Food photos are here to stay. Like it or not, many–maybe most–of us can’t help but keep a running record of our culinary experiences. No longer a trend, it’s unusual when people don’t pull out their phones when their meals arrive. I’m reminded of a New Yorker cartoon where the waiter approaches a couple and asks, “Is everything okay? I notice you haven’t taken a photo of your food.”
As long as we’re going to keep at it, we may as well learn to do it well. I’ve gathered some food photo tips that will improve your technique, whether you’re at a Michelin-starred restaurant or a roadside diner. Or at home, simply because you’re proud of your latest creation and feel like bragging a bit.
Note: The beautiful food photos for this post were taken by Engin_Akyurt (Pixabay).
Try these 5 tips when shooting food photos
1. Use natural light. Place the food near a window without strong sunlight. Indirect light coming through the window makes every dish look beautiful!
If you’re outside, avoid midday sun; bright light washes out the color. Look for shade, or wait until late afternoon or evening. The time after sunrise and before sunset is called “The Golden Hour,” because the soft light is generally best for most types of photography.
2. Take “bird’s-eye view” photos. This is the classic angle and works best for most food. What’s nice about this shot is that you can also capture the plate, silverware, and glass in the frame.
The tricky part is that you have to stand up to get directly over the plate. This can be a challenge in a restaurant. Even though it’s acceptable to take food photos, you don’t want to be that annoying person. Telling other patrons that it’s okay to stand on a chair because you’re the new New York Times food critic isn’t advised, either.
3. If the overhead shot isn’t going to happen, you can also get great results with a 45-degree angle photo. This works well for both normal distance and close-ups. Plus, some foods look better from the side.
This is a favorite method–it’s easy to do and captures detail. Keep the background uncluttered and use natural, indirect lighting. Leave space around food to have more editing options; you can always crop the photo later.
4. Add decorative or fun elements. In a restaurant, crumple the napkin around the plate or move the flower vase or wine bottle closer. Take advantage of how the chef styled your plate–or arrange the items yourself. Move those frites around!
At home, you can use dish towels, placemats, and cutting boards. Arrange items like herbs, leaves, berries, cocoa, or coarse salt around the dish. Silverware, utensils, and wooden spoons add interest, too.
5. Tell a story. Just by including hands in the photos, you’re including a human element. Hands can stir, pour, hold, knead, share…you get the idea. Chubby baby hands, multi-ringed teen hands, knobby old hands–they all add character to the shot.
Of course, you can always add people, too! Try cropping the photo to include a smile, or half a face. Don’t know how to edit photos? I’m a huge fan of iPhone Photography School. Check it out!
The etiquette of taking food photos
Just because everyone is suddenly a food photographer, that doesn’t mean anything goes. In fact, some restaurants have become so irritated that they forbid any photos. They worry that the pictures are more important than the food or service. So it’s essential to follow a few etiquette rules.
- No flash. Period. Not only does it destroy your picture, it’s rude to those around you. If it’s too dark to get a decent shot, ask a table mate to use the light on their phone to brighten the plate from the side. But make it fast.
- Don’t intrude on others’ experience. This means not creating a ruckus just so you can remember your meal. Folks are surrounding tables are entitled to peace when they eat. You’re not on a photo shoot on behalf of Rachael Ray or The Barefoot Contessa. No standing on chairs.
- Consider the people you came with. Does everyone really need to wait after their food arrives, just so you can take a picture? Think about it before you insist. Not only might it seem rude to them…it’s kind of embarrassing, too. Go back and reread Rule 2.
- Be quick. Take a few photos, even from a couple of angles. Then stop. Put the phone away. You came to eat, remember? It’s impossible to be in the moment when you’re wondering about the next shot.
- Leave other diners out of the picture. If those at your table are agreeable, that’s one thing. But when you try to capture people at other tables, you deserve to be escorted off the premises.
- Wait until you leave the restaurant to send your masterpieces to your social media fans. Really, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook will survive for a couple of hours. Really.
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