Take Better Food Pictures

how to take better

Okay let me start by saying I’m VERY average with food photography. I find inspiration all over the place.

  1. Minimalist Baker
  2. Molly Yeh
  3. Bakers Royale
  4. Stupid Easy Paleo
  5. Eat Your Beets
  6. What Should I Eat For Breakfast Today

Those are some of my favorites. And for just regular ole photography stuff, I really like Cupcakes & Cashmere and A Beautiful Mess. << Those are their food pictures because…. well, that’s my favorite sort of picture. Anyway, like I said, I’m not a pro, BUT I’ve gotten way better. And I have picked up a few tips and tricks, especially regarding Instagram editing. You can do a lot inside the Instagram app! And since that’s where I spend a lot of time, I will focus mostly on that aspect. First let me just show you how I’ve progressed. I first started out in June 2014: june 2014 side by side They weren’t the worst thing in the world. I knew a little about lighting – just a little. more recent pics Improvement! They aren’t amazing or anything, but I can see that I’ve come a little ways. So I’m going to share the few tips I have (and maybe every 6 months or so, I’ll tweak this post, as I learn more and more). These are tips you can use no matter what sort of camera you have – even if it’s just your phone’s camera. 1. Make sure you can tell what’s in the picture. You may not be able to tell exactly what’s in the food, but you should at least be able to tell it’s bread or soup or whatever. (I’m not consistent with this because sometimes it’s obvious to me, since I’m the one who made it! I’m working on it…) 2. Daylight is the best lighting. If you happen to take a picture at night and don’t have natural light (or you live in a part of the world where it’s dark a lot of the year), then you can buy lighting that mimics daylight. OR just take a picture with unnatural lighting and fix it a little afterwards, either on your computer or directly in Instagram (or another photo editing app). Here’s a side by side of the same plate: #1 is in the living room, the lights are off, and I’m by the window. #2 is in the pool hall (where the pool table is), the lights are on, there’s not a lot of sunlight coming in, and I’m not by the window. I’m using my iPhone for both, no filters, no flash. Image-1The biggest difference in the lighting is the warmth factor. Sunlight is naturally a little blue and most unnatural light is more red. So you just have to balance out the red. Let me show you what I mean…. I’m going to edit the picture on the right, using Instagram’s options. First, when you choose a picture, you’ll see 3 icons: (1) The first one is for preset filters: you can change the intensity of the filters by hitting the filter twice (Below I used the filter Reyes). You can add a frame if you want by touching the square next to the scroll bar. Image-1 (1)   (2) The second one is just enhances the picture somehow. I never really use that feature, so maybe it’s awesome if you figure it out! (3) My favorite is the third one: it looks like a wrench. It’s all the options for editing a picture. It includes these options (as of May 3, 2015):

  • Adjust (rotate, flip, etc.)
  • Brightness (exposure, basically)
  • Contrast (can make the whites whiter and the darks darker OR make them more like each other, depending on which direction you move the lever)
  • Warmth (how red, basically)
  • Saturation (increase or decrease the intensity of the individual colors)
  • Color (put a colored tint to the entire thing)
  • Fade (adds a faint haze to the picture)
  • Highlights (makes the whites either lighter or darker)
  • Shadows (makes the darks either lighter or darker)
  • Vignette (adds a hint of a black frame to the whole picture)
  • Tilt shift (focuses on one part of the picture, in either a circle or rectangle, and makes the rest of the picture blurry)
  • Sharpen (just enhances the individually pixels… good for a slightly blurry picture)

I use a few of those nearly every single time: Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Fade. I’m going to edit the second picture (same as earlier), the one taken in the unnatural light. Since the unnatural light adds extra warmth, the first thing I want to do is lower the warmth setting. Image-1 (2) Next I want to increase the saturation. I’m also going to makes the whites whiter (so increase the highlights). Image-1 (3) It still seems a little dark to me, so I’ll increase the overall brightness and add just a touch of a fade. Image-1 (4) I can add a little vignette, play around with the colors some, and then upload the image! Here’s a before and after of the unnatural-light picture: Image-1 (5) It’s not a super big difference. But it’s not as orange and not as dark! I started with a poor quality, bad lighting photo and made it a little better. NOW I’m going to do the same things to the natural-light picture. It’s already a better shot because of the lighting… I’m just going to enhance it a little. Image-1 (6) They are VERY similar. But you can see in the white of the plate that it’s a bit lighter on the right. And the fries are just a tiny bit more orange. When you start with something a little better, you don’t have as much work to do! ALSO if you can, pick a window where the sun is coming in the best. It might mean you’re taking a food picture in the living room for breakfast and in the kitchen for lunch, you know? 3. Use a reflector! I take most food pictures right by the window. Sometimes the shadows are too harsh, but a reflector helps! I just use a big white foam board, but you can anything that’s white, to gently reflect some light onto the backside of the photo. Let me show you the difference….(again these are just iPhone pictures!): Image-1 (7) It’s subtle! But if you look in a few places, you can see more light on the right. Check out the top right corner of the plate, for one. And another one, if you look at a few of the fries, there’s less shadow on the right picture.  It’s more drastic earlier in the day (it’s late afternoon at the moment).  4. Play with angles and perspective. Move the camera closer or further. Shoot from above or the side. Lots of folks have a style. There are gastroartists (like all of these folks) who use a minimalist approach and leave lots of negative space. And others have a style where the whole shot is filled (like this).  5. Background and props. I’m bad at this. I’m working on it! But I’m still bad at it. For example, pancakes! They are great and tasty. But do you just eat pancakes? Most of the time, no. You have bacon and eggs on the side. Or there’s maple syrup on top. At the very least, there’s a cup of coffee on the side. MY pictures are just the pancakes. I just don’t have the foresight or creativity (yet) to create the rest of the shot. It’s important to consider the background – you don’t want it to be too cluttered, unless it’s relevant. If you’re taking pictures of your baby’s tray, having him or his highchair or his tiny fingers in the shot makes sense. 


Photo Editing Apps I’ve got just a few apps that I use for any sort of photo editing:

  1. Rhonna Designs (iPhone or Android) for adding text
  2. Pixlr (iPhone or Android) for making collages
  3. Instagram (iPhone or Android) for editing and sharing

I use Canva (web or iPad) for nearly all my photo editing. Sometimes I’ll use Photoshop, but generally that’s for big projects that have a lot of layers. You can also use Lightroom on your computer (which is part of the Adobe family). I know lots of folks use Vsco Cam (iPhone or Android), Pic Monkey (web), and A Beautiful Mess (iPhone or Android), but I don’t use them regularly.        

  • Milena90

    This is so informative! I think I might go through every single post haha! Great post!!!

    • blwideas

      Thanks 🙂