1. Use natural light
Food looks beautiful with natural light coming through a window or nearby skylight. Try to avoid direct sunlight and harsh overhead lighting, as it can wash out food and make it look bland and unappetizing. Natural window light is perfect for idyllic food shots, especially if the dish has ingredients that are brightly coloured. If possible, food should be slightly under-exposed. The food will look brighter and more vibrant, which is what you want to show to customers.
Mark says, “Lighting makes the difference between average photos and good photos”. He continues, “Think about what you can do to make the shot contrast well. Focus on nice and soft shadows to provide depth and contrast and avoid harsh shadows.”
Mark suggests using a white piece of card to bounce light back onto a dish and using a black piece of card to create deeper shadows. Play around with both options to see what works best for the dish you’re trying to photograph.
2. Undercook certain foods
Of course, you would never deliberately undercook your food under normal circumstances but hear us out - certain foods photograph better when they aren’t fully cooked. Mark says that “Undercooking pasta noodles will help them hold their distinct shape better.” He also suggests blanching vegetables to retain their bright colour, making your dishes pop when you photograph them.
Mark adds that “Undercooking for food photography depends on the dish - if the food tends to sag or lose its best colour when fully cooked, consider whether it will look better in a photograph by undercooking it.”
3. Decide when to use props and when to do tight closeups
Adding extra food, flowers, or other elements can help food photography, but choose carefully, and remember what food photography is all about - the dish you’re trying to sell! Props can draw the viewer’s attention towards specific parts of your dish - for example, you could place a fork near some pasta noodles to imply it’s being eaten. However, too many props will take away from the food itself and fail to entice anyone to buy.
Mark says the dish will determine whether you use a wide shot involving props or a tight closeup focusing exclusively on the food. “The more complex the dish, the more important it is to provide a full view of it to the customer, so they know what to expect if they order it.”
For example, a stir-fry dish works better with a tight closeup where you can see all the yummy ingredients clearly, rather than being surrounded by props that don’t highlight the best features of the dish. On the other hand, a bowl of chips might not be that interesting on its own, so surrounding it with related props like a tomato sauce bottle or a saltshaker will help.
Mark adds that you should avoid using any super-shiny cutlery as a prop since it will create unwanted glare in your photography.
4. Use the right camera angle for each dish
Whether you use props or focus your shot solely on the dish, you need to pick the right angle. For example, our Harvest Gourmet social media guide recommends taking eye-level photos of burgers, and Mark explains that “This is because the middle of the burger is the most detailed and interesting part of the dish, so it should be the focus of the photo.”
Mark goes on to say that “Dishes served in bowls or plates are better suited to overhead shots, while you might use a low-down or side shot for a nice salad with some height to it.”
Play around with different shots for different dishes to see what works best. For instance, while pizzas traditionally benefit from overhead shots, you could take a sidelong shot leveraging a depth of field effect to highlight the size of the pizza while getting a closer look at the delicious ingredients you’ve used.
5. Incorporate staff and customers into your food photography
Photos of staff preparing a dish and shots of your customers enjoying it helps to engender trust in your food, creating a personal connection with your restaurant.
“There’s nothing wrong with including people in food photography,” says Mark. “In fact, it can add interest to an image - just make sure it helps to highlight the dish rather than detract from it”.
Candid shots of your customers enjoying food and having a good time in your restaurant can be compelling in your marketing. However, make sure you get your customers permission and ensure they’re comfortable with you taking pictures of them.
Get started photographing your food!
We hope the tips above help you take some mouth-watering pictures of your food. In a future post, we’ll look at how best to use the pictures you’ve taken when uploading to social media and using them on your website or in food delivery apps like UberEATS.