Food Photography – Tips for Beginners

I’ve become fascinated with the world of food photography. At the core of it, its storytelling – the food, the props, the backgrounds. When you are blogging specifically about food and baking, or have a clientele to maintain and engage through social media, it’s really important to have a good picture (since you can only look at them and not taste or smell them, right!). A photo should make you want to reach out inside the screen and grab it to eat! I’ve seen pictures that make a drab looking cookie or a simple cupcake become tempting and drool-worthy just because they were shot right.

whole wheat flour vegan chocolate chip cookies

A simple setup with chocolate chip cookies and chocolate chips and milk.

Nowadays most mobile phones boast of great cameras and can be used for decent photography. I personally use a DSLR camera (Nikon D3300 with a basic 18-55 mm lens). Using the camera has definitely improved my photography game, and I have so far only shot in Auto mode (no-flash). I am in the process of learning all the terminologies and using the camera in manual mode (understanding aperture, shutter speed and ISO – the ‘holy trinity’!) and hopefully, I’ll start incorporating the learning into my pictures soon. I wanted to share my understanding of this subject so that people without a DSLR and without the knowledge of photography can also improve their food photos with just some basics tips that I’ve mentioned below.

If you are a serious blogger or serious about food photography in all its glory, invest in a good camera, some backdrops and props (plates, cutlery, boards, napkins etc), and invest your time into learning how to use the camera in manual mode to your best advantage. Lighting gears, tripods, the additional lens can come later.

Look for inspirations. Follow some food photographers on social media whose styles you like the best. Try to replicate the composition and lighting and that’s how you’ll learn to get better at it 🙂 Ask questions wherever you can.

These are some quick and easy tips as the first steps to improve your food photography immediately. My assumptions include a basic camera (mobile or DSLR), access to natural lighting and some basic plates and props.

P.S. – I am not proclaiming to be an expert of any kind. After all, everything I’ve learned has been self-taught or taught through YouTube tutorials and I’m still learning to be better. I just want to nudge you in the right direction!

Lighting

From what I’ve learned from my experience, most important factor for a good photo is the lighting. The best pictures come out in the natural sunlight. Pick a window or a screen door with good light and set up your plate close to it. You also might have to experiment a little since the light changes with seasons and time of the day.

For example, I shoot my food in my guest bedroom which has a huge balcony door. I get the perfect not-so-direct sunlight from around 3 pm-5 pm. Hence I plan my baking accordingly.

The light should be coming from left or right of your frame for best results in most cases. Turn off all artificial lighting in the room, please do not click pictures in the white/yellow lights of your kitchen or room.

photography setup

An example of how I set up my boards on my bed adjacent to my guest bedroom’s balcony door.

Using reflectors and diffuser (this is the one that I ownits cheap and collapsible hence easy to store) might be the next level, but play an important role. If the light is too strong and direct, you can use a white curtain or a thin white sheet or a diffuser to soften the light (even a parchment paper can help!). If your food has strong shadows, use a reflector (a foam board or a plain white cardboard) on the opposite side of your light source to bounce back some of the light onto the food.

photography setup

Using the reflector to balance off harsh shadows. The glass doors help act as a diffuser for me.

Please DO NOT use the flash in your camera for taking pictures! It’s really harsh lighting, and the image looks flat with weird highlights. Do an experiment, click a picture in natural light and click again with flash. The difference will be obvious.

The Story and Composition

Plan it in your head. What plate would it look best in (don’t use a plate which has too many designs on it or is very shiny), any props like forks or whisk or a dishcloth or even some ingredients can help highlight the main object of your photograph. Don’t overdo it though – your main actor is the food and rest is all supporting cast. Try telling a story with the props and food scraps or ingredients around your main object. Find colors that don’t clash with each other. But always do remember, your main hero should be in focus.

Chocolate Rugelach

Using ingredients like brown sugar and chocolate chips and using tools like rolling pin and brush helps build a story around these Chocolate Rugelach Cookies.

strawberry mini loaf cake eggless

The spoon, the napkin, the plate, the flower – all colors try to compliment the strawberry in these Eggless Strawberry Cake. I’ve kept the base a neutral grey so as to not overpower the main cake. The wooden board adds some natural tones.

red velvet cupcakes

Even without any supporting props, these Red Velvet Cupcakes look good because of their placement and lighting. Kept the base and background neutral to highlight the red in cupcakes.

Setup

Once you have a spot ready, find a table or a stool (or even your bed!) and prop up a board, or a backdrop, or a simple white sheet of paper. Make sure it stays in its place and doesn’t move or fly off. The binder clips are a great help when you want to hold the printed backdrops onto a board. Put it against your wall or use a backdrop. (Check the photo above to see how I’ve used two boards as base and backdrop).

Varai Prop Store and Madras Prop Store are two of my most commonly used stores to buy backdrops (MDF wooden boards and printed foldable ones).

Clicking the Photo

  • Try different angles. A three-quarter angle (45°) is the most commonly used. You can also click a picture from the top.
  • Make sure your hands are steady.
  • Try moving around the plate or prop and see if it looks any better.
  • Ensure your main hero is in focus and the image is not hazy.

Post Processing

Sometimes you may need a little help to alter the image to make it perfect – maybe adjust the exposure to suit the mood you’re going for, or adjust the white balance a little (if your whites look little blue or yellow for example). Try the fundamental edits to your photos by playing around with contrast, saturation, exposure, white balance, shadows, and highlights. There are a lot of software (free or paid) that let you do the basic edits. I personally use Adobe Lightroom, but I’ve also heard great reviews for VSCO Cam, Snapseed. These types of software might need some playing around before you adjust and make the best use of the tools in them.

Hope these tips help you get a step closer to the perfect food photography. Once you get comfortable with the basics, get more hands-on with your camera and learn about the ‘holy trinity’ of Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO. Practice, practice, and yeah some more practice!

Was this post helpful for you? Please let me know in the comments! I would love to see some of your pictures on my Facebook page or tag me on Instagram 🙂

13 comments

  1. You have explained the roles of reflector and other stuff so well and the details will help any beginner learn how to use it 🙂 nice read!

  2. Thank you so much.. Was looking for such an article since long and here you explained in brief so well. Very much informative. Thank you.

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