How to add life to
food photography

You might be the proud entrepreneur of the new coffee joint in town. Definitely, cutting edge marketing will be your top priority. And you want potential customers to drool over the images of simmering hot cups and freshly baked scrumptious cookies. Check out the compiled tips for successful food photo shoots for achievable, fascinating and mouth-watering images of your products.

Lighting: Try taking the pictures using natural light - this leaves the best effect on food photos. However, artificial light gives flexibility in terms of time of day when you shoot. Given that there inconsistent lighting and white balance throughout the photo shoot, it saves a lot of work in the post-processing. If opting for artificial light, do not use a direct flash, or worse, overhead tungsten light. Invest in a good quality flash, and a reflector or bounce card. Its best not to ever direct the flash towards the food, as the harsh light will make the food look flat and unappealing. The best way is to use a reflector to bounce the light to the food. You can enjoy experimenting with the angles, camera settings, and intensity of the light to see which works best for each food type.

Light angles: There can be 3 kinds of lighting: the front, back and side lighting, and see the difference they make on the food.

Front lighting is an easy and safe choice as there will be less shadow on the food. The results look satisfactory enough with nothing special.

Side lighting is useful to show the textures and contrast of the food, making the details pop out beautifully.

Back lighting, is really worth the effort although tricky to implement. It gives the clean, light background that helps turn the focus to the food, while also giving highlights to the glorious details of the food. Back lighting needs a lot of practice to perfect (wrong exposure and automatic settings can cause dark shadows on your food, so it's good to use manual settings).

Fresh ingredients: Food photography is all about the aesthetics of the food, it is crucial to make sure that every piece is in perfect condition. A wilted lettuce in the salad or a bruised tomato can ruin your photo. If you are looking for an angle that could hide the flaws, forget it that does not go down well. Just ensure the freshest ingredients to save you from the extra trouble and make photos that are full of life!

Timing: If you wait till the cooking is done, you’ll miss lots of opportunities to take good shots in the process. There are times when the raw or half-cooked ingredients look more appetizing than the cooked dish. Don’t start after the food is cooked, but start way before that, when the ingredients are being prepped! Think of soup, pasta with white sauce, or brown dishes like chili, beans, or stuffing - foods that look less appetizing in their cooked form. Sometimes a little garnish can help, but when it still looks flat and boring, you can try shooting the cooking process.

Angle of photos: Different foods have different angles that show their best look, at their most mouth-watering appeal. For example, this cheese and fruit platter looks best from above, while a taco or burger looks best from the side. Sometimes by showing food in various angles allow people to visualize. Explore the angles you can think of for each dish, and get creative!

Negative space: Many photographers stick to these 2 conventional ways when taking photos of food: 1) filling in the frame to show the whole dish, and 2) getting close-up shots of the food to showcase the luscious details. They tend to forget to leave a negative space. Leaving a blank space in a photo will be useful to put a logo or writing in it, so be prepared to accommodate this.

Overflowing plates: Are you tempted to put a lot of food on the plate? Do understand that this won't necessarily look good on the camera. Too much food on the plate would only make it harder for the audience to keep the focus on the important elements. Food photography is about simplicity, so putting enough space on the plate lets the audience appreciate the food.

Food waiting too long: Leafy greens in salads, for example, will look wilted after some time, while meat can look a bit dry after sitting around for some time. Make sure you do your setup before the food comes so you can spring into action when they’re ready.

Props and plating: Presentation matters - as for plates, stick to neutral ones in white, black or gray. Of course, feel free to venture, but make sure to stay aware of the color play of food and props.

Engage your creative spark here to style the plating. Ideally, keep the arrangement simple and clean, especially the props. Since the food should be the main star in the photo, you should stay away from crockery and tableware that can potentially divert the focus away from the food, even if they are pretty. You do not want to clutter the whole presentation. Don’t let even a crumb or a speck of liquid spoil the scene. When clients zoom in to get the food details, every imperfection will stand out and take the focus away from the food. In that regard, adding a bit of oil to vegetables and meat will make them glisten and look succulent, while a sprinkle of water on salad can make them look fresher.

You should make sure the photos tell a delicious story. You, as the director have to create the story. Bring emotion into the view through mood, rather than just through the dish itself. How can you add more life? Instead of typically shooting perfectly placed food, take a bite of the food, or have hands reaching for dishes to add some drama elements.