Food Photography for Dummies

December 25, 2016 , Haiya

I’m no pro food photographer, but I have learnt a couple of food photography tricks up my sleeve that I’m happy to share with all ya all.

  1. Keep it au naturale. The first and most important rule of thumb is NEVER use filters. Ever. Ever. EVER. This is because there are always several elements in a picture, and a filter will either wash everything out, saturate everything, overexpose everything, etc. You never want that. You don’t want food that looks washed out or radioactive. At most, maybe you want to brighten an entire picture, but even when you do that, you’ll need to further work on the picture, by adding saturation, sharpening, contrast etc. What’s the solution? Lighthouse and Photoshop for the pros. Or, if you’re a dummy like me who is still learning, then use a mobile app like Snapseed for some quick pimping up on pictures before posting them on social media. Remember, people eat with their eyes first!dsc_0370jpg
  2. Lighting. There are several light sources one can use. The easiest and my favorite are:
    1. Soft boxes give a soft, muted, evenly balanced light.
    2. Natural lighting. This is the best. aim for the natural light to be directional. What do I mean by that? Placing the food outdoors will yield a less dramatic picture than placing it just by the window. Why? Because the light then lands on the food from one direction only, casts a shadow on the other side, and increases depth to the picture.dsc_0314jpg
  3. Reflectors. Imagine making a smoothie bowl that isn’t quite full till the top. So some of your toppings are falling below the rim, and light is not touching the toppings on the side that the light source is coming from. In this case, you want to place a reflector on the opposite side, to reflect the light source onto the opposite direction, hence shedding light on both directions of the dish.
    This is a picture that could have desperately used help from reflectors.

    This is a picture that could have desperately used help from reflectors, because light didn’t land on the berries due to the barrier formed by the wall of the bowl.

  4. Surfaces/backgrounds. This is arguably the most important factor when taking pictures.
    1. Don’t have a shiny surface because that will reflect light back onto the lens
    2. Don’t have a surface with colors similar to the food. Light brown wood is in my opinion the worst background to have when photographing carbs, because they fall in the same color family. Also, adding saturation to the whole picture becomes impossible if the background is brown wood because that saturates the most.
    3. Do use grey, black, white, dark blue and turquoise for backgrounds. They are the most flattering colors because they contrast with all foods.
    4. Where do you find surfaces and backgrounds? Easy breezy. Obviously you don’t buy 10 dining tables; you buy fabrics. Linens work best. Planks of raw wood painted over give unparalleled depth. Fun hacks also include wallpaper and contact paper for faux wooden and marble surfaces!dsc_0465jpg
  5. Styling.
    1. If you’re talented (unlike me), and your plate of food is a piece of art in it’s own, then zoom in, and let the plate fill the frame.
    2. If however, it’s something like, for instance, a Shepard’s Pie – I mean how pretty can you make waves of whipped potato look, really- then this is where flat-lays work best. Add color into the frame by creating a bit of a canvas and zooming out.
    3. The canvas is something I can’t teach you much about, as I’m still learning myself. All I can say is practice makes perfect. What I do suggest is using props like garnish, spices that went into the dish, fresh flowers, festive decorations, dishtowels, kitchen utensils, books, and/or newspapers. Make the food look real, appetizing, eatable. Cut a slice of that pie. Break a hunk of that bread. Peel that orange.
    4. Colors and patterns: Try ensure that all the colors in the frame somehow work together. For instance, an uneccessarily brightly patterned dish towel is distracting, takes attention away from the dish is just a misfit. When it comes to props, neutral, muted colors usually work best.
    5. Contrast. Place colored plates on white backgrounds. Darker foods on white plates, lighter foods on dark plates. The contrast always makes the food stand out, colors pop, and make for an overall more attractive picturedsc_0476jpg
  6. Taking pictures in the dark. When it’s dark there are two things you can do:
    1. Turn up the ISO. Again, trial and error will help you determine the right ISO setting for each degree of lighting.
    2. Reduce the shutter speed. Reducing the shutter speed allows the camera to capture more light with each click. You need a tripod if you do this because the camera needs to be kept super still.
      This picture was taken in extreme darkness, during dinner at the Armani Cafe, Burj Khalifa.

      This picture was taken in extreme darkness, during dinner at the Armani Cafe, Burj Khalifa.

  7. The most important rule of all: practice makes perfect. You’ll never learn from tutorials what you’ll learn through trial and error.


  1. Good tips for wannabe photographers like me. 🙂 I think my challenge is taking good food photos. Because I guess I work ok with buildings, sceneries but not food. I havent learned photoshop yet. So I use only 2 apps one for resizing and the other for lights, contrast and saturation.

    Styling is also one of my weaknesses. It’s just not me. 😀

  2. I could not agree more “Wannabe photographers” as Pinayskattebasse 🙂

    I always thought it would be easy to take photos of food since it is not moving anywhere as animals and kids do- but the LIGHT, that is making it almost impossible to get good shots.
    Thank You for sharing your secrets with us Haiya!

  3. I’ve suffered from the incurable Obsessive Food Photography Disorder for years, but I haven’t bothered to learn the basics. I’m too lazy for styling and for reading my camera’s manual, so this post was really helpful to me:) My big weakness is the styling. I only have a few plates, and they’re either ugly or look the same, so I’ll have to visit my parents, if I want to take any styled food photos:)
    PS: i think your photos look amazing! I want to eat it all!

  4. Your photos always look amazing and so natural. I’ve been slowly learning how to get good shots through trial and error, and to be honest, I still feel like I barely know how to use my camera. Thanks for sharing your tips and recommendations!

    PS. Happy new year!

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