One thing that I will miss about Las Vegas is all of the amazing food! There’s always a new restaurant to try and we have a handful of favorites that we want to go back to before moving. Over the last few years I’ve been fortune enough to have been invited to a lot of local foodie events thanks to the blog. My favorite part about these events (other than the amazing food!) is meeting more food bloggers/Instagrammers and seeing how they take food photos. It turns out that I’m not the only weirdo who asks for a table by the window so that the lighting is best or stands on a chair to get the perfect overhead shot. At the first restaurant event I went to I felt very underprepared with just my DSLR camera. Other bloggers had brought lighting equipment (mainly these light cubes), poster board to get that solid white background, clip on lenses for their phone, etc. It’s fun to get a behind the scenes look at what goes into capturing the perfect shot. There is a lot of teamwork involved: someone needs to hold the dish, someone uses a fork the pull the spaghetti while 5 bloggers are taking photos of it and of course there’s the photographer in uncomfortable positions trying to get the perfect angle. It’s honestly comical seeing everyone trying to get the perfect photo. Rob has come with me to several of these events and he always feels like the odd man out because I’m in my element with my food photographer friends. Since taking food photos in a restaurant can be challenging (it’s definitely been a learning process for me!), I decided to share 10 tips for getting food photos that will make your mouth water!
Don’t be embarrassed to bring your DSLR camera. I take about half of my photos with my iPhone 7 plus and the other half with my Canon Rebel T5i fitted with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens. I prefer using my DSLR camera because you can control the aperture, which lets you focus on the main subject and blurs out the background. You can also get this effect with the portrait feature on the iPhone, but you have more control with an actual camera.
Ask for a table by the window or on the patio. When it comes to food photos lighting is everything and natural light is your best friend! I don’t even bother taking photos if the restaurant is poorly lit (maybe this is why my family likes to go to fancy, dark steakhouses when they visit…). Even though you want daylight, try to avoid direct sunlight because it will create harsh shadows. Diffused light is best, so a cloudy day or the hour right before sunset (known as the golden hour) is ideal.
Order items that are colorful or visually appealing. What looks prettier: street tacos artfully topped with a colorful slaw and avocado or a smothered burrito with a side of rice and beans? Probably the first option. Sometimes I look at photos on Yelp or the restaurant’s Instagram before going there to see what the dishes look like. If I can’t decide between a few items on the menu I’ll usually choose the one that is prettiest and most photogenic.
Make it neat. How the dish is served isn’t necessarily how it needs to be photographed. If sauce dribbled across the white plate, take a napkin and wipe it off. If the oysters aren’t neatly arranged, take a minute to make sure they are evenly spaced. Sometimes you want that “purposefully messy” look when shooting food, but there’s a difference between being styled and sloppy. To get the perfect picture you need the perfect plating.
Play around with the composition and angles. Once you get your food, don’t be afraid to play with it! Try different arrangements and angles. If you’re dining with a group of people, an overhead shot of all the food and drinks usually looks great. You can also shoot your meal straight on from table level. This works best if the item has some drama, like a big bowl of ice cream or a really tall burger. Also play around with the framing. Some items might look best close-up and really zoomed in while others may not.
Decorate the scene with other items like sunglasses, wallet, menu, etc. Rather than just taking a picture of food on a plate, add some interest to the scene by adding items that might naturally be on your table. Obviously you wouldn’t put like a pair of shoes or something on the table, but artfully placing your wallet or sunglasses by the dish can make the photograph more appealing. I also like hanging on to a menu so that I can include that in the photo when our order comes. Adding additional items helps tell a story and adds a human element to your photo.
Add movement. To bring your photo to life, have someone you are dining with interact with the food. You could include someone’s hand reaching for a chip or photograph someone pulling a gooey grilled cheese apart with their hands. This adds a dynamic element and makes your followers feel like they are right there with you. I mean food is supposed to be eaten, not just photographed :)
Take a TON of pics! When we leave a restaurant I usually have about 50 pictures of the same thing. They might all look similar from afar, but the angle, arrangement or lighting might be slightly different. You would not believe how many shots I took of my own hand and the coffee cup above. I like having a lot to choose from since maybe the cactus in the background was at a weird angle or there was a glare on the cup. When I’m done I “favorite” the two or three images I like the best, then open them in an editing app, which brings me to my next tip…
Use editing apps. If at first you don’t succeed, add a filter! It’s rare when the lighting is perfect in a restaurant, so I typically have to edit the brightness, shadows and highlights. The first editing app I use is Snapseed because with just a few swipes you’re able to tune the image. After I save the edited photo I open it in another app called A Color Story. Here I apply a filter (usually “pop”) and adjust how intense I want it. I use the same filter every time so that my images look consistent on my Instagram feed. My photos are very bright and colorful with a lot of white backgrounds so that they form a cohesive story and recognizable brand.
Keep practicing! The food photos I took in my early blogging days are HORRIBLE (like these cheesecake bars). It’s definitely a learning process and your photos will improve with time when you find what works and what doesn’t. The more comfortable you get with composition, lighting and angles the better your photos will be. Test out different equipment and apps to see what works best for you. Everyone has a different style, so an editing process that works for a famous food blogger you admire might not come naturally to you. Just have fun with it and eventually you’ll define your style and grow your skills.
What are some tips for getting better food photos? To see more of my foodie adventures be sure to follow me on Instagram!