The Practical Kitchen has been up and running for about a year now and while I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking, I’ve also learned a ton about food photography. Earlier this year I completed Sara Fennel’s four-week online Foodtography School course which helped take my photos to the next level. I’ve also been obsessively consuming all of Joanie Simon’s videos over at her YouTube channel, The Bite Shot, which has taught me so much more.
I’m far from an expert when it comes to food styling, but I’m learning more and more with each shoot. (You may have even noticed I’ve even gone back and shot new photos for some of my older posts.) It’s been really fun to challenge myself to be creative and to think carefully not just about how the food looks but about the logic of the overall scene, how to make scenes feel organic and real (even when they’re totally staged), and how to show off what makes each dish special.
So when helpful how-to app Jumprope asked me to put together a list of food photography tips for beginners and to show them off by styling two different shoots, I was so excited to take everything I learned and boil it down into the key things I think beginner food photographers should know. (Full disclosure: While I received compensation from Jumprope for making this video on their platform, I was not paid by Jumprope to feature it here on the blog.)
There are two recipes you’ll see me styling here. The final photo for the lemon basil feta rice was shot on a Nikon D70 DSLR (I’ve since upgraded to a Nikon D5600) and the final photo for the flaky brown butter cinnamon sugar pancakes were shot on an iPhone XS. Both were edited in Lightroom Classic on a Macbook Pro. I did one with each because, while a great camera certainly helps make your food photos look great, many of these food photography tips can be applied no matter what kind of camera you’re shooting with.
let’s do this
let’s break down these food photography tips
- Use repetitive geometric shapes: This is one of the best tips I got from Foodtography School. Repetitive geometric shapes like squares, circles, or triangles look good to the eye and add structure to your photos. This is especially helpful when shooting overhead, but is also good to keep in mind when shooting straight on or at an angle.
- Layers of contrasting texture create depth: Napkins, cutting boards, stacks of plates, and crumpled wax paper can all help add depth to your scene. Use contrasting or complimentary colors and textures to really help your food pop.
- Show off what’s inside: This is one of my favorite tips and not just because it means I get to eat while shooting. Especially when you’re shooting something that has something hidden inside — like a dumpling or burrito — you want to make sure people can see what the inside looks like. Take a bite, cut it in half, or turn one piece on its side so that the insides are visible in the shot.
- Don’t be afraid to get a little messy: I struggle with this a lot, tbh. I hate cleaning up, and I have two cats and as soon as they hear me sprinkling anything on the windowsill they think its treats and come running. But it’s hard to argue with results! Sprinkling extra bits of key ingredients around your scene makes it feel more organic and less staged. When I sprinkle things into a scene I like to think about where they logically make the most sense; In the case of the brown butter cinnamon sugar pancakes, you can see I concentrated the chopped walnuts around the bowl they were in, as though they had spilled over the sides.
- Shoot overhead to show off repetitive geometric shapes:
PHOTO 2: lemon basil feta rice
- Shoot facing the light or with the light hitting the food from the side: Once you’ve set up your scene, walk around it looking through your camera. Pay attention to where the shadows are. If the light is hitting your food from the front (or if you’re shooting with a flash on your camera) the shadows will be behind the food and the food will end up looking washed out. Shadows falling on either side or even in front of the food look more natural.
- Neutral colored props let the food shine: Pops of color are great when used deliberately, but bright colors and distracting patterns can take away from the food. Make sure the colors of your props compliment the food and enhance it, instead of distracting the eye away from it. Good neutral colors are: whites, blacks, browns, and navys.
- Use small props and close up shots to make the food seem bigger: This is one of my absolute favorite tips for food photographers. The black bowl in the photo above is a mini pinch bowl from Crate & Barrel meant for dipping sauces or garnishes. It’s not a bowl you’re meant to eat out of. But in a photo, you can’t really tell! And when you’re plating up bowls of soup or rice, it’s a lot less wasteful to shoot a small bowl with a little bit of rice in it than a large bowl where you really have to pile in a lot of rice to see it over the rim.
- Props with a matte finish reduce glares and distracting reflections: When I look for any props, but especially utensils, I always look for a matte finish. I’ve gotten a lot of my favorite props from flea markets and yard sales, where I look for bins of tarnished silver. Wood utensils are also great in photos. On shiny, reflective, brand new utensils or even ceramics with a shiny glaze, you’ll see harsh reflections. If you look at some of my older photos you’ll be able to see the buildings across the street from my window reflected in the curve of my plates or spoons. They’re distracting to the eye, and a real pain to remove using Lightroom or Photoshop.
- Shoot at a 45° angle to show the top and side of your food at the same time: When you want to show that a dish has layers or give it a sense of height, a 45° angle is your friend. For the rice photos, because the bowls are so small, I shot at a 45° angle to make them look taller. I did also shoot some photos overhead because I liked the repetitive circular shapes, but because the rice is so plain and white, the overhead shots were a little boring. Shooting at an angle did a better job of emphasizing the texture and volume of the rice.
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Want more food photography tips or have questions about my photography gear or prop collection? Drop a comment below!