Food Photography – Behind the Scenes

By Sally Cameron on April 06, 2013

food for thought,


Many people have commented about how much they love the photos on A Food Centric Life. Several years ago when I started the blog, I asked my photographer-husband, Kent, to use his photography skills to take some shots of my food. Kent quickly found that making food look good on camera has its own special set of challenges.

Photographing Food

Kent and I work as a team to publish the blog. He does the photography, while I do the food styling and writing. In this post, we share some of the things we have learned over the years about composing, styling and shooting our food images. We will also be teaching a Food Photography and Styling Workshop in late May. More information is available at the end of this article.

Tell A Story

When we prepare for a food shoot, we talk about the story first. The story may be about enjoying some crème brulee and espresso at a bistro in Paris, or grilling burgers in the park for a picnic on a rustic table, or something else very simple.

Orange Ginger Creme Brulee photo

Ask yourself –  what the food or recipe mean to you? Does it have meaning in your life? What is the setting? Is it a holiday, a seasonal dish, a family favorite? What props, colors and textures are involved? How will you tell that story to the viewer with your image?

Turkey burgers photo

Light with Direction

Create or look for light that has direction. It can be light through a window, or doorway. We often shoot food in our garage with the open garage door creating a large space with directional light. Or, we create directional light using studio lights when natural light is not available.

Set up the shot so that the light is coming from behind or from the side. Think about light direction like the hands on a clock. If the food is at 6:00, backlight is 12:00, and side light is 9:00 or 3:00. Lighting this way creates depth and interest in the food. Never light food directly from the front, and absolutely do not shoot food with a flash mounted on your camera!

roasted ratatouille photo

Diffuse and Reflect

A common mistake is to over light food images. Once you have created a scene with directional light, then can decide how much highlight and shadow works for the shot. Use a diffuser to soften the light and control highlights. Not all food images use soft light, but it works great for many.

Use a reflector to control the amount of shadow. We use pieces of basic foam core board that you can buy at any art supply stores as a reflector. Position the foam core opposite the light. Use white foam core to reflect light and brighten the shadows, and black foam core to take light away, creating deeper shadows. It’s amazing what you can do with your food images by just experimenting with reflectors.

food photography set up shot or roasted ratatouille

Work the Composition

Amazingly subtle changes in your composition can make or break your image, so really work your shot angles, direction of the light, placement of the food and props in the shot. Use the composition rule of thirds and avoid placing food dead center in the frame.

Style the Food

The job of a food stylist is to make the food look its best for the camera and create direction or flow of movement for the eye. Unless you are working a well budgeted food shoot, likely the food stylist is you!

food styling setup shot with pomegranates

Buy top quality food and ingredients. You want beautiful food for beautiful food photos. When styling, think how you can create movement in the image. Add a flowing napkin with complementary color, for example, or maybe a utensil. Think about how you can add textures and create lines that draw the viewer’s eye into the food scene.

Learn More about Food Photography

If you are interested in learning more about how to style, light, shoot and edit fantastic food images, join our Food Photography & Styling Workshop on May 23-26, 2013 in California’s Paso Robles wine country.


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Leave a Comment
Madonna/aka/Ms. Lemon | 04/08/2013 at 12:55 pm

I love a peek behind the scenes. Wishing you much success with your workshop.

Nisha | 05/01/2013 at 10:42 pm

This is a great post! Looking at the comments I’m surprised not many people have come across this post?
Anyway thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes images!
Quick question, what’s the brand of tripod you use?

    Sally | 05/02/2013 at 8:49 am

    Gitzo tripods! Thanks!

Donna | 03/04/2014 at 7:06 pm

Hi, I love your blog. Wonderful recipes and gorgeous photography. I was wondering if you would ever hold an online food styling /food photography course . I would love to have made this last one, but not possible as I am on the east coast. I am curious what type of camera and also the lens that your husband uses to produce these awesome pictures. I am new to this and trying to learn from these beautiful photos. Any tips or advice he could give would help . Thanks in advance.

    Sally | 03/05/2014 at 10:47 am

    Hi Donna. Thanks for the kind words. We have not thought about doing a class online. Right now it’s all we can do to keep up with shooting for the blog and a few other projects. So much we want to do, like more for readers on food photography, and we must get our video going. Kent uses all Canon gear. He shoots with a 5D Mark III. For lens, often a 100 mm or tilt shift 90 lens. Its not so much about the brand of camera but how you learn to use the camera, direct your light with diffusion or reflection, choose angles and focus, choose colors and props for styling, etc. There is a lot to learn but don’t be intimidated, just pick up your camera and get started. A good first class for general photography is Understanding Exposure from PPSOP. Here is their link to many online courses. For food, there are some good books out to get you going. Check them out on Amazon through internet search.

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