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Food Photography Tips for Online Recipe Hubs and Blog Posts

Updated on August 16, 2016
donnah75 profile image

I am a high school English teacher who is passionate about writing, theater, directing and enjoying a positive life with family and friends.


I have to confess that at times, I get a little bit obsessed with food. On my bookshelf, I have almost an entire shelf dedicated to holding my cookbooks and magazines. There was a time when I went through a cookbook buying phase, and I couldn’t stop. When I stand in the grocery check-out line, I have to hold myself back from buying yet another monthly recipe magazine. Why? Because the photos displayed on the front are so beautifully delicious and appetizing. Does it matter that I probably won’t cook most of those recipes? Not really. Like I said, it is a bit of an obsession.

Today, I no longer need to wander the bookstore or give in to the urge as I check out at the grocery store. Now that the internet is exploding with recipe blogs and sites like Hubpages filled with recipe hubs, I have saved a few pennies and fuel my obsession by wandering around online and pinning my favorites on Pinterest. However, I have found one big difference between a beautifully published cookbook and the recipes I find on the internet: the quality of the food photos is not always up to par online.

As you will see from my profile page, I have dabbled myself in writing a few recipe hubs. I am not a professional chef, and I will not claim to be a photography expert. However, when I started to write and photograph my own recipe hubs, I wanted to get the photos right, despite the fact that I only have an old point and shoot digital camera. I wanted them to aspire to be as beautiful as those that grace the covers of great cookbooks. I wanted them to at least look appetizing enough to draw the reader in and inspire a few to try out my favorite recipes. Here is what I have observed and learned about taking photos for a recipe hub or food blog.

Ingredients. | Source
Action shots of your preparation steps.
Action shots of your preparation steps. | Source
Cooking shot each time you add a new ingredient.
Cooking shot each time you add a new ingredient. | Source
Finished product shot on the stove and on the plate.
Finished product shot on the stove and on the plate. | Source

1. Plan and Prepare

In my humble opinion, when you are posting a recipe online, readers wish to see more than the finished product. They also want to see more than the pile of boxes of ingredients you used. If a reader is going to try out your recipe, he or she may want to check in along the way and know that each step is going according to plan. With that in mind, prepare and set up all of your ingredients before you start cooking. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to photograph the process along the way. It also helps to have a helper on hand to take photos or to help you in the cooking for action shots.

2. Take a lot of photos at every stage of the cooking process.

Unless you plan to make your recipe multiple times, you will want to get the best photos the first time you make a dish. In order to do that, you should take a lot of photos at every stage of the cooking process. I make a point to take the following shots:

  • ingredients
  • action shots of you preparation steps
  • cooking shots each time you add an ingredient
  • finished product shots on the stove and on the plate

The beauty of having a digital camera is that you can take fifty photos only to discard forty five of them. Take as many pictures as you can, and you will ensure that you have many to choose from when you put together your online recipe.

3. Lighting makes a difference.

I have a very dark kitchen. Even in the middle of a sunny day, I need to turn the kitchen light on to see what I am doing. When I first started taking a few photos of food for my first recipe hub, I used the flash. The result was not beautiful or appetizing. The photos I took with a flash made the food look flat and greasy. The colors were distorted, and the food did not look very appealing. My advice would be to turn off the camera flash and turn on a bunch of kitchen lights. Natural light will give you great results also, if you have a kitchen that is sunnier than mine. Light is important, as dark photos will also be hard to see and a bit unappetizing. Experiment by taking some photos with a flash and some without. Again, you will have many to choose from when you sit down to write.

DO - Play with getting in close at fun angles.
DO - Play with getting in close at fun angles. | Source

4. Different angles create fun, artistic photos.

As the food cooks, you will often have plenty of time to take more photos. Get creative and take photos at different angles to see if you get appealing results. These are the angles I try to capture:

Take a photo from above the food looking down.

Take a photo from the side.

Get right to the level of the food, and take a photo straight on and at an angle.

DON'T - There is no focus here.  It it too far away to know what the photo is actually trying to convey,
DON'T - There is no focus here. It it too far away to know what the photo is actually trying to convey, | Source

5. Focus on the food.

You don’t want your food photos to be like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” Taking a close up photo is best, so that the focus of the picture is on the food. If you take a photo from far away, like the picture to the right, then it becomes hard to know what to look at.

DO - The plaid towel works here to define the cutting board from the counter and adds interest to the solid colors, making the meat pop.
DO - The plaid towel works here to define the cutting board from the counter and adds interest to the solid colors, making the meat pop. | Source

6. Consider the background.

Even when you are taking a close up photo, the background may still be a factor. If your food is “busy,” then choose a plain background. If your food is plain, then it might be alright to set the plate on a busier background, like a striped dishtowel, to make the food pop. Alternatively, focus the camera so that the food is clear and the background is a bit blurry.

Presentation is everything!
Presentation is everything! | Source

7. The plate.

Having worked in a restaurant or two throughout the years, I have often heard the phrase, “Presentation is everything.” I think that is good advice to keep in mind when you are photographing food for an online recipe. In my initial research about food photography, I read several times that you should present the food on a completely white plate. In my colorful world, such an item doesn’t exist in my kitchen, so I use my white plates with blue trim. That seems to work out well most of the time. I do think though that you should consider the color and pattern of the plate. A clear glass plate on a busy counter might make the food look muddled. A crazy pattern on the plate might be a distraction. You get the idea. Most importantly, present a clean plate. Wipe off the food that has dripped and run. Runny, watery residue streaming out of your casserole is not appetizing.

8. Style

Finally, when you have the chance during the process, try to style your food before you photograph it. Place it on the plate in a pleasing way. Stack the food straight up or with one piece at an angle. Consider color. If the colors are pale or monotone, jazz things up with a sprinkling of fresh herbs to add a pop of color.

A brilliant discussion of food photography!

Need more tips for writing a recipe hub or food blog? Check out this article by bridalletter:

12 Tips for a Great Food Blog or Recipe Blog

Or this hub by vespawoolf: Copyright a Recipe? How to Properly Attribute Recipes.

Final Thoughts

Although I still love a beautiful cookbook, most of the time I go to online sources when I am trying to find a new recipe idea. As a reader, I am drawn in by beautiful photos and turned off by unappetizing, dark, runny, bland photos. When you post photos with your recipe, either in your blog or on a Hubpages recipe hub, attract your reader by creating the dream of an amazing dish with bright, focused, step-by-step photos of your creation.

Written by Donna Hilbrandt.

© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt


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