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4 Inexpensive Ways To Improve Your Food Photography

Are you interested in adding food photography to your portfolio, but don’t know where to start? Don’t be intimidated. Yes, you can spend a lot of money on expensive lighting equipment, lenses and cameras, but these aren’t necessary to make a beautiful food image. If you are a portrait photographer, landscape photographer, sports photographer, or an expert instagrammer, you can use the gear you already have to make beautiful images of your food!

With these four simple tips, you can begin to take your food images from bland to mouthwatering.


1. Keep it natural with a one light set-up

You can use multiple lights to create delicious looking food images, but it is not a necessity. Do you have strobes and soft boxes? What about a tungsten light and a reflective umbrella? Is a window and foam board reflector all that you have? With any of these lighting set ups you can create beautiful images of your food. Use your light sources to create a “window light set-up.” This set-up recreates the beautiful, soft, even light you would find next to a window.

Position the key light on the side or behind the subject. Use a soft box, umbrella, or bed sheet to diffuse this light source and create a soft light. If you are using a window with indirect sunlight coming through you may not need any additional diffusion. To control the contrast, reflect light back onto the subject using a foam board or 5 in 1 reflector. Below are examples of images taken with a window, a tungsten light, and a flash as the key light. In all these images there is only one light source and the fill is created with a foam board reflector.




2. Perfect your composition by using a tripod 

Unless you are shooting food before slaughter, your food will not move on set. It doesn’t take direction and will sit there until you move it where you want it to be. You are in charge of moving the food, props, and any other ingredients in the shot on the set. Putting your camera on a tripod will allow you to make small adjustments without worrying about going back to the same camera position every time. If you are planning on doing a composite, like a pour shot, a tripod is a must!




Another type of shot that tripods are great for is one with many dishes. These shots require many small adjustments to get the perfect shot. Using a tripod will keep your camera in the same position while you make your adjustments.

3. Choose an angle that complements the dish

In portrait photography, there are certain camera angles that are more flattering to the human body than others. The same is true with food. The camera angle that you shoot a paella with is not necessarily ideal for shooting a hamburger with.


A paella is served in a large shallow pan with all of the ingredients on top. Choosing an overhead camera angle will highlight the ingredients.


A Sandwich has a bread top with the ingredients piled into the center. Choosing a head-on camera angle will highlight these ingredients. Shooting overhead will only show bread.



4. Use color to your advantage!

Food is full of color! Walk into the produce department of your grocery store and you will see every color of the rainbow (except for blue). Color can be used to show diversity, highlight freshness and make your viewers taste buds salivate. Using color theory in your food images allows you to capture a viewer’s attention and make them hungry at the same time. Here are a few ways in which you can use color to emphasize your food.

Use a monochromatic color scheme (one color) to emphasize the shape and texture of the food!


Use black or white background to highlight the vibrant colors of the food and help set a mood.



Want to learn more about window lighting, color theory, and composition for food photography? Check out issues 1-4 of photographing FOOD.

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jimx2's picture

Blueberries are blue! Some of them... are at least.

Raul Moreno Jr.'s picture

Then you get hired, and you show up at the shoot with a bedsheet and a piece of foam?
What's the point of adding to the portfolio without buying new equipment if you're going to show up for a commercial shoot, in a restaurant, with your old bedding? It might be okay shooting your best friend's catering business or taco stand, but that's not going to fly. Making the investment is inevitable.
The last two shots are pretty sloppy with bringing a little value in the highlights on the left and shadows on the right.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Sloppy or not, I'll see what you do when you get hired. Judging by the stuff you have on your Flickr, methinks it'll be a while.

Wayne Lennon's picture

Thats not needed Tam, Raul has brought up a viable opinion on what clients expect when you arrive at a shoot. there is no need to put down his photography in a non constructive way.
Support others in the industry, dont put them down.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Sorry, my bad. The recent trolls on this site have gotten a better part of me.

Matt's picture

If you don't have all the gear for a paid gig the simple way forward is to hire some, not a big deal but shelling out big money on gear for building portfolio before you can get work is a big deal to some people.

I think you've missed the point of this post Raul, good photography is about understanding how light works, it's not about owning big fancy lights. Once you know how light works the gear just makes it easier.

Yes clients have an expectation of a professional, big sheet for your portfolio = big softbox on the shoot the light will look nearly identical.

Dorota Long's picture

Very interesting article. I am absolutely in love with Aran Goyaga's pictures like this one

Do you have any suggestions what makes these pictures so dreamy/light/eary? Other than styling, props etc. I currently shoot with Canon 40D and 50mm lense, and I never achieve this stunning look. I'm still new to this but this became my passion