Taking pictures of your food isn’t an unusual sight. In every restaurant or trunk food stop you go to, you’ll see hungry fans desperate to take a great photo before they demolish their delicious meal.
But just because your food looks amazing in real life, that doesn’t mean it will translate into a stunning picture. Most of us end up taking flat pictures that don’t do the plate justice.
By the time you realize the picture is a dud, you’ve already eaten half of the meal! To stop this horror story from playing out again, learn these 5 tips to help you capture the beauty of your food.
Ensure Your Food Looks Appetizing Before You Start
In the culinary world, the term “plating” means making your plate or food arrangement look good. Although you’d think every chef cares more about the taste of their food than the aesthetic, diners will judge a meal before they even take a bite.
Chefs need to create an atmosphere with the design of the meal, to tell the diner exactly what type of flavors they will experience. A swirled source suggests smooth flavors, bright colors suggest a richness, and sharp edges suggest a sourness.
If you are taking a picture of food made at home, take on this creative concept. Plate your meal with beauty in mind. This means allowing the prettiest element to take center stage and placing the other aspects in a way that hints at their flavors.
For inspiration, look at 5-star restaurants and how each plate is prepared. After a while, of re-creating these displays, the plating part of your meal creation will become second nature.
If you’re dining out, the restaurant or serving place should have prepared a good plate. However, if you’re eating at a food truck or low-standard restaurant, the plate may not seem appetizing. This is when you take things into your own hands.
Remove any wayward sauce drippings, stick a pin in your lopsided burger, and remove any unsightly elements of the meal. You cannot take a good photo of your meal if the meal itself looks plain.
If you run a food blog or want to take photos for your restaurant menu, make sure to rearrange your plates so they don’t look the same in every picture. Even if you plate the first image spectacularly, a repeated display will quickly make the pictures seem cheap or staged.
Lastly, consider the table you’re using. Does that table add to the ambiance, highlight the food and keep the theme on track? No? Change the background until you can say yes to all three. We will explain more about this later on.
Find The Best Natural Lighting
Natural lighting will add warmth to your plate – enticing the viewer into a cozy atmosphere. However, you cannot rely on the light alone. Instead, you’ll need to move the plate around the table or room until you can make it hit your meal in a pleasing way.
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid front-facing lights. Light beaming directly in front of the meal won’t create many shadows. This means your plate won’t have depth and detail. Without these two D’s your food will lack texture and therefore will seem bland.
Shadows create depth in your food, making it seem larger, textured, and bright. These positive descriptors tell our brains that the food is tasty. Side lighting will almost always create the best image.
Because the light comes from the side, your food will be able to create shadows and depth, while at the same time, you will see the details of the food with ease.
You need some light on the plate, otherwise, your viewer won’t be able to see what you’re trying to show. You need to balance light and shadow to show brightness and depth.
Choose An Angle That Creates Depth
Most amateur food photographers will take their photos from above (see also “How To Use Props To Enhance Your Food Photos?“). This isn’t a bad angle by any means, and you can see why many people choose this option.
From above, they can capture every part of the meal – something you can’t do if you took the photo from the side. However, a photo taken from above will remove the depth of your image.
As you look down at your plate, all the shadows and details of your meal will be erased. If your plate is flat anyway, (like a soup) or if the decoration is best appreciated from an aerial view (like a platter), then you can continue taking photos from above.
However, if your meal has layers (like a burger), you should consider taking photos from the side. This way you can still capture the details and depth.
Remember, a larger meal isn’t always a tastier meal, and you want your viewers to drool at your photos. If that means cutting out half of the plate to capture the best angle, so be it.
Pick A “Hero” Object
A hero object is a photography term for the focus point of the photoshoot. In the culinary world, the hero is normally the main meal, but that all depends on what you’re photographing.
If you’re trying to highlight how great the fries are, then the fries need to be your hero while the burger will become your prop. Your hero could even be an ingredient, rather than the meal as a whole.
Going back to burgers, your hero could be beef, while the sauces, lettuce, and tomato are your props. To create your hero, the focus needs to be on that item – whatever it is. Then use the other food on the plate, or other related times to surround the hero.
The surroundings will look different in every image. For example, with our burger and fries example, the burger can be in the foreground to the left, while the fries could be in the background to the right. If you pull the focus on the burger, the fries will become blurred.
In the Western world, we read left to right, which means our eyes will focus on the burger first and then scan to the right and see a blurred image. This reinforces the idea that the burger is the main part of the meal.
You could also add a glass of coke behind the burger to add height to the image, however, make sure that it isn’t in focus so the hero object remains on the burger.
If you’re making your meal at home, you can be a bit more creative about your props. If you used lime juice in the ingredients, dot some limes around the background. Used herbs? Place them around too.
You could add pots and pans, ingredients and sauces, or anything that helps you create a story. It’s fun to decorate your background, but don’t go overboard. It can be easy to clutter your image with too many props.
In the end, it creates a busy and daunting image. Have a maximum of 5 props in your image, but aim for 3. Of course, each image is different so follow your gut.
Consider How Your Food Is Framed
Framing, in photography, refers to the placement of your imagery – what are you leaving in, what are you leaving out, what goes where in the image, and how does it direct the viewer’s attention? These are all concepts you need to consider.
We have already touched on this idea, with the hero and props, however now you need to consider the frame in its entirety. Can you add the fluorescent sign of the restaurant into the background? Will the meal go in the center of the frame or slightly off-center?
With every plate, you should try different angles, and move your items around. But make sure any unsightly aspects of the area or food are omitted. For example, if the background of the restaurant includes the bathroom, you should choose a different angle.
In all instances, consider how lines can affect the layers of your image. For example, if you have cutlery in your image, point them toward the hero.
This will create a subtle hint of direction. If you’re decorating with ingredients, you could have the cranberries circle around the plate.
Keep these 5 tips in mind when you next take a photo of your food. Most importantly, try every angle, every prop, and every frame you can think of. You might end up with a surprisingly amazing photo because you allowed yourself to be creative.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ideally, you should choose small plates and bowls to create the illusion of opulence. Then choose colors that match the flavors you’re hoping to convey, as well as match each other.
For example, choosing reds and browns for a rustic red meat meal, or oranges and yellows for a citrusy and light lemony meal.