These are a few of my top tips geared for people starting out taking pictures and styling food. This article was first published on Yuppiechef’s Spatula magazine.

If you want to take a really good photograph of food, you have take a number of factors into consideration.

  1. mastering the technical aspects of the camera
  2. understanding light and how it affects your subject 
  3. the overall mood you want to create through your props and styling 
  4. the presentation of the food

Much like any creative endeavor, some skills can be mastered, but for the most part, it is an art and personal expression. As you practice it, you will find your own style and voice.

 1. Learn as much as you can about your camera

This is the more technical aspect of the process and can easily be learned. I am a self-taught photographer and have read numerous books and tutorials on the subject. I continue to read as there is always room for improvement. You can find everything you need online. Just keep looking, reading and learning. Read your camera manual. Shoot in manual mode if you are not already, as this is the only way you will learn about setting up your exposure and having control over your shot.

2. Understand light 

Start developing an understanding of light and the relationship it has on your subject. Play around trying to find the best light you can in the place where you shoot. I only shoot using natural light as a source because I prefer it. Often this may require taking away some light which can easily be achieved with scrim, sheets, or net fabric. Consider how much shadow you want in your shot, it can often give a lovely 3-dimensional feel to your image.

You can achieve excellent results using artificial light and can set it up so that it mimics natural light. It can also be more convenient If you are not able to shoot in the day.

Never use a build in flash (unless perhaps you filter it or deflect it).

3. The mood of the shot

Decide what your overall style and mood is that you want to create and work towards composing that. Do you want it to be casual or formal? Do you want it to be dark or light? I find that the seasons and the type of food will often dictate how you present it. So for example if its winter and you are shooting bowl of thick comforting soup, you may prefer to set it up so that it looks warm and cozy vs. in a very white and ‘cool’ environment. If its summer and you are shooting fruit and ice cream, you may want to show it looking light and refreshing.

4. Subject placement 

Decide what the focus area of the shot is and place your subject in it. Use the rule of thirds as a guide. You can either have it centered or it can look more interesting off centre. Don’t pull the eye away from the subject through props that are bold and stand out, have a clear focus area and ensure that your food is always the primary focus. Decide where you want the viewer’s eyes to go, and direct them to that area. So if the best part of the food is the topping, make sure when you shoot it, that the topping is the focus area. If you want the inside of a dish to be the focus, ensure that you make that part the focus area of the shot. 

5. Depth of field

This is the amount of subject matter that retains focus. A photograph with a shallow depth of field has a small part of the subject in focus and the background out of focus. This creates a lovely mood and can work really well with food photography. Medium depth of field has more of the subject in focus. A deep depth of field has everything in focus. Think about the food you are shooting and what sort of depth would suit it. My advise is to mix it up.

 6. Choose your perspective and angle

How close up do you want to go in on the food? Do you want to show a whole scene or just a specific part? A lot of this will depend on the type of food what you want to show. Some food can look very good close up, and other food looks better shot from a bigger distance.

You can add a lot of interest by adjusting your angle too. Think of which shows off the food the best :

  1. Overhead angle
  2. 45 degree or 3/4 angle (varying degrees of this)

For example, a pizza looks best shot from above and food with intricate layers will always look better shot side on to see these.

 7. Plan your props and garnishes 

Think of the recipe and ingredients in it and use these elements as garnish to make the picture more interesting and tell a story about the food. Choose the right colour props to match the food – contrasting colours work well. Build your shot, move things around, compose and add to it. Use very fresh herbs as garnish or small leaves, whole spice etc. Keep food looking fresh with a spritz of water or a drizzle of oil.

Think of ways to make the picture more interesting to look at and choose props that are linked in to the style of dish you are presenting. Ensure the props do not dominate the food – just like makeup on a fashion model, they are there to enhance. You could start with a basic selection and white crockery which always looks good for food. Colour does add vibrance and life. Vintage cutlery, crockery, and textured backgrounds make the image more interesting to look at and helps make it richer to look at vs just white linen.

 8. Colour

 

The colour wheel shows which colours work together and which are opposite to each other

Sometimes contrasting colours work really well to make food pop out. Play around and explore what colours look good next to each other. Look at food photographs that you like and notice the colours that are used.

9. Create texture in your food

At the end of the day, the food is the most important part of the food shot so you need to make sure it looks delicious and has big appetite appeal. Using herbs as garnish – from ingredients in the recipe is an easy way to lift the look of a dish and add colour. It is important that the food does not look flat and lifeless. Smaller plates allow it to look fuller.

Give the food height if it needs it and add some texture. Salt, pepper, other spices sprinkled on/around the food works really well to achieve this. This can be added on at the end, like croutons on the soup, a generous dollop of cream, or a dusting of cocoa or sugar on a dessert.

 10. Practice

The only way to become better at anything is to practice and then practice some more. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, its through the mistakes that we learn the most.

My book is available for purchase on Yuppiechef.co.za

To track where else my book is sold and any other news on it, visit my Drizzle and Dip Book page.

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74 Comments

  1. Darling, what a lovely post. Your shots are always gorgeous and now I want to practise too!

    x

  2. Oh, this is fantastic. I’m by no means a pro but found this so so helpful for restaurant reviews and food blog posts. I normally just aim and click. Thanks lady. Brilliant post.
    Clouds xxx

  3. Sam

    Thanks Clouds, glad I could help. 🙂

  4. Sam

    Thanks Felicia, its fairly general.

  5. Pingback: 10 tips for food photography & styling |

  6. One day when Im Big… Till then Ill just oogle your pics… Thanks so much..

  7. This was a great post with very useful advise!! Thanks for sharing this, Sam!!

  8. Sam

    Thanks Zirkie, just a basic overview for beginners.

  9. Beautiful beautiful post Sam. Thank you for sharing. I need so much help in these departments! xx

  10. Sam

    Thanks Colleen, it was born out the Blog Indaba presentation. Your blog is looking so lovely x

  11. Hey Sam. Awesome post. Some very good pointers.
    Not a huge photographer (other than on me phone, but that doesn’t count) but am definitely going to try them out.

  12. Sam

    Hi Emily, you should see what it looks like now 0_0 (I definitely need a big one now).
    Sam

  13. Well, I’ve got way more ideas now than I previously had! 🙂 I love the color wheel you have on here!

  14. Hi!
    Nice post!

    I am a food photographer in MTL, Canada… Little question, where did you find those metallic pan or piece you used in the top photos? These are amazing and I would die to buy some like that!! LOVE the texture… Thanks for your help!!!

  15. Sam

    Hi Samuel and thanks. Its an old baking tray which I picked up at a bric n brac market. I am on the constant look out for interesting textures to shoot on.

  16. What wonderful information! I am usually in such a hurry taking pics I forget to do these steps. Thanks for the reminders.

  17. Lovely, thank you for making me think about my food photography again, I love the overhead shots and really have to work on getting those right!

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  19. Sam these are really great tips! I love dark and moody food photography. I want to try to incorporate more of that style.

  20. Sam

    Thanks Talaia – glad you found them useful, I have also enjoyed exploring taking away light to make darker images 🙂

  21. Pingback: Nifty Tips: Food Photography Resources for Bloggers « On Sugar Mountain

  22. Thank you for this really helpful post. I find that studying excellent food photographs and imitating certain styles also helps to improve my own photography skills.

  23. My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your articles to be well researched.

    Would you offer opportunities for guest writers
    to put together content for your website? I would love the chance to post on topics related to
    the content that you write on here.

  24. Sam

    HI Arlen. Many thanks for the kind words and offer of a guest post, but at the moment this is my personal memoir so I do all hte writing myself.
    Kind regards
    Sam

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  28. Excellent tips, great advice, good examples, gorgeous photography.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Samantha!

  29. Sam

    Its a great pleasure for me to share Nisha.
    best
    Sam

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  37. This is a great post, it covers every important aspect of food photography! good job

  38. Chantelle

    Hi There,
    I am in the process of compiling a newsletter for our local Camera Club (Beachcombers Camera Club in Richards Bay, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) and was wondering if you would allow me to place your “10 Tips for food photography” (https://drizzleanddip.com/2012/09/18/10-tips-for-food-photography-styling) in it.
    I will naturally credit you with the article as well as include a link to your website if this is agreeable.
    Please let me know as soon as possible.
    Thank you so much – have a super day!
    Kind regards,
    Chantelle King

  39. Sam

    Hi Chantelle – please email to slinsell @ gmail . com
    thanks
    sam

  40. This is a great read full of useful information. Especially for new food photographers. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

  41. Thanks so much for these tips! I am in the process of revamping my blog and social media sites so these photography tips will help a lot!

  42. Richard Dean

    Hi Sam,
    I’m glad i found your website as I will be using this as inspiration for tomorrow.
    I am a trained master chef, and teach young people with learning difficulties and attitude problems cooking.
    I’m also a very passionate HDR photographer, but i have never really bothered with food, funny enough, so we will see what tomorrow brings, as the kids I teach will also be photographing with their mobile phones and compact DSLRS.
    I will post the results here, if you want to have a look.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonemapped/

  43. Sam

    Hi Richard thanks for the comment and I’ll try and remember to take a look. Good luck, sounds great.
    Best
    sam

  44. Pingback: My Top Photography Tips | Useful Photography Tips for beginners

  45. Kristine

    This post gave me some very helpful ideas as a continue to work on launching my blog. Thank you!

  46. It’s a very wonderful article , it’s very useful for me ?

  47. Sam

    Hi L, Im so glad it was useful.
    thanks
    sam

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  50. Lovely, many thanks for creating Maine have confidence my food photography once more, i {really like|i like} the overhead shots and really have to be compelled to work on obtaining those right!

  51. You had written an very amazing article in very easy language which is easy to understand. Thank you for this article…

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