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19 Food Photography HACKS – Learn These Tricks of The Trade

If you have been wondering how to improve on your food photography then this post will help you. 

We list some tips and tricks that you can use to hack your way to better food photography. 

Food photography is different to a lot of other types of still life photography since the subject can actually change during the shoot.

So food photographers and stylists use some of these secrets to make sure they can always take the best pictures. 

Make sure you double check all the rules and regulations in the country you are operating in for any advertising laws prohibiting fakes in food advertising. 

1. Mashed Potato Ice-cream 

Ice cream can be very difficult to photograph since it melts so quickly, leaving you to frantically try to get everything right and get the perfect shot in a rush. 

Using mash potato in round scoops is a very convincing alternative to ice cream. But you might think, “hold on mash potato is always off-white / yellow”.

To combat this you can use a small amount of food colouring to replicate any flavour of ice cream you wish.  

2. The Undercover Upside Down Plate/Bowl

If you’ve ever tried to plate a dish of pasta or rice and just thought “well that looks a bit flat…” , then this hack will help you bring some volume back to your shot. 

Take a small bowl or plate and place it upside down on your larger serving dish.

Now carefully place the food over this smaller dish and see how the food looks more risen and substantial.

3. Don’t Let It Sink In The Bowl

Whenever you are photographing soup or anything else which is quite brothy you may have other ingredients that will have a tendency to sink to the bottom.

To bring these ingredients to the top of the bowl you can use one of the following tricks:

  • Fill the bottom of the bowl with marbles so the ingredients can sit on top of them like a platform.
  • Use mashed potato to fill the bottom of the bowl as an alternative. 

These tips not only allow your soups to look more full, but it also means you can use less food and fill more dishes.

So this way you could use 1 bowl worth of actual food to partly fill up the 3 bowls of food for the image. 

4. Use A Heat Gun and Butter To Make Food Look Hot!

Butter melts when it is warm so melted butter can give off the illusion of a freshly heated up piece of food.

Use this trick on food such as muffins, toast, waffles etc.

Take a small chunk of butter and place it where you want on your food of choice.

Now grab a heat gun or a hair dryer and heat up the butter until it starts to melt slightly then take your picture of your seemingly HOT food. 

5. Use Back Lighting Or Side Lighting

When doing any type of photography, lighting is vital. As a general rule in food photography, try to avoid front lighting as it can make your food look flat and uninteresting. 

You want to try backlighting or side lighting your subject. This is easy to do if you have a window as you just place your subject near the window and shoot. 

6. Modify Your Light

Since lighting is so vital to food photography you need to understand how to modify your light to achieve perfect photos. Simply placing your food near an overly bright flash or window won’t do the trick. 

When modifying light you want to use light diffusers, reflectors and blockers for the desired effect. 

Use diffusers against the light source. For example, this could just be a curtain or large diffusion material held in place against a window or just in front of any artificial light that you may be using.

Use reflectors opposite the light source to bounce some light back into the subject.

This tends to be used if light is uneven, for example if the front of the image is too dark when you are backlighting you may place a reflector in front of the subject to bounce some light back into the front of the subject.

Finally, use light blockers like black curtains or cards to eliminate light completely from certain sources in parts of your image.

7. Use Colour Theory Techniques Like Complementary Colours For Contrast

In addition to lighting, another universal skill in photography is knowing how to use colours. 

In food photography, you can use lots of colour theory techniques such as the use of complementary colours to make your images pop. 

Complementary colours are colours that contrast against each other since they are opposite each other on the colour wheel. 

For example, green and red are complementary colours so you can implement this in green salads by adding a pop of red with tomatoes.

Or maybe you have a reddish meal like a tomato based pasta, then you could use a green garnish like basil to top the meal as a finishing touch. 

8. Choose The Right Backdrop

You need to choose the right backdrop for your shoot to convey the right mood, but also to go well with your use of colours. 

If you want a light and airy health vibe to your shoot, you might want to use lighter and brighter colours for your background. 

For a dark and moody feel, you may use a darker background. Darker scenes can also lend themselves well to indulgent foods like ice creams or burgers.

Remember to be mindful of colour too. You can use complementary colours in your background if you want your subject to really stand out. 

9. Tether Your Camera To A Screen So You Can See Everything 

By tethering your camera to a screen you are allowing yourself to see in detail what the camera is seeing as you adjust your scene.

This is great for setting up the composition as you can see in real time how things look rather than placing something down, going to check the camera and then readjusting. 

If you are on your own and using a remote shutter to shoot you can watch the screen while you shoot if you are doing something like pouring sauce onto a scene. 

10. Keep Sandwiches Together With These Tools

Use t-pins or toothpicks to keep sandwiches or burgers constructed correctly so they look their best instead of the fillings sliding around and falling apart.

11. Give Your Garnishes Some Life With This Trick

If you are using green garnishes or veg you can shock them by putting them in an ice bath briefly before the shoot. This will give them a fresher look and keep them fresher for longer. 

12. Choose The Right Angle For Your Subject

It’s important to experiment and find the best angles to show off your subject most effectively. 

If you are taking images of foods that are flat then you will have more luck shooting a flat lay (shooting from directly above). Things like soups in a bowl (you only see the top surface) or a pizza can be a good candidate for this. 

On the other hand, if you have something like a layered cake or a large stack of waffles you may want to shoot from a lower angle to show off the food from the side. 

13. Tell A Story With Props And Ingredients

Being able to tell a story will set you apart from other photographers. Use props to set a scene and theme for the shoot.

It depends on the look you want to go for, but be mindful with your choice of props. This can be anything from utensils to just pieces of fabric that can have the desired effect. 

Extend this tip to ingredients for the same effect. If the shot is of a cake, you might include some flour or eggs carefully placed in the scene. Try to include ingredients and garnishes to let the audience imagine the taste. 

14. Be Mindful Of The Perfect Window Of Opportunity

You can’t fake everything in food photography, so you need to know the food you are shooting to know the perfect window for it to be photographed.

Some foods may be better photographed when they has just finished being prepared. Other foods might look better after some time has passed. 

As a general rule though, most foods will look best when they are freshly prepared. Be mindful of this and be prepared to take your shots. 

15. Use Stand-ins To Prepare For The Money Shot

Since there might be a short window of opportunity to take the perfect shot it can be really useful to use a stand-in.

By this we mean you position everything in your composition before you have prepared the actual subject.

This can be something that looks similar to the subject, but is just a mock up.

The stand in will let you dial in your settings and understand the lighting you want for the final image without needing the actual subject there.

You might need some adjustments when you do use the real subject but they should be minimal. 

16. Undercook Meat For Plumpness.

When using meats in your shoots you can undercook the meats slightly since the meat will tend to stay a bit more plump when it is undercooked.

You can then use a blowtorch to give a grilled look on the outside of the meat if it looks too obviously under cooked. 

17. Tweezers For Precise Positioning

You can use tweezers to arrange your scene precisely without making a mess. This can be especially useful for delicate garnishes or carefully positioned crumbs for a perfectly orchestrated scene. 

18. White Glue In Cereal Bowls

White PVA glue (elmer’s glue) is sometimes used in cereal bowls as a substitute for milk.

By using glue it stops the cereal from getting soggy like it would from being in milk, so the cereal looks crunchy and fresh.

19. Create Fake Steam With Cotton Balls

Steam can fade very quickly once something is freshly cooked so food photographers can try to recreate this with alternatives. 

Soak a cotton ball in some water and microwave it for a short while (just keep an eye on it to be safe) and the cotton ball will become your sauce of steam. 

Place it hidden from view near your subject and fan/blow it accordingly for the desired steam effect.

For tips more focused on drinks photography check out the following post: