The Five Rules For Taking Great Pictures Of Food :: Digital Photo Secrets

The Five Rules For Taking Great Pictures Of Food

by David Peterson 4 comments

Are you ready to share your casserole with the world? Be careful. A bad photo can make your best culinary creation look like a disaster. So how do food photographers create these mouthwatering masterpieces? How do they get the food to jump out and make you want to take a bite? I’ll give you a hint. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Here are a few of the tricks they use.

Food photography is a big business, and you would be surprised at what goes into creating an image like the one shown above. Many companies hire a food stylist and a prop stylist to get the image just right. The food stylist meticulously arranges the items on the plate while the prop stylist considers all of the background elements. It takes a lot of time, and years of practice, but it sure does make us hungry.

Rule 1: Use A Photo Studio Of Some Kind

You don’t need to have an entire room in your house dedicated to food photography, but you will need a studio space of some kind. If you can get a big table where you can place the food and extra props, you’ll have an advantage. You’re also going to need lights and light stands. As I will point out later, these light sources are going to be small, but you will still need space for them.

Rule 2: Arrange Your Food Artistically

As an amateur food photographer, you need to assume the roles of the food stylist and the prop stylist. You need to map out the image in your head before you bring out your camera. Try to think of things you can add to the dish that will give it some extra color. Use complimentary or similar colored items as well as items that give extra texture to the shot like the bread above.

The above image is a good example. Do you notice the garnish? The photographer was clever. He didn’t just put all of the parsley in one place. He mixed it around the pasta, and added a green object in the background to add some nice green highlights to the overall image.

Here’s my point. You might eat your food the way you usually present it, but that isn’t best way to photograph your food. Add extra garnishes and flourishes to make your dish come alive. Nobody wants to look at dry potatoes and a whole lot of whitespace.

Rule 3: Don’t Place Big Bright Lights Near Your Food

The key to getting great pictures of food is all in the lighting. You want your viewer to get a real sense of the food’s texture. You want just enough light to see the little shadows in between the nooks and crannies of your food. When you use big bright lights, it removes the shadows that give your food character and texture.

Big bright lights also produce too much of a glistening effect. Have you ever seen a photo of food that makes it look unnecessarily greasy? That’s what I’m talking about. If the lights were any brighter on the image above, the shiny white areas on the bacon and chips would consume all of the small details.

My word of advice? Use lights that are smaller than what you think you need. Mount your camera on a tripod, and use slower shutter speeds. You will need to do this because there will be less light, and you will want more control over the way you frame your image.

Rule 4: Never Light Your Food From The Front

When you place lights directly in front of the food (or next to the camera), it erases the shadows and destroys the texture. I could get into the science behind it, but I’ll just tell you that for one reason or another, it looks really bad. Food was never meant to be photographed this way.

Rule 5: Emulate What You See In Magazines

Professional food photographers spend hours upon hours just tinkering with the light and styling the food. The tips I've given above only scratch the surface of the lengths the pros go to to make food look appetizing. Don't believe me? Checkout this clip showing how they really do it.

No, you don't need to glue on the sesame seeds to create a great food photo, but remember the small touches matter. If you can photograph food just like the pros do it, you might just have a lucrative career! This will take a lot of time, but it’s worth it. I hope this tutorial has helped nudge you along in some way.

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  1. Joan D Squared says:

    Just got a food gig and these tips are perfect! Thanks for the info!

  2. Roger Moore says:

    These are great tips. I would add, "Use a small DOF". This eliminates any distracting backgrounds from the image. You want the focus to be on the plate items and not what's behind them.

  3. Krasimira Georgieva says:

    Thanks for Five Rules!
    Most importanly Rule 3!

  4. Fernando says:

    I could not agree with these "rules" more. The lighting is key! I have made the mistake of having too much light at times, and have to keep reminding myself of Rule #3, but after seeing it a few times you will remember!
    Good list, thanks.
    PS. That video was hilarious

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.