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8 Steps to Create Mouth Watering Food Photography

Have you ever tried taking a picture of food and it just didn’t look as good as the dish tasted? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Taking pictures of food requires a different mindset and approach than what you would use in your portrait or landscape photography. Here are 8 steps you can take that will help you create mouthwatering food images.

Step 1. Choose one light source

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 1

I know what you may be thinking. The more lights the better, right? Adding lights in portrait photography does give you ability to shape and light the face in beautiful ways, but when shooting food, one large diffused light source will yield amazing results!

This doesn’t mean you need to spend a ton of money to get started. All you need is a window. You can use a window where you live or if you are shooting on location, try a large restaurant window.

Step 2. Embrace food’s color

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 2

Food comes in a wide range or colors and textures. From your dark leafy greens, vibrant orange carrots, or pale purple shallots, you can have a rainbow of colors in front of you at meal time. Embrace this color with your prop selection and food styling. If you are lost on where to begin, look for inspiration in an artist’s color wheel! A color combination that I like is matching blue accessories with yellow or orange foods.

Step 3. Know when to use artificial light

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 3

I love using natural daylight in my food photography, but there are times when I need an artificial solution. A tungsten lamp or a small compact flash make great options for shooting your food at night. The key is to use a large diffusion source to create a beautiful, soft light that will fall over your set. I like to modify my light with umbrellas, soft boxes, or a large diffusion scrim.

Step 4. Get creative with the ingredients

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 4

Don’t overlook the ingredients and head straight for the shots of the main meal. With an ingredient shot you can create an interesting story that begins the journey to the final plated dish. For fruits and vegetables, I like to create visually interesting arrangements shot from an overhead angle. This is the type of shot that any camera can do, even just one on your cell phone. If you have a macro lens, take advantage of your close-up ability to shoot spices and ingredients with interesting textures. Close-up shots of these shapes and textures will bring an interesting and new perspective of food to your viewers.

Step 5. Think about final use


Your food image will commonly be cropped to a different size for its final use. It could be a square for use in a restaurant menu or a narrow rectangle that will fit on the side of a package. It doesn’t do you or the client any good if you create a beautiful image, but half the dish is cropped out when it comes time for printing. When shooting, you want to know what this final crop will be so that you can ensure that all the essential parts of the dish make it into the shot.

Step 6. Taking your food on location

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 6b

Taking your food shots out of the kitchen, and on location, will allow you to create images with beautiful outdoor scenic backgrounds. Whether it is a trip to the farm to capture fruits and vegetables ripe and ready to pick, or creating an outdoor entertaining event, an on location shot is one where weather may become a concern. There isn’t much you can do about rain cancelling a shoot, but you do have control over the harsh light from a bright and sunny day. When shooting outdoors, I always bring a collapsible diffuser with me. Placing this between my subject and the sun diffuses any harsh light that may be on my set. I am left with a soft evenly lit set on which I can create mouthwatering food images.

Step 7. Vary your background

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 7

What you shoot your food on top of will have a huge impact on the final photo. There are millions of options from which to choose. You can use anything from painted wood to cloth to stone. My favorite place to find backgrounds is at my local hardware store. There are thousands of potential backgrounds there. If you are feeling creative, you can stain and paint wooden boards to create a truly custom shooting surface. If you want a background that doesn’t require any customization, try painted ceramic or stone tiles. The large tiles, like you would use in a bathroom floor, are a sturdy surface with a ton of variety. Changing out your background to a new one, might just be the thing needed to create a more interesting food shot.

Step 8. Modify Your Light

Mathis photographing food 8 steps tip 8

A large soft diffused light is my go to for any food shot, but sometimes the shot may require a little bit more. Through blocking with black foam board, reflecting with white foam board, bouncing your light source or adjusting its height and placement, you can fine tune your lighting to create the mood and scene you desire. If you find yourself consistently using the same set-up, try switching things up. Using a different sized soft box or even a large white bed sheet can have a great impact on your final shot.

If you have felt intimidated or struggled with taking pictures of food, I hope these steps will help. If you want to take your food photography to the next level, give photographing FOOD issues 1-8 a try!

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Taylor Mathis
Taylor Mathis

is a food and lifestyle photographer based in Charlotte, NC. In addition to shooting for commercial and editorial clients, he teaches bloggers, journalists, amateur, and professional photographers how to take beautiful and mouthwatering images of food. You can read his Ebooks and download his workshops at photographing FOOD. He is also the photographer and author of The Southern Tailgating Cookbook.

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