It’s been a couple months since I shared 5 Things Beginner Food Photographers Should Know. Since then, I’ve done a bit more research and practice, and decided to share 5 MORE things food bloggers should know!
I wish someone had told me these things about food photography at the beginning, so now I’m sharing them with you! These are a little less obvious than the original five, but things I have found invaluable. A lot of them will just become second nature, if you aren’t doing them already. Some of them you might realize you’ve been doing all along because they just feel right!
1) Create Contrast
Food looks best when it stands out. Obviously you want your viewers to see the food, but you want to make sure that you’re showing it off by taking it the extra mile!
For example my Chocolate and Peanut Butter Drip Cake (an all time fav). I set it up as I usually do, in front of my (fake) slate background, the light shining in on the side… annnnd… welll… the cake looks good, but the colours just don’t pop. Something about the brown of the chocolate and the dark background just aren’t helping this cake look as delicious as I know it is. The dripping chocolate should look rich and dark, the pile of pieces on the top more… just more!
Now, with the white curtain as a background?
Bam! It pops in all its chocolatey gooey goodness! See how the contrast of the background really made it stand out? It’s a VAST improvement!
Another thing that’s fun to play with in terms of contrast is using complimentary colours. Reference the colour wheel and see what goes with what!
For example, this orange butternut squash soup just sings against the teal background!
And this Fall Harvest Salad Bowl – all the colours and the white bowl pop against the dark background. (SHAMELESS PLUG: if you want to make your own backgrounds so you can have LOTS of variety, I show you how in this tutorial for DIY Photography Backgrounds for Less Than $30!)
So play with light and dark, the colour wheel, find that perfect contrast that will make your food look GLORIOUS.
2) Follow the ‘Rule of Thirds’
This is an artist’s trick going back centuries. The human aesthetic is a strange thing, and we like when things are divided in thirds (or just odd numbers in general. Four flowers? Weird. Three? Excellent). When you’re looking at a picture, imagine a 9×9 grid, like this one:
Those lines make an excellent visual guide for where things should be located within the frame of you picture. For example this picture of Tiramisu Cake, where it’s kind of taking up the middle 2/5ths, and most of the picture in width:
…doesn’t feel as aesthetically pleasing as this one, where it’s filling out the bottom right 4 squares in our hypothetical 9×9 grid. In fact, that top edge of the cake hits that top left power point (where the two lines cross – you get bonus points for putting important things there!).
But it doesn’t even have to take up most of the frame! If you have just a bowl of soup hanging out in the bottom right square (rectangle?), it’ll still be aesthetically pleasing – but maybe not exactly what you want to accomplish!
Now, on the fly it’s hard to figure out where those lines are. Some people actually take permanent markers to the viewscreen of their camera and mark the lines on there, but it should be possible for you to add them to your digital camera’s viewfinder. Some of them have them already. I have a Canon Rebel T2i, and there was a ‘grid’ in the display options. Every time I have my screen on, it’s right there so I can see what I’m doing.
Many people do the Rule of Thirds naturally, just because it ‘looks’ or ‘feels’ right.
3) Tell A Story
This is one that I’m really trying to work on these days, now that I feel like I’ve got a handle on the basics. Photos are just so much more engaging when you style it to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be crazy! It’s something you can do with just a few props, or even just how you place the food.
For example, this Pesto and Goat Cheese Pizza is made more interesting by just the fact that there’s a piece missing. Someone ate it. There’s implied deliciousness here! It’s not static. Any second, someone’s hand could come swooping in and grab another slice.
Or you can go a little more complicated by hosting a tea party to share your delicious Mint Chocolate Macarons (aka raid your mother’s china cabinet)!
All it takes is a couple minutes to really think about the food and decide when you would eat it, or how, or even who!
4) Control your Lighting
Figure out where the light is coming from, and adjust your food until it looks right. Seriously, run around and open and close blinds/curtains, whatever you need to! Find that light spot on the floor. Take pictures in different rooms in your space at different times of the day. During the dead of winter when we had limited light, I could take pictures at noon on a sunny day and they would still look great. Now I tend to take them on cloudy days just an hour or two before the sun sets so the light is a little softer.
Do you know why most pictures taken at night are no good? It’s not just because of the yellow light (that can be fixed with some good editing). It’s because the light is coming straight down on to the food.
Seriously, Straight. Down. Meh. Where are the shadows on this Sweet Potato Gnocchi? The interesting play of light and dark? Not only is this boring but it’s just… I don’t want to eat that.
I’ve never been happy with the ‘final product’ pictures of that recipe, and so I reshot them just over a year later. The pale, foggy light of a late winter afternoon was coming through the window and backlighting these babies.
They are practically luminous. I want to eat THAT.
Another example of backlighting is this Sweet Potato and Leek Soup. Pro-tip: soups are GREAT for backlighting, something about how it shines off the surface is so beautiful!). YUM.
Most of my photos I do with side lighting, either from the right or the left, and I shoot parallel with a window.
This makes such amazing contrast of light and dark. This picture of Chocolate and Caramel Blondies was taken in the same conditions as the overhead-lit gnocchi picture above. At night, with artificial light! The only change is that I used a flash on the side instead of a yellow light overhead.
5) Study and Collect!
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but completely necessary if you’re serious about improving your food photography.
Find food photos you like and try to figure out why you like them. Is it the direction of the light? How that green lettuce just POPS in that salad because it’s placed just so? Is the food colourful? An interesting story? The way the light is coming from the side?
I’ve made a Pinterest Board where I collect all the photos I really love online, and I highly recommend you do the same if you can.
(Can you see a trend? I loooooove dark and moody with pops of colour!) If you don’t use Pinterest, just create a folder on your desktop so you can refer to them for knowledge and inspiration!
I hope you found this post helpful. I’ve only been doing food photography for a little over a year, but it’s amazing how much you can improve in so little time. If you really want to improve take a lot of pictures! Experiment, go crazy. That’s the best way to really get better! I still have a long way to go before I’ll be completely happy with my work, but I’ll get there, just like you, one photo at a time!
If you could add anything else to this list, what would you add? What else do you think would be important for a beginner food photographer to know? Do you have any food photography questions? Share in the comments below!
If you would like to read more about food photography, visit Part 1 here!
If you want to make your own cheap and easy backgrounds, click here!
I have a Pinterest board set up with inspiration pictures and excellent food photography articles by experts here!