How To: Take Better Food Photos

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Your Facebook feed, Instagram newsline, and more are probably all infected with food photos. But there are much better ways to get really high quality images instead of slapping a vintage filter on it. As with everything in photography, it’s all about seeing the light. Well, mostly: there is also composition and color theory involved in creating something that will make people attack their screens with hunger.

Here are just a couple of quick pointers to get better food photos.

Use Lots of Window Lighting (Or a Large Diffused Light Source)

One of the absolute essentials for getting better food photos that look just like they would in a magazine is to use lots of soft light. The general rule of thumb for getting soft light is:

– The larger the light source is in relation to the subject, the softer the light.

– The smaller the light source is in relation to the subject, the harder the light.

Soft light means that you’ll barely see any shadows. There are lots of places to work with soft light right in the convenience of your own home. Windows are the best example as long as there is a sheer curtain or blinds softening the light that comes in.

Want to go outside? Try shooting during an overcast day. Overcast days provide lots of soft lighting because the clouds act as a natural softbox for the sun’s ray. An alternative is to shoot during what’s called the Blue Hour. The Blue Hour is right after the legendary Golden Hour where the light is soft, blue, and almost reminiscent to something that you’d see in a fantasy movie world. It really is magical.

Not going to use natural light? We recommend at least a 60 inch umbrella, 24×32 softbox, or an 18 inch beauty dish. Alternatively, you could always do the tried and true ceiling bounce with a speedlite: which often proves to be simpler.

Think Homely and Intimate

Your scene can be very important in creating a better food image. Let’s think about and list a number of places where food is really important in our culture:

– Fruit: outside perhaps on a picnic blanket and in a picnic basket?

– Cereal: with milk and on a kitchen or dining room table. Try to have the light coming from one direction just like most apartments have.

– Sandwiches: almost anywhere

– Crackers and Cheese: pair it with wine in an image; but this one is also really versatile

– Coffee: we typically drink coffee in the morning at the breakfast table. Why not shoot it there?

Also, be sure to get up close and personal. We recommend using the 24mm, 35mm or 50mm field of view. The exception is if you’re photographing something like blueberries or strawberries; which will mean that you’ll need to get in close with a macro lens.

Put some extra thought into it: don’t just place it on your desk. Concepts are what help to make the images much more mouth watering. This is really important because its the difference between making a dinner table look ready for a date (which appeals to people) or having a work space that isn’t as appealing.

Now, we understand that sometimes when you’re casually walking around you may see food that will look tempting. On the occasion, said food may be behind glass. Try to get your camera around the glass or put your lens right up against the glass to minimize the effects on your image.


Getting rid of any sort of clutter or distracting elements is really important in the creation of better food images. This includes anything that isn’t necessarily important to the image; and it could range from variables such as napkins to other items such as debris on a fork that might not have been washed properly.

Putting too many objects in the image may take away from the feel when you want the food to be emphasized instead of everything else around.

Add Specular Highlights

Want to make your images look even sharper? Then consider adding specular highlights. Specular highlights are added from bright lights (such as studio strobes or flashes) that tend to bring out extra details in an image; therefore boosting perceived sharpness.

So how can you do this to your images if you don’t have a flash? The answer is easily found in your kitchen: tin foil! The shiny side of tin foil has similar characteristics to the lining found in some softboxes and umbrellas. Place your tin foil in the opposite direction of your light source with the shiny side towards the food (which is in the middle of the two. Move the tin foil around until you get a look that you want. Take careful notice of how the light reflects onto your subject. Consider wrapping your foil around a piece of cardboard or something else to make placement easier. When done correctly, it can act like a reflector.

The specular highlights will add extra sharpness to your image providing that you’ve stopped down well enough and are shooting at a fast enough shutter speed.

Want to do this in a more professional way? Consider a five in one reflector that includes soft gold, silver, white, shoot through white, and black sides. The silver or soft gold sides can really help to make your images pop more depending on the color of your food.

Capture The Food When It’s Been Freshly Made (Or Washed)

Food should be captured when it is at its best: and there is a reason why people love food when it just comes out of the oven. Piping hot food images (with the steam caught in there) look absolutely delectable. Think about it: when have you ever seen an image of freshly made pasta that didn’t make you hungry?

If you have a garden at home consider stepping out after the rain. The combination of the freshly watered fruits and vegetables with the overcast sometimes left over can also be a great time to go shoot.

Now go make yourself hungry!

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