, get creative with props and cropping and when in doubt follow the “more is less” rule of thumb.

QuinoaKaleSoup

#4 – USE SIMPLE PROPS INCLUDING RAW INGREGIENTS

Simple plates, cutlery, etc. and raw ingredients make great extra props. When I did a lot of food photography I had a cupboard full of different plates, placements and bowls, but only one of each!  Stick to non-patterned plates and bowls so the food stands out more.

If you don't have props use raw food bits

If you don’t have props use raw food bits

#5 – SHOW A BEFORE AND AFTER SHOT

Showing steps in the cooking process including chopping, in the pot or in process helps people understand the final image. Show one shot before, and one after it’s cooked or step by step images. This works well for things that just don’t look all that great cooked.

Super green soup in the pot before blending shows the ingredients well.

Super green soup in the pot before blending shows the ingredients well.

super-green-soup

After blending it doesn’t look like much so use the before and after, and prop with raw ingredients to help its appeal.

#6 – SHOW IT COOKING

Along the lines of #5 showing it cooking is sometimes better than showing the finished product.

_MG_0774-600px

In the pot and human element added. This was actually photographed on my deck in mid-winter. Can you guess what the background is?

#7 – ADD A HUMAN ELEMENT

Adding a hand stirring a pot or holding a plate allows you to show scale and adds a human element which is often more appealing and real to viewers.  (see photo above)

#8 – DON’T COOK IT COMPLETELY

When meats and vegetables are fully cooked they keep cooking after you remove them from the heat. So to keep them looking plump and juicy remove them from the stove or oven a bit early – take your photos, then put it back it to finish cooking before you eat it. This will keep things from looking shrivelled.

#9 – KEEP THE PLATES CLEAN

This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. The plates and props holding the food must be absolutely 100% pristine, clean, flaw free. When you shoot close up, like most food requires, any imperfections will show up and look like the dish is messy or incomplete.  Like this one.

Oops!  I should have cleaned the pot better.

Oops! I should have cleaned the pot better. Notice how messy it looks?

#10 – VARY YOUR CAMERA ANGLE

Try different angles of view when shooting your food items from directly overhead, tilted, shooting into the edge of the plate or table, and so on.  Get creative and try to show it in a different way than most people would see it.

A little tilt and diagonal lines just adds interest. Notice the back lighting again?

A little tilt and diagonal lines just adds interest. Notice the back lighting again?

#11 – ADD A BIT OF OIL

To make vegetables glisten brush them with a bit of olive oil, or mist a salad with water. It will make them look fresher.

_MG_3009-600px

These veggies were marinated in oil and herbs so notice how they glisten so nicely?

#12 – BONUS TIP FOOD SHOTS EATING OUT

Yup I’m one of those people that takes a photo of my food before I eat it, especially if it’s particularly nicely presented. I feel I owe it to the chef who took such great care in preparing it. Perhaps it my food photography background and I just can’t help myself!  I often just use my iPhone but when I do have my camera I will usually set it up before I eat it and take a few shots.  Here’s a couple of mine.

Okay let’s see how you put this to use!

Portland2012-0269-600px

French toast at the Byway Diner in Portland, Oregon.

Indulgence-600px

Cafe late and beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans

 

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darlene Hildebrandt is the Managing Editor of dPS. She is also a photographer and educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their photography skills through photography classes, and photography travel tours (join her in Nicaragua in November). Darlene has a FREE ebook 10 Challenges To Improve Your Photography and an online self-paced course, use the code "dps10off" to save $10.

  • http://www.konniandmatt.blogspot.com/ Matt Hahnewald

    Many thanks for helping me to improve my photo skills. I am still learning and I have tried to apply your hints to snaps of my wife’s salads. She is vegan and I am vegetarian which makes food photography even more challenging…
    “Konni’s Garden Salad” (Nikon D3100/SB400 – f/5.6 – 50mm – 1/200 – ISO200).
    Find more of my food photos here.
    Matt http://www.konniandmatt.blogspot.com
    .

  • AtlantaTerry

    Barbara, you want to CONTROL your lighting. A softbox will allow you that control while an umbrella throws light everywhere with little control.

  • Mr Wild

    This was such a help! Thanks

Some older comments

  • Leon

    September 22, 2013 01:13 am

    Wonderful tips thank you very much. I'm wondering how you approach foods with sauces that make sole into the food such as French toast with syrup. A French restaurant in town does a French toast brioche with fresh fruits and I'm thinking of maybe shooting it with just the fruit first and then as it cools a bit adding the syrup. Any help would be appreciated as food photography isn't my specialty.

    Thanks again

  • Saud

    August 9, 2013 06:05 am

    hi
    Very useful tips! thanks :)

    http://instagram.com/p/clug6Wr2MA/

  • shobha

    July 25, 2013 04:12 pm

    Amazing and very informative...small things add on to the detailing of the artwork(of which photography is one of them) and gives a complete finish to the endproduct..

    thanks..

  • Rob Stathem

    July 6, 2013 06:41 am

    Darlene,

    Thanks for sharing your tips/advice! I do a lot of food photography at home--it's fun, but, it's very difficult to get that "hero" shot.

    I've found that lighting is the most difficult thing I encounter! I shot a mango quinoa salad last week and it looked great in the viewfinder, BUT, when I opened the photos up in Photoshop, the salad looked a little dark. How come? I had a clamp lamp at a 90 degree angle with some white diffused tissue paper hitting the salad. I was also in a room with a HUGE window facing the back of the salad. The window faces north, so, it's a great place to get some light that isn't harsh.

    At any rate, maybe I could have adjusted my exposure compensation to let more light in or done bracketing to get some varying shots. Maybe my experience told me I should have shot this salad outside in the shade!?

    I wish I could easily upload this photo, but, it looks like they have to be uploaded to a server since it asks for a image URL.

    Thanks for your response,
    Rob

  • Lorenzo Photography

    June 25, 2013 10:58 pm

    Some great tips but I'd also like to add a couple more. Use natural light wherever possible I think it makes food look far more yummy! Ask the chef to cook more than one of the same dish so you can pick the best. Avoid souffles!

  • Maria

    June 8, 2013 08:34 am

    Great tips and examples, thanks!

  • Joi T

    June 8, 2013 12:27 am

    I carry a small keychain LED flashlight usually to see the setting on my camera at night...for restaurant shots, consider using to backlight, maybe bouncing off of a white napkin rather than direct. Also, can use the flashlight app on my phone to backlight while using a point and shoot camera (more discreet than SLR)...the app can change the color of the light to whatever enhances the food and softens the light.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    June 7, 2013 02:45 pm

    @Anita try and use what light is there. If there's a candle, use it. Maybe carry a small pocket or keychain flashlight that you can use to add a tiny bit of light. You may decide you need to get a small point and shoot camera instead of your phone just to give you a bit more flexibility of lenses, ISO, etc.

  • Michael Long

    June 7, 2013 10:07 am

    I go along with everything you talked about except the tipped camera thing....... Sorry it's a pet pvee'!

  • Masroor Ahmed

    June 7, 2013 02:07 am

    So much I learnt here about food photography. Can't wait to try em out. Thanks a bunch.

  • Anita Mac

    June 7, 2013 01:06 am

    Great tips. Have been following these rules of thumb for a while when doing food photography at home but would love a few in restaurant tips. I have switched to using my phone more and more as the practicality of my dSLR is just not there in a dimly lit or crowded restaurant. As a travel writer who often includes restaurants on my blog, I find getting those food pics to show what I am talking about a real challenge! They end up grainy or less than appealing! Unless I start eating my main meal in the middle of the day, not sure what is the best way to overcome this!

  • alexis

    June 6, 2013 04:00 pm

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    June 5, 2013 05:31 pm

    Pastries - hmm not really other than all the other stuff applies.

  • Kevin Chan

    June 5, 2013 12:28 am

    Very useful tips! It just so happens that a friend of mine asked me for tips on photographing food the other day, and now I have something to point her to. One quick question: do you have any tips for photographing pastries specifically?

  • Darlene

    June 4, 2013 01:43 am

    I meant to write (typos)

    I like IT, you don't. LOL

  • Darlene

    June 4, 2013 01:42 am

    @blake as I've said on to other commentators on other articles - we're each entitled to our opinions. I like you, you don't - nuff said.

  • Blake

    June 3, 2013 04:46 pm

    Hm. Not sure adding noise to a shot really adds to it. It's a little unattractive, and degrades what would otherwise be a fairly stock photo.

  • Darlene

    June 3, 2013 03:02 pm

    @Blake the "awful noise" is added grain that I did on purpose using Photoshop. It was shot at 800 ISO using a 5D Classic.

  • Mridula

    June 1, 2013 08:41 pm

    Food for thought as well!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Blake

    June 1, 2013 05:08 pm

    What's with the awful noise on the last shot? That's gonna be something terrible like 6400+ISO to get that much noise.

  • Darlene

    June 1, 2013 05:47 am

    @harold - there really no such thing as an ideal aperture, it will depend on how much depth of field you want. If you want more of it in focus use a smaller one like f8 or f11 and you may then need a tripod. If you want a more "artsy" look shoot more wide opened f2.8 or f1.8

  • harold

    June 1, 2013 05:32 am

    i am always struggling with taking food pictures....this is perfect timing. out of curiosity, what's your ideal aperture when taking these pics? thank you...

  • Guigphotography

    June 1, 2013 01:26 am

    I'm inspired. And also hungry. Think #10 really adds to this subject. Love it!

  • Satesh

    May 31, 2013 10:25 pm

    Brilliant work and article Darlene. Thank you for sharing.

  • nuspa

    May 31, 2013 06:49 pm

    here my shot of a tasty "bruschetta"
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuspa/7997133463/

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    May 31, 2013 01:51 pm

    @scottc - suggestion for your wine/cheese shot? Get some light coming through the back of the wine to light it up. It will show more wine colored than black that way. Maybe try a different camera angle, crop in a bit perhaps? The black or really dark background feels a bit foreboding, do you have any way to add a backlight to it even if you use a flashlight or house lamp? Lighting doesn't have to be fancy studio lights.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    May 31, 2013 01:49 pm

    @scottc thanks

    and @Rick that's the goal so I win I guess! LOL

  • Rick

    May 31, 2013 01:06 pm

    I'm Hungry!!

  • ScottC

    May 31, 2013 07:54 am

    Those are great photos, and great tips!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5377988302/

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed