Food photography 101
Updated: Jun 19, 2018
We all have that friend on social media who likes to share photos of every meal they eat. While it can be fun and interesting to see peoples' cooking efforts come to fruition, most of the time it's a visual calamity.*
Here are a few useful tips for taking better food photos with your phone:
1. Choose your subject with care
What do Hungarian Goulash, Philly Cheese Steak filling, and pasta Alfredo have in common? They all look like vomit in photos. I've gagged when I've come across what looks like the effects of the flu being posted with "Yum!" or "I'm such a foodie!"
While it may have taken a while to create this culinary delight, try and think about what your food actually looks like in photos. Without bold, contrasting colors and great light, most foods come off looking gross.
Full disclosure: Goulash doesn't ever photograph well, even in a studio with all the lights, behind the scenes tricks, and a knowledgeable stylist working on the shot.
Soups and stews (and even Bill's famous, delicious brats, pictured right) are better left to your kitchen than shared on the internet. Invite a friend over; impress them with flavors so they brag about your culinary skills on social media. No need for a photo, or, better yet, show the empty plate or bowl after the meal is finished ("I wanted to share a photo, but it was too good!"). That, my friends, is evidence of a good chef and editor.
2. Make sure your image is in focus
I can't tell you how often I've seen someone bragging on their cooking while sharing a photo that's out of focus. If you're not paying attention to that important detail, it's safe to assume your cooking follows suit.** The image to the left is way too soft-focus to be a good photo. I'd like to blame steam, but it's really just a bad shot.
3. Be aware of shadows
If you have overhead lighting, keep your shadow out of the shot. This may mean adjusting where you stand or taking the food into a different room with better light. Natural light is best, but not always feasible around dinnertime, especially in winter when it gets dark before 6pm.
If you are working with natural light, make sure the light is even. This can be a challenge if you're taking photos from overhead, but with a little practice, it will come easier each time. Again, move your dish around to different locations in your home to get the best shot.
4. Use the Editing options on your phone
All smartphones have an option to edit photos. With just a few simple adjustments, your food photos can go from "meh" to "please invite me over for dinner."
There are two very important editing tools at your disposal: Exposure and Cast. Bringing your exposure up will brighten the photo, which is helpful for most images. Removing the yellow that most lights cast will make your food photos look exponentially more appetizing.
I'm using my iPhone to show the editing buttons, but all smartphones have them. Just look for Edit or a gear to access your editing options.
Here's a before and after sample. The photo on the left has a yellow cast and appears a bit muddy. After a few small adjustments of exposure and cast, it looks brighter and more appetizing in the photo on the right. I also cropped out some of the extraneous information around the dish.
I hope you find these tips helpful and take this post with the humorous tone that's intended. Happy sharing!
*All photos are mine, taken with either a point and shoot camera or a phone camera; food photography is challenging, even for a pro
**None of the meals shown were prepared by me. We just want to live, for goodness sake!