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Photographing Food? 6 Tips To Help You Make That Dish Look Appetizing

Matthew Hughes 27-05-2014

Do you know what’s better than sitting down to an amazing meal? Taking pictures of it, of course.


We’re all guilty of it. You go out to dinner, and after scouring the menu for what feels like hours, you eventually come across something that is utterly mouth-moisteningly tantalizing. When it gets brought to you, you just have to take a food photo to share 5 Places to Find and Share Mouthwatering Food Photos We all have that one person on our Facebook friend's list or Twitter who snaps a photo of just about every meal they eat. That can be annoying. Taking gorgeous photos of beautifully cooked food... Read More with your Facebook friends, just to brag about the amazing feast you’re about to devour.

With that said, some food photos… Well, they just plain suck.

Between sloppy lighting and even sloppier presentation, there are myriad ways in which your food photos can fall short. Thankfully, if you follow these tips, your food photos will have everyone drooling like they’ve been lobotomized. Bon appétit!

1. (Do) Play With Your Food

Arranging your meal to make it more physically endearing isn’t really a science. It’s more of an art form, and there isn’t really a set way to do it, although there are a few rules I tend to obey when arranging my food.

If you’re working with grains and pulses, such as rice, quinoa and tabbouleh, try shoving your food into a pudding cup. Then, quickly upturn it onto your plate and lift the cup up. This should ensure that it retains a solid form, and doesn’t look haphazard on the plate.



2. Size Matters: Consider The Height Of Food

I also consider the height of each food item on my plate. If you’ve got a juicy piece of sirloin that is being obscured by a mountain of quinoa, your photo won’t work. The centerpiece of the meal has been hidden.

Likewise, if a shadow is being cast by a large mound of rice over an enticing piece of meat, your photo won’t work. Consider how you compose your plate in regards to your lighting.

Just experiment. If you feel as though the way you’ve composed your photo isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to change things around.


3. Get A Tripod And Use It

I don’t always obey this rule. Indeed, a sizable proportion of the food photography I do is taken with my trusty Blackberry Q10 smartphone. And, y’know what? they’re usually pretty decent photos.

However, if you’re using a heavy, bulky DSLR, you’re going to want to get a tripod. The Camera Tripod Buying Guide For Beginners Tired of camera shake ruining your photos? Want to take time-lapse shots or long exposure photos? Tripods allow for all of these, so if you don't have one, why not? Read More They’re not too expensive, and if you find yourself having to adjust the composition of your plates, you won’t have to spend time re-framing your photo with each take.


Furthermore, you’ve got a bit more precision when using a tripod. Shaky hands rarely make for good photos.


If you’re taking pictures with your cell-phone, consider buying a small tripod. Or, even better, make a tripod yourself 3 Cheap & Easy DIY Smartphone Tripod Mounts Made & Tested Unless you are an avid photographer, you'll hardly miss the added features of a proper camera. Too bad your tripod isn't compatible with your smartphone. Or is it? Maybe one day smartphones will come with... Read More .

4. Avoid Flash Like The Plague

Food isn’t usually a single, continuous shape. No. Food is a mess of non-uniform shapes clashing on the small canvas of a plate. As a result, when you use flash, all the natural shadows created by those contours, curves and bumps are flattened out. Gross.


Think about lighting. Ideally, try to take your photos in natural sunlight. Perhaps near a window, or outside on a garden table.


If you want to add a bit more of a shine to your photo, you don’t need to use flash. Just grab a bit of olive oil and dab it onto your food with a pastry brush. Although, if you’re planning on eating the food later on, make sure you think about how this will impact the taste of the dish.

5. Be Quick And Shoot Whilst Hot

Have you ever gone to a really good Japanese restaurant and ordered steak?

More often than not, they tend to come on a searingly hot slab of slate, with each strip of meat sizzling and popping, with steam rising and dissipating into the atmosphere, and with little bubbles of oil rising and then popping.


Now, tell me. Do you think that steak would look better photographed in thirty minutes time, when it had gone cold? Of course not.

Hot food is chemically and physically different from cold food. Embrace that, and use it to take beautiful shots.

6. Get In Close

If you can’t smell your food, and feel the heat of the dish on your face, you’re doing it wrong.


No, seriously. If you want to take great shots, you’re going to have to choose the correct angle to use. For the most part, I tend to get close to my plate and shoot downwards. However, sometimes you can take great shots directly facing the plate, with the lens of the camera slightly above the rim of the plate.

How Do You Appreciate Food?

For me, food isn’t just about eating it. It’s a visceral, personal thing, and something I enjoy with all of my senses. Whilst some see food photography as inherently narcissistic and obnoxious, I see it as appreciating my meal.

The MakeUseOf team are quite fond of food. Do you know that we have a food blog where the staff writers share their recipes? No? Well, we do.

Do you have any food photography tips? Tell us about them in the comments box below.

Image Credit: Quinoa, Chickpea Salad (Jenn Khoury) , Food (Il Young Ko), Pho-Licious (Joey), Tokusen Rib Eye Steak (Alpha), Feijoada na comunidade do Calabar (Fotos GOVBA), Pasta (Luca Nebuloni)

Related topics: Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Photo Sharing, Photography.

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  1. B. Giguere, CA USA
    April 16, 2015 at 2:14 am

    I must say, the worst photos of food are shot with a flash. It makes it look so unappetizing. Good tips!

  2. Nada
    May 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    I love taking food photo
    But sometimes it's hard to control the light especially in the restaurant

    • Matthew H
      May 29, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Yep. That's a huge problem. Especially in dingy, hipster restaurants. ;)

  3. rob
    May 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Aye, but if you catch CreativeLive courses as they're being broadcast, they're free. I've seen a couple and generally the quality seems amazing.

  4. Rob
    May 28, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Nice tips, Matt! This is something I'm massively guilty of too (taking food photos, without much knowing what I'm doing). I'm actuall very tempted to sign up to this Creative Live course- Think it looks any good?

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      That looks amazing! Bit pricey though! ;)

  5. Jeff
    May 28, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    That one pic looks like a steaming pile of stomach contents after eating a bad meal. I would have liked to see the alternate choice if not using a flash with that pic because I cannot imagine that looking appetizing no matter how you photograph it.
    Thanks for the write up.

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      You gotta be specific. Which dish are you referring to? ;)

  6. Jim Ashberry
    May 28, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I try to take special photos of some of my food, using colorful place mats and brightly colored Fiesta Ware dishes. I rarely use a phone, though...mostly by trusty Kodak digital camera.

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Ah, yes. It's handy to have nice looking dishes and tableware! Thanks for the tip! :)

  7. Javvad
    May 28, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Nice write up Matt... I'm glad I read this AFTER I'd already eaten or I'd be tempted to order a ton of food! :)

    To echo Phid's comment, yes, zooming in works a treat, even on DSLR's - try taking a picture of a face with no zoom... then with zoom but keep the framing the same and you'll see the difference. Unless of course you're using a prime lens.

    The one thing I'd add to your post though is the story... as in what are you trying to convey through photographing your food? Someone professionally shooting for a magazine will be telling a different story from you wanting to share something on instagram for friends. But I find it makes it far more engaging to know that this is what a paleo diet looks like on day 10 of 30 vs. 'just look at my food'.

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      Thanks for the comment Jav! I'm in London on the 11th, so perhaps you can give me a masterclass in food photography then! ;)

      It's a valid point though. Context matters, and a photo you share on Facebook is not necessarily blog quality.

      Thanks man!

  8. Phid
    May 28, 2014 at 1:39 am

    Interestingly, I spoke with a professional food photographer recently. We talked a bit about using cell phones to photograph food, and he said one basic way to improve such photos was to hold the phone further away than normal and then use the zoom (rather than holding the phone close to the food). I believe that this is done to counteract the effect of lenses on phone cameras.

    • Matthew H
      May 28, 2014 at 9:20 am

      I did not know that! Handy tip. Surely that doesn't work too well with digital zoom though?

  9. Dave P
    May 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    My alternative title suggestion... 'Photographing Food? Then Please Stop Doing That' ;)

    • Matthew H
      May 27, 2014 at 8:47 pm

      Yeah, I'll stop right away Dave. ;)