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Up for Discussion – Food Photography

After my call out recently for people who would be interested in writing a guest post for me, I got lots of emails, well a few, and one of them was from Jane Reed, and she does food photography.  I though a post on food photography would be great.  I don’t know about you, but I find food photography one of the hardest things to do.  I haven’t tried it a lot, but it never seems to look good when I do it.  I hope you find what Jane has to say very helpful.

5 Essentials for Improving Your Food Photography by Jane Reed

Food photography has grown in popularity over the past few years, yet it still remains one of the more difficult types of photography out there. I liken it to painting a masterpiece. You begin with a blank canvas, add your subject, manipulate the light, compose it properly, add surroundings and viola, you have a masterpiece! Starting out, however, can be quite overwhelming but with the right tools in your tool belt creating beautiful photographs is just a few clicks away.

If you have chosen to embark on a food photography journey it is safe to assume that you already have a love of food and a desire to share it with the world. The ideas have already started flowing, the recipes have been chosen and the food has been cooked. You are ready to tell the story of this amazing dish and you have begun to photograph it yet something is just not right.

If you are standing in this position right now, unsure as to why your photos are not turning into the masterpiece you envisioned, don’t worry. With just a few adjustments in a few areas you can begin to create the vision you have in mind.

1. Lighting is one the most important aspects of any type of photography. Proper lighting brings the subject to life while improper lighting can steal the life away. In this example the dragon fruit on the left is sitting in bright direct light from the window. The shadows are dark and take away from the beauty of the brightly colored fruit. The example on the right shows the exact same shot with diffused light and light bounced in from the backside of the fruit. You can see the enormous difference between the two. To show how simple this can be, I simply covered the window with a plain white sheet to diffuse the light and used a white board behind the fruit to bounce light back into the fruit and limit shadowing.

2. Composition I have found that the rule of thirds applies greatly in food photography. The rule of thirds is one of the main “rules” in photographic composition and is based on the theory that the human eye naturally gravitates to intersection points that occur when an image is split into thirds. In example 1 you see the dragon fruit on the left is centered and because of its color it still commands your attention, however, if you move the dragon fruit just slightly to the right it changes the composition into a more appealing and eye catching photo.

dragon-fruit-compositon-1 In example 2 you can see that the rule of thirds also applies to close up full frame shots of your subject. In this example you can also see how changing the composition just slightly not only changes how appealing it is to the eye but also changed the lighting effect as welldragon-fruit-composition-2

3. Angles There are only so many angles that a photographer can use in food photography. One of the more popular angles is the “top down” angle in which you photograph the subject from the top looking down. While this is only one angle, you can actually use this angle in a creative way by how you choose to shoot the angle. In this example you can see that I shot the dragon fruit from the top down, but at different focal lengths and stances. The last two photos in this example were taken at the same focal length but I had leaned in closer to the subject. dragon-fruit-top-down-angle I usually start with a top down shot or a 12 o-clock shot and then move on to a 2 o-clock shot, then a side shot or 3 o-clock shot. The following examples follow the movement I explained and also show a range of focal length and stance. dragon-fruit-additional-angles

4. Props This is where I differ slightly from other photographers in that I do not like to use a lot of props. I like to use minimal props so the food can speak for itself. Food is art and art always speaks loudly in its own way. I let the food do just that by minimizing the distraction. I also have a rule about using only what is relevant to food. A popular prop I use is linens. In this example you will see that one piece of linen can change the entire look of the photograph and can make or break the look. dragon-fruit-linen Another prop to consider is the plates you use. Never underestimate the power of the plain white plate. I shoot the majority of my foods on white plates and let the environment around them compliment the food. As you will see in these next examples, a busy plate can take away from the subject you are shooting. dragon-fruit-plates

5. Personal Touch Each photographer has their own personal touch. They have something about them that makes them perfectly unique. It is that personal touch that truly makes your photos your own. Armed with the above four tools, you can take your photos to the next level when including your personal vision. You will see a plate of food differently than the next photographer. You will envision different props and different scenes. Tap into what truly makes you who you are and use that to create your art. It is then that you will create a masterpiece that tells the story of the food you are photographingdragon-fruit-final-story
Jane Reed is a 25 year photography veteran located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her love of food and the stories it can tell are shared internationally on her blog The Green Tomato Experience. Her work can also be seen on her website www.janereedphoto.com. Feel free to interact with her on her blog, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter (@janereedphoto) as she loves to hear from others with a love of food and photography!

I hope you will all join me in thanking Jane for her post on food photography.  She has included links where to find her, so please go and take a look.  Here is a gallery with the above images and some more of her food photographs. Thank you Jane.

92 Comments
  1. That fruit seems new to me

    September 5, 2014
    • Jane reed #

      It is called Dragon fruit and I have only come across it once! It was very delicious!

      September 5, 2014
      • Dragon fruit is very common out here in Thailand and the rest of SE Asia. As Jane says very delicious and also a healthy fruit. Nice photos Jane.

        September 5, 2014
      • It is also called Pitara, and although very common throughout SEA it actually originates from Central America. It is the fruit of a cactus, which only flowers briefly (but spectacularly ) overnight.

        September 8, 2014
  2. A helpful entry like all your entries I have read so far Leanne. Not to mention that they always look beautiful. Food photography is really tough, it’s not just about the technique of taking a photo, but about the ingredients you get, the presentation… All the best and thank you for that one – I need to improve massively in this field.

    September 5, 2014
    • You are so right!! There is a lot to food photography. I prepare all of the dishes and I style them before I shoot them. It is a lot of work but I do enjoy the end results!!

      September 5, 2014
      • Yes true that, but I have to learn a lot on the styling part as well 🙂

        September 5, 2014
      • The styling was definitely the tricky part when I started. Start out very simple with just one or two props. I always start with just the plate and photograph it that way,then I will add another element and photograph and continue doing that until I have gotten the shot I want. 🙂

        September 5, 2014
      • I will follow you your homepage looks great and I think it will inspire me and it looks very professional – I am a newbie to all of that basically 🙂 I cook pretty decent as a guy who has to do with recipes and so on in his job (pharmacist). But have to get nice and neutral dishes, to begin with, before I should reconsider the cooking and the pictures. Thx for your input!

        September 5, 2014
      • You are welcome!! Feel free to ask any questions anytime!! I am always willing to answer!!!

        September 5, 2014
  3. It’s funny how, like so many kinds of photography, when you get it right, no one thinks about how great the photography is because you are too busy drooling over how yummy the food looks. But when you get it wrong, it stands out so much. I have a lot of experience with cook books and I can definitely say that the photography makes or breaks the book regardless of how great the recipes are. Thank you for the tips Jane. I’ll certainly be giving them a go!
    -Dee

    September 5, 2014
    • I cannot agree more!! When I get it wrong I can really tell it is wrong!! You are very welcome!!! I hope they are helpful! I am working on a cookbook right now and there have been enjoying seeing it all come together!! — Jane

      September 5, 2014
  4. Nothing is more popular on FB than food photography. I have a hard time with that because I’d rather just eat it. 🙂 Did you know that food is the “sex” in children’s books. Apparently, young children like just a touch of food in their story to give it some spice. 🙂 I don’t know if that’s true, but the Australian Writers’ Center taught me that. 🙂

    September 5, 2014
    • I love food and I love eating it when I am done photographing it!!! There have been times that it was tempting to eat and and forget the photos!! I did not know that about children’s books!! I learned something new today! Thank you!!!

      September 5, 2014
  5. Thank you Leanne and Jane. I love photography my food. Great tips.

    September 5, 2014
  6. Great and helpful post

    September 5, 2014
  7. Scary creature! That is FRUIT?

    September 5, 2014
    • It is scary looking isn’t it? I could not pass it up, but I admit I had to look it up to see what it actually was! I truly is a fruit! It tastes similar to kiwi.

      September 5, 2014
      • We get them here, but I’ve never tried, I might buy one the next time I see them.

        September 5, 2014
  8. Great article. Thanks for sharing. Always good to learn a trick or two. The photography is awesome too

    September 5, 2014
  9. Great shots and very informative. There is hope for me yet. I have also followed Jane on Facebook. Thanks for sharing Leanne ..

    September 5, 2014
    • My pleasure Julie.

      September 5, 2014
    • Thank you for following me on Facebook ! I look forward to interacting with you!!! Heading over to follow your blog now!!

      September 5, 2014
  10. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez #

    Great information! Is this like food stylist? I know some spray oil on foods to make it look jucier or reflective things to add light. I was only wondering. This was interesting as are all the posts here.

    September 5, 2014
    • Jane reed #

      I take all natural photos of food without all of the tricks to make it look good. I figure the food can speak for itself! I always photograph as soon as it is prepared so it looks fresh.

      September 5, 2014
  11. Thank you – interesting insight into food photography.

    September 5, 2014
    • Jane reed #

      You are very welcome!

      September 5, 2014
    • You’re very welcome!

      September 5, 2014
  12. Love this post. I photograph a lot of food for my blog and found a few useful tips and a couple of things I already do! Thank you Leanne and Jane.

    September 5, 2014
    • Jane reed #

      You are welcome!

      September 5, 2014
  13. Really love this Love food photography but I can never get it to look any good either it remains a challenge for me 🙂

    September 5, 2014
    • It was difficult for me in the beginning but I found over time and with lots of practice I got better. I actually began as a portrait photographer years ago, but my love of food took over! I truly do enjoy it!!!

      September 5, 2014
      • if I may ask what sort of lighting do you use ?

        September 5, 2014
      • I use natural light only. I bounce the light around with white boards to help with the shadowing, but always natural sunlight.

        September 5, 2014
      • Ah I was Hopi ng you would say that . I prefer natural light for every thing if I can manage it 🙂

        September 5, 2014
    • Most definitely! I am a natural light enthusiast!!

      September 7, 2014
  14. Reblogged this on The Green Tomato Experience and commented:
    I am honored to have been a guest blogger for Leanne Cole Photography. She has an amazing blog and is an amazing person! Check out her blog and my guest post. I have given some of my favorite tips on photographing food!!

    September 5, 2014
  15. Thank you so much, Jane. I’ve bookmarked this for future reference to improve on my own food photos. And that’s a click and follow. Thanks, Leanne!

    September 5, 2014
  16. This post was wonderful, but what really intrigued me was the last photo. Having an entire corner of white space (the table) was so perfect to counter the busy-ness of the pizza. I am guessing that was what you were suggesting to the viewer? I thought it was great.

    September 5, 2014
    • Yes it was! The pizza was very busy but adding the simplicity of the table countered that! Whenever I have a really busy plate I always make the surroundings simple. Thank you!

      September 5, 2014
  17. Very good guide.

    September 5, 2014
  18. Thank you both for this. Really helpful. And beautiful photos. Food is such a good subject!

    September 5, 2014
  19. Excellent, thanks for the tips.

    September 5, 2014
  20. Mouth watering photography!

    September 5, 2014
  21. nice pict…

    September 5, 2014
  22. Wonderful. You don’t see Dragon Fruit in the Western hemisphere. Lot grown in Taiwan.

    September 5, 2014
  23. Excellent insight into another genre of photography. Thanks to Jane Reed for the write up with pictures. Of course thanks to you Leanne for putting the post up. After all the tips I will give food photography a go.

    September 5, 2014
  24. I love food photography, great post!

    September 5, 2014
  25. KristerP #

    Although I don’t do food photography, I find that a crucial component is missing : Colour management (correct white balance and color management tools).

    September 5, 2014
    • Well that would be the case for all photography.

      September 5, 2014
      • KristerP #

        Yes, but I feel that in the case of product shots it’s essential IMO.

        September 5, 2014
    • Color management is crucial, but I also figured is a given since it is crucial for all types of photography. Very good point though!

      September 5, 2014
  26. Very helpful information, as usual. Whatever that last food item is, it looks simply delicious and now I am hungry! Thanks Leanne and jane!

    September 5, 2014
  27. This is such an interesting post.
    I’ll remember the oclocks.
    Thank you Jane and Leanne 🙂

    September 5, 2014
  28. kim #

    oh my god, the pictures are so cool! i love the colours of this fruit 🙂

    kim xx
    http://fullmoonthrills.wordpress.com/

    September 5, 2014
  29. Reblogged this on Scott Forward Photography and commented:
    It recent years Instagram has given birth to a whole generation of people who enjoy nothing more than snapping a shot of the food in front of them and posting to social media for the whole world to enjoy.

    Is there a correct way to photograph your food? Is there anything you can do to make your food pictures more appetizing? Leanne Cole shares 5 essentials for better food photography.

    September 5, 2014
  30. Ahh.. mouthwatering pix.. how I miss my regular feast of dragon fruit (back in Bali)… can’t wait to get back and indulge! Thanks for sharing these photos – yummmm 😉

    September 6, 2014
    • You’re welcome!!! I have never been to Bali..but would love to go!! Maybe one day!!!

      September 6, 2014
      • Yes do! And meanwhile, if you have any DF recipes to share, then please do share them as well 😉

        September 8, 2014
      • I wish I had some DF recipes to share, unfortunately I have only found them once here in the states!!

        September 8, 2014
  31. LB #

    So glad for this post! I’ve never had much success with food photography and Jane’s tips are great!

    September 6, 2014
  32. I have always found food photography a challenge. The light never seems right and the background tends to seem too cluttered. Glad to hear from someone who knows how to do it!

    September 6, 2014
  33. Thanks for the tip. I have a question… I need some tips on how to rake jewelry pictures… I want to sell on Etsy, but the pictures are not coming out all that great… Can you make any suggestions?

    September 6, 2014
    • I would definitely make sure your lighting is good. The lighting can make or break a picture. Try using whiteboards to bounce the light so there are not a whole lot of shadows around the jewelry. The shadows can take away from the beauty of the jewelry. Also, try shooting the photos on a solid background (if you are not already doing so) so there is no distraction from the jewelry itself!!! Hope that helps!!

      September 6, 2014
  34. Great, informative article, except that you’re making me hungry!

    September 6, 2014
    • Thank you! I figure if it makes you hungry then it is a good photograph!!!!

      September 6, 2014
  35. nkemdilim #

    Oh my God! Thank you so much! This post is awesome! The pictures are even more awesomer! Thanks to you and Jane! I loooovvvvee food as you will see from my blog and love photography too! My husband and I spend countries minutes trying to capture the food properly and your tips have been immensely illuminating (pun intended). Thank you!

    September 6, 2014
    • You are so very welcome!!! I am glad the tips are helpful!! I am heading over to follow your blog now!!! Can’t wait to see your food photos!!!

      September 6, 2014
      • nkemdilim #

        Yay! Errrmmmm my food photos are work in Progress but with you as my trusty mentor things are about to get a whole lot better!😄

        September 7, 2014
      • Most definitely! ! I will do my best to help! You have amazing talent in making your food works of art. I really enjoyed looking at all of it on Facebook! !!

        September 7, 2014
      • nkemdilim #

        Thank you!!! ♥️

        September 7, 2014
  36. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Very practical tips and tricks to achieving spectacular food photography..

    September 7, 2014
  37. Food photography is definitely a challenge. I agree styling is the hardest part of the image to get right. I shoot mostly macro and use the same lighting tips (tricks) with food photography. Enjoyed the post!

    Tamara

    September 29, 2014

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