For that project, I had to prepare and photograph ingredients and recipes to be used on their new site, hello-goodness.com. It was a (fun) beast of a project, taking nearly 5 months to fully complete.
As with every project, there’s always a new learning experience, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you!
Here’s some food photography tips I’ve learned during that project, along with some of my tried-and-true ones.
Lighting is everything. And sometimes, less is more. I typically shoot with one strong, main light and a filler card nearby.
There’s so many options (and opinions) when it comes to lighting your food shots. If you’re first starting out, I suggest using natural, diffused light if you can. It’s easier to get familiar with the light this way and tends to be more forgiving.
Of course, this also depends on the mood you’re trying to convey. If you’re going for a sunny picnic table scene, then super soft, diffused light probably isn’t the best option.
Once you’re more familiar working with light, try to replicate that in a studio set up. Eventually, you’ll learn how to adjust and control your lighting to get the effect that you want.
2. Create a story
Use props that will help create a story within your image. Think about the kind of silverware or napkins you use—are they rustic, minimal, or colorful? Is there a glass in your image? What kind of liquid is in there, and how full is it?
All these little details will create a story that we can relate to. While you want the main focus on your food, make sure that these details aren’t overlooked.
Bonus tip: use a dulling spray on your silverware to prevent unsightly reflections from your lighting.
3. Don’t (always) cook your food completely
This is especially true for green veggies, such as broccoli. Blanching them does the trick: place them in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Once they’re done, quickly place them in ice water for a few minutes. This process helps bring out their bright green color and appear more appetizing.
Always use fresh ingredients if you can. If fresh ingredients aren’t available, some frozen veggies may also do well—just quickly defrost them in cold water.
4. Add a bowl
Sometimes when we’re preparing a bowl of food, we don’t always have enough to completely fill the bowl. Let’s be honest, a full bowl is usually too much food anyway.
But when you’re photographing, a half empty (or half filled 😉 ) bowl just doesn’t look appealing.
To remedy this, put a smaller bowl upside down inside your larger bowl. This will help take up a bunch of that empty space and make it appear more full.
5. Add oil or water for shine
Make salads and veggies appear extra fresh by spraying a fine mist of water on them. Have some coffee beans that look a little dull? Add a touch of oil to them to instantly make them appear fresher.
Be mindful not to make your salad look drenched or your coffee beans greasy—a little goes a long way! We’re just looking for that extra sparkle 😉
6. Get a little messy
Photographing desserts? Add some cookie crumbs to create some interest. Or put some cake on your fork.
Adding a little bit of that “perfect mess” helps create a familiar scene (because how often do you eat a cookie and not have a bunch of crumbs left over?!)
Cut some veggies. Sprinkle peppercorns. Drizzle that ketchup. Be careful not to get too messy though, or else it can be distracting!
7. Make sure it’s fresh
This sounds like an easy one, but ensure that your veggies are at their optimal freshness. AKA, don’t let them sit a few days beforehand. If so, go out and buy some more.
I used to think, “ah, this looks fresh enough! I can use it!” But after photographing it, I quickly learned it just doesn’t look as good as I previously thought.
I know better now, but save yourself a headache and get them as fresh as possible before you even start photographing.
8. Make use of props
I mentioned earlier about creating a story in your images, and the best way to create that story is through props. These can range from ingredients, to silverware, and even to hands.
Adding hands within your images helps give them a personal touch, and adding ingredients and other props help set the scene. Think of the story you’d like to express and build around that theme.
Also keep in mind the type of background you use. Play with different textures or try some solid colored backgrounds that will complement the food you’re photographing.
You can also create your own props by putting wood slats together to make a table, or using tiles to create a kitchen scene.
Be careful not to overdo it with the props though, or else they could distract from your main subject.
9. Try a new composition
Try making a pattern with your food, or arrange a dish in a way that hasn’t been done before. Just because something is typically styled a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way—add your own flair!
Try playing around with different aperture settings or test a new angle/perspective. Go outside your comfort zone and find a style that’s unique to you.
10. Be mindful of your colors
Think about which colors will complement each other well. This will help create balance and harmony within your image. Keep complementary colors in mind—or colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel.
For example, if you’re photographing a bowl of mac and cheese, complement it with a purple napkin underneath the bowl or even use a purple background.
Utilizing these color combinations will help your food vibrantly stand out.
While there’s a myriad of tips for photographing food, these are the ones that I always utilize when I’m styling images. Remember to create a story within your image. Use props and colors to complement your scene. Keep experimenting with different backgrounds, lighting, and perspectives until you find a style that’s unique to you. And most importantly, have fun! 🙂
What about you, do you photograph food? Do you have any additional tips to share? Let me know in the comments below!