Whether you’re shooting food photography for a blog, a magazine, a menu, or an advertising campaign, food photography has quickly become a popular niche among photographers.
Not only do food photographers need to deliver an image that is visually appealing—as is customary with all photography—food photographers also need to stimulate people’s tastebuds. After all, they say "you eat with your eyes first"!
While we might often see people snapping pictures of their food with their iPhones while at their favorite local brunch spot, we know that if you really want to capture that professional, drool-worthy shot, taking the time to learn about best practices among food photographers can help boost your career.
In this article, we’ll look specifically at ideas that can help to elevate your food photography, as well as creative food photoshoot ideas that can take your images to the next level. You can also check out our list of best food photography portfolios, plus even more food portfolios examples here if you’re really looking to get inspired.
For now, though, if you’re ready to step up your food photography game, let’s dig in!
Table of Contents
There’s no denying that vibrant, bright, colorful food tends to look more appealing in images. Remember, as a food photographer, your main goal is about making the food look as appetizing as possible. Utilizing color in your photography can help.
If the food you’re photographing is naturally not colorful (i.e. chocolate, pasta, chicken, bread), you can add color with backdrops, dishware, and other food items. For example, in this image, the pasta itself is not naturally colorful, but if we add some herbs and spices to the photo, it becomes much more appealing.
Of course not every piece of food you photograph is going to “move”, but if there are any sauces or condiments that make sense in your photo, this is a great time to add a pour-over effect to capture that motion.
Alternatively, if you’re photographing a drink, a simple swish of the glass can create movement and make the image seem much more interesting, as shown in this example.
You may be thinking we just gave this tip above, but movement and motion are different in food photography. You can create movement by capturing the food in action as discussed in the previous tip.
If you want to use motion, you’re also capturing the food in action, but instead of just capturing one specific moment in time, you’re capturing the action from start to finish.
This image of butter slowly melting on a steak shows how you can use motion in your food photography. While you will need to get a bit more technical with your work to capture this effect, the results are often worth it.
The food should always be the star of the image, but since humans and food go hand-in-hand, why not incorporate some people into your food photography? While we may not be able to pick up on the detailed nuances of the dish since we’re not getting as much detail, using people in your image adds a whole new element.
For example, this image might not show the details of the plate, but it does show the level of enjoyment that a person can get from eating this food. This food photography idea tends to work well in the context of a restaurant.
If you don’t want to get too complicated with models which brings add an element of portraiture into your image, you can also simply feature hands in your image.
For example, in this image, the model is holding the bowl rather than the bowl simply sitting on the table. Alternatively, hands can hold utensils, be featured in the corner of the composition, or frame a plate sitting on a table.
In most cases, as a food photographer, you’ll have one specific food/food item that you’re capturing, but to make your image more interesting, we highly recommend adding some secondary food items into the image.
For instance, we see this idea in this image where the pasta dish is clearly the focus of the image, but tomatoes, bread, and basil have all been placed around the bowl to style int scene and give it some more visual interest.
Similar to the idea above, you should also feel free to add some non-food-related items into your imagery.
For example, these gingerbread cookies are clearly the focus of this image, but the addition of a Christmas tree, pinecones, lights, and red and green ornaments help to make the image feel even more festive than if the gingerbread cookies were just photographed with a simple, plain backdrop.
Oftentimes in food photography, we’ll see elaborate, styled images that feature colorful dishware, models, and plenty of props. If you’re following along with our tips from above then you know that we have no problems with this, but oftentimes, less is more. If you want to shake up your food photography, why not go back to the basics and shoot some single-ingredient shots?
In the above example, the only thing featured is a pile of chocolate chips. Even the background is kept as simple as possible with a crisp, white backdrop. While this might go against all of the previous tips you just read about, sometimes, in order to get creative with your food photography, you need to break the rules and do the opposite of what might be expected of you.
Another easy way to get creative with your food photography is to shoot some zoomed-in shots. While we’ll often come across elaborate, styled images, we don’t see as much photography that features these more detail-oriented shots.
These detailed shots tend to work well in foods that have a lot of texture and multiple elements, as shown here, where we see the mille-feuille in crisp detail with each piece of pastry and custard all working together to create a delicious dish.
Sure, you can put food on a plate in your food photography, as is customary, but you can also play with how you “pose” your food before shooting.
For example, while you wouldn’t see sandwiches stacked this perfectly in real life, it does make for an interesting image. Don’t be afraid to think outside the plate when it comes to posing your food.
Once you have some basic food photography ideas down, it’s time to expand your food photography into a full-blown photoshoot.
It’s no surprise that we often think of a photoshoot as something we might see in an editorial magazine, involving models, styling, and full production. In fact, the actual definition of a photoshoot is a session in which a photographer takes photographs of a model for publication.
So how do you have a photoshoot with food?
The concepts are the same. The foods stand in place of the model and still require styling and editorial direction. While hair, makeup, and wardrobe might look a little different, food still needs to be “dressed up” in order to present itself in the most appealing way possible.
Remember, as mentioned above, a photographer’s main goal is to make food look as appetizing as possible. Here are some ways you can do that in your next food photoshoot session:
Just like an editorial photoshoot has a clear theme or direction, so should your food photoshoot. For instance, if you’re shooting ice cream with sprinkles, you’ll likely have a fun, bright theme that reminds people of summer. If you’re shooting gingerbread cookies you might want a theme that feels cozier and holiday-focused.
Here’s an example where the theme is less obvious, but all the styling is done to fit within a certain aesthetic. The aesthetic here is very natural, bright, and tropical. The natural light, limes, and the plants in the background all help to evoke the feeling of a warm tropical scene where you could be enjoying this refreshing beverage helping to solidify the theme.
Food photoshoots don’t always have to focus on one singular dish or ingredient. When coming up with food photoshoot ideas, you can always shoot an entire meal or even a full table spread featuring all the fixings like turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, fresh bread, and even dessert. Not too surprisingly thanksgiving tends to be a great time to shoot these full table spreads.
Here’s an example where we don’t necessarily have the most elaborate spread, but we do have everything to show off that this is a meal amongst multiple people rather than just a one-dish photoshoot.
As a food photographer, you’re probably used to focusing on the details of the food, but have you ever considered styling a shoot to focus less on the food and more on the surroundings? While this idea might not be your natural inclination, food photography that focuses more on the table itself gives you a chance to play with angles. While you’re likely used to shooting a lot of top-down photography, with this photoshoot idea, you get to challenge yourself.
You can see this table focus style of food photography shown off in this image. While the food might not be the focus of the image, you can see that everything is still carefully styled to create a specific mood and feel.
When you think of food photography, you probably don’t think there is much room to play with a more abstract style of photography, but this example proves otherwise.
In this photo, we’re given a macro style of photography where tomatoes are digitally enhanced to look different than we’re used to while still being recognizable.
You obviously don’t have to go with this exact idea, but just feeling open to the idea of more abstract styles of food photography can open you up to new photoshoot ideas.
One easy way to bring some life to your food photography is to incorporate models into your photography. In particular, we highly recommend finding a way to feature the chef in the image.
Whether it be the chef actually making the food, or simply preparing it for serving as shown here, bringing a chef into your food photoshoot can add an exciting element.
Food photographers will often find themselves working for a restaurant. In some cases, you might be required to take images of the restaurant’s food for menu purposes or for an advertising campaign, but in other instances, your client might want to feature their restaurant in the image without any food actually present.
Remember, food is only one component of a restaurant. The atmosphere is also extremely important, making it very valuable if you’re able to capture it through your photography as shown in the example above.
We mentioned focusing on the table in Tip #3, but this tip is less about focusing on the surroundings and is more about focusing on a well-styled table.
In this well-styled table, there might be food on the table, but the image will likely be less about the food and more about the additional decor that has been added to the table. For example, in this image, there are some hints of food, but the table cloth, flowers, glassware, candles, and even the waiter setting the table all contribute to a well-styled table that is worth photographing.
We often like to see food presented to us once it is cooked, plated, and expertly styled to look as appealing as possible. This makes sense since your goal as a photographer is to make the food appetizing.
Having said that, one way to shake up your food photography is to show the food actually being cooked. This doesn’t have to mean photographing a raw chicken in a pan—this probably won’t have any appeal to most people—but it could mean showing off crab legs before they go into a boiling pot of water as shown in the example above.
On occasion, you may be required to come up with photoshoots that require a text overlay once you’ve produced the image. You’ll most likely find this in the context of magazine and food review work you do.
In our experience, styling your photoshoot around these text overlays can help you create an image that looks great both with and without the text. This example shows off what we mean by text overlay.
You might be more tempted to shoot food in your photography, but don’t forget that shooting drinks can also be very interesting.
You can set up your drink photoshoot in the same way that you would a food photoshoot. Incorporate props, other food items, color, shadow, and interesting compositions in order to give your image that wow factor.
Create your own portfolio website with Format today.
Plus, get FREE access to our exclusive Photography Business Masterclass Course