10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography

When I was a teenager, my Nan would always take photos of what she was eating. I thought it was the weirdest thing to do… Then I got to 30-something and started taking photos of my own food (call me ‘odd’ if you want, but I prefer ‘quirky.’) I have to say I find great satisfaction in taking a decent shot of my dinner. A bit of food porn never hurt anyone, right?

When I attended Food Bloggers Connect last September, the workshop I was looking forward to the most was the one lead by photographer William Reavell and food stylist Tara Sura. Lucy, the incredibly talented photographer and food blogger behind Supergolden Bakes, had recommended their courses.  I learnt so much from them in the short space of an hour that I decided to book a full day class.

I have been on a few photography courses but this was my first one dedicated solely to food. I was really looking forward to it and a little bit apprehensive, too. I was hoping I would not be out of my depth in the level 2 course where there would be no technical information about my camera. It would all be about styling and improving the way my food photos look, not get more confident using my camera.

The studio in South London was perfect for the six attendees and 3 experts on hand (photographer William, food stylist Tara and helper/photographer Amy). The fact they kept classes to a maximum of 6 was a big selling point for me. I am at that stage in my photography where I want to really see a difference when I go on a course, and the ratio attendant-expert was spot-on.

I had (wrongly) assumed that all attendees would be food bloggers but only two of us were. The other attendees were all working in the media, either professional photographers or film directors eager to learn more about food photography too widen the scope of their expertise.  Jo, who blogs at Paleo Crust, has recently launched her food blog. Ten years ago, Jo was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and pain was crippling her. Things got better when she completely changed her diet to heal her gut. Her recipes are healthy and look delicious. Go on, give her a wave, she is lovely!
So, how can you take better photos of food? I am in no way an expert, but here are some tips I gathered along the way, quite a few of them from yesterday’s course:

1) Know Your Camera
You can have the best equipment in the world but if you have no idea how to use it, your photos are probably not going to be the best they could be. I have had my camera over six years and I know it pretty well, although I still need to read the manual. Once you know what your camera can do, get off automatic mode and turn off that flash, then practise, practise, practise!

2) Take Your Time
I know, I know, it can be tempting to take a quick shot of your dinner with your phone as you are dishing it out so you can eat it warm… Think again. If you want to take a decent shot, you need decent light, some thought given to compositions so your food looks appealing rather than being an ugly mount of mush. Try several angles, cut that tart, change the plate, add some icing sugar. Take photos along the way.

3) Backgrounds
I have written about it before: I use free wallpaper samples, cheap tiles, planks, slate samples (hello B&Q!) and wrapping paper (Paperchase) as my background. I get white and black foam boards from Hobbycraft (much much cheaper than eBay or Amazon).

4) Old Cutlery
Use old cutlery rather than the new shiny set you just got for Christmas. It will look more authentic and you will not get your reflection in the spoon.

10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography - Props

5) Props
eBay is good if you have a specific item in mind. Otherwise, visit your local charity shops regularly, check your Nan’s loft, swap props with fellow food bloggers. Other good places Tara suggested for nice crockery and plates: car boot sales, Tiger or HomeSense. You will also come across unique pieces at antique shops and markets like Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, Sunbury Antiques Market (Kempton Park), North London Vintage Market (Muswell Hill) or Alexandra Palace Antiques & Collectors Fair if you are around London.

6) Natural Light is Your Friend
You will get the best results using natural daylight. Avoid bright, direct sunlight (conservatories are a ‘no, no!’) and favour but a side light from a window.

10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography - Use Natural Light

7) Think About Focus
Most of the time, food looks better with shallow depth of field (one thing in focus, the rest blurry), but when taking an overhead shot, make sure everything Is in focus.

10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography - Overhead Shots - All in focus

8) Food Looking Fresh
Try to take your photos when the food has just been plated.

10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography - Fresh

If your food starts to lose its freshness, a use a water spray (sparingly) to get a few more minutes of shooting time. I have just ordered this spritzer from Amazon (affiliate link).

9) Drinks
Use sparkling water rather than still water.
Dilute red wine to make it look redder.
Add a bit of icing sugar to beer or sparkling wine to create more fizz.

10) Tethering
When shooting, link your camera to a laptop (tethering) so you can see exactly what your photos look like. All you need is a cable and software to display the photos on your computer (comes free with every Canon camera, or use Capture One / Lightroom).

10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography  - Tethering

… and an extra one: Tell a story and find a friend with pretty hands for photo shoots!

10 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography - Tell a Story

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30 Comments

  1. 15/02/2016 / 9:23 am

    Beautiful photos!! I love this post, it sounds like a fantastic course and one I’d really love to go on!

    • 15/02/2016 / 6:11 pm

      If you decide to book a level 2 course, I’ll go again with you. xx

        • 15/02/2016 / 9:29 pm

          They’re based in South London (Elephant & Castle) so we could make it a day out, he he! Check their courses (link in the post) and see what the availability is. I’ll join you. I’d also like to go on a food photography course with Emily Quinton if you’re interested. x

  2. Lucy Parissi
    15/02/2016 / 3:16 pm

    Thanks for the shout out Mel – I hope you enjoyed the course as much as I did! I definitely credit William and Tara for making me take my photography to the next level and I can’t wait to see what you do next 🙂

    • 15/02/2016 / 6:12 pm

      I really loved every minute on the course and I now wish I could retake all my photos!

  3. Ce
    16/02/2016 / 8:13 am

    Ça met l’eau à la bouche!!!!!

    • 16/02/2016 / 2:27 pm

      Merci ma belle! Je me sens inspirée maintenant. J’en avais besoin. xx

  4. 16/02/2016 / 9:45 am

    I don’t have pretty hands and there is never anyone around!!! ?Great tips Mel!!! The photos are beautiful, the course sounds incredible!! So jealous! N x

    • 16/02/2016 / 2:32 pm

      It really was a brilliant course and I wish I had a friend with pretty hands like Tara’s, he he!

    • 16/02/2016 / 2:29 pm

      Thanks Alida. It was a brilliant course and I’m thinking of going again in a few months, just to get the creative juices flowing and learn more.

  5. 16/02/2016 / 6:37 pm

    These photos are brilliant Mel, I wish I didn’t live so far away as I’d love to go on one of their courses. I also wish I had prettier hands, I’ve got a thing about hands in photos at the moment I’m very jealous of the one in your picture, loving the red nail varnish!

    Great tips about the drinks, I’ve never really thought about using sparkling instead of still before (although I have a tendency to use blackcurrant squash instead of red wine as I don’t want to waste it and I usually take pictures in the middle of the day and can’t get drunk before the school run!

    Looking forward to seeing your next lot of food photographs x

    • 19/02/2016 / 1:18 am

      Oh no, don’t put pressure on me, silly!

      If you fancy going on one of their courses, i’d really like to go again. Let me know; you could stay with us now the loft conversion is done!

      • 25/02/2016 / 10:49 am

        That’s so lovely of you xx

        I hope the loft conversion has gone well. Has Crevette got his own room now?

        • 25/02/2016 / 9:19 pm

          He does! We’ve still got a bit to do but we’re getting there! I’m serious about the offer by the way. xx

    • 19/02/2016 / 1:15 am

      Thanks my lovely. It really was an amazing course and I would go again any day!

  6. adeline
    16/02/2016 / 9:16 pm

    Cette tartelette aux framboises m’a l’air bien délicieuse!!! et c’est vrai que ta photo nous donne encore plus envie de la manger!!!!!!

    • 17/02/2016 / 7:01 pm

      T’as vu? Franchement, ce cours de photographie était parfait le jour suivant votre départ. Du coup, j’étais moins triste de voir mes Nantais préférés partir!

  7. 17/02/2016 / 2:27 pm

    Wow!! I’m so jealous. This sounds fab and I know it would have been given the workshop at FBC! I really need to save up and get on one of these asap!

    • 19/02/2016 / 1:50 am

      Shall we go together? I’m thinking of going on the Level 2 course again (Nath from Intolerant Gourmand fancies it too) and next time, I’ll bring some of my food to style / photograph. xx

  8. Eva
    20/02/2016 / 3:04 pm

    J’aime beaucoup tes photos et je bien aimée ton post!

    • 20/02/2016 / 4:41 pm

      Merci Eva! C’était vraiment une journée excellente. Je suis rentrée chez moi pleine d’idées et de motivation. xx

  9. 04/03/2016 / 12:04 pm

    Sounds like a BRILLIANT course!
    Great idea with the teathering. Too many times the shot just doesn’t quite look as good on screen as it did on camera 🙂

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