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Food photography tips for beginners

Updated on June 29, 2014
Food photography using natural light
Food photography using natural light

Food is a great subject for photography. It offers freedom for one’s imagination as well as having endless possibilities for creativity. Having said that food photography is one of the most demanding types; it asks for certain skills along with the knowledge on what makes good food images.

The well-known fact about light playing one of the main factors in photographs gets a strong confirmation in food photography. Get the light wrong and your beautiful dish will look dull and uninteresting in photo. In this article I want to share with you the basic tips for making your food look tasty and appealing in photos.

Add atmosphere of home to your food shots
Add atmosphere of home to your food shots

Equipment

Let’s start from looking at what kind of equipment is needed for taking photos of food. It’s up to you to decide what works for you and what not, but this is my list of equipment.

  • DSLR I’m using Canon 450D and I can say that even an entry level DSLR is good enough for food photography.
  • Lenses From 35mm to 120mm.
  • Flash A speed-light like Canon 580EX would suit the job, however even inexpensive Yongnuo 460 will do the job.
  • Flashgun Trigger Transmitter is needed to be able to use flash off camera.
  • Tripod is a must to avoid any camera shake.
  • Remote Shutter Release is very useful to further reduce camera shake.

Select matching colours in food photography
Select matching colours in food photography

Lens choice

About 95% of my food images are taken with Tamron 90mm 2.8 macro lens. Only occasionally I use Canon 50mm 1.8. Some photographers like to work with 35mm lens to add a special effect through perspective to some of their images.

First reason why I mostly work with my Tamron 90mm is because I have very limited space at home for taking photos and this lens really helps to avoid unwanted things getting in the image.

Flowers could work well as props in food photography
Flowers could work well as props in food photography

Second reason is because this lens allows me to get very close to my object and concentrate viewer’s attention exactly where I want.

Third reason is that 90mm lens creates nice blurred backgrounds which help to make food the real star in the photos.

Using wider lenses like 50mm makes job more demanding, because more props are needed to fill the extra space.

Angle of view

It’s good to experiment with at least a few angles of view per subject. For example you are photographing plate with salad, place your camera 45° above your subject, then try to shoot it from bird view (directly above), and one more time from a lower position. Some angles work better for certain types of food, some worse. It all comes down to try to error.

Not always camera should be perfectly levelled horizontally or vertically, try to rotate and tilt your camera a bit one side or another and see if that makes your photo look more interesting.

Don't forget about low angles when photographing food
Don't forget about low angles when photographing food

Depth of Field

I work with f/2.8 up to f/16 for different photos, so there is no perfect f-stop in food photography in case you wondered. It also is a good idea to take a few shots of a subject with different f-stop for a comparison. This kind of practice will help you in the future to choose the most suitable DOF for a photo.

Tip - I like to work tethered or at least use live view when taking photos of food, it helps for achieve better focus and see results of a photo instantly.

Sometimes less is more in food photography
Sometimes less is more in food photography

Light

You might be surprised to hear that for food photography the best light is natural light. If you have a large window with a space nearby to take photos you won a lucky ticket.

It’s a common practice to place your food according to your light source to be side of back lit. All you need is a few reflectors (those can be made out of white cards, of even crumbled kitchen foil over a cardboard) to brighten up shaded side of your subject.

Consider a square crop for food shots
Consider a square crop for food shots

Place your reflector as close as possible to the darker side of your subject facing the source of light a bit, light will hit the reflector and from reflector it will illuminate your subject. Reflectors work better on a bright day when there is a lot of light rather than on a dull cloudy day. I also use small mirrors and find them very handy when I want to shed some light on a small part of the subject.

Remember to never light your food from the front, it will kill the look. Side and back lighting help to show texture in food. For example salad leaves look very interesting when photographed with back lighting as it makes the colours rich and shows those beautiful vein like lines on it. Try to take photo of a slice of lemon with front lighting and backlighting and you will immediately see what I mean.

You can use a flash to lift the shadows, but make sure to soften it with an umbrella or a soft box and don’t let it overpower the main (natural) light.

Avoid harsh light in food photos. If the sun is hitting your subject, cover your window with a thin white fabric, or move a bit further away from the window. However, in some cases direct sunlight can add an interesting effect to your image, it also can be helpful if you want to show texture of such food like bread.

Macro works well for food images
Macro works well for food images

Unclutter background

Pay attention to your work place. Remove all the unneeded things so that nothing unwanted would get into a photograph because it may spoil it. Imagine taking photo of chicken soup and having a strawberry in it, it wouldn’t suit the scene, would it?

Colours make or break a shot in food photography
Colours make or break a shot in food photography

Props

The funny thing is that food photography might run from inexpensive hobby to a very expensive addiction. Many food photographers are “guilty” of constantly adding more and more props to their already huge collection.

Props like dishes, cutleries, fabrics for backgrounds and glasses play an important role in food photography. It’s a necessity to have matching each other props in colour, pattern, shape. White plates are the best match to your food, but sometimes it’s good to experiment with different colours.

You can always use things you have at home, it only depends whether those things are matching the needs of your imagination.

Colours

Sometimes there is too much of white colour in the photo, this is when a plate, a napkin or a background of different colour will help you to bring more life to the photo.

Use top view in food photography
Use top view in food photography

Layout

When laying out your food on a plate or setting up a scene, make it look natural. Food doesn’t have to look perfect all the time, sometimes a few crumbs of bread make a photo look better. I call it creation of a natural mess. Word mess might be a bit too strong, but you get the message.

Use ingredients as props when taking photos of food
Use ingredients as props when taking photos of food

Quality of Food

Even though it should go unmentioned, I want to remind you to use only fresh good looking food. Wilted herbs or vegetables don’t look appetising neither does burned food, so pay attention to this kind of details.

Now you know a bit more about food photography, go and get some practice.

Happy shooting everyone!

Create layers to add interest to your food shots
Create layers to add interest to your food shots

Comments

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    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 months ago from Northern California, USA

      I picked up a lot of helpful information here, especially about lighting. Excellent advice.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Love photos of beautiful food. Voted up. The shadows and reflections of the blueberries on that one dessert are extraordinary.

    • profile image

      AshimaTan 2 years ago

      Great hub! Thanks for sharing some really nice tips and pictures.

    • Dina Blaszczak profile image
      Author

      Dina Blaszczak 2 years ago from Poland

      @techygran, @mySuccess8 Thanks for reading and commenting :)

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 2 years ago

      An excellent guide with useful tips. Your attached photos in your HubPage are evidences of the high quality standards. Thanks for sharing!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 2 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Appreciated your simple directions and information! Voted up and shared!

    • Dina Blaszczak profile image
      Author

      Dina Blaszczak 3 years ago from Poland

      @im4ginary Hi, welcome to the Tamron club ;) Don't worry, you didn't buy the "wrong" lens, this lens is excellent for food shots.

      However, it could be a bit problematic to take photos of food in a restaurant with this lens (as an ordinary customer), because firstly, to take shot of a plate you need to be around 1 meter away, and secondly, you will need a lot of light (unless you are sitting at the table near a large window). Light should fall from the side, it will show the texture of the food on the plate.

      But it's much better to take photos of food at home as you can plan the shot, lay out everything yourself and use white cards and reflectors (made of kitchen foil) to add more light to the shot.

      One more thing, there is no ideal "recipe" for a good food photo, every dish asks for different approach. What you can do is to read a lot of articles on the subject and look at the food photos analysing them (where the light was coming from, what aperture was used and so on).

      Hope it helps :)

    • profile image

      im4ginary 3 years ago

      Hello there, sorry for the random approach as I've done a Google search and found your article here. I've recently bought a Tamron 90mm macro lens which I assume is the same one you have.

      I'm really really new to photography and am keen to know what is usually the distance between your lens and your subject when you take food photography.

      Since this is a 90mm lens, what is the most ideal technique to take a photo of a dish that is say, in front of me during mealtime like in a restaurant?

      I hope I don't come across as typical newbie who would typically use my phone camera to just simply snap a photo, but I'm a little worried that I might have bought the "wrong" macro lens =\

      Thank you in advance :)

    • Dina Blaszczak profile image
      Author

      Dina Blaszczak 4 years ago from Poland

      @Kevin Thanks for reading and leaving a comment :)

      @Claudia Tello Hi Claudia, thanks for sharing your thoughts and nice to meet you on HubPages! :)))

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico

      Nice hub. I always use natural light for my food photography and try to avoid very sunny moments because the shadows and very bright places it creates are not so nice in the photo. Cloudy days or 5:00PM onwards are great food photographing moments.

      I agree with you on the quality of food and layout, no matter how good the photo is, food won´t look good in a photo if it doesn´t look fresh, appetizing and very well presented.

    • profile image

      Kevin 4 years ago

      Excellent practical advice!

    • Dina Blaszczak profile image
      Author

      Dina Blaszczak 4 years ago from Poland

      @mollypark Glad you found my tips useful :) Thank you for your feedback!

    • mollypark profile image

      Molly Park 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Great article! I have been wanting to do more food photography and now I will using your tips.

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