As the director of photography here at America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve art directed more than 1,000 food photography shoots for our magazines, cookbooks, and everything in between. Some tricks of the trade can only be accomplished using professional cameras and perfectly placed lighting, but the following five tips will help you take better food photos, no matter your setup. (And here’s a bonus sixth tip: Natural light is your friend!)
1. Taste It First
I find that once I know how amazing a dish tastes then I’m motivated to show off the unique qualities that make it such a winner. Once you’re in love with the food, you can then work to highlight those special details and properties. For instance, if a dish’s crunchy texture is the thing that gets you, then try to find ways to highlight that part by getting close in on the exterior or by showing textural differences within the dish.
2. Move Around the Food
Think high, think low, look at all sides of the food, move the plate and see what happens when light hits it from different angles. Get up on a chair or ladder, get low and look right into the interior. Add multiple pieces of the food, or include elements in the frame that support the main character in a real way.
3. Make Color Happen
Even if you have the brownest or whitest of foods, add that parsley or some olive oil or use a complementary colored serving vessel. Find ways to keep dimension in a photo that could look too monochromatic. And if you’re going for the monochromatic thing, which is cool, find lots of contrast and interesting shapes to play off of—create the shapes if you have to by cutting into the food in a creative way.
4. Fight the Cold
Food that’s meant to be served hot should be photographed while it’s hot. Makes sense, right? The challenge is that food can often look like it’s not actually hot in a photo, even if it is. The best way to show hot is to let juices from meat or fruits pool on a spoon or plate. Shoot the steam coming off food by adding a dark background that allows the camera lens to capture the wafting steam. Let the light rake over the top of the food so it looks shiny with the natural oils. (It’s also okay to add a little olive oil for highlights.)
5. Interact with the Food
Pick up the tongs or the slotted spoon and break up the mound of food with a cooking or serving utensil. This allows some breathing room on the platter or plate, and can uncover nice details. This also gives the sense of scale and brings in the element of motion and possible drama, which are always nice to capture in a still photograph.
(The photographs in this post were shot by Joe Keller, Carl Tremblay, and Daniel J. van Ackere.)
What are your food photography secrets? Let us know in the comments!