Everywhere you look these days, people are busy taking photos of their lunch or dinner and posting the results on social media – some look great, but others look rather unappetizing! So, how do you get great looking photos of your food using your phone camera? In this article, we’re going to look at how to improve your smartphone food photography in a few easy steps.
From styling your food, to lighting, composition and post-processing, if you follow these tips you’ll be well on your way to creating food photos that will be the envy of your followers on social media.
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How to Take Great Food Photos
1. Think About Lighting
Before you even start to take photos of food, you need to plan, and that involves taking the light into account. Food tends to look best under natural light, so to get the best results, you need to be shooting next to a window that doesn’t have direct sunlight on it.
Professional food photographers tend to backlight or sidelight food shots, as this gives a nice contrast and look to the food. You’ll need to place your plate side on to the window for side light, and the back of the plate to the window for back light.
Under no circumstances should you be tempted to use the flash on your phone’s camera to light a food shot! Flash is harsh, tends to make food look flat and greasy, and leaves a hard shadow round your dish, as well as adding color casts that can be hard to get rid of.
Professional food photographers do use studio flash or flashguns to light food, but they have them diffused and controlled, so the results are a whole lot better than you will ever get with built-in camera flash.
2. Food Styling
Yes, food styling is an actual thing. Some people even make a career out of it. All those great food shots you see have been carefully styled to make them look good.
There are all sorts of tricks the food stylists use to make food look better in photos, and you can use some of those ideas to make your dinner look amazing on social media.
- Make sure you take the photo before you eat the food. That sounds obvious, but you know you’ve done it before!
- Take some time to arrange the food on the plate so it looks appetizing.
- Make sure there’s no ugly drips or splashes of sauce on the edges of the plate.
- If you’re using props like cutlery or tablecloths, make sure they’re clean and look harmonious together.
- Move any dirty forks, dirty napkins, or ugly salt shakers out of the frame before shooting.
3. Think About Downloading a Camera App For Your Phone
Your built-in smartphone camera does have limitations, so consider using a dedicated camera phone app to take your photos with. Adobe Lightroom mobile is a popular choice, but there are others like the totally free Open Camera app, or MuseCam App.
Find one that suits you and your skill level. These apps allow you much more control over how you shoot your photos. You can manually adjust shutter speed, ISO, white balance and other settings when you shoot using these apps.
4. Try to Shoot in RAW Format
If your phone has the capability to shoot in RAW format – and a lot of them do – then I would advise using it instead of JPEG. Pro photographers usually shoot in RAW format because it is totally uncompressed, and contains all the information from a photo.
JPEG format is compressed, and is called a ‘lossy’ format because the camera discards some of the image information to enable the compression. This is why JPEG file sizes are much smaller than RAW format files.
Also, when you shoot JPEG, your camera adds things like sharpening and saturation boosts to your photos automatically. RAW format files have also had nothing applied to them in camera; you retain total control over what adjustments you make in editing, and you can edit things like shadows and highlights that you can’t do with JPEG files.
If you do shoot in RAW, you’ll need a RAW file converter to work on the photos after you’ve taken them. Lightroom mobile will let you do that on your phone, but it’s often better to upload your RAW images to a computer and work on them on a large screen where you can see any changes you make far better.
You can get totally free RAW converters like GIMP, or you can get editing software such as Luminar, where you can work directly on your RAW files to make adjustments before saving your finalized image as a JPEG.
If your phone doesn’t support RAW format, go into the camera settings and select the highest resolution JPEG settings it has. The larger the JPEG, the higher the image quality.
5. Use a Tripod in Low Light
If you’re shooting in low-light situations, hand-holding your phone will result in blurry photos, as the shutter will need to stay open longer to capture the image so it’s correctly exposed. This is the number one problem with photographing food in a restaurant.
To get sharp, professional-looking photos, you need to take along a phone tripod. They’re not expensive – you can buy a smartphone tripod for around $10 on Amazon, and it can usually fit in your bag or pocket, if necessary. Just don’t be overly obvious when taking the picture, because other diners don’t want to be bothered by your photo-taking antics while they eat.
6. Check Your Background
Before you start taking photos, look at what is behind your food and in the frame of your phone camera. A plain background with no clutter is best to showcase the food. Check the color of your background – is it too bright and overpowering? Can you change it, or move to a different position?
Are there dirty dishes or other things in the background? Either remove them, move your food, or change the angle of your shot so that they are not in the photo.
7. Work the Angles
Get creative with your shots. Most people will only take a photo of food from directly above or from straight ahead at eye level. When you get a different angle on your food, the image stands out from the norm. Try shooting from the sides, or get down level with the plate and shoot from there.
Why not try a close-up shot of a particular part of the food? Take lots of shots, and move to a different position after each one. If you have lots of images, it makes it easier to find one or two really good ones when you come to edit them.
How your image looks has a lot to do with composition, and it should be balanced, with all the elements in the shot working to create a harmonious photo . Your phone camera probably has a ‘rule of thirds’ grid that you can overlay your shot with to help composition, and we suggest using it.
A quick explanation of the rule of thirds grid in photography is this: The camera screen is split up into 9 squares, with three lines running vertically, and three lines running horizontally. Where those lines intersect, along one of the lines or just above one of the horizontal lines is where you want to place the items of interest in your photo, as these make the most aesthetically pleasing composition.
It may be easier to visualize if you think of a typical landscape photograph. The horizon is not often placed in the middle of the image, it is usually in the bottom third or top third. If you laid a grid across most landscape images, you’d find they normally stick to this rule. The same goes for portraits. The eyes are usually placed at or just above the top third grid lines for best composition.
So, try to use the gridlines on your phone to place food or other objects at one of the intersecting lines, and see what difference it makes to your shot.
9. Leading Lines
Another compositional tool to use is leading lines and diagonals. Leading lines are subtle or not-so-subtle straight or diagonal lines in an image that draw our eye to the main subject, in this case, food.
Think of good food images you are drawn to look at. Do they have a serving spoon or cutlery placed in the image that draws your eye from the edge to the food? You can use serviettes, cutlery, tableware or other props to create leading lines in to your food.
Diagonal shapes in photos are also pleasing to the eye. That is why the serving spoon or cutlery etc. is often placed at a slight diagonal in the image. The diagonals often come out of one of the bottom corners of the image and lead towards the main subject.
Sometimes tableware or props are placed to make a loose triangular shape or shapes in the image. Square plates are often turned so that a corner is facing the camera. Look at your favorite food photos and try to deconstruct them. What makes them good? Why is the composition visually appealing? Can you use some of these ideas in your food photos?
10. Controlling Focus
You need to put the main focus of the image on the food, as our eyes are drawn to look at what is in focus. If you have a bowl of soup and a slice of bread, for example, you would focus on the soup instead of the bread – unless the bread is your main subject. Place the focus point of your phone camera on the spot that you want to showcase.
11. Don’t Zoom – Get Closer Instead
If you use your phone’s zoom function to get in close and fill the frame, you’ll end up with very poor image quality when you look at it closely. Try to get in closer to your subject if you can instead. You can crop later in post-processing to keep your image quality and resolution high.
12. Editing Your Images
Most images will always look better for a little adjustment after they have been taken, even if it’s just to correct exposure, color and contrast. Your phone will have a built-in editing suite, or you can use an app to help crop and adjust.
If you you want to go for professional food blog, have time and access to a computer with editing software, I’d suggest uploading your images to it and editing them on the larger screen. You can then use powerful image editing software like Photoshop, Lightroom, Luminar, GIMP or others to refine your images.
Food photography is one of the hardest genres of photography to get right, but it is immensely rewarding. If you follow the guidelines in this article, you’ll be well on the way to creating your own food photo masterpieces. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun!
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.