Food Photography: 5 Tips for Drool-Worthy Photos

Your freshly baked rustic apple pie is a feast for the senses. The sweet aroma of apples, cinnamon and mulled spices wafts through the kitchen. The perfectly crimped crust promises buttery bliss in each bite and the sticky caramel-glazed apples peeking through the crisscrossed topping shout out ‘I’m ready for my close-up’.

You rush off to get your camera only to discover that the lifeless, pie-tastrophe in the photo is a far cry from the window display-worthy dessert on your counter top.

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Capturing your kitchen creations on camera can be tricky!

But, before you throw in the apron and curse the pie gods, take a minute to read our trusted food photography tips for drool-worthy, ‘I’ve gotta eat that now!’ photos.

Whether you are a food blogger looking to showcase your recipes, an avid baker or restaurant paparazzi, snapping pics of your meal before you dig in, our top 5 tips will help you to improve your food photography and leave your friends and readers drooling over their keyboards.

Find the light

The secret ingredient to mouthwatering photos is lighting – natural light to be exact. Don’t feel obliged to stick to the kitchen counter or dining room table. Scout for the best light sources in your home – no room is off limits. If the kids’ bedroom has a big bay window, head upstairs and shoot there. If your living room is bathed in afternoon sunlight, set up a table near the window or even open the front door and place your plate on the sun drenched floor. If the sunlight is too harsh, use a curtain or sheet to diffuse the light and take advantage of everyday household items, such as aluminum foil, mirrors and baking sheets, to enhance your food with interesting highlights and shadows.

Similar to portrait photography, avoid direct sunlight and built-in flashes which will add harsh, distracting shadows and distorting white spots to your photos. Your plate is portable, so experiment with the light and search for unexpected locations to give your dish a natural glow.

strawberries at the market

Photo credit: Hayley Shaham

Dress up the dish

Although the food is the main act, wisely chosen props, including textured napkins, antique cutlery and vintage muffin tins can dramatically improve the yum-factor of your image. Props with contrasting or complementary colors and shapes can highlight the dish’s most enticing features, set the mood or season and add an ethnic twist to your culinary creations.

Showcase the summer freshness of your berry popsicles by using fresh white linens and a rustic white bowl to accentuate the fruit’s vibrant reds. Get to know the color wheel to make your butternut soup pop in complementary blue ceramic bowls.

Be selective and try not to cram too many items into the frame. The food is the star and overly patterned accessories with gaudy colors will simply distract the viewer from your subject.

blueberry parfait

Play with your food

Some dishes are not very photogenic, some require some bling to add a sense of place and others are just plain ugly (though absolutely delicious). Raw ingredients, garnishes and a few cosmetic touches here and there is all it takes to trigger our taste buds into action.

Add life to monochrome chicken alfredo with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, earthy mushrooms and bright lemon wedges. Sprinkle a fistful of juicy raspberries and crunchy bronze pecans to a colorless bowl of oatmeal for a pick-me-up. Cut a generous slice of cake to add depth to an image and draw attention to the velvety layers of buttercream hidden inside. Add height to flat dishes by stacking pancakes and cookies or adding a dollop of sour cream to soups.

bread dough

Photo credit: Hayley Shaham

Tell a story

Food has the magical power to conjure up childhood memories, remind us of cherished family traditions and connect us to loved ones.

To celebrate your French toast brunches on lazy Sunday mornings, grab a shot of the pile of discarded egg shells, bread crusts and vanilla pods. Incorporate your mother’s handwritten recipe card in the frame with a steaming bowl of her famous lamb stew. Photograph your son’s hands as he helps you to roll and cut the dough of his favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Embrace the power of storytelling by giving your viewers a behind the scenes look into your kitchen – the ingredients, utensils (and the mess) involved can be just as enticing as the dish itself. Don’t be so quick to tidy up the flour snowflakes, jam smears, saucy spills – they inject emotion. Dripping spoons, spaghetti-twirled forks and cascades of maple syrup add a pulse of movement to your photos.

rolling pin and flour

Photo credit: Hayley Shaham

Change your perspective

One of the perks of food photography is that your subject isn’t going anywhere (though it may melt or dry out). Take the time to shoot multiple shots from a variety of angles. The most common angle in food photography is the 45-degree angle, the diner’s perspective. Although this is a great way to make the viewer feel that he is about to devour the dish, remember to move around and reveal new and creative perspectives.

If the food you are shooting is on the flat side, think pizza or salads, shoot from above. If burgers, sandwiches, cookies or beverages are on the menu, give them some height and show off their layers by shooting from the side. For a more artistic approach, shoot from a fork’s point of view: place the camera on the tabletop and shoot across the surface. Not every angle will work for every dish. So jump on a chair, kneel down, get up close and personal and decide post-shoot what works best.

Ogling at these mouthwatering photos for inspiration means that you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite! Share your drool-worthy pics with us in the comments, we can’t wait to see what you cook up!

Stack of oatmeal raisin cookies

Photo credit: Hayley Shaham

I’d love to see some of your favorite food photos! Please share some in the comments below!

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