Do you want to be the envy of all your friends with your food adventures? There are some simple tricks and principles to think about when photographing food that can turn your Instagram into a mouthwatering collection of gorgeous pictures.
One of the key things about taking any good photograph is being prepared and thinking about you want to accomplish, and food photography is no different. What kind of story do you want to tell? Marisel Salazar, a food photographer who was on Zagat’s top 100 food Instagrams last year, says that picking the restaurant for your shoot is important.
The dim lighting and muted turquoise-and-chocolate tones of Jawhara Moroccan Restaurant, at Iberostar Club Palmeraie Marrakech can create an intriguing ambiance, while the bright colors of La Parrilla at Iberostar Selection Playa Pilar in Cayo Coco, Cuba, will provide a more lively backdrop for your photos of its delectable Creole specialties. If it’s natural lighting you’re after, Zorbas Greek Tavern at Iberostar Creta Panorama & Mare is the perfect place, with its outdoor pool-facing terrace that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving the best of Greek cuisine.
“Do your homework: If I know a specific food or restaurant I'd like to shoot while traveling, I do some research on it beforehand to get a better idea of what the food and restaurant will look like in advance (Instagram locations is a great place to start!). That way when I walk in, I can seamlessly snag my food shots without causing too much of a disruption,” says Salazar, who instagrams under the name @BreadButterNYC.
Another idea is making a reservation at a restaurant beforehand, according to Salazar, that way you can ask for a seat with great lighting near a window. Food photographer Joann Pai said that she scrolls through google images of different restaurants to get a feel for a place before she goes. Pai, a Parisian by way of Canada Instagrams at @sliceofpai.
Tiffany Lopinsky a Boston-based food blogger, says it’s also key to be prepared for opportunities that come up in the spur of the moment. “You never know when you’ll spy a beautiful alleyway or discover a hole-in-the-wall bakery with the most Instagram-worthy pastries. That’s why I rarely ever put my camera down when I’m on a trip; I don’t want to miss the opportunity to capture something great!,” says Lopinsky, whose work can be found at the Instagram @bostonfoodies.
PHONE VS. DIGITAL CAMERA
Another thing to consider when photographing food is whether to use your smartphone or a digital camera. While a phone is much smaller and easier to carry around with you, cameras produce much richer and more detailed images. Some blogger and Instagrammers use their phones while other swear by a camera.
“Bring your camera, if you can. It’s not always possible, but if you can, bring your [digital] camera and your favorite lens for food photography,” says Julie Andrews, a food photographer, blogger and registered dietician.
Andrews also says to make sure you have plenty of back-up memory cards and to know your cellphone camera settings well, if you’re going that route. Photographer Sarah Sloboda says that on the latest iPhones a new feature can help make food photographs stand out.
“Portrait mode on newer iPhone models can work well, too. Might seem funny to elevate your ceviche to the status of having a ‘portrait’ taken, but having a shallow depth of field is key for creating focus on the details of the meal you want to showcase. And, smartphones are considerably more discreet than [larger digital cameras],” says Sloboda, who Instagrams at @sarahsloboda.
What the portrait mode does is creates a short depth of field, or blurs everything in the photo that you’re not focusing on. Jennifer Kanikula, a dietitian who photographs food and travel at The SoFull Traveler, says the same small depth of field can be achieved by camera lenses with low f-stops, between f/1.4 and f/4.0. Make sure that the food is in focus; an out of focus shot can’t be saved.
The most important part of any type of photography is lighting. Getting the lighting right will make your food photographs really stand out.
“My top tip for photographing food is to pay attention to the lighting. If you're at a restaurant, pick a table near the window. If you're outside, don't shoot in harsh sunlight and try to find a shady spot to photograph your food,” says Julia Nickerson, a food photographer at Savory Tooth.
Using natural light from a window can also highlight food really well and create shadows that can give your food photography contrast. Natural light can also provide the cleanest color. Restaurant lighting typically wasn’t made for photography, but for mood. A flash can help in a dimly lit restaurant or clean up weird colors.
Dara Pollack who Instagrams at @SkinnyPigNYC also suggests using your phone in a pinch for a tough lighting situation.
“Open up your notepad app or your email—anything with a mostly white background. Now bump up the brightness on your phone to 100% as high as it will go. Voila—instant additional light that is white/blue tinted, and not as abrasive as a flash,” says Pollack.
But some photographers hate flashes.
“No flash. Ever. Duh,” says Salazar.
Once you get the lighting right, the next step is figuring out how to place the food and where to photograph from.
“For tall foods (burgers are a great example), shoot edge-on so that the light can illuminate the layers of the food. For flatter foods, an overhead angle is almost universally pleasing,” says Nickerson.
Another tip is to be creative, try shooting from several angles. Andrews suggests moving around.
“Take several different side angle shots, depending on the dish composition. Take some photographs with dead space surrounding the food and others that are close-ups,” says Andrews.
Think about colors as you photograph, what goes well together? What stands out? If a plate clashes with the food, try to minimize its appearance in the photograph. Look for contrast.
“Color is important, but contrasting colors are even more ideal for a food photo. If you have a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, it might look good in an overhead shot, but the colors are basically brown and lighter brown,” says Pollack. “If you can add something like jam, chia seeds, almond slivers, or berries, that will make the photo pop so much more. One of the most photographed types of pizza is pepperoni. Why? Because the little red spots on an orange and white cheese pizza just give it that extra pop of color it needs.”
Another thing to keep in mind is using the space around you. Using the uniqueness of a restaurant, street, shop or wherever you are helps tell a story.
“When people travel, set the scene and bring people into the experience. So take a photo of food with an iconic backdrop or event. What’s around you sets context and engages your audience,” says Londoner Kar-Shing Tong, who shares his food adventures at @ks_ate_here.
Keep an eye out for different surfaces, suggests Aaronson. Different restaurants or places provide new opportunities to make compelling imagery.
“Stone flooring, concrete surfaces, interesting marble brightly painted plaster, old weathering painted tables—these are all perfect canvases for your food shots,” says Aaronson.
The focus, however, should always be on the food. Don’t have a setting that is too cluttered for a viewer's eyes.
“Be sure not to have anything too distracting in your background,” says Florida photographer Peggy Farren.
The next thing to think about is styling. How do you want your photographs to look? Do you want the to look more natural or highly styled? This comes back to the story you’re trying to tell with the photograph. Keeping it simples is sometimes your best bet.
“Don’t over style. While traveling and dining out, you generally want to capture the dish as it’s served so when your followers eat there, they get what you showed them,” says Andrews.