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Taste the Visuals: Tips & Tricks in Food Photography

I'm Elise Wine and I'm the Content Strategist at Lure Digital, managing social media accounts for brands like @armorall. In my free time, I run @loyal.oliveoil where I indulge my passion for baking, food photography, and all things culinary. My passion for the food and photography world has landed me some exciting opportunities – from having my work featured on New York Times Cooking to landing catering gigs with some seriously creative baking opportunities. Showcasing my photography also helped me land my job here at Lure, and now, I'm thrilled to share all that I've learned along the way with you!

Today, I'm excited to share some strategies and skills I've picked up on my food photography journey. Before we get started, let me preface this blog by saying I'm entirely self-taught – no fancy professional training here. Everything I'm about to share has been learned through dedicated practice, a few YouTube tutorials, and a whole lot of passion for all things food! So grab your camera and a cookie and here we go:

  1. Using the Camera You Have

  2. Utilizing Natural Light

  3. Acing Your Angles

  4. Creating Composition

  5. Styling Success

  6. Get Messy!

  7. Find YOUR Style

  8. Post It, Plan It

Using the Camera You Have

New York Times - @nytcooking - Food Photography by Elise Wine @loyal.oliveoil
Loyal Olive Oil's photography featured in the New York Times on their @nytcooking channel.

Get Manual with your DSLR

If you're using a DSLR, it's time to get to know your camera and embrace the power of Manual Mode.

Adjusting your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO allows you to capture exactly how you want your images to appear. Don’t be intimidated! It’s all about trial and error and if you’re feeling overwhelmed? Just switch back to Auto… but keep practicing because this skill is a game-changer, elevating your food photography to new heights. So, get comfy with the manual settings; they're your new best friends. 

iPhone - There's More Than Meets the Eye

iPhones are quickly becoming the go-to cameras for many photographers, especially for the social media landscape. iPhone cameras used to have one simple function - point and shoot - but now there is so much more.

Pancakes and Syrup Pour

Adjust your exposure: Just tap the screen, and voila! A yellow box with a sunshine icon pops up. Move it up for a brighter image or down for a moodier vibe. 

Lock in your focus: Once you hold and press down on an area a small AE/AF Lock graphic will pop up just above the chosen area. This ensures that your subject stays in focus if you accidentally shake your camera or move around the scene. This is perfect for pouring/splashing/movement photos to ensure your subject stays in focus.

Portrait mode: It’s not just for people. This can be an excellent resource for depth and dimension especially when using foreground/background objects.

Using burst mode for action shots: When you want to caption motion, like a drink splash, a syrup pour, or a cracking egg dropping into the pan, try holding down the shutter button to capture 10 frames instead of risking it with one try. 

Turn off HDR: Some may disagree with me on this one but I’m standing firm. HDR also known as high dynamic range when turned on is supposed to take several photos in rapid succession at different exposures and blend them together to bring more highlight and shadow detail to your photos. However, I have found, especially in natural light that it creates way too much contrast, making the photo look unrealistic and sometimes washed out. My advice? Turn off the HDR and adjust your contrast and settings in your edit.

Videos for reels: iPhone video capabilities are incredible. Quickly capturing beautiful content with the above advice for settings, and then editing in programs like CapCut, allows you to make the exact video you want while showcasing your culinary creations in dynamic ways.

Slow it down with slo-mo: I particularly love using this technique for capturing close-up action shots, like dropping a cherry in a cocktail - you’ll see the water bubbles activate and surround the cherry and how the color of the drink slowly changes colors. 

Utilizing Natural Light

Let's dive into the wonderful world of natural light photography, a game-changer, especially for those of you starting our culinary capture journey. Natural light brings out the best in your shots, requires less expensive photo gear, minimal if no money spent, and will often become an easier way to set up your shots as you get more used to it. But, let's be honest, it's a bit of a wild card, playing by its own rules depending on the time of day, season, and weather. But fear not; I've got some tips to help you control that natural light.

Adjust your settings: No matter what device you’re using, adjust your settings! Your exposure here will help create the vibe you’re looking for whether it’s a bright white kitchen aesthetic or a dark, moodier, speakeasy vibe.

Doughnut To-Go

Diffuser and bounce: This is where the unpredictability of natural light can be tamed. Using a simple diffuser (I started with a bed sheet) can help soften and spread the light, giving your light an even glow. Just place it between your subject and your window. The bounce is using that natural light to bounce directly on your object. You can use something as simple as white or black foam boards, poster boards, or repurpose a backdrop.

The art of editing: Your picture doesn't end when you click that shutter button. Editing is where the magic happens. Images straight out of the camera might need a tweak. That's where software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop step in. I use Lightroom - its mobile version is just as good (if not better) than the desktop version. Lightroom is extremely helpful if you’re capturing content from your phone or if you are posting organically on social platforms. A little tweak here and there to help brighten up a shadow, add texture to a cloth, bump up the warmth, sharpen your image, and so much more will elevate your image that much more.

Left: Catured with the DSLR - No editing | Right: Lightroom editing: Increased the exposure, reduced the highlights, increased the whites, increased the color vibrancy, reduced the grain.

Acing Your Angles

There are 3 main angles when capturing food photography and once you’ve played around with these, you can narrow down which one(s) you like more and start to build your personal style. When you think about a comforting bowl of chili, a meticulously layered cake, or a classic cocktail, you can almost imagine which angle they will look their best. The camera's angle and position matter more than you think and can make or break your photo. Take, for instance, a layered cake – capturing it from the top wouldn't do it justice; you crave that perfect view of each delightful layer. On the other hand, a steaming pot of soup deserves its moment from overhead, allowing us a peek into the pot bubbling away. It's all about finding that sweet spot where the essence of the dish shines through the lens.

Straight on (0°): This angle is level with your subject. Think stacked pancakes or a burger, witnessing the layers of a candy bar or cake, or capturing that perfect depth of field. Here are some examples:

3/4th view (45°): This angle tells a little bit more of a story. This angle can also showcase more variety in highlights, reflections, and textures, especially allowing more flattened objects to shine. You can capture an entire scene food scene with this angle and it is perfect for showcasing depth like this:

Overhead (90°): This is your classic flat-lay overhead shot, taken directly over the object/scene. This is great for capturing a wide table scene or for showcasing a food item where the detail is on top, like a soup or pasta dish or, in my case, a decorated dessert. This angle is perfect for dishes or spreads that boast an abundance of texture or a medley of different elements, just like this:

Creating Composition

Food Photography Rule of Thirds - Homemade Candy Bar

The “Rule of Thirds” is probably the most popular composition for food photography BUT rules are meant to be broken so you don’t have to rely completely on this “Rule of Thirds” guideline but it does help to get started! And chances are… you’re already using it. It’s a very intuitive way to photograph. Imagine slicing your photo into thirds and creating a grid of 9. Now, to work in that Rule of Thirds magic, you'd want essential elements – say, that mouthwatering gooey caramel candy bar – to sit at the intersections of those lines. 

Now, let's talk rules – they're like recipes, more of a guideline than a set-in-stone law. So, while the Rule of Thirds is a deliciously handy ingredient for a well-composed photo, don't be afraid to sprinkle in your own flavors. You've got the artistic chef's hat on, and breaking the rules is just part of your secret sauce. Remember, in the kitchen of photography, you're the chef, and your unique recipe is what sets your images apart!

Styling Success

Food Styling - Marble Bundt Cake

Let's spice up your food-styling game! Start by thinking about the bigger pieces in your shot like layering with plates, napkins, serving platters, etc. This can help with height, depth, and variety. Then go in with smaller additions like forks and spoons, a drink, or a ramekin of seasoning. This adds a sense of reality to the final image. And don't forget the finishing touch – garnishes! This is a great way to bring color and fun to your photo and its surrounding backdrop. For instance, picture scallions or cilantro artfully arranged around your taco platter or a sprinkle of cocoa powder adding an extra layer of delight to your brownies or cake.

This leads to my next topic - don’t be afraid to--

Get Messy!

Embrace the mess! Crumbs, spills, splashes, and bites out of food add authenticity and FUN. However, you still need to style this “messy” look. Putting a sloppy bowl of pasta together and throwing some cheese around it isn’t “fun” it just reads as lazy and careless. The key is to curate a controlled chaos that feels spontaneous yet intentional. Consider the placement of each sprinkle, the direction of a spill, or the angle of a missing bite to evoke a sense of genuine, unscripted joy. It's about creating a visual narrative that transports your audience into the delightful moment of a delicious meal, where the messiness is part of the enjoyment. So in creating that curated mess, you're inviting viewers to join in the culinary experience.

Find YOUR Style

Let's talk about finding your unique style in the vast world of food photography. While it's tempting to follow the crowd and stick to the tried-and-true formulas for the perfect shot, where's the fun in that? You're not just another food photographer; you're a culinary storyteller crafting "scroll-stopping" moments. Your style is the secret sauce that sets you apart – be it the signature editing flair, a distinctive color palette, or the action-packed shots that scream YOU. Embrace the creative journey; don't confine yourself to a rigid box. Let inspiration flow, experiment, and let your culinary charisma shine through.

For me, I love embracing action shots and messy shots - I love a good milk splash, a caramel pull, a syrup pour, and an oozy cheese. But not only that, I love taking my skills in graphic design and putting that into my world of photography to create a visual that couldn't be done with JUST a camera or with JUST design (although AI is sneaking in at this point). Here are a few examples of MY style:

Post It, Plan It

Navigating the world of Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok can often feel like a daunting task, particularly when it comes to posting content. The internal dialogue of doubt creeps in It isn't perfect. It isn't my best work. What if no one likes it? I used to have these thoughts constantly. But here's the thing – instead of fixating on perfection, embrace the journey. Each piece of content you create is a stepping stone, contributing to your growth and serving as a testament to your evolving portfolio. Looking back at content from five years ago, I find myself thinking, "Wow, I'm so glad I posted that!" Authenticity resonates deeply with audiences. People appreciate real content, imperfections, and everything in between. So, let go of the fear and hesitation, and share it!

If you're feeling lost about where to begin, when to share, or how to optimize your posts with the right hashtags – that's where a company like Lure comes in handy! We specialize in capturing, editing, scheduling, and posting your content, taking the weight off your shoulders. Plus, we dive into community management and engagement, ensuring your audience stays hooked and providing valuable insights for future shoots. With a solid plan and a bit of extra time carved out for strategizing, you'll be well on your way to being an expert in the art of social media content creation. Remember, every successful endeavor starts with taking that first step! And if you ever feel overwhelmed, reach out to us at Lure!

Cheers to discovering your one-of-a-kind flavor in the visual feast of food photography!


Lure Digital. An award-winning video marketing agency in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles dedicated to creatively connecting people to your brand. Connect with us to create award-winning content for your brand. 


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