12 food photography tips that will make everything look IG-worthy

Even home-cooked fare can look like it came straight out of a Michelin-starred restaurant with the right photography tips!

“Camera eats first” is a phenomenon that most of us are guilty of: we “feed” our cameras first by taking photos of their food before feeding themselves, because we want to share photos of our mouth-watering food on social media.

However, while your favourite food blogger manages to make every photo look amazing, you sometimes have more misses than hits when it comes to nailing that perfect #foodporn photo, and it can be incredibly frustrating.

To help you take the best photos of your delectable food, we’ve gathered 12 of the best (& simplest!) tips from photographers and food bloggers:

1. Get your plating right

As food photographers would have you know, there’s no point in having the best lighting and props set up when your food is not properly plated to begin with.

If you’re photographing food that should look effortless or natural, e.g. a salad, you can be a bit more chaotic and messy with the plating. The aim is to make it look more like a garden with randomly blooming colours – it will still take time to arrange, but it doesn’t require you to make sure everything is properly aligned.

On the other hand, if you’re photographing food that needs precision in order to look Insta-worthy—say rainbow smoothies or galaxy cakes—neatness in your plating is key. These sorts of foods rely heavily on the balance of colours and precision of lines.

2. Focus on the food

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While it may sound like a given, you may be surprised to find that most of your NG shots are actually caused by a lack of focus on your subject! This often happens when your hand is not steady, or when you are focusing on the wrong part of your food.

To correct the lack of focus, remember to hold your phone or camera with two hands to avoid shaking the camera, and focus on a point near the center of the dish or its most enticing detail, like the interior of a sliced layer cake.

3. Use the rule of thirds to compose your photo

Most photographers are familiar with the Rule of Thirds, which is a grid used to create more balanced compositions: basically, you break an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so that it’s split into nine different sections. The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections and frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

While the Rule of Thirds is meant to help you organise your photography subjects, strictly positioning your subjects in the centre just creates a very boring photo.

What you can do instead is to have your food positioned at different parts of the grid – for example, place a dish along the left grid line, and keep your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half.

In order to use the Rule of Thirds, you can just turn on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose. Some phone cameras also come equipped with this function!

4. Fill the frame

 

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Instagram is all about visually impactful photos, and one of the easiest ways to create such a photo is by making sure that you fill the whole frame with food and/or props – not a single corner left untouched!

While it may sound very overwhelming, the trick is to find balance in the way you fill up the space. Some people take the chance to photograph a close-up of their food, while others use it to capture a food flatlay.

One thing to take note of is that your photo should not look messy, as it makes it difficult for viewers to determine where their eyes should be focusing on in the photo.

5. Use natural light…

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While photographs of food taken in a studio typically use camera flash, it is not recommended that you use your phone’s flash if you are just taking photos, say, in a well-lit cafe.

Instead, make use of the natural light that filters through the window – the warm and soft light should make your overall photo look more natural.

If you happen to be at a restaurant, try to ask for a window seat so that you can have a direct source of natural lighting.

6. …or light up your photo using your friends’ phones

There are moments when you will be compelled to try to shoot your dinner in a dimly-lit diner, and here’s the truth: you will most likely fail, as the light cast by the flash on your phone will not flatter the food.

In times like these, get your fellow diners to help by turning on the lights of their phones and point them toward the dish while you take the picture without turning on the flash. They can even diffuse or reflect their phone lights with lightweight white napkins.

That being said, even the experts remind you to use this trick sparingly – you don’t want to turn on the floodlights in an upscale restaurant and cause a nuisance for the tables next to you!

7. But don’t shoot in direct sunlight

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Although the advice is to find natural lighting to shoot your food in, you are actually not recommended to shoot in direct sunlight (like outside on a sunny day), as it can make your food look harsh and give it extreme shadows.

Unless you are going for a very modern, sharply-contrasted food photo, capturing your food in direct sunlight can look too intense. Try to use light rays peeking through the window for a softer touch to your photos.

8. Bounce light onto your food

Let’s say you’ve found a great spot by the window but the sunlight is too harsh and casting too many dark shadows on your food – what do you do?

In this case, you’ll need to find white materials to diffuse the light and bounce the light onto the shadowy side of your food — showing more details in the part that’s often too dark.

Some materials you can make use of include a piece of paper, napkin, or even a curtain!

9. Don’t use the zoom function

Sometimes we want to get up close to capture the tiny details in our food, so we use the zoom function, resulting in grainy or blurred photos with no focus.

A good way to get around this is simply to move the camera closer and avoid using the zoom function completely, as it lowers the quality of your photos.

10. Experiment with angles

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When it comes to the angles of your photographs, it is important to think about what part of the food you’re looking to emphasise. If you’re taking a picture of a sandwich for example, you might think about cutting it in half and shooting from the side to show the different layers and textures of the ingredients.

As a general rule most food photographers take photos of their food from the sides, as it allows them to fully capture the food textures with the appropriate shadows.

However, side-shots won’t work for all food though. Salads and meal spreads, for example, are best shot from in an overhead, flat-lay style in order to show the arrangement of ingredients and/or dishes.

Having props on hand is also a fun way to spice up your usual top-down shots, as it layers the angles and invites your viewers to tuck into your beautiful food.

11. Play with your food

We’re taught not to play with food as a child, but in food photography, you are actually encouraged to play with it as much as possible if you want to create vibrant and interesting shots that no one else has.

What we mean by ‘playing with food’ is to move it around and even eat it as you take the photo: forget conventional photos where everything is set prim and proper, go ahead and take a bite out of your donut or pour your coffee from one cup to another in order to create an engaging photo that suggests movement.

12. Don’t be afraid to do post-processing

 

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While some photographers may frown upon the idea of post-processing, it is actually one of the most important steps to take, besides capturing the photo, of course. In fact, some photographers will tell you that learning how to process your images after they’re taken is FAR more important than what camera you use.

If you’re a serious food photographer and wants to make sure your photos are top-notch, you’ll have to use professional photo-editing technology such as Adobe Photoshop.

On the other hand, if you just want to make quick edits on your phone, there are many free phone apps that can do the work for you. Some examples of these include VSCO, Snapseed, Foodie, and Afterlight 2.

You can tweak the image’s brightness, warmth and colour saturation, but be careful not to go overboard with the post-production changes. The food should still look edible, and not an obviously over-saturated colourful mess.


Featured image credits: FLOWER CAFE [LOVIN’ HER]

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