How to compose food photos like a pro – even if you are just starting out with food photography

How to compose food photos like a pro – even if you are just starting out with food photography

If you are a food blogger or photography enthusiast you've probably seen them, mouthwatering photos of food with moody lighting and stylish dishes. Maybe you have decided to try and shoot such images yourself. But after the first attempts it becomes clear: Food photography is not as easy as it seems, and somehow the images just don't look like the ones in magazines. There are a few well kept secrets to shooting beautiful food images, and we are going to reveal some of them. In fact, we are going to show you how to compose absolutely professional looking food setups step by step.

For the sake of this example we are going to be photographing a simple food item, then add and modify the composition until it has transformed into a professional food photo. Our example is composed for a top view angle, but these tips work just as well with any other photography angle. This post is about composition rules only, and won't be providing information about lighting or gear. Let's get started and look at the star of this photo shooting:

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1. Backgrounds

Backgrounds are the alpha and omega when it comes to presenting your food in favourable manner. The colours and textures of you background can make it or brake it in terms of getting food look delicious and give it the contrast it needs in order to be the centre of attention. In this example we have used a white background. Other popular choices are marble, dark, and wooden backgrounds. To see how even slight texture can make a photo look more interesting, we have chosen to use a white background with concrete structure.

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2. Colour combination

Colours are really important for the harmony and contrast of your composition. Think about the colour combination you want to use when you are preparing for your food photo shooting. Envision the kind of mood in terms of colours that you are aiming to create. Is it earthy with brown tones? A colour pop of bright food items? Maybe you have a particular colour combo in mind? Try out the colours with your background and props in mind beforehand to see, if the colours harmonise but don't look too bland or flat together. A small green detail like a twig of green herbs can go a long way in giving a composition the freshness and detail it needs. In our example we are using a simple but powerful colour combination of white, red, and green.

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3. Textures

Similarly like the texture of the background, textures of food, dishes and props add pleasant and interesting details and help direct the viewers eyes. Especially food textures are an important part of making a food look delicious and fresh. Consider making raw ingredient wet. Water droplets add beautiful fresh touch to vegetables. Cutting parts of the food open reveals textures inside, such as cake fillings, or the pink inside of a juicy steak. When presenting grilled foods really let those grid patterns show. Crushed seeds, crumbs, and powder sugar go a long way in making pastries look delicious. In our example we have added textures by presenting different shapes and sizes of tomatoes, and cutting some of them open.

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4. Layers

Layers aren't something, that you immediately think of when planning a composition for a food image. However, layers are surprisingly powerful in giving your image that extra touch to appear professional. Layering dishes and props help you emphasise certain areas of your image, acting as a decorative frame for your food. Props and dishes should be chosen carefully not to distract too much from food. There are plenty of easy ways to create layers. Simplest ones are to use kitchen towels and cutting boards under your dish. Try out layering two or three items on top of each other and see which combinations work best for your composition. In our example we have used just a few plates and bowls and a kitchen towel to show you the power of layers.

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5. Take something off

Last but not least, don't overfill your image with items and props. Too crowded images appear nervous. Negative space is an important tool in directing focus to the right spot. By grouping items and leaving other areas empty you can structure your image and provide it shape. Try moving your food around the composition and observe where your eyes are drawn with each of the variations. Create harmony by placing items around the corners and edges and focus by placing them in the middle. Don't be afraid to leave some items half outside the frame to create an impression of the scene continuing outside the frame.

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Tomatoes 07 small.jpg


Pro tip: Remember to make your food the leading lady in the image. Sometimes we get a little too excited about using beautiful dishes and props, up to the point where they distract from the food.

Isn't there such a giant difference between the first and the last image? And all this just by using tomatoes together with the simplest kitchen items. Thinking about and planning compositions really does pay off. Colour charts can be a great help in trying out colour compositions in advance without having to buy and prepare foods. Some photographers even like to sketch their composition in a sketchbook. To create truly amazing photos it is essential to plan your food shooting. 

Now it's your turn!  Try out the composition tips from this post and drop us a comment of how they worked for you! You have some great tips you didn't see in this post? We would love to know!



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