You’re staring at a mouth-watering plate of food, your camera is in hand, but something is missing. You can’t seem to capture the dish in a way that does it justice.
You’re not alone. Food photography offers immense creative freedom, yet it can also pose a real challenge. Coming up with powerful, eye-catching, unique food photography ideas can often seem impossible – and that’s where I can help.
Below, I’ve shared a treasure trove of creative food photography ideas to make your images stand out, including plenty of artistic, fun, and exciting options for food photographers of all stripes. After all, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a veteran photographer, everyone needs a little inspiration now and then.
Ready to create some compelling images with your food? Let’s dive right in!
1. Do some dark food photography
Everyone has a soft spot for moody, atmospheric photos. A darker approach can turn an ordinary dish into a mysterious masterpiece.
Start with your backdrop. A piece of dark fabric or painted wood can work great; just place it behind your food setup and make sure it’s not lit too heavily. Make sure your surface is dark as well (here, dark wood or slate looks amazing).
Lighting comes next. Natural light from a window is ideal, as long as you position your setup so that the light falls across the food, creating shadows. You see, with dark food photography, shadows are your allies. They add depth, texture, and a touch of drama to each shot.
If you’re shooting indoors without good natural light, don’t worry. A strobe or speedlight positioned to the side can mimic that natural window-lit effect. Use a softbox or stripbox to diffuse the light, which will soften any harsh shadows to give the scene a more natural look.
Finally, play with the lighting angles. Each angle will give you a different shadow, a different mood. Experiment to find the look that makes your food come alive!
2. Go minimalistic
Minimalism is all about simplifying the scene, and it’s a technique that shines a spotlight on your subject. With minimalism, less really is more. The focus is solely on the food, with no distractions. It’s just you, the camera, and a tantalizing dish (or food item) that demands attention.
To get started, you need a clean background. A simple white or black backdrop works wonders here, though solid colors look nice, too. Place your subject – maybe a single strawberry or a beautifully plated dessert – against this backdrop. Ensure the food is the most vibrant element in the composition. Make it the star of the show.
Then adjust its positioning. While composition may not seem hugely important in food photography, it really, really matters, and if you can place your food item in the right part of the frame, you’ll end up with some artistic fireworks.
3. Try different points of view
Here’s a simple yet effective food photography idea:
Change your perspective.
You see, most people view their food from a sitting position. And that’s how many casual food photographers approach their food.
But if you adjust your angle, you’ll capture food in a very different way.
Here are some perspectives you could try:
- Bird’s-eye view: Aim your camera directly down at the food from above.
- Plate level: Get down on the same level as your plate and photograph across it.
- Wider scene: It’s tempting to focus only on the food. Instead, use a wider lens to show the scene around the food (plus the food itself, of course!).
4. Experiment with the white balance
Food is often photographed with an off-camera flash, which opens up a lot of creative possibilities.
Put a gel on your flash (such as a blue gel or an orange gel). Then adjust the white balance of your camera to compensate for this color shift. Finally, fire your flash at the subject (while aiming to keep the background untouched by artificial light).
If you’ve done your work carefully, you’ll end up with a colorful background (a color opposite that of the flash gel), but neutral food!
5. Use a food artist
Getting someone to professionally style your food before shooting will give your photos a more creative feel.
As a photographer, you’ll be leaning on the creativity of your stylist here; your job will be to compose and light your image in a professional way.
6. Try out some light painting
Food photography is, in essence, a form of still life (though one that needs to be carried out while the food still looks fresh!).
As with most still life photography, you can use light painting to give your images a more dynamic look.
Here’s how it works:
First, set up your food and determine your composition.
Set your exposure, making sure the shutter speed lasts 10 seconds or more.
Then fire off a shot and use some form of light to “paint” your food.
(Anything that emits light could be used, from a smartphone to a programmable LED light stick.)
If all goes well, you’ll end up with a very pro-looking image!
7. Create a classical still-life setup
Still-life photography is like a homage to art history. Great painters like Cezanne and Caravaggio elevated everyday items into works of art, including plenty of food!
To get started, try looking at some great still-life paintings created by the masters. Then think about your arrangement. You’ll need a main subject – the food – but what else should you include? Plates, silverware, and linens can all add layers and depth to each shot.
Select a variety of these elements. Mix and match. Maybe a vintage spoon next to a pale blue linen, a cracked cup next to a white plate. It’s all about balance and harmony.
As for the food: Fruit is a fantastic place to start. A bowl of vibrant oranges or a spread of pears and apples can capture the eye. If you’re more adventurous, consider adding multiple dishes. A loaf of bread, a slice of cheese, and some wine can be wildly captivating.
Take your time with composition. Arrange and rearrange. Move the items around until your eyes can dance effortlessly from one part of the frame to another!
8. Think about the background
If your photograph includes a detailed background, you’ll need to use it in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Because the background matters – almost as much as the foreground, in fact!
Fortunately, there are a few easy strategies you can use to create a stunning backdrop:
- Bokeh: Use a large aperture, focus on your main subject, and blur the background. Add some lights in the background for beautiful bokeh light balls.
- Plain: Stick colorful paper or a painting behind your subject for a more standard, plain look.
- Show a scene: Include the wider scene to give your food some context. (This could even include the restaurant where the food has been served!)
9. Reflect your food
Here’s a creative food photography idea that makes for very modern, sleek images:
Reflect your food in glass for a double image.
Simply set up your food on a glass panel. Then lower your camera angle until you get a nice reflection in the glass.
You’ll want to make sure your food is well-lit – but be sure to avoid obvious balls of light bouncing off the surface of your glass.
10. Tell the story
Cooking and preparing food is a process.
So every dish goes through a journey before it gets plated and put on a table.
Try to document that journey! Look to take photos of food at various points along the way to the table, so you can create a complete picture of the food.
Here are a few times when you might want to photograph food:
- When it’s growing. Food needs to be produced, and photographing it during this phase can help you tell a story, especially if you’re creating a series of images.
- When it’s sold. A visit to the market is a fantastic opportunity for food photography because vendors often display their food in an interesting way.
- When it’s cooked. If possible, photograph the chef as they prepare the food. Pro tip: If you can capture the chef adding the finishing touches to a dish, you’ll get an especially satisfying shot.
- On the table. The majority of food photos are of the plated meal. There’s nothing wrong with photographing food at this point; just aim to use some of these ideas to capture more creatively plated food photos.
11. Create some macro food photos
Get out that macro lens, and get in close to your food!
You see, a macro approach lets you appreciate food in an entirely new light. We’re talking about zooming in – way in. So close that you can see the individual grains of sugar on a donut or the intricate fibers of a mushroom. With a macro lens, these minute details become the stars of your photo.
And feel free to get abstract. You can focus on a single berry in a bowl of fruit or capture the texture of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Different angles and lighting, combined with a close-focusing lens, can make even the simplest food item look like a work of art. The key is to experiment until you find that magical shot.
12. Frame your food
Food photographers rarely frame food with important contextual elements.
But if you can find ways to create an interesting frame, you’ll end up with a much stronger composition.
For instance, you might try surrounding the main food item with items that relate to it, as I did in the photo below:
Or you can use plates or cutlery to frame the food.
Really, the sky is the limit!
13. Try lensball food photography
And they’re easy to use, too!
Just place your lensball close to the food…
…and you’ll get a very cool result.
14. Consider a high-key approach
Bright, airy food photos are all the rage these days. You’ve seen them in cookbooks, on social media, and in advertisements. But how do you achieve that luminous, high-key look?
In high-key shots, the background is almost as important as the food itself. Aim for a white, uniform background – a sheet or a piece of white poster works great – and make sure that it’s well-lit. It can often be a good idea to light the background and the food separately, or to simply shine a light on the backdrop while leaving the food in shadow.
The next step is setting up your camera. Opt for settings that lean toward overexposure, but remember: while you want to overexpose the background, the food should remain detailed. Striking this balance can be a bit of a dance, so don’t hesitate to take multiple shots to get it right.
Editing is the final frontier in high-key food photography. Open up your editing software and boost the brightest tones until the background becomes a pure white canvas. However, keep an eye on the food. You don’t want it to get lost in all that brightness. Some selective editing can help maintain food detail while pushing the background into a whiteout.
15. Shoot food floating in midair
If you want to get a bit wild with your food photography, then try some midair shots!
For instance, you might show a banana floating off the ground, or a carrot suspended against a dark backdrop.
And if you want to take this a step further, you can try cutting up the food – so you get a set of suspended food slices smack-dab in the middle of your photo.
Of course, you’ll need to build some type of stand for your food (or use a technique like this one here), and you’ll need Photoshop to complete the effect.
But if you’re willing to put in the work, the results will be worth it!
16. Create a splash!
You can use water (or other liquids) to give your food a fresh feel – especially if you’re willing to get the food wet.
Now, there are a couple of different approaches to this. Both use flash to get that moment of capture.
- Splash: Drop liquid-like milk, water, or juice onto food to create a splash.
- Food into water: Drop food into a tank of water. Then photograph the food as it creates bubbles and splashes. Of course, this works best with fruit and vegetables; cake will likely be a bit messy!
17. Freeze your food
Here’s your final creative food photography idea:
Put your food in a tub of water, then stick it in the freezer.
Check back in a bit, and you’ll have a block of ice – with the food encased inside it!
Take out the block and photograph through the ice. You’ll end up with some unique images, like this one:
While you can try this technique on many different types of food, I like to use it for fish photography. It can even look like the fish are swimming in the water!
Creative food photography ideas: final words
Hopefully, you’re now feeling inspired – and you have plenty of food photography ideas to tide you over! From capturing the intricate food details with macro photography to setting up a classical still life, we’ve covered a lot of ground.
So what’s next? The ball’s in your court. I encourage you to grab your camera and start experimenting. These techniques are not mutually exclusive. Feel free to mix and match, tweak and adjust, until you find a style that speaks to you. After all, the best photos are the ones that reflect your unique artistic vision.
And while you’re at it, don’t hesitate to share your creations!
Now over to you:
What food do you plan to photograph? Which of these creative ideas do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.