How to Take Better Food Photos

Improve your shots in a snap with our nine tips, gleaned from some of the best photographers we know—our readers!

Aubrey Dunnuck, of Bloomington, Ind., says she "took [her] sweet time" capturing the delicate chocolate shavings on her birthday cupcakes, which she shot on a hotel window ledge during a trip to Chicago—and it shows

(Courtesy adunnuck/myBudgetTravel)

Zoom in—way in [SEE THE PHOTO]
There's no such thing as too close. Almost every new digital point-and-shoot offers a macro setting—just look for the small flower icon—which allows you to focus in on even the tiniest details, from herbs sprinkled over pasta to the chunks of rock salt on a pretzel. In cooking, subtle flavor details make the dish; in food photography, subtle visual details make the shot.
Our reader pick: Aubrey Dunnuck, of Bloomington, Ind., says she "took [her] sweet time" capturing the delicate chocolate shavings on her birthday cupcakes, which she photographed on a hotel window ledge during a trip to Chicago.

Don't center your subject [SEE THE PHOTO]
You're shooting food—not darts—so instead of adhering to a dull, bull's-eye setup, feel free to knock your subject off-center for variety's sake. An off-kilter composition will instantly improve upon the standard aerial shots that encompass the whole plate.
Our reader pick: Joe Routon, of Haddonfield, N.J., photographed chicken wings and hot sauce at a Mexican restaurant in New Jersey. Joe swears by an artistic concept known as the rule of thirds: placing the central focal point of the image a third of the way down and a third of the way over from the edges of the frame. Moving the dipping sauce from the center to the upper left-hand corner gives the picture added impact, says Joe. (Read our earlier interview with Joe, a longtime myBT contributor, here.)

Work with the light [SEE THE PHOTO]
Don't knock yourself out trying to get a beautiful shot in a dark restaurant. Natural light is the key to an appetizing photo, so always ask to sit next to the window or, better yet, to sit outside. Oh, and clouds are a good thing. Overcast days create even lighting that diminishes shadows and makes for a softer, prettier image.
Our reader pick: Harry van Gorkum, of Los Angeles, was the first customer of the day at this small waterfront café in the New Zealand village of Motukaraka. He was able to capture the moment without "any lighting, because the clouds made the morning light 'flat.'"

Look beyond the plate [SEE THE PHOTO]
Many people get stuck on documenting finished dishes, after the server has brought over the plate. But great food photography can also include the field before the harvest, a charismatic fishmonger, or the aisles of a foreign grocery store.
Our reader pick: Connie Hum, of New York City, was inspired by the bright colors of this scene, which she captured from the second floor of a fruit and vegetable market in Panaji, India. "The woman's red sari is a great contrast to the yellow bananas she's surrounded by," Connie says. "The more something pops, the more interesting it is to look at."

Be picky with details [SEE THE PHOTO]
Cropping an image helps show people where to look, which creates a more compelling narrative. A close-up of a grandmother's hands kneading dough or a chef chopping vegetables at the speed of light tells a different story than a full-length portrait.
Our reader pick: Janelle Cole Barry, of San Jose, Calif., took this photo of iced drinks—orange, strawberry, horchata, and alfalfa—in the Mexican town of Guanajuato, but this wasn't her first crack at it. "I originally shot the whole storefront with the person ladling the drinks, but ultimately preferred the close-up of the colorful jars," Janelle says. The cropped frame, she adds, "gives you more of the flavor of being there."

Think vertically [SEE THE PHOTO]
Tall foods and drinks, like cocktails, layer cakes, and ice cream cones, allow you to play with different angles to make the food appear more heroic. (Just look at our June cover.)
Our reader pick: Heidi Shaker Luna, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., shot this foamy latte in a café overlooking Prague's Vltava River. "I focused on the latte and let the castle and bridge in the background get slightly out-of-focus to give it a dreamy appearance," she says. We also like the way the layers of the drink mimic the layers created by the café in the foreground, the river in the middle ground, and the castle in the background.


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