Every food lover with an Instagram account dreams of being an amazing food photographer. But unfortunately, more often than not, food photos come out looking more like food fails than scrumptious meals. We can help you with that.
We reached out to a few professional food photographers to find out what techniques can take your food social media posts to the next level.
It’s all about presentation and light
An omelette and breakfast potatoes are always just an omelette and breakfast potatoes until you make them more than that. If you don’t get creative with your food presentation, your photos could look flat or worse — boring.
Always re-plate and re-arrange your food so it has interesting design elements and levels to it, Trig Bundgaard, a professional photographer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and owner of Trystan Photography, says. Try multiple plating designs and wipe the edges of the plate.
If you have extra food, add a few coats of vegetable oil to it to keep it looking shiny and fresh. “It may sound gross, but our brains think it looks tastier than flat dull foot — think of how quickly a burger can dry out while you shoot. Even breads benefit from a quick thin coat with a bush,” Bundgaard adds.
Also: Remember that food always looks better on smaller dishes. “If you are plating the food yourself, opt for salad plates instead of dinner plates — this way the food feels like the focus instead of getting lost in the scene,” Rachel Ballard, professional food blogger and New York Times bestselling food photographer, says.
And windows are your friend, so, avoid using a flash at all costs. If you have access to a window not in the direct sun, use the outside light to give flat yet dramatic light to your food, Bundgaard says. “Windows that have a sheer curtain to diffuse the light are especially good.”
Consider upgrading your camera and invest in accessories
If you’re willing to make a camera upgrade, make sure you get to know it and invest in a good lens. It’s fine to shoot in auto mode if you are just learning, Ballard says. But try to move to manual when you can and push yourself.
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And a good lens is far and away more important than an ultra fancy camera, Ballard adds. “I do recommend a DSLR, but some amazing pictures are taken with iPhones every day."
And avoid the kit lens that comes with most DSLR cameras. Buy one that will give you a shallow depth of field.
Ballard explains that the Canon 100mm 1.8 is a great starter lens. It's just over $100. "And lots of photographers love the 100mm macro lens as well, it's just a bit more expensive," she adds.
Bundgaard says that if you are working with a DSLR, use a wide aperture to accent different parts of the dishes through selective focus. “For example, if the entire point of a dish is the seared ahi tuna, it doesn't matter if the rice in the foreground of the image is out of focus.”
If you don't have a camera that will allow for shallow depth of field, that's okay, too. There are inexpensive photo processing software that will allow you to blur additional parts of the image for a similar, but less effective look. Bundgaard recommends Lightroom by Adobe.
Ravi Jolly, co-founder and president of I Heart Keenwah, also recommends investing in a good tripod — one that can take overhead shots. “Overhead (aka top-down) angles are very popular in food photography these days, and having a secure mount for the camera is key on allowing you to compose the shot. A reasonably priced tripod goes on Amazon for around $150,” Jolly says.
Appeal to people’s senses
The most visually engaging food photos are the ones that appear to be captured mid-scene. Also: Viewers want to connect not only with the finished product, but also with the process of preparing food. “Don't hold back on using raw ingredients, cooking tools, and even cooking dishes as photo props,” Jolly says.
Food photography's goal should be to awaken the viewer's senses. There are a few tricks to do this, Jolly adds. “When shooting chocolate, aim to catch the chocolate when it still retains its glisten. [And] when shooting a hot dish, try to capture its steam. When shooting something creamy, try to capture its airiness.”
And don't hold back on adding a hand (or two) to your shot. A cropped hand nibbling at a piece of cake, or a hand whisking coconut cream in a mixing bowl is great, Jolly suggests. “A hand adds a more relatable, human element without distracting from the food.”
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