One of the most satisfying and eye-catching types of photos on any blog is delicious snapshots of tasty food. Regardless of where it’s from or the style of cooking, if it looks good, it’s worth a like, or even a virtual bite. While food pictures are some of the most popular types of images to view online and through social media platforms, a skillful approach is needed. Simply taking a grainy, unbalanced snapshot of a Big Mac is not going to cut it. Through this article, I will present five tips for taking stunning photos of food.

Let’s get started. Some of these tips offer a background in art concepts and how they apply to the theme of food in photos. Another thing is to be sure your food is properly plated. Last but not least, I’ll present an essential tool for any image-heavy blog: photo editing software and offer a few examples of how it can improve your content.

1. Balancing composition

Regardless of medium, making sure an image is properly balanced can make or break a photo. We as humans tend to look at pictures a certain way, and through the centuries artists have used this method. It isn’t to enhance a photo, it makes it worth looking at for more than a glance. The rule of thirds is a method artists use to properly compose a painting or image.

Rule of Thirds

As you can see, we separate the image into sections to better understand what it may need to be properly presented. Although you may see this concept presented in a few different ways, I feel this grid goes best with food presentation. The two vertical lines represent your balance. Think of the center as a fulcrum, and every aspect of the image has weight. If you were to place an image dead center, it wouldn’t move the fulcrum and would be considered something like a portrait. Which is one of the safer approaches, particularly for a single plate/bowl of food.

However, putting too much “weight” on one side, without proper balance, will make the picture feel unfocused to the viewer. This is a physical sensation. The viewer’s brain will be constantly trying to refocus itself on the picture. It doesn’t mean you can’t have things off center; it just means a “counterweight” needs to be there. Remember also the feel of weight. Silverware alone is not going to feel “heavy” enough for a robust bowl of soup. However, put a tall drink with it and it will have better balance and make for an overall better presentation.

2. Lighting

example of bad lighting

Image source: Yelp

This is almost as important as balance in good photos. However, when it comes to food, it’s better to keep it simple. It’s important to use natural lighting, particularly if you intend to do photo editing, so make sure that flash is off. Since, for the most part, you will want a visible unobstructed image of food, there are only a few things to consider. First is making sure your shadow does not affect the image, so balance yourself with the primary light source — the most intense light, and usually the closest.

The above is a common example of bad lighting. The person is too close, and the light is directly above the image. Here’s how to avoid this. The best approach to light is having it hit the food from the “front” side of your image, slightly to the side. Stand even with the light, in other words, don’t be in front or behind the primary light source. And what most miss is to get some distance, not too far, but far enough to make sure your reflection does not affect the image. Standing too close to the bun of a hamburger in a bright red shirt will cast that color to the bun. Just remember, fast food places and even restaurants rarely have the ambient lighting you need. When you see those fantastic pictures done with what appears to be horrible lighting, it’s because of tip 5.

3. Contrast

serving example

Image source: Unsplash

Contrast when it comes to food will mostly deal with the background. You just need to make sure the color of the dishware contrasts with either the background or table. Napkins, linens, and even serving plates (these actually look great) are common items you can use to contrast your dishware with where it’s being placed.

4. Plating

Image source: Unsplash

Although the cook is supposed to handle this, sometimes it may be haphazardly placed (in a smaller venue) or you may just want it different. This is the same concept as balanced composition, however, you want the food to balance itself with what it’s served alongside. A burger with fries is a great example.

As you see, there is a condiment server on this plate, and the fries are almost side by side with the burger. This plate isn’t heavy in any one area, and the image itself is centered, so you focus directly on the plated contents. This photo would still be appealing from the common “eagle eye” view as well since the condiment container will balance the sections of the place from that view. Speaking of eagle eye views, don’t take them unless you can balance the plate, use a front end photo like above instead.

5. Photo editing

Getting into the “how to” with photo editing software is beyond the scope of this article. So I’ll show an example of what you can do, and offer a few software solutions. It’s the best way to fix any issues that affect your photo (like bad restaurant lighting.) Corel Paintshop, Adobe Photoshop, and GIMP (100% free) are great solutions for photo editing. I personally use Aftershot 3. As you can see in the next image, it can turn something unusable into something brighter and more visible. It took about thirty seconds to enhance this image.

bad lighting enhanced

Image source: Yelp


In closing, the best approach is what appeals to you, while adding structure to the methods you use. Just keep in mind, pretty much everyone’s methods include enhancing their photos with editing. Either way, no blog is complete without some real flavor.