Tutorial: Food Photography

Whether you’re trying to up your Instagram game, develop a food blog, or something more, these tips from our photographer, Jeaninne Kaufer, are great go-to’s for capturing photos of food!

Light is KING!

Use natural light. Look for a spot with soft, diffused, bright light. I like to shoot next to a window or outside on a cloudy day. Move around until you find the right light! You can’t make up for bad lighting.

Turn off your flash. Artificial light creates harsh shadows and can produce odd color casts unless you have the right equipment and setup.

Take control of shadows. Use black and white foam board to even out your light. Why black and white? Colored boards will cast color onto your scene. If one side of the dish is darker than the other, use white foam board to reflect light back onto the darker area of the dish. If something is too bright, use black foam board to help block some of the light and even it out.

Maynards Market & Kitchen blog

Pick a simple, neutral background.

You can’t go wrong with a white background! At Maynards, I love shooting against white. The dishes are so colorful and beautifully plated — they just pop against the crisp white background.

Maynards Market breakfast

Texture. Find textures that don’t distract from the dish. Linens, craft paper, wood, marble, and non-reflective metal make for great backgrounds that add some depth to the image.

Color & contrast. Think about the plate and the colors of the food. Lighter plates will pop against darker backgrounds, and vice versa. Think about the effect on the viewer — even, similar tones create feelings of comfort and tranquility while high contrast colors create vibrant, exciting images. Choose what’s right for the story you’re trying to tell.

Maynards Market & Kitchen

Choose your angle.

Think about the dish you’re shooting. Taller dishes like cupcakes or sandwiches might best be shot from the side, while flatter plated dishes look best from above. Test different angles to see what you like best! Sometimes the story of the dish calls for more than one image taken from more than one angle.

When in doubt, shoot from above. Keep your camera as level as possible. Stand on a chair if necessary to get the whole scene without tilting your camera. If you’re using a smartphone, use the grid setting to help keep your lines straight. If you’re shooting on a table, use one of the corners to square up your shot.

Garnish the scene.

But first! Make sure the plate is clean, especially at the edges. Wipe away any smudges or spills.

Alternate with including and not including props. Think utensils, ingredients, garnishes, herbs, spices, napkins, cookbooks, flowers/leaves (great for seasonal dishes), drinks & glasses, and the human element. Get some hands in there for more active shots.

Arrange & compose your shot.

Whether you’re shooting a single dish or an array, with or without props, think about white space. Give your subjects some breathing room.

Try out different framing compositions and arrangements of props and dishes, and take plenty of photos. When you look at your images later, you’ll be happy to have a diverse selection, and you can decide which compositions create the most interest and balance.

Exposure & editing.

You can’t edit a bad photo into a good one. You need all the elements above, first! Use all the steps and tips above to set up your photos for minimal post-processing.

Expose for the highlights. It’s a lot easier to brighten shadows than it is to bring back overexposed areas.

Saturation. Edit to enhance color, but don’t overdo it. Saturation and vibrance can make or break a photo. Go for what looks natural while maximizing the impact of the dish’s colors.

White balance & temperature. Brush up on your color knowledge to tackle white balance & temperature. I once did a food shoot outside during a majestic Tucson sunset, so my white background actually looked purple! I offset this by pushing the tint slider away from purple and toward green. Shoot at least one photo with a white object in it — having something white in your image helps you to gauge the color temperature and make the proper corrections.

Editing apps. If you’re using a smartphone, find apps that give you some editing control. VSCO lets you play with X and Y skew, highlights & shadows, temperature & tint, contrast, saturation, and more.

BUT beware of filters! They often change colors, highlights, and shadows. Sometimes they can be great, but be sure to know when one does or doesn’t work.

Experiment!

These tips are a great base to get the hang of food photography and find your style, but they are by no means hard-and-fast rules! Sometimes I really love playing with intense shadows, choosing an unconventional angle (I love the “diner’s view”), using high or low contrast colors and backgrounds, and discovering and different new ways to shoot food and tell a story.

Some more tips:

  • Don’t zoom if you’re using a smartphone. This will degrade the image quality. Get as close or as far as you need. Don’t be afraid to give yourself some extra room — you can always crop later.
  • Focus & depth of field. If you’re using a camera, use a higher f-stop for dishes with varying heights/depths, especially for overhead shots. This will ensure the entire dish is in focus. You may have to offset this with a higher ISO or slower shutter speed. Play until you find the right balance of focus and depth of field. Depth of field is especially useful to blur out the background when shooting dishes from the side.
  • Get some behind-the-scenes action! Sometimes, the process is just as important AND as beautiful as the final product.