July 19, 2017

Food Photography Tips For Transforming Meals into Masterpieces

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With the rise of Instagram (and other photo sharing platforms), mouthwatering food photography is just a few taps away. So if you’re wondering how to get similar shots, keep these tried-and-true food photography tips in mind.

Have you ever prepared and photographed a delicious meal, only to get a snap of unsightly goop rather than the mouthwatering photo you were aiming for? Join the club.

There are a million different ways to mess up photos of food, whether it’s an unforgiving white balance, less-than-ideal piece of produce or crappy angle throwing you for a loop.

But it’s not just you. If you’ve ever seen footage of a corporate food photoshoot — or have been lucky enough to be behind the scenes — you’ll know how meticulous photographers are when it comes to food. It’s really, really hard to get right, and often involves the help of food stylists, seasoned photo editors and world-class studio equipment.

Just check out this intense McDonald’s photoshoot below, where a wimpy fast-food burger miraculously turns into a five-star model.

Let’s stop here. You’re probably thinking: “Okay, but I don’t have access to any of this pricey equipment.” Don’t worry. Many successful food photographers don’t invest thousands in their work, either. Great food photography often boils down to a few photographic guidelines. They’re definitely not rules, but it’s wise to keep them in mind.

Here are some food photography tips sure to boost any Instagrammable dish.

1. Ditch. The. Flash.

One of the best food photography tips for a total newbie? Unlearn your on-camera flash. Seriously. And repeat after me:

I will refrain from using flash in food photography.

I will refrain from using flash in food photography.

I will refrain from using flash in food photography.

When using an on-camera flash to snap your food, “you will get loads of specular highlights on any area that has moisture,” writes photographer Christina Peters. And who wants to emphasize sogginess? “You will also get strange and unattractive shadows either on your food, on the plate, or both,” she adds.

The real french fries via @hungryhippie #pmfnyc #frenchbistro #nycfoodie

A post shared by Pardon My French (@pmf_nyc) on

Instead, try to shoot with a natural, ambient backlight. This means that instead of shooting with full-frontal natural light — which can have similar effects to a flash and make any delicious food appear “flat” — angle yourself so that the light source catches the food from behind. Ensure that you’re not shooting directly into the light, though, as that will create a silhouette effect.

For the more math-inclined of us, simply make sure that your light source is at least 90 degrees away from you. Experts say the closer to 180 degrees, the better.

2. Guide Your Viewers with Props

Props, or featured ingredients in this case, are an important part of any dining experience. The best food photographers know that this is also one of the most important food photography tips. Props are what separate a mediocre food photo from a culinary masterpiece.

So when you’re taking food photos, learn how to add more of these textural elements in your frame to spice up your shots. Sprinkle chia seeds on top of a berry smoothie, add a few microgreens on a perfect cut of steak or scatter cilantro leaves and place a bottle of artisan hot sauce around a bowl of salsa.

Since your audience doesn’t have smell, touch or taste to go off of, they’ll appreciate something guiding their eye. It’ll add the texture and color differences they crave.

Keep in mind that like any type of art, food photography should also tell a story. Cooking is transformative by nature, and even something as simple as a smoothie goes through a journey. Show that by highlighting different props within your photos.

3. Keep a Clean Slate, but Don’t Forget Color

While you don’t want your background, a noisy plate or any other elements to lead a viewer’s eye away from your food, it’s also a good idea to include some pops of color from time to time. We can start with some color-wheel inspiration.

On the color wheel, hues directly across from each other are known as complimentary colors. These shades — such as darker blues and lighter yellows — enhance each other’s intensity. Use these pairings to create a mood or foster a certain feeling.

Imagine a gorgeous leaf of purple basil over a bed of beige quinoa. There’s a reason why that color combination makes that meal look not just beautiful, but delicious.

Complimentary colors shouldn’t be overused, though. Try analogous colors on occasion, which are located right next to one another on the color wheel. When shades are that close on the color wheel, they create a sense of depth and unity. Try combinations like red violet and red or dark and medium blues; you might be surprised at the depth and beauty of the resulting photos.

Finally, there’s one more color wheel combo you can test in your next foodie photoshoot. Find triadic colors by printing out a color wheel and tracing a triangle with points ending on any three hues. This is a magical combination prized by many artists and designers. Various shades of purple, green and orange are examples of triadic colors.

This all might sound complicated if you don’t have any background in photography, design or art, but just start with some simple experimentation. After all, there’s really no one way to use the color wheel. And as long as you’re mixing and matching, you’ll discover great combinations naturally.

4. Angle is everything

In another article on food photography tips, Christina Peters notes that when it comes to photographing a meal, a 45 degree angle is probably the most common stylistic choice. If you’re a newbie food photographer, though, you might be surprised to find that just like humans, types of food have good angles, too.

Don’t be timid — photograph from a point of view you’ve never used before. “The point here is to use different camera angles in order to keep your readers engaged,” she adds. “Mix it up! Try different camera angles if you are still learning this and are unsure of which camera angle to use.”

Different stylistic choices include straight-on photos — which are good for burgers, lasagnas and sandwiches — and overhead or “flat lay” shots, like the summer-inspired Buddha Bowl below. You can make flat lay shots much easier with a step stool and your phone’s photo grid switched on.

With every meal you photograph, play around until you find the angle that truly compliments it.

5. Talk to Others

Sometimes, just chatting with others about their food photography tips can trigger lightbulbs in our heads. Instagram’s community of vegan food photographers is incredibly strong, so Scopio chatted with two vegan foodies to get their perspectives.

Becca Menke: Blogger at Rabbit Food Runs and @rabbitfoodruns/Instagram

Sunshine means celebrate! Even though it's back to work today, I'm still carrying the long weekend summer vibes into my morning breakfast. My new obsession: @artisanaorganics tahini and avocado toast on @foodforlifebaking Ezekiel flax bread with strawberries. 🥑🥜🍓🍞 . . A perfect breakfast or #vegan snack to hold me over to a more substantial meal. Tahini has plant protein, avocados have #healthyfats and the strawberries add a subtle sweetness. I love the creamy texture and nutty taste of the tahini against the crunch of the bread. What's in your plate this #toasttuesday? 🍞 🌱 💪 I even have this before a #longrun to keep me feeling fueled and ready. It's what I ate before my 50 miler a few weeks ago, and I'm still obsessed 🏃🏻‍♀️🌱 Happy Tuesday!

A post shared by Becca Menke (@rabbitfoodruns) on

Chicagoan Becca Menke started her food blog, The Rabbit Food Runner, after people asked questions about her diet and endurance running. “I had so many people ask me how I was able to run so much and do so well while eating a vegan diet,” she says. On her blog, she often shares vegan recipes and photographs every step of the process.

Becca has learned a lot since she began her food blogging journey. “For food photography, I wouldn’t think of the full picture,” she says. “I would just focus on the food. That was a mistake, because it’s the entire picture that draws in readers and creates the story.”

Today, she takes other factors into account — including what the food’s plating and arrangement look like, or the presence of distracting lighting and shadows. “Attention to details like that leads to a higher quality picture,” she adds.

At the moment, Becca uses her iPhone, a few photo props and some great editing tools to get the perfect shot. And even though her kitchen doesn’t have the best lighting, she’s found many food photography tips that work.

“At first, I would just take a picture and post it without editing,” she says. “The lighting would always look yellow or have a lot of shadows. What I’ve learned is that natural lighting is your friend.” To enhance existing natural light, Becca often shoots near to a window and enhances the natural light with white posterboards or sheets.

And for foodies on the town, she has some more solid advice: “When I photograph a meal at a restaurant, I take no more than 1 minute to take a picture of the dish,” she says. “If I don’t get a good picture, then I deal with it and make up for it in a funny caption.  That’s something that I learned over time — it’s an effort to be more present at the meal and to not allow Instagram to invade my time with whomever I’m with.”

After taking her photos, Becca uses editing tools such as Instagram, Whitegram, VSCO, Pixlr or Photogramio.

Though the process can be intimidating at first, it’s helpful to pick one thing at a time to work on or practice. “The learning will then snowball and you’ll continuously improve,” she adds. Just like running, taking great photos is all about practice. You’ll never stop learning.

Besides teaching her a ton about food, blogging has connected Becca to friends across the globe. “I’ve connected with brands I love and people from all over the world that inspire me,” she says. “I’ve learned more about myself throughout the process as well.”

Viktoria Pestchanskaya: Blogger at @veganvikii/Instagram

Viktoria Pestchanskaya’s food photography journey started after her switch to a vegan diet. And since then, she’s been photographing beautiful meals on the regular.

She originally hated cooking, but learned to love it after her diet switch. Now, she often spends days off experimenting in the kitchen. “As I became more passionate about not only the taste but also the look of my food, I decided it was time to capture it on camera,” Viktoria says. She started snapping photos with her smartphone, eventually moving to a Nikon D3100, which she calls a good camera for hobby photographers.

Just like Becca, Viktoria discovered that lighting could make or break a food snapshot. “The wrong lighting can make the best food look horrible,” she says.

Viktoria says it also helps to take multiple shots, even if you’re just slightly shifting the camera angle. “It’s quite some work to pick the best picture afterwards, but I think it’s better to have two great pictures than none at all,” she remarks.

To keep up with Instagram, Viktoria used to photograph every meal she ate. But over time, one of the most important food photography tips she learned was quality versus quantity. “I really try to do more than just put my food on a plate and snap a picture,” she says. “You have to make a real setting. Presentation is everything!”

With her Instagram posts and the internet at her disposal, Viktoria also hopes to downplay stereotypes about vegan diets. The best way to convince people that a vegan lifestyle is great? “Present pictures of delicious food that no one could say no to,” she says.

Scopio is the industry’s premier search and licensing platform for images and videos on social media. Wondering how you can leverage UGC to boost marketing efforts? Request a demo with the button below, and we’ll help you find great moments like the ones below. Want to share what you’ve learned from these food photography tips? Visit our submit page, and we’ll promote your work to our partners. Featured photo courtesy of Courtney Brandt.


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