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Simple, Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Food Photography

by Drew Evans
photo & video

Once a fairly niche market, the advent of the smart phone has made food photography infinitely more prolific. In every magazine and on every website these days, it certainly affects what we eat and cook, not to mention what we share socially. Even those who have never thought of themselves as “food photographers” are looking for ways to improve the casual shots they take — and all it takes are some household items, new ideas, and traditional photography tips.

Digital Photography School tells us one thing every photographer knows by heart: Lighting is the most important piece of the puzzle.

Sometimes, something as small as changing your angle of light can improve your images infinitely. Backlighting is the key, as it can transform your image from flat and dull to bright and colorful. Every dish is different, but removing all the clutter and distraction from the image will draw the viewer’s eye right to your food subject.

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Simplicity is another key element. While staging does matter — consider a pretty plate or an interesting tablecloth — just the plate of food on an interesting surface will often do.

Another important tip is to, as cliché as it sounds, keep it real. Don’t just stick to photographs of entire meals or dishes. Little crumbs, a napkin, a fork, or anything that adds a spice of reality to the image can change how visually appealing it is. Adding raw ingredients, such as vegetables or grains, can show that your food photography is more than just a staged image.

Making food look its very best is also important, but doesn’t require a high level of trickery or even expenditure.

“I firmly believe that you don’t need lots of fancy equipment to take great food photos. Just a few simple junk drawer tools can truly make your food pop off the page!,” writes Pinch of Yum.

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Non-stick cooking spray can add a shimmer and sparkle to the food, while adding a bit of oil can also add a shine to otherwise boring ingredients. Making sure your food has bright color and contrast can also make your photos look a lot better. Simply adding a white towel or napkin underneath as a texture can surprisingly improve lighting, white balance, and make your color pop a lot more than on a regular counter or table. Using a mirror or a piece or white paper can act as a reflector to light up your subject and reduce shadows.

Of course, the standards of good photography also apply to food. Using different camera angles, crops, focal points, and focal lengths can add depth, bokeh, and interest to your images. The same photographs with different subjects can get boring – spice up your photos by shooting at a different angle and a shallow aperture can focus in on the different textures of your food.

Food is delicious, and your photographs should get that across. By paying attention to lighting and basic compositions can vastly improve the quality of your photos. With the food photography trend getting bigger and bigger, these few tips can push you ahead of the pack by making your images stand out.

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Drew Evans

Drew is a Seattle-based freelance writer. He spends too much time playing music, binging on Netflix, and watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams.