Food Photography


Like any professional photo shoot, there must be a lot of planning prior to getting to the location and setting up the camera. Food photography should be a team effort between the photographer, chef, manager, stylist anyone else involved in the production. This will ensure that a clear agenda is set in place, allowing for the photographer to concentrate on producing mouth-watering images.

I like to first have a conversation about how the food photography will be used and what type of "look" the client envisions. Food is shot differently for web promotion then it is for a cookbook layout, print or marketing materials which will require graphics and text being added in post production. The "look" of the food photography can vary from hard mood lighting to soft warm light. The way the shot is composed can vary as well; from tight close-ups to wider shots where the props and food are in focus. Each plate requires a different approach. The creative possibilities are endless!

Once there is agreement on how the photos will look, it's then the job of the stylist to gather the props that will be used for the shoot. The types of plates, bowls and dishes including color schemes, table cloths, textures, background items etc. If a restaurant chef is going to be doing the cooking as opposed to the food stylist, then it's important to talk about how the food needs to be prepared for the shot as well. Sometimes meats for example need to be undercooked; giving a more colorful and fresh look while keeping them from drying out.

How to photography food

This might seem like an easy task. Food doesn't move and you have time to "work the shot" unlike taking photos of kids, sports or the family dog. Well....unfortunately, this is not the case. If you are going to try and make the food sparkle and look amazing, it will require a lot of work. Food photography is one of the most difficult tasks in commercial photography. I learn new techniques every time I shoot and have begun to craft my style over time. But it took a long time to learn how to not only shoot food with interesting composition, but also how to light it. That's why most of the food photography you see on restaurant web sites looks so dull and lifeless; sometimes dark and unappetizing. And most of these are shot by commercial photographers. Bad lighting. Do you think people will get excited about that? Nope! Shooting and lighting food is a lot different than shooting head shots or generic product shots. It requires a much different way of thinking than most commercial photographers are used to. So if you are going to hire someone to shoot your food, hire a photographer that specializes in food photography. Like me! Here are some of the basics in food photography:


How do you want the shot to look? What is the right camera equipment to use? Tight close-up shots utilizing selective focus is the trend right now. Moving in close to the food and focusing on the most important elements while everything else goes slightly out of focus. This helps draw the viewer's eye to that one element you most want them to experience and be impressed by. For example, if you are going to shoot a yummy taco paired with beans and rice, you will most likely focus on just one end of the taco; showing how crispy the shell is along with the chunky chicken pieces. And the rice and beans? Well, they will go slightly out of focus...not as important as the taco and its fresh ingredients. Catch my drift? How about a Asian chicken salad? Do you need to show the whole salad on the plate? No. Again, you can just focus on part of the salad; the most interesting part or the part you are selling. Like the chicken! Every restaurant makes a salad but what makes your salad better? That's what you want to focus on. Now, there are times when you do want to show everything sharp and in focus. Usually high angles pointing down towards the food work well for this. An eater's point of view. Or when you want to show off more of the surrounding decor and props.

A handful of lenses are utilized in food photography and each food photographer has his or her preference. Telephoto lenses are used to zoom in tight and throw the background out of focus. A short focal length lenses like the 50mm is commonly used to shoot food giving crisp images even in low light. And when you want to get really close, sometimes you will use a macro lens to make a strawberry look like a giant red island surrounded by an ocean of chocolate. There are no hard set rules to food photography; just make the food look exciting and colorful. That's the goal of any food photographer. Remember. People eat with their eyes first!

Lighting for food photography

Lighting is probably the most important element in food photography; and the most challenging. Sometimes I can spend over 30 minutes lighting a single plate. I continue working the shot until it looks like a beautiful cover model. At one given time, I may be using two strobe lights, a couple reflectors and an additional mirror or two. Remember when I said there are no set rules in food photography? Well, there is one important one worth mentioning. Don't make the food look dark! Dark food photos make the food look awful and I see this all the time. If you want great photos, then you have to do it right. There is no quick way of getting great food photography. Sorry!

And finally...Food and Prop Styling

I've saved the best for last. I love food styling. When I first got into food photography, I hated it. I had no idea what was going to look good or not and had no experience in food styling. With most of the restaurants I shot in the beginning, the manager would just leave me alone in a dark hot room underneath the building to fend for myself. I was in charge of everything. No help. Nobody else wanted the responsibility of figuring out things like: what type and color of plates to use? What to put in the background? White table cloth or a colored one? There are a million different ways to dress up the shot and a million different ways to screw it all up and make the photo look bad. Well, I didn't want all my great lighting and composition to go to waste so I was forced to learn some basics in food styling. But believe me...I am no professional food stylist. Nor do I ever want to be. I leave that to the pros. But sometimes the food photographer or someone other than a professional food stylist has to do this to save money. That is where I recommend the entire team get involved in the planning and execution, allowing for a much more successful shoot. The food photographer has to many other things to worry about.


J Michael

J Michael

J Michael

J Michael

J Michael

J Michael

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J Michael Photography in located in Fort Wayne, IN and covers the tri-state area and destination weddings.


We are more than just a photography studio. J Michael is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer and Marketing Specialist.


We cover a wide range of clients that consist of Food, Commercial, Industrial, Product, Fashion and any other style of photography that you need. Contact us for some samples and a quote.

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