In order to stay relevant on social media these days, a basic understanding of food photography is essential. Luckily, you don’t have to invest in expensive cameras—your smartphone is all you need to take outstanding photos. Here are a few tips and tricks to make your food photography stand out.
1. Take photos in natural light. Photos taken in the dark or with a flash don’t capture the true essence of the food you’re photographing. At the same time, direct sunlight can be too harsh. In true Goldilocks fashion, indirect light or diffused direct sunlight are just right!
If you’re unable to take photos in natural light, no worries. There are a few affordable options that can emulate natural light, such as a softbox lighting kit. If you’re able to take photos in natural light only on weekends—because, for example, you work outside of your home during the week—then you can take several batches of photos on those days and use them when needed.
2. Focus on composition and styling. When photographing food, think about your audience and what you’re trying to convey. This can inform your decision on props to include and how to style your photos. Are your photos meant to be inspirational or educational? In “educational,” photography, where you want part of the photo to explain something to your audience, you can keep the styling to a minimum to not distract from the message and/or leave room for educational text.
On the other hand, an “inspirational” photo that’s meant to whet your audience’s appetite for something they could cook or eat could be more stylized—the food is the focus rather than the message.
Angles are important when shooting. The most popular angles in food photography for social media are:
- Directly overhead: Shooting directly overhead is best for food in plates or bowls that you just want to capture the top of; this is particularly popular on Instagram.
- Straight on: This angle is good for stacked food such as pancakes, sandwiches, and burgers.
- 45 degrees: The 45-degree angle is trickier to use with smartphones but could be useful when you want to capture both the top and side of food or drinks.
After you’re done photographing your food, don’t forget to edit! Popular free editing apps include VSCO, Snapseed, and Adobe Lightroom. Find the one that works for you and experiment with various filters and settings. Typical editing settings that I recommend include:
- increasing exposure slightly as needed;
- increasing contrast slightly, but not too much;
- increasing vibrance rather than saturation (to balance the intensity of colors); and
- adjusting white balance to be cooler or warmer by changing the temperature.
3. Make your food look as appealing as it tastes. The basic rule of thumb is that if your photo doesn’t make you want to eat whatever you’re photographing, why would anyone else be interested? We eat with our eyes first, so make your food photo pop! This includes making sure the food is clear and in focus, with natural-toned colors, and styled in a natural way—in a way that someone could simply sit down and eat it. This is vital to consider when you’re both shooting the photo and editing.
4. Develop your style. Find other food photographers and accounts that inspire you. Screenshot photos that particularly draw your attention and then review them.
Are there any similarities in the composition, style, or color scheme? Do you like light and airy photos or dark and moody ones? Are the photos monochromatic or popping with color? Are there a lot of props or are they minimalist?
These observations can be informative as you develop your own style. Play around with elements that you find attractive in photos and see if they match your aesthetic. Eventually, you’ll find the style that works best for you. Once you do, be consistent with it so that when people see your photos, they know exactly whose they are.
5. Practice, practice, practice. You can read as many guides and suggestions as you want, but you won’t actually improve on a skill like food photography without putting in the work and practicing. Set aside time to practice this new skill so you’ll be ready when you need to take that perfect shot.
— Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN, is a nutrition consultant and recipe developer. She’s the founder of Alena Menko Nutrition, a food and nutrition blog where she publishes healthful, plant-forward recipes and makes nutrition approachable with easily digestible information. She’s also a Monash FODMAP-Trained Dietitian. You can find Alena on Instagram @thebalancedbite or on Facebook @AlenaMenkoNutrition.