Getting the most out of your food photography

Getting the most out of your food photography

In this digitally connected age, DIY marketing is more doable and accessible than ever before. With social media, and high quality cameras now literally in everyone’s pockets, more and more business owners in the food industry are sharing their products online to drum up business. We’ve put together some simple tips and tricks from the food photography experts to make sure you’re getting your products’ best side ever time!

Photography is like any other skill in that it takes time and practice to develop. While you can’t go past professional photography, it isn’t always feasible in the fast-paced food industry – especially for those daily social media posts – so we’ve asked the experts in food photography for some hints you can use every day to get the most out of what you have on hand.

Location, location, location!

Getting the most out of your food photography  

Sydney-based photographer Murray Harris regularly shoots beautiful images for Baking Business, and says that one of the biggest mistakes he sees novice food photographers make is not considering the location first.

Rather than taking pictures “where the food happens to be, like directly under a spotlight of under a fluoro light” – the likes of which are a staple in many commercial kitchens and stores – Murray suggests moving it to a better spot with improved lighting and surrounds.

Let there be light

Getting the most out of your food photography  Getting the most out of your food photography

Speaking of lighting, it’s actually one of the most important aspects for taking a great photo, and can mean the difference between a product that makes your audience’s mouth water, and one that makes their eyes water (you definitely want to avoid the latter!). You most likely don’t have professional photography lighting on hand, but there are ways to work with what you’ve got.

“My ‘go to’ light source is window light if there are windows available where you are shooting,” says Murray.

“If you can place the food closer to a window (not in direct sun) and not have any artificial light – such as fluoro, spot or down lights also shining down – you will get a much better result, with softer appealing lighting.”

Murray also suggests ensuring your lighting comes from a single source – such as a big window, and ensuring any other lights in the room are turned off, as multiple light sources (which are different colours) will affect how your product looks.

Where possible, also try to have your light coming in side on, to create some nice soft shadows and depth and texture to your product.

“Use a plain white card on the shadow side of the product just out of shot to reflect light or ‘bounce’ some light back in to lighten the shadow areas if you think it’s too dark,” Murray says.

Look at the bigger picture


You’ve moved your product to a better location with a natural light source highlighting its best features, so now all you need to do it point and shoot, right? Well, not quite, says Harris.

“There are a few things to consider, such as the height of the food,” he says.

“Is it a flat product like a bowl of soup, or is it a tall product, like a wedding cake with multiple layers?

“If its soup, then you would tend to shoot from above and look down. If it’s a tall wedding cake, then maybe level or straight on to show height.”

Murray explains that it’s also essential to pay attention to what you can see in the frame around and behind the product.

“Consider what the bowl of soup is sitting on – the table surface for instance – as shooting down, you shouldn’t see the floor or the wall behind. If it’s the cake you may want to consider that you may see the wall behind it, so pay attention to what that looks like.

“Then we use the ‘rule of thirds’ to help with composition, making sure the main standout of the composition is on a 1/3 line.”

When using the rule of thirds, imagine your image is divided evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of those dividing lines or along one of the lines itself, instead of being centred. This draws the viewer’s eye into the composition, instead of just glancing at the centre.

Like to move it, move it


Movement isn’t normally something we’d think about when taking photos of something inanimate, like food, but Murray says movement plays an important role in making food look more appealing in photographs.

“A lot of food is actually ‘moving’ so treat it like it’s a live subject,” he says.

“Whether it’s a dressing on a salad than runs off, gravy on a roast which looks good for the first few seconds then ends up on the plate, or cream on a bun. Eventually it will look pretty bad, so shoot a ’sample’ first, so you have it all composed, and then shoot it live – either pour on that dressing, or gravy and shoot it as it meanders down – you’ll get some great shots to choose from.”

Strengthen your social game

Director of Melbourne’s Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, Darren Purchese, says that social media is the popular brand’s primary source of marketing. And with more than 73,000 Instagram followers, they’re obviously doing something right.

“Our Instagram, as well as other social media accounts, have been built organically by us over a long period of time,” Darren says.

“I generally post one of two things; a professionally shot product shot, or an iPhone shot of something that is being made in the shop, either finished or in production. Our accounts have grown steadily over time and we interact with our followers regularly. We try to respond to or ‘like’ most comments and we also post on our Facebook and Twitter accounts at the same time.”

Rather than employing someone to run their social media accounts, Darren and his wife Cath prefer to do it themselves, which gives them the flexibility to post as things are happening in the shop.

“I think our followers appreciate the personal part of our accounts; it is usually pretty obvious that I am posting on the accounts and this makes each post feel genuine,” he says.

“The spontaneity means you can post a great behind the scenes shot of something you are making or quickly announce a special that you are doing for the weekend to try and get more sales or engagement.

“You need to be careful in wording your posts so they don’t sound too much like an advert; if you make them fun then you will get engagement.

“Recently I thought it would be a bit funny to make a dessert that looked like a loo roll; I made the cake and posted the shot on a Friday evening announcing that we had the answer to the toilet roll shortage. The post quickly gained a massive amount of likes and interest and lots of people shared as it seemed to strike a chord due to the shortage of loo roll.

“We realised we would be inundated the next day and made extra portions to cope with the rush. The result was a super busy couple of trade days which may not have happened or been possible had we not posted or if every social post for the week had been planned or we employed a social media manager that eliminates the spontaneous ability to do it yourself.”

Cheats to make your product shots pop


We’ve all ordered a fast food burger and wondered why it doesn’t look as good in the flesh as in the advertisement. While you don’t want your food products to seem fake, sometimes what looks delicious in person doesn’t translate well to a photograph. Here are some quick tricks advertisers sometimes use to make food more appealing in photos:

  • Cardboard spacers to add height to food (think cakes, burgers… anything with layers)
  • Toothpicks to hold ingredients in the ideal position
  • Brushing with vegetable oil to add shine
  • Browning liquid brushed on to meats and baked items
  • Shaving cream instead of whipped cream holds up longer under lights and doesn’t melt
  • Cotton balls soaked and microwaved to create steam

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