Ever looked at a photo that was so enticing, it practically made your mouth water? You were probably admiring a very well lighted, composed, and edited food photo. Food photography is extremely important in the food blogging world, but the thing is: it’s not very easy. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take online food photography courses and learn from some of the most talented people in the industry. Thus, my photos have improved so much within less than a year. Just look at the dramatic before and after pictures! And since sharing is caring, today I’m dishing out 10 awesome tips for beginner food photographers!
These tips for beginner food photographers are a combination of things I learned from courses, lessons I learned from making a sh*t ton of mistakes, and, of course, experience.
If you’re really serious about being a food photographer, just know you won’t become a master overnight. In fact, you’ll most likely despise your first few thousand shots. Heck, I’ve been doing this for almost a full year, and I’m still learning, growing, and making mistakes. I even have the occasional bad day!
What really matters is consistency. You have to love what you do and love the process because, trust me, it’s a looooong one.
Without further ado, here are 10 essentials tips for beginner food photographers!
1. Learn the ins and outs of your camera
Whether you’re using a smartphone or a top-tier DSLR, it’s super important that you get to know your equipment. Like a lot of food photographers, I started out with my iPhone. I took the time to get to know some of its features and use them to my advantage. My smartphone was my “learning” camera.
Now, I use an inexpensive Canon. When I made the switch from iPhone to DSLR, I had to teach myself about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (aka the Holy Trinity of photography). If these terms sound alien to you, I highly recommend checking out this post.
2. Don’t fear the tripod
Not only can using a tripod help you achieve cool action shots like the ones below…
It can also be a big help when you’re working with less than ideal lighting situations.
To give you a real life example, I try to shoot on only cloudy days because the lighting is soft and absolutely perfect. The thing is, here in Georgia, cloudy often means rainy and rainy often means a little dark.
To fix this, I need to adjust my camera settings accordingly. I could use a high ISO, but then that would lead to a super grainy image. I could use a wider aperture, but that would lead to a less sharp photo. The only thing I could do to brighten my photo without affecting quality or sharpness would be to use a super slow shutter speed. A slower shutter speed lets in more light, but it also captures more motion blur…if you shoot handheld.
Using a tripod enables you to stabilize your camera and get a sharp, in-focus image, even when using the slowest shutter speed possible. It allows you to see the scene exactly from the camera’s perspective, and to easily make changes as you go. I currently use the Amazon Basics tripod, it’s super sturdy and inexpensive.
Tripods are also great if you want to do some cool “hands-in” shots, like in this shot of my coconut curry chickpeas!
3. Plan before you start shooting
I use to just whip up a dish in the kitchen, throw it together on a background, and snap away with my phone. I’d always be disappointed and frustrated when I struggled too much with composition, or when the photo didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.
What’s saved me from this unnecessary struggling was planning my shoots. I now think more about the dish I’m photographing, the best angles, the best compositional techniques to use, the color scheme, the props, and all that jazz. I even take the time to do a rough sketch of my ideas.
Basically, it helps to already have a concept of what you want your photo to look like in mind, rather than throwing everything together and just winging it.
4. Practice basic compositional techniques
Obviously, there are a truck load of composition techniques you can use in food photography. So many, in fact, that it’s sure to overwhelm a beginner.
That’s why I recommend familiarizing yourself with three or four compositional techniques, and learning to master them first. If you try to learn them all at once, it’s much too stressful. It’s easier to start small, taking baby steps. For more about basic composition, check out this post.
5. Improve your food styling
Any restaurant worth its stars will always serve your meal beautifully plated and garnished. Ever ordered a brownie for dessert? It’s usually perfectly square topped with a huge dollop of ice cream and drizzled with chocolate. A.K.A, it’s been styled to high heaven.
Apply this to your food photographer. Learn how to plate and garnish your dishes in the most appealing way possible. And try your best to use the freshest ingredients, as well. Trust me, it shows!
6. Use texture
You know what looks great to the camera? Texture!
Using textured backdrops and props makes photos more dynamic and interesting to look at. You can even use your food to add texture by artfully sprinkling crumbs around your scene, or topping your subject with flaky sea salt or freshly cracked pepper.
7. Build layers
Layering is an essential technique not just to food photography, but photography overall. You can achieve incredible results by strategically building layers in your shot. Take a look at this shot of my chocolate cupcakes.
Do you see how I built layers?
I started with the handled grater, then placed two sheets of wax paper on top of it. Then, I arranged the chocolate cupcakes, which are layered first with caramel frosting, then with flower petals, and finally a few sprinkles of flaky sea salt.
Layering can get a bit complicated sometimes, as you can’t just throw plate onto plate and hope for a good photo. Keep one thing in mind when layering: contrast.
Feast your eyes on this image of sweet and sour tofu.
I built contrasting layers to create a dynamic scene: starting with a light gray background, I added contrast with the dark wood charger plate. I built another contrasting layer with the cream salad plate and the white rice. Finally, the last layer is done with the sweet and sour tofu, scallion, and sesame seeds. Light, dark, light, dark.
8. Experiment with natural light
If you’re taking your food photography in your kitchen at night with some awful overhead lighting, stop it. Like right now.
In fact, unless you’re using a professional artificial lighting set up, your best bet is to use natural light. It’s more flattering and true-to-life. I get my best photos shooting in my bedroom on cloudy days, usually around 10 AM-2 PM. But since we don’t live in the same house, your best lighting situation may be different.
Experiment with natural light by shooting in different rooms in your home, by different windows. Also, try shooting at different times, then see what time and what window gives you the best results.
9. Take your time in Lightroom
In my opinion, Lightroom is the best software for editing food photography. It’s incredibly, incredibly powerful.
Lightroom has a lot of features, and it’s definitely a learning curve. There are helpful YouTube videos you can watch, but, if you’re willing to make a small investment, I highly recommend the Lightroom Magic Course by Rachel Korinek. Rachel is an incredible photographer and I could sing her praises all day long.
10. Inspiration, not imitation
The food photography community is soooo diverse and talented. There’s no shortage of inspiration to be found. My biggest inspirations are Nisha of Rainbow Plant Life, Rachel of Two Loves Studio, and Alanna of Bojon Gourmet.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’m so inspired by these creators, at one point I tried to perfectly emulate their style. Then I realized I was robbing myself because I was killing my own creativity. I decided to focus on finding my own style and what makes me excited!
It was challenging, but worth it. I’m in a better place creatively, and I feel like I’m really working towards creating images that are my own, representative of the way I view the world.
So, let yourself feel inspired, but remember you have to find your own way.
More food photography content…
Did you find these tips for beginner food photographers useful? Want more of this kind of content?
Check out my Instagram page, where I talk non-stop about food photography and make helpful video content as well!
Thanks for reading. Now go forth and create!