5 Tips That Will Make Your Food Photos Stand out from the Crowd

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1 Cornish Game Hen

Food photography may be more popular now than ever before. The blogosphere is exploding with pictures of food, and social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram are flooding you with never-ending streams of food photos 24/7. Creating food images that stand out in this massive sea of content is a difficult task. Here are five tips to help you get your food photos noticed.

#1 Don’t be afraid of shadows

Shadows make a scene look realistic, give your food texture, and create mood, so don’t hesitate to make them part of your food photo. To create nice, dark shadows let your light fall onto your food either from the back or the side at a fairly low angle, from just a little bit above the surface of your set. Use reflectors sparingly, or not at all. Reflectors bounce light back into the areas of your photo that your light source doesn’t reach, in other words, into the shadows. So to keep the shadows dark, don’t reflect the light.

1 Salted Caramel Candy

In the salted caramel candy photo above my light was falling onto the set from the back at a low angle and I didn’t use any reflectors.

#2 Imply action

Action makes your viewers feel as if they are part of your scene; that kind of engagement is always a good thing. Action can be literal, such as a hand holding a hamburger or pouring syrup over a stack of pancakes, but there are other (and actually easier) ways for you to suggest that something is happening in your photo. One example is a glass of freshly poured beer. Your viewers likely know that the lifespan of the foam top on a beer is only a minute, so seeing a fresh beer tells them that someone must have just been at the scene to pour it.

2 BBQ Ribs

#3 Point your lens up at food that is tall and stacked

Shooting up from slightly below the food is an unusual angle for food photography; but it can create really compelling images of tall items such as cakes, and things that are stacked, like burgers or, as in the example below, shards of toffee. The food will be towering above the viewer which makes it look big and impressive. Needless to say this angle doesn’t work for flat food, so don’t shoot a pizza with this method.

3 Toffee

#4 Create visual contrast

Contrast comes in many varieties and helps make your food photo look interesting. You can create contrast by incorporating different shapes into your photo, such as round and rectangular (or square). You can also create contrast by including colors in your photo that are on opposite sides of the color wheel (complementary), like red and green, or blue and orange. The lettuce cup photo below illustrates both of these concepts, the square dish contrasts the round lettuce cups and the red sauce provides contrast to the green lettuce.

4 Lettuce Cups

#5 Leave negative space in the image

Don’t feel that you have to fill every square inch of the frame with food or props. A little negative (empty) space gives the food room to breathe, and will keep your viewers from getting overwhelmed and feeling claustrophobic. There are no hard and fast rules that dictate where to leave negative space in a food photo but the rule of thirds is always a good place to start. Imagine your photo dissected into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and place your subject on or near one of the four points where those lines intersect. Leave the rest of your photo empty and take a test shot. Does the scene look good to you or is it too barren? If it looks like it’s missing something, add more elements to the frame, one by one and along the imaginary lines that dissect your frame, until you have a composition that looks pleasing to you. That’s how I went about composing the Thai curry ingredients shot below.

5 Thai Curry Ingredients

I hope these tips give you some new ideas for your food photography. If you have any others please share them in the comments below.

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Nicole Branan is an award-winning freelance food photographer and stylist in the Denver area. On her blog, The Spice Train, she shares recipes, as well as food photography tips and tricks in every post. She is also the author of “Food Photography Behind the Scenes – Bright Food, Dark Shadows,” an eBook that describes in detail how to create dark, dramatic food photos. See her portfolio on her website.

  • Josh

    Great…Now my mouth is watering and I’m hungry. I could kill some ribs right now!

  • KevinIsCooking

    Thanks Nicole! I love the toffee shot tip of shooting upwards for stacked food. Brilliant!

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    Thank you, Kevin! Glad you find it useful. 🙂

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    Sorry for triggering that side effect, Josh! 😉

  • drishti maan

    everything here is just amazing <3
    and Nicole this is really gonna help you in my next assisgnment 🙂
    you are such a "wow" 🙂

  • There is only one thing this article is missing: the recipes for those lovely photographed dishes. OK two things: someone to cook it for me would be great too as my cooking skills are absent 😀

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    What a lovely comment, so nice to read that. Thank you , Drishti!

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    🙂 Some of the recipes are actually on my blog, but unfortunately I have no way to be of assistance with the cooking…

  • Then I will go to your blog and see if it inspires me to learn to cook, I suppose… or maybe I should learn how to become a really good food photographer and then exchange photos for meals instead 😀

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    That would certainly be the ultimate compliment, Lille! 🙂

  • Yes, it would. But until then I will have to try your chicken wings – they look far too good 🙂

  • walwit

    Sorry, I’ve no comment on your photography technique, I just got so hungry.

  • LOL then the photos are successful I’d say!

  • These are great tips Nicole! I find I’m really uncomfortable with negative space. My instinct is to completely pack the frame with everything I can think of! I’m trying to challenge myself to curb that I bit! 🙂

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    That is very flattering indeed, thank you! 😉

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    Thank you, Kelly! It takes a bit getting used to at first but it’ll start to feel more comfortable with time. 🙂

  • Momen Khaiti

    Thanks a lot for those great tips. I have recently also started my own food photography line of freelancing business and I wish I did much earlier. It’s so much fun. Here’s an example of my work. I would love to hear some feedback from everyone. http://www.momenkhaiti.com/Public/Stock-Photos-Images/Stock-Food/i-V3SFF2C/0/M/_MG_2064-M.jpg

  • Mike McPhee

    Lovely tones and mood great creation. Certainly appetising images. What lenses did you use?

    I have a 90mm Canon tilt and shift which i use for landscapes and portraits. I think food shots would be cool with it?

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    Thank you, Mike! I use a 105mm f2.8 macro lens (nikkor). Yes, I think a 90mm tilt/shift would work great for food photography!

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    Food photography is a lot of fun, isn’t it? You posted a beautiful photo here with gorgeously styled food! Did you do the styling yourself? It’s fantastic. I love the composition, the styling and the lighting, the only thing that bugs me just a little is the fact that I can see light being reflected off of the (printed?) surface. Certainly a very appetizing photo though! Now you made me hungry. 🙂

  • Love all the tips here Nicole, and your gorgeous photos! One of the most important tips for me – leaving enough negative space. I always forgot about this, and fill up any inch of the photo with props. Thanks 🙂

  • Momen Khaiti

    Thanks a lot Nicole! I’m flattered by your complements and nice words. To answer your questions, my wife is the cook, we both work on the styling and I take care of the composition, lighting and other photography stuff. The surface is actually printed and I agree with your comment there. Getting a “real” one is work in progress. 🙂 Once again, thanks for all the tips and feedback. 🙂

  • Byron Thomas

    Thanks for sharing this, Nicole. Lots of valuable tips!

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    Thank you, Byron! So glad you find it helpful. 🙂

  • nicole (thespicetrain.com)

    You’re very welcome, Maggie! 🙂

  • christina.stromberg
  • What is that, it looks yummy!?

  • A polarizing filter might help with the reflection, to cut it down.

  • Momen Khaiti

    It’s a famous Arabic dessert called Qatayef. Basically, it’s dough very similar to pancakes filled with fresh cream, garnished with ground pistachios and sweetened with sugar syrup or honey (how I personally prefer it). Mostly associated with the month of Ramadan.

  • AH! I might have had that in Turkey, is that possible?

  • Nacera Neda

    good one ! 🙂

  • david muriithi

    You have absolutely no idea just how helpful these tips are. As we say in our country ASANTE SANA (Thank You very much) Nairobi, Kenya.

  • You made my day, David! Asante Sana to you!! 🙂

  • david muriithi

    ??

  • Tatree Saengmeeanuphab

    I love your tips , Thank you so much .
    Kien , Thailand

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