7 Steps to Sexy Food Photography

As the super-sized age of food and media continues to spiral into a web of finding out who ate what, where, when, how and with whom, we’re continually on the lookout for more exciting ways satisfy our insatiable appetites for food porn – ourselves included.

With Facebook’s $1bn acquisition of Instagram, the food-dominated app forecasts the sunny future of digital photo sharing, especially when it comes to what’s on your plate.

Whether you want to find out which ingredients you need to make President Obama’s family chilli recipe, or what Jessica Alba’s guilty pudding pleasures are, new platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram ensure you can do it in a flash. Media like this gives a whole new meaning to sharing your dinner, and our appetites are getting more and more rapacious.

If you’re keen on publishing pictures of your eating adventures for the world to see, we’ll help you get through the basics and will leave the details about fancy-schmancy camera gear and pricey editing software to the masters.

All you need are these seven easy essentials to ensure a sexy food photo every time.

1. Make sure the food looks gorgeous

Ever felt the desperate urge to quickly snap an image at the moment a dish appears in front of you; perky frosting atop a cupcake, trickling sauce almost kissing a plate? Us, too.

Sometimes it’s completely natural – either you’re in a restaurant where the food looks impeccable, or your hearty home-cooked stew just happens to look irresistible.

Other times, you might have to fake it – we’re not referring to myths about cotton wool ice cream and acrylic ice cubes. Keep it as natural as possible and let the beautifully-plated dish be the star.

However, if it just so happens to be the case that a pair of tweezers or a paintbrush is just the thing you need, we won’t tell anyone. After all, a little meticulousness never hurt anyone. Here are a few basics to bear in mind:

• A quick wipe around a bowl or plate with piece of kitchen paper dipped in lemon juice will remove any unwelcome grease marks.

• Spritz a leafy salad with an atomiser filled with water for that extra-fresh look.

• Place bread in the bottom of a bowl of soup and cover completely to allow the main ingredients to sit on top rather than sink to the bottom.

• Always work in odd numbers, never evens – it looks more attractive to the eye.

• Don’t spend a bomb on props. Pick a few key pieces of crockery and cutlery you know will work well with most dishes you cook to begin with.

• Cover your window with a large piece of white greaseproof paper or tracing paper to diffuse bright daylight.

2. Be friends with your camera

Don’t have a fancy camera? Fear not, you can still take a great food snap with a regular digital camera or camera phone. All you need to do is work out how to set as many functions as manually as you can.

You may have the option to adjust the exposure (the total amount of light allowed to fall onto the camera’s image sensor) of the photo which is a great control to have. If not, you can always edit the photo using free software like Paint.NET.

3. Realise that lighting is king

One of the downsides of taking a photograph with a normal digital camera or camera phone is that you don’t have as much control over how well-lit your image will be. Therefore, being aware of how much natural light you have to play with is key. There’s no point in creating a beautiful scene if it’s too dark be able to see it.

If you’re in the comfort of your own home and there’s still some daylight, position your plate near a window – after all, the best kind of light is free. If you’re getting unwanted shadows, try using a piece of white card, fabric or polystyrene directly beside the dish on the opposite side of the incoming light to bounce some incoming back onto the food.

However, don’t get too hung up on shadows – they can often accentuate the highlights in a photo for the better.

Although they may look perfectly white to our eyes, artificial/fluorescent lights both at home and in restaurants carry hues of greens and yellows or blues and magentas, which can be noticeable and a bit off-putting in a photo.

Step seven explores how to edit this out using free, basic software. If editing isn’t your thing, turn up all the lights around you, maybe even use a candle or lamp in your scene, and hope for the best.

Unless you have a nice set of diffusers, we’d avoid using a flash when photographing food – it’s generally unflattering.

4. Gather some props

Look around you, be imaginative – could an old wooden chopping board be a great background, or is that brightly-coloured napkin the perfect addition to your photo?

Maybe a glass of water and some silverware will help to make it look like you’re just about to dig in? Creating a scene is what it’s all about.

If you’re ever unsure about what to serve food in, white plates and wooden boards are the safest options and perfect for showing off the colours in a dish.

You can always jazz your photo up with a napkin to enhance the vibrancy of a particular ingredient.

5. Create a scene

An easy way to think about how the elements of your photo are put together is to think of it like a piece of art. Use the live view (the big screen on the back) to think about the scene you’ve just spent time creating as if it were a painting – where could you add a fork , a stack of plates, or just a few ingredients used in the dish?

Food blogger and photographer Xiaolu of 6 Bittersweets says, ‘In my experience, composition and styling can be as important to creating a beautiful food photograph as the food itself. Four useful principles of composition to consider while shooting are balance, movement, pattern, and proportion. Balance doesn't necessarily mean symmetry and can be achieved using not only distinct objects but also colours, textures, light, shadow, and even empty space. Placing a few props in a staggered arrangement (not in a straight line) adds interest and movement to photographs by drawing viewers' eyes from one object to the next.

‘Patterns are another fun way to help your photo stand out. If your food already has a pattern built-in, you may want to highlight that instead.

‘Finally, size and context are important when it comes to food photography. If your photos are too zoomed in, it's difficult for people to tell what they're seeing. Try to step back and use the space to set a mood for or tell a story about your food. That's the type of photo people will remember.’

6. Pick an appropriate angle

From the top, the back, the front, the side or a combination, there are a number of common angles you can use when photographing food. Maybe try a few to determine which angle is best for the type of dish you’re photographing.

Generally, salads photograph well from directly above, stacks of cookies or brownies at a right angle, and pastas or soups somewhere between the two. In fact, a 45° angle tends to work for most dishes and is the safest bet when you’re unsure.

Whatever the angle you choose to use, make sure it accentuates the right things and makes the most of dish’s best features.

7. Make use of editing software

You don’t have to spend a fortune on photo editing software – there are loads of free programs you can download like GIMP for your PC, Adobe Photoshop Express for iOS and Snapseed for iOS and PC.

The basics options you’ll need to improve underexposed or overexposed photos are brightness/contrast, hue/saturation, levels and maybe sharpen if your photo is a little blurred. Have a play around with these tools and see which combinations best enhance the overall appearance of your photo.

Food Photography Reads We ♥

Food Styling and Photography from 6 Bittersweets

Finding Your Style from Meeta K. Wolff

Prop Styling with Paula Walters

If you’ve made a Food Network recipe and would like to share it with us, you can now upload a photo of it into the gallery on the recipe page.

Have you taken delicious food photos you’d like to share with us? Send them to us via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram now. We’d love to see them!


Sanjana Modha

Nibble on This Next