My Top 5 Food Photography Tips
I’ll be honest, when I started my business as a private chef a couple years ago, I never thought I would end up writing a blog post about my Top 5 Food Photography Tips. That said, it has quickly become one of my favorite skills to develop; occasionally, people ask me about the process and it seemed appropriate to share that process with all of you. Because who doesn’t love taking pictures of their drool-worthy dishes??
Full disclosure, I’m not a professionally trained photographer. I have, however, had years of photography experience in my kitchen experimenting with different lighting, backdrops, angles and props.
More recently, I have been paid to recipe write, cook and shoot content for a few different businesses; experiences that helped immensely in developing my skill set.
So without further ado, here are my top 5 food photography tips:
1. Natural Lighting > Everything
If you like taking food pictures, you’ve probably heard this before. But it’s too important of a tip to leave out. For years I tried to make the most of winter dinners in the dark with the strongest bulb I could find. I have now come to the conclusion that natural lighting is the only light for me. I simply won’t shoot in the dark. You can play around with it all you want, but I am convinced it’s just not the same.
Want to make most of the natural lighting in your space? Find a flat surface near a window. Find a cheap backdrop you like. I use a piece of plywood from Home Depot that I painted white that cost under $10 to make. Any home supply store will have a variety of different surfaces you can choose from. Bonus points if you have a wood table or marble countertop near a window you can utilize.
2. Add a Living/Real Life Element
I used to never do this. My first two years of food photography was all plain shots of a white plate on a white background. No hands. No props. Nothing but the food. And while I think it’s pretty neat that people liked those photos, adding a living element to the shot makes it so much better!
Most of the time when I shoot, I’m alone; so asking a friend to stick their hand in my shot isn’t really an option. Here’s where you get creative. If you have a tripod you could certainly make use of that, but I usually just stick my left hand in the shot and shoot with my right.
3. Use Props
If I had a dollar for every shoot I shot after cleaning my kitchen I would be several hundred dollars richer; yet all the pictures from those shoots are actually quite boring. Why? Because all of my natural props like eggshells, spilled flour or measuring spoons were in the dishwasher and no longer available for my shot!
The neat freak in me is always tempted to clean my kitchen and my mess before shooting the final shot of my food. This is a habit I’m still working on breaking. That’s why Top 5 Food Photography Tip #3 is to: Use Props. Use what you have already out in your kitchen. These ingredients and this “mess” tells a beautiful story about what went into the final piece.
You don’t need to go out and spend $50 on fancy spoons and plates. A few, simple, neutral, plates and pieces of silverware will work just fine. When I was taking photos in college I went to Value Village to find some antique looking cutlery for under $3. You most likely already have what you need in your kitchen already. Start using props now; embrace your mess!
4. Watch Your Colors
It’s all fun and games in the summer when fresh produce is abundant but it’s all too easy to fall into the colorless trap that is winter food. Comfort food may be delicious, but it’s not always the prettiest. Be aware of the colors in any dish you are taking photos of.
It’s important to take a few shots, step away and review before calling it a day. There’s nothing more frustrating than wrapping a day’s worth of work to realize all of the shots look bland the next day.Plan ahead and think about how you can garnish dishes with minimal color to add life to the shot. Micro greens always provide a nice pop of green and pickled onions or radishes give a beautiful shade of pink.
5. Edit, Edit, Edit
If you’re not editing your photos, you’re missing out on a major game changer. I’ve tried several different (free) editing apps on my phone and I honestly can’t say that any one is vastly better than another. That said, I have enjoyed using Adobe Lightroom for the past year. It’s not so important which editing program you use, as much as it is for you to edit every photo. Especially if you are posting your pictures to an ongoing blog or Instagram feed. Why? For the sake of aesthetic, continuity and brand awareness.
If you’ve ever used Instagram or Tumblr you’ve seen feeds that flow together seamlessly. Each photo has hues and colors that match with all the others. It’s magical. It’s eye appealing. But don’t be fooled; it’s editing!
Not to say that a whole lot of hard work and skill doesn’t go into these feeds. It isn’t easy, but it can be done infinitely better with an editing tool. Play around with different free ones first to see what you like. Make sure to view your photos as an album before posting new content, to make sure the theme and color schemes are synced.
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