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How to Write Recipes and Food Photography Tips

Updated on December 7, 2013

By Natasha Hoover

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How to Write Better Recipes Online

I love cooking and sharing my dishes with others. Cooking for people I care about and watching them enjoy a meal is one of my greatest pleasures. I also enjoy bringing my cooking to a wider audience by writing recipe hubs and blogging about food.

In college, I studied hospitatliy and tourism management. In one of my restaurant entrepreneurship classes, we discussed what makes a good recipe and how to write recipes that are easy to follow. We actually had an entire project based on creating a menu with sample recipes! Over the last year, I've learned a lot more about writing recipes for an online audience and how to take tasty food photos. I hope these recipe writing and photography tips can help you take your food writing to the next level! Oh, and if any of the photos look appealing, I'd be honored if you have the time to check out my food blog, Nibbles and Noshes, to find the recipe.

Create recipes with a unique ingredient or a twist, like this brownie batter dip that uses white beans to make it more healthy.
Create recipes with a unique ingredient or a twist, like this brownie batter dip that uses white beans to make it more healthy. | Source

Create Something Original

Obviously, you didn't invent the hamburg or the chocolate chip cookie, but there should be something unique to set your recipe apart from the rest. Don't just copy a recipe verbatim from your favorite book and write about it (unless you're testing out a cookbook for a review). Instead, incorporate your own ideas, tips, and tricks into a recipe. Most people experiment at least a bit when they cook - have you ever added any ingredients or made surprise substitutions that turned out great? What makes your recipe better than the rest? Is it easier? Does it have more flavor? Make sure to communicate why your recipe is unique, special, and worthwhile.

Give Accurate, Precise Directions

When writing a recipe, you can't take shortcuts. While it is usually safe to assume people know common abbreviations like tsp for teaspoon, this isn't always the case. You need to carefully spell out each step in the process without assuming specific prior cooking knowledge. You don't know who might try to use your recipe - it could be someone who has never cooked before or who isn't familiar with the language you are writing in.

In my restaurant classes, my professors hounded us on the importance of including more than one way for the preparer to tell if a specific step is accurate or completed. For instance, don't simply say "bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes." Tell the reader to bake for 15-17 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned but the middle still looks slightly moist. Yes, it takes more words, but it is very important. Cooking appliances and utensils vary, and every little variation impacts the cooking process.

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Tasty Food Photography is written by a successful food blogger and contains amazing tips that instantly up your food photography game. It sounds unbelievable but my pictures improved immediately after I read the book and implemented her tips!

Take Appetizing Pictures

In the world of Pinterest, having an appetizing photo of your finished dish is really important. This took me a while to figure out! Here are a few basic tips to help you take better food photos:

  • Get down to 'eye-level,' or as close to it as possible. Food looks better up close than from above.
  • Take pictures when it's hot and fresh. By the time you finish eating and photograph the leftovers, they just won't look as appealing.
  • Try to plate the item in an attractive way. Place bright, colorful foods on a white/plain dish or surface, and add interest to a plainer-looking dish by placing it on a bright plate.
  • Get pictures in natural light, if at all possible.

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  • Leave space for a caption. This can help Pinterest users (and people who just see a thumbnail) tell what your recipe is for.
  • If you really want to step up your game, accessorize your shot. For example, take pictures of a loaf of bread wrapped up in a tea towel as if it is warm and ready to be served, or show cookies with a glass of milk in the background.
  • Try to have at least one photo of the finished product that is square, or looks good when cropped to a square. Most feature spots on FaceBook, blog link ups, etc. use square photos. Having a square picture that looks good is key to piquing interesting in your link!

Just look at the photos below and you'll see the difference incorporating these techniques into your photography can make!

A plate of spaghetti aglio e olio
A plate of spaghetti aglio e olio | Source
The exact same meal plated differently and photographed with props.
The exact same meal plated differently and photographed with props. | Source
This is from one of my first recipe hubs. The photo is from above, there's some weird stuff in the background, and the caption isn't the best. The mac and cheese is delicious, but this picture doesn't do a good job of communicating that!
This is from one of my first recipe hubs. The photo is from above, there's some weird stuff in the background, and the caption isn't the best. The mac and cheese is delicious, but this picture doesn't do a good job of communicating that! | Source
This natural light photo is up close, shows texture, and has a space for the caption.
This natural light photo is up close, shows texture, and has a space for the caption. | Source

To get photography inspiration, browse through your favorite cook books or recipe websites. Don't have any? These blogs have very tasty food photography that's sure to inspire you!

Kristina Ackerman's blog, Knuckle Salad, has really great food photography. Even her pictures of the cooking process are pretty! She does a particularly great job of presenting food and accessorizing shots.

Lorraine of Cookin' for the Seven Dwarfs blogs a lot of about food and takes nice photos in a very real person way. I don't have a professional food photography set up, so a lot of really excellent food shots seem impossible to me. Lorraine's pictures are inspirational in a totally accomplishable way.

Tash of The Velvet Moon Baker also does a great job in an attainable way. Plus, her name is Tash, so of course I like her.

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As with anything in life, the only way to improve is practice. Don't be afraid to write and post a recipe just because it doesn't look like it fell out of a home living magazine. If you love cooking and sharing your recipes, your passion and desire to improve will make each recipe better than the last.

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Not my thing, Natasha, but great suggestions. Have a great weekend!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      You can do it! If you wanted to =p

      Thanks for the support! =)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      thanks for the useful tips. I have lots of recipe to share with HP but am not good at expressing with photos nor words. Thanks for the useful tips; tsp to write in full "teaspoon" for beginners. Makes some sense. Someone might mistaken tsp as tablespoon instead! Voted useful

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I have actually had people ask what those cooking abbreviations stand for! I was surprised, but I them I realized they might not be universal.

      Thanks for stopping in!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      You have such talent with that camera! The way that you can turn something like a few ingredients into eye-candy. Voted up and awesome!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you so much! I'm trying, but I think I still have plenty to learn.

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image

      Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Hi, Natasha. Lots of wonderful advice here and your photos are stunning. The tsp point is something I have come across so often before but I keep forgetting not to use the abbreviation. I must try to remember in future! :)

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I use it, too, but I try to remember not to! Thanks for stopping in and I really appreciate you saying you like my photos =)

    • profile image

      Tash @ The Velvet Moon Baker 4 years ago

      First up - totally have to love anyone who shares my name (it's a rule right?) and thanks for popping me into your post lady :D

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      There just aren't that many of us around! Thanks for having such an awesome blog and stopping by =)

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice idea for a hub on what is one of my pet peeves when it comes to food articles and hubs- the pictures are often not as good as they should be to come across appetising to the viewer and keep their attention. It's difficult capturing someone's attention when it comes to taking mouthwatering food photos. Especially when you're trying to direct people- they have to be good- you're not just selling a product, you're selling you.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Food photography is difficult, but I agree that poor photos really detract from a post or hub about food. It's so difficult to capture to essence of a dish when you can't share it's taste or smell, so you really have to work hard to capture that texture and color! My photos aren't always where I want them to be, but I'm trying and I think I've come a long way. I really hope these tips help other folks skip past some of the trial and error! Thanks for stopping by, cyclingfitness.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Brilliantly approached with such great ideas, on how to write recipe and food photography tips. A well presented Hub Voted up. useful, and interesting.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, DDE! I appreciate it =)

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful tips, you explained each aspect so well. Voted up and useful. Thanks. I did a few recipes and will keep these tips in mind!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! I hope you find them useful.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Natasha - This was very informative and helpful. Great advice about photographing food. I don't take pictures but rely on what I can find in books (I also go the "artsy" route sometimes (like botanical drawings with red flowers in a red watermelon soup hub). But for people comfortable with photography, this is a great hub. :)

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      You always find great pictures and I think the botanical prints are a neat touch! Thanks for stopping by - improving my food photography is one of my big goals!

    • agapsikap profile image

      agapsikap 4 years ago from Philippines

      Those tips are awesome and simply wonderful. Great hub and photos are lovely. This is one of the great. Thank you for this.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, agapsikap!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi, I love your photos and the tips were great! I remember watching on tv how they take photos for television. Some of the tricks astounded me and made me laugh! color it with this, spray it with that! and so on, it looks so much better just cooked and natural.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Oh, yeah, they go really crazy! Misting things with oil to make them shine, concealing microwaved, wet cotton balls behind the food to make it look steaming hot, and who knows what else. Years ago, they used fake food in commercials! Now the thing being advertised has to be real (at least here in the US), but other things can be fake. They might use crisco as fake ice cream, for example, if they're advertising a chocolate sundae sauce.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I meant to read this the other day, but just got around to it. My e-mail inbox was bombarded, and I just finished taming it!

      I love this article! I just read billybuc's, and between these two, I have a lot of great tips for writing and photographing my recipe hubs. I never expect them to get to the same caliber of yours, but I can make improvements!

      Thank you for sharing all of these tips. I am saving this in my "writing" folder, so I can refer to it again when I take time to tweak my hubs.

      Have a wonderful day!

      p.s. Your photos are always stunning! I feel like I can just pull the food off the screen, and eat it. Yum!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you so much! You brought a real smile to my face. I'm sure you can get your photos to where you're happy with them. If you look at my first hub photos from a year and a half ago, they are less than exciting. Some are downright poor! Since then, I've read about photography constantly and was fortunate enough to receive a nice camera from my amazing sailor. It's certainly helped, though I don't think it's absolutely necessary. I also know that I had a nice camera for a little while before I even came close to figuring out how to take acceptable photographs with it!

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 3 years ago from The High Seas

      Voted up. This was a really good article with great tips.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! Much appreciated.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Well this is awesome; I've been wanting to start sharing some of my favorite recipes, this is going to be invaluable advice. Great hub, voted up!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks so much! I actually need to update this hub with even more photos - thanks for commenting and reminding me!

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 3 years ago

      This is so helpful. Your photos are great! I need to strive to improve my photos :) Thanks for the tips!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      It's always a work in progress for me, but I'm still enjoying the journey!

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 3 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Great pictures and very useful advice. Thanks

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, Sheri!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Love your photographs and suggestions. Thanks for sharing.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! I feel like my photography is a constant work in progress, but I enjoy it.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Nice ideas for making your own recipes and shooting them with your camera. Very helpful for those people who need it. I'm still finding the way in the kitchen and making easy dishes. It's also useful too. Voted up!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! I hope it's helped you. I still consider myself a work in progress - I've found that I can always discover new ways to take better photos and different ways to improve my recipes.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Natashalh, This is a very good hub. Thank you for telling us all what you learned. You gave so many good tips, I will have to read it over and over to remember. The next time I take pictures of my food, I will look at your hub again. Voted up, useful and beautiful.

      Blessings to you.

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