Q&A: Food Photography Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Great Food Photos

Food Photography is difficult because it requires multiple skills: close-ups, lighting, focus, depth of field and the subtle use of shadows. Add to this how quickly fresh food can change, dry-out or wither right before your eyes, especially under lights and to have a nightmare waiting to become a reality.

There are also sorts of stories about what food photographers do to make food look good including spraying food with varnish or hairspray, but mostly it is just experience and knowing what to do.

There is lots of advice about this topic. This article reviews the best of the best tips, tricks and techniques for taking great photographs of food.


When photographing food you want to ensure that the viewer really wants to taste and eat the food in your image by making their mouth water. To do this you have to use superior presentation, composition, settings, focus and lighting. However you also need to study and understand the features of the food you are photographing.

Food Photography requires great skills with close-ups, lighting, focus, depth of field and the subtle use of shadows. See a review of the tips and tricks here
Food Photography requires great skills with close-ups, lighting, focus, depth of field and the subtle use of shadows. See a review of the tips and tricks here. Source: Public Domain

Visualise the picture you want to take with the food item in your mind. You will then have to work out how to develop this look step by step. Think about cutting the cake or other item to highlight how it is eaten and to give the impression that its ready to eat. Some food items look good all by themselves on a suitable background - such as burgers, fruit and desserts on a plate. Other foods need something else as context and need to be presented as a serving - for example soup, cakes, bread cheesecake, ice cream and many meat dishes an this makes them difficult to shoot.

Many foods do not have contrasting texture and any thing to provide depth of field. For soup, add some garnishing, capture the steam rising on a fresh dish, add some water droplets to fresh fruit and vegetables and use a beautiful plate or setting. For other foods show a serving on a spoon or display a slice or serving. So take care with you planning and preparation - it can be very creative and a lot of fun.


You should spend time deciding what is the best way to present the food item and to highlight it by choosing an apt background. In many the photographs the background may be out of focus and you should be aware of this and select a background that will work in this way.

Perspective, Orientation and Camera Angle

What is the best angle to take the shot? See the considerations here
What is the best angle to take the shot? See the considerations here. Source: Public Domain

What is the best camera angle for food photography? The options are shown below

A. Top View - 90 degrees

This perspective, or at an angle of 75 degrees (15 degree from vertical) can creates a wonderful view of some foods. It is the way you see the food when it is served to you by the waiter. 

B. Slanted View - 45 degrees

This is the angle you usually see food on a table for a buffet or at dinner for foods presented for you to choose. This is probably the most misused position by food photographers and can be very boring as it is overused and boring. Try other angles as well. Watch your focus and depth of field for 45 degree shots

C . Angle of 10-20 degrees (15 degrees)

Many experienced photographers claim that angles around 15 degree is the 'magic angle' to take food photos because it provides depth and interest. As in the case A above, take care with the background if you use this angle.

D. Horizontal to Table

If you decide to take the shot horizontally, make sure your background is free of distractions as at this angle it will often be more visible and can create distractions create noise in your photograph.

So how do you decide what is the best angle? There is no magic formula and it depends on the following:

Food Structure is often the key -How is the food styled or presented? What does you food look like in 3D? What is the shape of your dish? Does the food item of dish have a height? These are the things you should consider when deciding on the angle. A food item or serving that is relatively high is generally best shot at the 0-20 angle, which allows you to use the height. If the dish is flat or has no vertical interest it may be better to take the shot vertically. 

Compromises - It is well known that in photography there are factors that you can control and some that you cannot. For example, sometimes you will have flexibility in the distance away from the food that you can shoot, other times this may be very restricted. Sometimes you can control the direction and strength of the light, other times you cannot. Always remember the rule of thirds when you are composing the shot. Place the key feature of the shot at a third of the distance from two adjoining edges. Many cameras can display grid lines that will help you to apply the rule of thirds.

How to Get the Lighting Right

Lighting is probably the most important and difficult requirement. Professional food photographers use highly sophisticated studio lighting and proper sets when taking photographs, but for most people these facilities will be unavailable. But natural lighting is more than adequate for most food photos and there are various ways to change things to control the light and innovate to get the lighting you need.

Lighting Considerations
Lighting Considerations. Source: Public Domain

You may not have this setup but there are many ways of achieving something similar if you know the principles.

Adjust the white balance (Color Balance)

Remember to adjust the white balance on your camera for the items you are photographing. For example meat dishes require warm tones - to avoid the blueish tinge that appears under some fluorescent light makes meat look horrid.

Use a Tripod or other means to keep the Camera Still

In low-light situations such as photographing in restaurants and kitchens, you will need long exposures and even the slightest camera movements will blur the image. Use a tripod whenever you can. Otherwise rest your camera on the back of a chair or a glass or some other object, or prop your hands against something.

Depth of Field and Focus

A large depth of field allows objects positioned at wide range of distances behind and in front of the focal point to be displayed in focus simultaneously. A shallow depth of field means only a small range of the image will be sharp and properly focused and this may make the image unappealing (though it can be 'arty'). Everything in front or behind the central area will be blurry and unattractive. The depth of field is controlled by many things including the by the aperture of your lens, which is measured in f-stops.

Depth of Field considerations
Depth of Field considerations. Source: Public Domain
Online Calculator for Depth of Field
Online Calculator for Depth of Field. Source: Public Domain

There are  various online calculatorswhich show the principles.

Tips for Improving Focus and Sharpness

Shoot A Lot

Always take a large number of photographs from various angles and choose the best. Photography is something that can only be learned by doing, after you have been taught the principles.

Be Quick

You have to learn to work quickly while the food remains fresh. This means preparing well before hand by even using an empty plate to help you set up your shot before the food is ready.

Summary of the Key Tips for Food Photography

Work on the Details and Highlights - The devil is always in the details and small things you overlook or ignore can ruin a good photograph. Check the edges of your plates and glasses for stray food, and wipe away any smudges or remnants. Use garnished and sauces, and colored dots and streaks to add color to drab shots (i.e. adding a lemon wedge to iced tea). Add highlights such as water droplets or castor sugar - to make the food glisten.

Focus on Close Ups - Get as Close as you Can - Instead of only taking photos of a full plate of food, take some macro shots too of part of the dish. Getting up close to your subject will bring out the textures and finer details of the food. This makes it more interesting and adds intrigue. Cut it, slice it, dice it to make interesting portions. With most food it is generally what's inside that can create a great photograph. Cutting up crumbed foods exposed delightful contrasting textures. Cutting up cakes showcases the different layers.

Cheat if you have to - As long as you're not planning to eat the food afterwards, there are ways to enhance your food by using some industry tricks. For example, make your food glisten by brushing on some vegetable oil. Create that 'fresh out of the oven' steam by placing some microwaved cotton balls around the food that have been soaked in water to create steam when heated. Or make perfect-looking ice cream that won't ever melt by using some
mashed potatoes coated with oil.

Editing - your shots can help you get perfect results. Simple post processing such as adding contrast and correcting color balance can be all you need. Photoshop and other tools have a wonderful range of tools, but good quality images are the key otherwise it will look artificial.

Tips for the iPhone and other Smart Phones

Use Portrait Mode as this allows easier editing and posting.

Keep the Camera Still - Your food photos will only be sharply in focus if you keep the iPhone as still as possible. Remember you are taking close-up shots and so every tiny movement matters. Some ways to do this are: Use both hands to hold your iPhone. The steadier you're holding it, the less blurry the photo; Rest your hand on something.

Only Use Flash as a last resort - The iPhone has a very good light control system that works in very dim lighting. Try adding external light sources first before using a flash. A flash photo is still going to be a lot better than one that is too dark. Remember that the closer the camera is to the food, the more bright and flattening the flash will be on the image of the food. If the image is too bright and washed-out on your first go move the camera further away from the subject your.

Exposure depends on the Point of Focus - It is not widely known, that as for a standard camera the point of focus is what the iPhone uses to judge the exposure of the scene and you need to be aware of this to get the exposure and brightness of the image correct. This cane a real challenge and may require several shots to get the best combination.

Take lots of Photos to get it Right - Of course more photos of a dish is better than one. So we definitely encourage you to shoot more photos and add them to your review after saving your first one!

Make sure of the Focus - The iPhone has a feature called "Tap to Focus" which allows you to tap on the screen to tell the iPhone what part of the scene to put in focus. Usually the iPhone is pretty good at figuring this out itself, but often times, it can get confused on focus on the wrong item. This results in the food you're taking a photo of looking blurry but something like the table cloth in focus. Here's a demonstration of this. When you're shooting up close, the iPhone can get confused on what part of the scene to focus on. This can result in a blurry photo because something is in focus you didn't expect. This makes the "tap to focus" technique discussed earlier even more important. By using tap to focus, you can ensure the iPhone is focusing on exactly what you want to be the star of your photo.

Press and hold the shutter button - Use a gentle touch when you press the shutter button to stop vibrations when it takes the photo. The iPhone doesn't snap the photo until you finger leaves the button. So to ensure a shake free photo, press and hold the shutter button, then let it go when you're ready take the photo.

Get Closer! - Food almost always looks better when you take pictures closer up. Not only does the food look more appetizing, but often times you can get a better idea of what the food looks like. As an example, take a look at these 2 sample photos. Which do you prefer?

You may need to use a Conventional Camera - The iPhone's capabilities are right on the limit with food photography and so you may need to resort to the conventional camera with a tripod and external light.

Food Photograph Example 1
Food Photograph Example 1. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 2.
Food Photograph Example 2. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 3.
Food Photograph Example 3. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 4.
Food Photograph Example 4. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 5.
Food Photograph Example 5. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 6.
Food Photograph Example 6. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 8.
Food Photograph Example 8. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 9.
Food Photograph Example 9. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 10.
Food Photograph Example 10. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 11.
Food Photograph Example 11. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 12.
Food Photograph Example 12. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 13.
Food Photograph Example 13. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 15.
Food Photograph Example 15. Source: Public Domain
Food Photograph Example 16.
Food Photograph Example 16. Source: Public Domain