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Chances are if you a bit of a foodie, with a passion for cooking, creating recipes or working in a restaurant or café, then you also like to take snaps of your food. Producing photographs like the ones we see daily in food magazines and recipe books may seem impossible, but don’t despair. Today’s smartphones are capable of capturing some amazing images, especially if you have a few tips from a pro.

1. Shoot in the best light possible

This is usually easier said than done, as more often than not you will be photographing in a kitchen or restaurant. Natural daylight is the best light to shoot in.

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Asparagus lined up on a tray
Photo by Jane Burkinshaw

  • Set your shot up near to a window, ideally with the window to your left or right. This gives a lovely side light, which reveals textures and produces some shadows to prevent the shot looking flat. Make sure sunlight is not falling across your set up.
  • Switch electric lights off, as these produce a warm or yellow colour cast. If it’s not possible to switch the lights off, you can usually reduce the yellow colour cast when you edit the shot. Try to avoid being directly under ceiling spotlights as these create hot spots on your images.
  • If you are photographing food outdoors, pick a shady spot. The ‘golden hour’ at dawn and dusk creates lovely light and softer shadows.
  • Avoid using flash to photograph food. Even in the evening, it’s better to use the ambient light in the room and then edit the image to enhance it.
  • Learn how to change the exposure (brighten or darken the image) with your phone. On iPhones a sun symbol appears as you tap your screen to focus. Slide your finger up or down the screen to adjust the brightness.

2. Tell a story

Images that communicate a simple story are more compelling and interesting than a simple shot of a plate of food.

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Cheese, crackers and chutney on a kitchen table
Photo by Jane Burkinshaw

  • Think about what you are trying to convey with the shot. Ideally you want it to look delicious and drive people to take a longer look at your business or recipes. You can create a story by suggesting a season, a time of day, a mood or theme.
  • Your choice of background and props will communicate your story. Include textures and layers to add interest and depth.
  • Even the way you photograph and edit the shot can help tell the story. If the mood is dark and passionate, then darken it slightly.
  • Keep it simple. The food must be the hero and the props the supporting cast.

3. Take time to set up your shot

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A platter of Brie, figs, bread and honey on a wooden board.
Photo by Jane Burkinshaw

Digital cameras encourage us to have bad habits. We snap away without worrying how many shots we take. When photographers used film, they had to count the cost of every click of the shutter button.

  • Slow down and consider if there are any distractions in your shot. Check the foreground, middle ground and background.
  • Pick the best angle to showcase the food. Layered, taller dishes are best shot at eye level, whereas plates of pasta, salad etc. look good from directly overhead.
  • Be careful to hold your phone straight: 90∞ for an eye level shot and completely flat and level for an overhead shot.
  • Angles in between can be tricky with a phone as the camera can distort the subject. Take extra care when you are taking this kind of shot.

4. Edit your photographs

  • I always edit my images to give them an extra ‘polish’. I get as much right as I can when I take the shot, but it always benefits from a little extra contrast, a slight boost in colour, the removal of a few annoying crumbs or marks and perhaps a slight crop.
  • There are lots of editing apps available, if you watch a few tutorials online you can uncover hidden functionality.

5. Learn how to critique your images

  • This is an invaluable skill and one that will really make you a much better photographer.
  • Start by looking at other people’s food photos and work out what you do or don’t like about them. Look for elements that make the image feel harmonious (repeating shapes, colours or patterns) and equally consider if there are distractions, that attract your eye away from the main subject.
  • Many people told me during my food photography journey that the best way to learn is to look at as many food images as I could and then to copy some of the ones I like. Copying in order to learn is fine, especially as you will be using your props, backdrops and food. However, if the idea is really unique, then it’s not a good idea to pass it off as your own creation.

You will find that the more you practise, the better your shots will become. It’s important, too, to try not to compare yourself with other people as this can be disheartening. Instead, compare only with the last shot you took and see how much you are progressing.

About Jane Burkinshaw

Jane is a professional photographer and tutor with more than ten years’ experience of teaching. If you would like to learn how to photograph food with Jane, she offers a range of workshops and bespoke tuition. Visit Love Your Lens for further information.

Jane is also one of our Delivery Partners on the Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme, delivering EU-funded workshops to a range of SMEs and entrepreneurs.