LeAnne Shor is a celebrated food photographer, writer, and content creator. She is also the creator of the Lion’s Bread food blog, where she shares tons of great content, including mouthwatering recipes and photos. We asked Shor for some advice on how to shoot food, and she gave us these five great tips.
Lighting Is Everything
Without good light, it doesn’t matter how you style your food; the subject won’t look appealing or appetizing. So, what is good light? This is somewhat subjective, but generally, good light enhances the true colors and textures of food, and creates realistic shadows and highlights, so the real-time beauty of the food is translated through the photograph.
A few ways to achieve good light are to start by turning off all overhead lighting. Overhead lights and floor lamps usually give off yellow tones that can alter the natural hues of your food. When starting out, use natural light if you can. I generally set up next to a north- or west-facing window, and use diffused indirect light. If you want really dramatic shadows, and bright highlights, try shooting in direct light, as well. Morning light is very different than afternoon light, so experiment with your subject (food) throughout the day to find the lighting that you like the best.
A large part of creating a consistent style is using consistent lighting. If you pay close attention to shooting food in good light from the beginning, you'll have very little editing to do later. However, if your lighting and shadows are not perfect, there are ways to manipulate the images using editing software such as Adobe Lightroom to enhance the photo even more.
Composition can feel overwhelming, but there are a few concepts that will help elevate any food photo.
Diagonals: Beginner food photographers often think that you should line up all of the props and subjects to be straight and square. Sometimes this works, but oftentimes makes the image feel static and flat. On the flip side, creating diagonal lines within a photo adds dynamic movement that is so much more interesting. You can create diagonal lines using anything from silverware to linens, crumbs, or sheet pans. It creates the feeling that the image is part of a larger scene, and the viewer is getting a peek into another magical, delicious world.
Negative Space: Leaving an “empty” corner/section in an image is really important for the viewer. When an image is packed with elements in every corner, it’s overwhelming and often chaotic―not generally the mood you’re going for when capturing food. Leave negative space to allow the viewer's eye to rest and focus on the main subject. Additionally, the props you use should enhance the beauty of the main subject, not distract the viewer and take attention away from it. The idea of negative space is also tied into the “theory of thirds” in photography. Essentially, your frame should be divided into three equal sections: The focal point (content) should be concentrated in one of those sections; the second third should have less content, and the final third should be relatively bare, giving the viewer plenty of negative space. The focal point definitely does not have to be in the center of the frame! In fact, it's usually more interesting if the focal point is off-center.
Framing: The concept of framing is exactly what is sounds like. In food photography, it's important to create frames around the subjects to guide the viewer's attention and focus. For example, this usually means placing a tray of muffins on top of a larger cutting board or cooling rack that is the same rectangular shape. You're layering two shapes, and the larger bottom shape creates a frame. Another example is to layer smaller plates on top of larger plates. This technique is really effective for creating depth, visual interest, and a sense of abundance―all crucial to an engaging food photo.
Repetition: This is one of my favorite ways to elevate any food photo, and extremely simple to achieve! Creating repetition of shapes in a photo instantly creates a visually appealing photo. A very common shape in food photography is the circle, such as plates, glasses, platters, cookies, cakes, or pies. If your subject is circular, place it on a circular surface, and echo the shape with your supporting props. The repetition creates a sense of consistency, unity, and calm in a photo. Notice food photos that contain several different shapes―the result is usually chaotic and lacks professionalism.
Try not to think of a food photo as a static image. You’re telling a story through this capture. Adding details like crumbs, drips, drizzles, supporting ingredients, and tools around the “hero” of your shot makes images so much more engaging and interesting. The reality of preparing food is a process―all the way from shopping for ingredients, prepping, cooking, and ultimately serving.
We all know that food is the one element of our lives that is truly universal, and sharing a meal with friends and family is a commonality that joins us. Try to incorporate extra plates, silverware, and cups into your food photography to tell the story of how the food will be shared and enjoyed. The story is rarely perfect, so capturing the imperfections is one of the most beautiful elements that you as a photographer can create.
Use Manual Mode
OK, this might not be what you want to hear, but it’s truth. DSLR cameras usually have several modes, such as presets, that make taking great photos easier. However, understanding aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is absolutely critical! Manual mode is the only way to control these three pillars of good food photography. These three settings all deal with the amount of light your lens lets in, which then determines the depth of field, clarity, exposure, saturation, and much more. Food photography is often like a still life (unless you're capturing an action shot like a pour, drip, or drizzle).
Practice Makes Perfect
You should practice until you develop your own style! Be creative and don’t try to mimic anyone else’s style. Just the way food is extremely personal, capturing its beauty and telling its story is also unique and personal. As creators, we are all inspired by other people's work. But don’t be tempted to try to recreate another’s photo. Learning to take great food photos is a journey that takes time and a lot of practice. Be gentle and patient with yourself as you’re learning this new craft.
Start to become aware of the styles that you like. Are they bright and vibrant? Do they have darker, moody shadows, and muted tones? What are the common colors to which your eye is drawn? Figuring out all of these very personal preferences will help you to develop your own unique style. Before shooting your own food photographs, make a mental (or physical) checklist of all of the elements you want to include in your image―such as colors, props, and composition. Try to be intentional before you start snapping away, so that you have fewer images to sift through when choosing your final “money shots.”
Questions about shooting food photography or tips of your own? We’d love to hear them! Let us know in the Comments section, down below.
And for more mouth-watering articles, check out our Food Photography page—your source for all things food-related.