Food photography tips and tricks

by James McQuarrie, professional photographer
The Memory Store

One of the things about photography that I love is the amount of artistic freedom you are allowed. With food photography tips/tricks, you don’t have to take a photograph any particular way. You don’t have to work with a particular exposure. In my experience in photography, you generally start out with an idea, and as you work on that idea it changes. It evolves into something else and that’s the image that you end up with.

In food photography it is no different. You have to have an idea of what you want to photograph, how you want to photograph it, and what you want it to look like in the final image. I will go over some of the things here that will help you make your food photography stand out.

  • Keep it simple
  • Lighting will make the shot
  • Use fresh Ingredients
  • Use simple props

Keep it simple.
Put your camera on a tripod and use a cable release. It will slow you down, but it will give you time to think. It will allow you to use both hands to move things around as you need to.

Why make things more complicated than they have to be? The more food and props you have in the shot the more you have to organize in the shot. The more you have to be concerned about lighting, depth of field. If you keep things simple you can still get great shots without the headache of having overworked the shot creating unnecessary problems.

Lighting will make the shot.
As with most photography, lighting generally makes or breaks the image. When doing food photography, I generally use only one light and some reflectors to fill in the shadows. It is a simple way to get great shots.

In the shot above I used a technique called light painting. You basically darken the room and set the camera to the required aperture. Set the camera to bulb and trip the shutter. You then use a flashlight to light the subject and as you move the light over the subject the exposure is made. It is a bit hit and miss but it can produce some interesting results.

Want a more traditional photograph of food? Use a window with reflectors, or if you have a strobe and a softbox, this will also produce a nice soft light which is the type of light that works very well in food photography. You don’t want harsh shadows or very dark areas. Food photography should make people want to eat; it should make them feel hungry.

Use Only Fresh Ingredients.
How can you expect to make people feel hungry or want to eat what you photograph if it is not fresh? It just will not work. Get fresh ingredients to photograph, and it is also very important that you store them correctly.

When the time comes for you to use them, you want them as fresh as possible. So don’t go out buy fresh ingredients and just stick them in the fridge. Make sure they are not getting squashed. Make sure you have your exposure correct also. Use a prop to test lighting before you bring out the food.

Use Simple Props.
The props you choose are very important and should add to the overall image. Think about it; if you are going to photograph apples, do you need salt and pepper on the table or a knife and fork? They don’t work together.

That’s the question you should be asking, does this set up work together? If it does leave it in; if it doesn’t take it away.  Food photography is something that you can generally take your time over and get it right. Don’t be afraid to tear everything down and start again from scratch. I have done quite a lot of food photography over the years and I enjoy it because you have time and you can control every aspect of the shoot.

Lighting food from the front gives a very flat look and it does not make the food look at its best. You are very likely to be using backlighting or side lighting for your food photography. When you have your lighting and your table set up, start to set up your food. Start with one item and add to it. View the plate from various angles. Ask yourself what does it look like from low down, or from above. 










In the two shots above the only thing that was changed was the background. This shows how little things can have a big impact on your photography.

As you add things you should be looking for shadows and reflections. Generally you want to avoid dark shadows and strong reflections; nothing should distract the viewer’s eye from the food.  In the shot at top (Seabass and Lemon) there are nice colours and enough depth of field that it looks sharp.

You also want to make sure that everything is spotless clean. Clean plates (I recommend white plates) and no watermarks on kitchen utensils. If you pay attention to the details you will succeed in creating wonderful food photography.

What Lens.
So what lens will you need to get good shots of food? I would recommend that you use a Macro lens. It will allow you to get close enough to fill the frame with life-size small food items. If you don’t have a macro lens, a zoom lens that covers the range of around 135mm would be a good choice. Since you have the camera on a tripod, camera shake should not be a problem.

One of the best parts of food photography is after you finish, you can eat it. So enjoy! 

To see more of my images or to contact me, visit and

Images by James McQuarrie

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