ice cream food styling-1

Foodtography: Part One

If you were to type in #foodporn on Instagram 54,081,378 posts pop up.  People love taking pictures of their food to especially share on social media networks such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I am guilty of being one of these people. Many of the images we see posted on these networks are usually taken with a smartphone without much thought or planning. The foods we eat often at restaurants are presented in a creative and artistic manner that it can be difficult to resist capturing an image before it disappears into our stomaches.

david luftus hamburger
David Luftus

I remember a few years back I was in McDonald’s on a roadtrip and the two unnamed people I was with ordered lunch. As they set it down on the table all the colors of the packaging and the food itself looked like an image I could not resist taking. I posted it on Facebook after and I swear to you I have never had so many likes on an image or comments in all my years using it. It goes to show that food images create a strong impact among viewers and invokes one’s senses.

I have frequently heard people getting annoyed by images of food appearing in their feed. I have often heard a long drawn out sigh from my dinner companions when I ask them to hold off on raising their forks to their salivating mouths before starting their meal just so I can capture an image of the table.

pantone food styling-1
Pantone food styling by Emilie de Griottes

Usually in situations as such, there is not much that can be done creatively except maybe rearrange the setting of the plates and the angle at which the food is taken. There are not many options as far as controlling the lighting in similar instances except for maybe standing at a different side of the table where you can maximize the best existing light. There have been a few instances where I have been in a poorly lit setting and have tried to improvise to achieve a better lit image. I have tried a flash, which never works and also have had someone flash their iPhone flashlight onto the table which helps improve the image but still doesn’t produce an optimal photo.


Not that long ago The New York Times released an article, “Restaurants Turn Camera Shy.” The article discussed the mass amounts of restaurants, mainly high-end, that were enforcing a no-photography policy when it came to the food on the table. They no longer want amateurs taking snapshots of the table especially when it came to flash photography and many are enforcing a no-photography ban all together. It is often distracting to other patrons and brings down the level of prestige of the particular restaurant.

jennifer may

I am well aware that different settings and subjects have different things to consider before capturing the perfect image. As I mentioned earlier, the only experience I have with foodtography is what I have taken throughout the years with my iPhone. I wanted to learn more about it from a professional standpoint so I did some research so I can attempt a shoot in the near future.

we eat together
We Eat Together

What needs to be considered:

1) Choose to shoot food with fresh ingredients. Fruit that is a little under ripe, greens that are crisp, items taken directly out of the fridge or freezer and food that is hot off of the grill. By keeping these few basic things in mind will help produce the best image possible.

2) Try not to use a flash if possible. Unless you have proper professional studio lighting try to avoid using a flash. Using a regular flash can flatten the image and create shadows that can produce a less appealing image.

3) Lighting is key. As with all photography, lighting is what can make or break an image. It is best to use as much natural light as possible. If you can backlight your subject, it will appear to be more appetizing and bring the freshness of the ingredients to life. If the lighting is off, it is very easy to produce a flat image that appears lifeless.


4) Use a tripod if possible. Since the subject is stationary, it is always best to use a tripod. This will help achieve a super sharp image. Also, if the shutter needs to be left open longer than a freehand allows one to hold, it is necessary to allow more light into your shot to expose for the darker ingredients or props in the frame.

5) Choose the best props.  Stylizing your image by incorporating props can make a world of difference to an image. By adding items such as a table cloth, napkin, cutlery can create a specific mood and make the food much more desirable to the viewer. Also, using items that give some color contrast to the food items(s) can help make the food really pop.


6) Add oil or spritzs of water. By adding oil or by occasionally spraying the food with water, depending on what you are shooting will help give the appearance of freshness and dewiness.

7) Choosing the right depth of field. If you are shooting a table setting with multiple food items and props a narrow depth of field will likely not work. Many of the items will appear blurry and look less appealing. If you are shooting items that are similar and uniform in size a shallow depth of field with really make the item standout and enhance all the details and colors. By setting the camera to f/1.8 or f/2.8 will create a nice creamy and smooth background allowing the eye to focus on just one of the items instead of getting lost among many items.

8) How to style the food. Food styling is just as important as the photography of the food. A stylist will know what works best for what types of foods and for which audience the image will be directed towards. Sometimes it is best to have a clean image where everything appears to be perfect. Other images work best where there appears to be some mess from the food item.


9) Time allowance. Many foods will lose their appeal if sitting out too long. Especially if in direct sunlight. It is best to try and map out the composition before if possible and shoot as quickly as possible. The food will begin to wilt or melt fairly quickly and will not appear to be edible in the finished image so shoot fast!

The good thing about food photography is the subject does not move. The bad thing is the subject can lose its luster and appeal fairly quickly so you have to work fast.

I hope these tips have been of use to you and if you have any personal experience with food photography and styling, I would love to hear about it.

All this food chatter has made me hungry. I’m off to feed my belly!

Until next time,


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