Did you know there are 217,239,791 Instagram posts with the hashtag food? Incidentally, that number is increasing exponentially as you read this. Yes, that means millions of food-crazed folk are busy taking pictures of, well, food. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. I am. For home cooks, prep-cook-and-eat has now evolved into prep-shoot-cook-shoot-shoot-and-eat (complete with props!). You’ll notice, even when dining in restaurants, it’s become the norm to whip out a phone or camera and start snapping away. And doing whatever it takes to get that perfect shot, even if it means–to the dismay of the people in the next booth–getting up on a chair or at times, a table.
Food has taken center stage and has never looked this delicious. How many of us have bought food magazines or cookbooks because of their cover photo? Even a simple runny egg yolk, when photographed well, transforms into a sensual delight that looks sexy as hell and evokes all senses and emotions. Suddenly, you’re craving for eggs…and other things!
Whether you’re thinking of a career in food photography, are an amateur eater or a restaurateur who needs to take photos for marketing purposes, or are even an Instagram-obsessed foodie, these tips will surely take your food shots to the next level. We asked some of the industry’s best to share their most useful tips.
Image by Pat Martires
Freshly cooked food and a few props make a big difference.
“Shoot the food as soon as it comes off the stove. The food is the star of your setup, and nothing beats the look of freshly cooked dishes—think glistening sauce, perky lettuce leaves, super crunchy breading, steaming hot rice, sizzling sisig. Feel free to move ingredients around (e.g. let the tomatoes peek out of your burger) so that you can see each component of the dish. The dish you’re shooting doesn’t always need to be presented perfectly—a little smudge, a little drop, a little crack make the photo more interesting. A little imperfection goes a long way. Don’t forget to make use of incidentals: cutlery, glassware, china, linen, and interesting surfaces. Although you shouldn’t take too much time shooting your food before eating it, you can spare a couple of minutes to take the winning photo! Compose the shot by using whatever is on the tabletop: salt and pepper shakers, a pretty vase, patterned napkins, a stack of plates—you want to capture the ambience of the restaurant or the feel of the meal through the accessories that they use. I also like to layer textures: hard marble with crumpled linen runner, a worn wooden surface with a fuzzy napkin. If you spy a beautifully tiled countertop, don’t be afraid to shoot your dish on that surface. That being said, you should remember that the food is the star, so your incidentals should only complement the dish, not overpower it.”
-Paulynn Chang Afable, editor-in-chief, Yummy Magazine
Images by Aldwin Aspillera
Don’t be afraid of your food.
Use natural light, always. Try to get a seat near the window when you’re shooting in a restaurant. If there are no windows or it’s nighttime, avoid using flash. Don’t be afraid of your food. Go in close and shoot those textures and details that make food so delectable. Make use of what’s already in the restaurant like a white table napkin which makes a great reflector.”
-Aldwin Aspillera, photographer and home baker
Image by Pat Martires
Think small and experiment with angles.
“Use small plates. A big plate with just a bit of food can make the whole image look too loose. Rotate the plate a few times to look for the nicest side of the dish. Shooting at a 45-degree angle can make all the difference in a world of flat lays. When shooting in restaurants, be discreet, shoot quick. Don’t be that annoying customer that attracts so much attention by taking a million shots and standing up on chairs and tables.”
-Zee Castro-Talampas, food stylist and former food editor
Image by Pat Martires
Pick a focal point.
“Take the lead in composing the shots to lead the viewer to what you want them to see, whether you are doing it via lighting, complimenting contrasting colors, composition or props, all eyes should lead to where you want the viewer to look. Keeping things simple can work just as effectively as having a lot going on in the frame. Shooting in a restaurant? Do not mix different lighting sources, especially if they are different colors. Personally, I like showing the texture of food, so having a reflector is great but not using one can give a different effect.”
-Pat Martires, photographer
Fascinating food fact: Pat has shot more than 50 covers for Yummy Magazine.
Image by Pat Martires, Styled byShar Tan
Tell a story and pick a pretty background.
“The photo should tell a story, especially when posting on social media. Put the food in a particular setting, against a nice background, or set it with props around it. Highlight the ingredients that make up the dish. Look for an area with a good source of natural light. A pretty surface, whether a nice wooden table or a brick wall, makes a big difference.”
-Sharlene Tan, commercial and editorial food stylist, restaurateur, and food columnist.
Image by Miguel Nacianceno
Natural light is best.
“Experiment with macro shots or shots with a lot of negative space as long as the subject is clearly defined. Shoot with natural light coming from a huge window. Harsh, artificial yellow or blue lighting is a no-no. Never use on-camera or direct flash.”
-Miguel Nacianceno, photographer
Image by Pat Martires
Action shots are fun.
“Action makes the shot more interesting. Make the ice cream melt a little, take a cheesy spoonful out of your dip, and add human elements to the photo but always make sure your props make sense and feel organic to your main subject. Lastly, try different angles. A top shot won’t always cut it when there are interesting layers and textures in the dish.”
–Trixie Zabal-Mendoza, digital managing editor, Yummy.ph
Images by Toto Labrador
Composition is key.
“Mind your composition. Remember the Rule of Thirds, though sometimes, it looks best to put the dish in the middle of the frame. Make sure the dish you’re shooting is the star of the shot, surround it with ingredients that make up the dish or props that are related to it. A tripod also comes in handy especially if you’ve got shaky hands.”
-Toto Labrador, photographer
Image by Marti Bartolome
Make a mess!
“Perfection is boring. Food looks good and makes the most impact when it looks the way it’s supposed to look. Let the ice cream melt, let the crumbs fall, let there be mess! The real challenge in food styling is making food look good in its natural state. Go for action shots like lifting a pizza. By adding context, the photo becomes more than just about the food, it becomes about the whole eating experience.”
-Trinka Gonzales, commercial and editorial prop stylist and former food editor