At any given time, millions of delicious looking food photos are going up on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and alike. When you’re thinking about how to photograph food, here are some tricks that will help your shots tell the story of what’s on your plate.
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There are all kinds of props and techniques that studios use to make food look glossier or fresher or shinier. But you don’t need a dozen lights on scaffolds or a glucose spray to make water droplet effects.
All you need is to make sure you’re making the most of the scene in front of you.
If your aim is to make people have food envy with your photos and to show how delicious what you’ve ordered is, you need to identify that part of the dish that’s making you salivate.
However, the big caveat here is to critique your shot. Just because the food was truly the most amazing thing you’ve ever eaten doesn’t mean it’ll photograph well. For every delicious looking morsel we see online, there’s at least one food photo that has the opposite effect.
Unfortunately some food just doesn’t photograph well.
The food in Italy tends to look just as good as it tastes. This could be thanks to that innate ability Italians seem to have of making everything look effortlessly beautiful.
Then again, it could be that many Italian dishes have the textures, colours and architecture that make for delicious looking photos.
For this reason, we used our recent trip to Puglia in southeast Italy to show you some of our favourite tips on how to photograph food.
Check out our video here on how to photograph food while you’re travelling.
How to photograph food – 5 top tips from Italy
1. How to photograph food – angle of camera
There are 3 main angles to take photographs of food.
At 45°, which is close to the angle you normally see your food from, is quite flattering and also works if you want to identify one dish on a table or if the background isn’t very pretty. It’s also the easiest to take if you want to be subtle with your photography.
Shooting overhead in a flatlay format is very popular, but is harder than it looks. Getting right over the top of the table can be tricky (don’t fall in your dinner!) and the food tends to need to be a similar colour palette to create a vignette. The dishes also have to be surprisingly close together.
Shoot very close up to capture a particular texture or colour that encompasses the dish. If there’s something that’s very crispy or silky, get right in and capture the essence of the dish.
You can also shoot at table height level with the dish, but this can be hard because of lighting and difficult shadows, backgrounds and making the dish look a bit one-dimensional.
If you want to create a shot from this angle, make sure the background looks good or that your subject is interesting enough to carry a nondescript backdrop.
2. How to photograph food – lighting
Light is the most important part of how to photograph food. The best light is indirect natural light. Direct sun is too harsh and throws annoying shadows. Cloudy skies are best.
If you’re in a dark room, try to find a table with the most light or if all else fails, use the light from your mobile. If you shine the light through a napkin, this filters the light a bit, which makes it softer.
Also, set your phone’s camera to video mode and use the light from the flash. The video light on smart phones automatically adjusts for skin colour and gives a warmer light than the torch function.
If it’s very dark, you may need a tripod and a longer exposure. Most commercial food photography is shot with a tripod, but this will probably upset your dining companions in a restaurant. Increase your ISO when shooting handheld in low light conditions.
3. How to photograph food – lenses
Our favourite all-rounder lens is the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro zoom lens. This allows you to cover a variety of food scenes and tablescapes without switching lenses.
If you want to get close and capture extreme details on a molecular gastronomy dish, a macro lens will be what you need. For most of our everyday food shots, we use our 12-40mm lens or the M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8 prime lens.
4. How to photograph food – give scale
Food on its own tends not to have any scale – you can’t see how big or small it is. Putting cutlery in the shot or something that has an inherent recognisable size will help.
Get people’s hands in the shot. Unless you’re shooting food for a menu, you’ll be surprised how much better a table of food looks with someone in it grabbing a chip or scooping some salad. It adds movement, scale and it also helps the viewer identify with the food. It makes them wish they were there.
5. How to photograph food – texture and height
Look for texture in the food. What’s the best side to shoot the dish? Is the sauce oozing better on the far side? Does the crispy bit look crisper on the left of the plate? If so, turn it round. Textures in food make it look more delicious. Shine, crinkle, brightness, softness… you can capture all of this in your photograph.
Pile food high on the plate if you can. It makes the dish look plentiful. You can always crop an empty edge of a plate later.
If you can create different levels by putting dishes on other surfaces, so much the better and try to create triangles with the different heights too. This will guide the viewer’s eye around the photo better.
Making food look as good as it tastes is one of the hardest parts of photography, but it’s also one of the most fun and interesting. Especially if you get to eat what you’ve shot!
For more inspiration – not just on how to photograph food when you’re travelling – but for travel photography in general, check out Olympus’s hashtag #OlympusInspired.
And if you want more of our travel photography tips, here’s a link to our library on photography posts for travelling.
Do you have a favourite tip for how to photograph food? What food do you like to shoot the most? Tell us in the comments below!