Simple Tips to Enhance Food Photography | Inspiration on Monday

Posted 7 September, 2015 by Trish in In the Kitchen / 12 Comments

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Simple Tips to Enhance Food Photography


Food photography is something that has long baffled me. This has especially been true since Pinterest has stormed the scene and changed the way that many bloggers started presenting material. Vertical pictures are more appealing than horizontal pictures. I could always tell when my husband was using my camera because he was the only one taking vertical shots–not anymore! Add words to a picture or don’t? What makes you want to pin from one website versus another?

I’m writing this post today because recently a few people have asked me to share my food photography secrets. I want to laugh inside because…oh my gosh I know nothing about food photography! Some of my recent shots have been lucky! And I’ll admit that many of the pictures below were taken with my iphone. I shoot a meal right before we eat and if I didn’t hurry then the whole family starts rioting. But…here are a few basic tips that I can share.

Simple Tips to Enhance Your Food Photography

Use Natural Lighting

This is tricky for me because I have terrible lighting in my kitchen. I don’t have any good photos of using a flash, but flash creates a very flat picture with no depth. I try to move my food to a window that is giving off light, and I have my eye on a Lowel EGO Digital Imaging Light. This is a more natural/softer light that many product/photographers use to help create a more natural light setting indoors. Because come November, trying to find natural light at dinner time will be impossible. Also used with a indoor light is a reflector board to help bounce off and distribute light. I’d give you more details, but I’ve never actually experimented with this.

Steamy Kitchen–a food blog–provides a great example of lighting in her post about Food Photography.

The Sweet-Simple Life has a great post on how to shoot at night, but without the expensive Lowel lighting.

Steamy Kitchen also has a great post on food outtakes and what made the cut. It’s interesting to see her commentary and perspective.

My current trick? Take my dinner outside when the sun is setting and place on a shady spot of our patio table. Bonus is that the background gives nice texture and I don’t have to later mess with white balance.

Kitchen Lights v Natural Lights


The picture to the left above was taken on my kitchen counter (with the crappiest linoleum white countertops you can imagine). The second was taken on my back patio with no additional light or flash. While the background makes a huge difference, you can also see the different colors of the plates. The plate on the right is more of a true white while the plate on the left is yellower. I did not edit these photos in any way. And both were shot with my iphone.

See the pull-back. There was so much sun coming into my backyard because we have western exposure, so I created the shadowing with my body. Sneaky sneaky! If you take a photo in full sun everything will be completely washed out. This is why I also like to take photos of my girls when the sun has set just below the fence line or when it’s cloudy. It also helps with very harsh shadows.

Photography Pull-Back


Garnish/Use Food Props/Carefully Plate Food

In the very first photo of the Shrimp Dragon Noodles, I peppered on a bit of cilantro at the end. Not necessarily because I like it (I don’t), but because I knew the green would add a little contrast. I’m usually lazy about this step but you’ll notice on food blogs how often garnishes are used to add interest.

Additionally, take a little napkin and wipe up any errant spills. See the pork tenderloin picture down at the very bottom–now I would have drained the beans a little more and sopped up some of that juice. Nothing like soggy beans to say Yum!! Food bloggers are insane about this–they’ll use tweezers to carefully place peas or maybe even pick out the rice that spilled into the pork in the picture immediately below. I ain’t got time for that but I do try to make the food look a little more appealing.

Props can include anything and everything–some people collect these. I usually just use my fork–or in the picture of the noodles the chopsticks.

Cropping and Depth of Field

With the iphone, I don’t pay much attention to the depth of field because it’s automatic on my phone. I actually kind of like not having to mess with this. With my dSLR I can choose to have my entire plate in focus or just a portion of my plate in focus. I think this is absolutely a matter of taste and takes a lot of practice to master. You can se that the Brussels Sprouts in the picture below are out of focus but the pork is in focus (or at least most of it). This is creating depth of field. I personally don’t like when too much of the picture is out of focus, but it can be helpful when you really want the focus to be on the food.

Another trick–plate the food on a smaller plate! Ever plate something up to take a picture and realize that 3/4 of your plate is empty? The picture immediately below was taken on a salad plate. The food is a bit more crammed together, but I think it is better than when everything was spread out on my much bigger plate.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting with cropping part of the dish out of the picture instead of having my plate be the exact center of a square photo. This draws the eye a little more to the food, gives a bit more contrast, and creates more interest. Again, I’m still playing with this but the posts I’ve done with a cropped plate seem to have received the most photo specific comments.

And just to show you the difference in a few years…*shudders*


Food Photography Much Improved



Browse Pinterest to Find Appealing Pictures

Take a look on Pinterest and see which recipes catch your eye. Are they vertical or horizontal? Do they show a portion of the food or the whole dish? Do they use props? Is the focus range wide or narrow? What can you tell about the lighting? By looking at your favorite websites and Pinterest, you can start to see some trends in what pulls your interest and give you something to shoot for.

Keep Practicing

Because I surely don’t have all the answers!!

Curious what tips you have for creating more appealing pictures of food!!


Inspiration on Monday

Welcome to the First September edition of Inspiration on Monday! Inspiration on Monday is a forum to share things that we’ve created and things that we are doing to help inspire others. Posts about projects in progress, finished projects, tutorials, and how-tos are all welcome. Feel free to share recipes, crafts, lifestyle, organizing, and DIY tips, and any other idea that can spark inspiration.

Inspiration on Monday

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The next Inspiration on Monday will be September 21st. What inspiration has struck you lately?

Autumn 2015 Pin it and Do it Challenge

Remember–the next Inspiration on Monday will be a special Pin it an Do it edition! (Though you can always use Pinterest as your inspiration and post it on the first and third Mondays).


12 Responses to “Simple Tips to Enhance Food Photography | Inspiration on Monday”

  1. I needed these tips! One thing I’ve learned is to not do closeups of food. My kitchen lighting is bad, but I’m too lazy to take my food outside to do a photo shoot (and what about winter?). I really need to look into a light (like the one you linked to) or into building a light box.

  2. Great tips! I suck at food photography but these are all things I can do with my limited skill and resources. I love the idea of taking the plate outside. I have really bad natural light in the house so that would fix this. I’m looking forward to playing around a bit with this.

  3. Excellent tips… and I sure do need them! Had no idea how difficult food photography is until I tried to take pictures for my blog. I just came across a book called Plate to Pixel and have high hopes for it- we’ll see.

  4. I think you covered most of the stuff that I do (I also have almost no natural light in my kitchen so I open up my front door and put the food on the floor). The main thing that turns me off to a recipe or meal is a picture that looks like a pile of barf. It might be the best beef stroganoff in the world but that stuff does NOT photograph well and nobody seems to want to garnish it or maybe plate it next to the noodles for the photo or, I don’t know, just post photos of the prep. What I’m saying is that good food photography skills are indeed very important! ;)

  5. Natural light is KEY! And, like you, I have TERRIBLE light in my kitchen. Actually, come winter we have terrible light altogether. I used to love taking pictures of food … I should do it more often, even if that means more teasing from the husband. lol. :)

  6. Wow! I’m really impressed! My husband made me a light box but then it became just one more piece of clutter in the dining room after a while. I can definitely use some tips. My kids make fun of my food photography aspirations for my Weekend Cooking posts, but they live away on their own now!

  7. Great advice! I’ve been trying to take food photos recently and had worked out that natural light was much better, but I love your trick of creating a shadow with your own body. I’ll have to try it out – thanks!

  8. Natural light but not direct sunlight seems to be the key tip here. Nice sneaky shadow there :) Great post, thanks for sharing the tips!.

  9. These tips are amazing!! And what a difference the natural light makes! I’ll need to read the post on how to shoot at night without the expensive lighting b/c the sun is already setting usually by the time I make my husband and I’s dinner and it’s only early Sept! Missed the boat on that one this summer!
    And – I love how you crop your images…I’m going to play around with that.
    This is so helpful and you are absolutely qualified to give tips on this!

  10. Those are some really good tips. I don’t do a lot of food photography- except when I cooked with something out of my garden. But I do lots of pictures of my plants, and I am always blocking the sun with my body! or taking the plant to a spot of shade, or if indoors, next to a window where there’s natural light. Cropping makes such a big difference too, getting things out of the edges of the picture that distract. Your pictures are so nice, makes me want to try more new recipes! Ooh, they look good.