the appetizer:

Kate introduces Lou Manna's Food Photography Tips, and picks somne of her favorite Spring recipes in What To Eat This Month.

Kate Heyhoe
Kate's Global Kitchen

by Kate Heyhoe


Snap Food Photos That
Look Good Enough to Eat

Do you shoot your food before you eat it? Everyone, it seems, is snapping shots of food these days. Whether it's at a restaurant or at home, for personal enjoyment or for posting on blogs, food photos seem to be at the center of our visual, digital attention. To capture the best shots, follow these food photography tips from a noted pro. Lou Manna is a former New York Times food photographer, and you can see his work at Besides these tips, Lou shares professional photography advice at his blog

food photos

Food Photography Tips

By Lou Manna

1. Keep your composure. Think of a table centerpiece: it's there as a main point of interest at the table. The same is true for food photography. Find a main point of interest—your photo's centerpiece—and compose your photograph to draw the viewer's eye to it. You can do this by sticking to the "Rule of Thirds": Divide the photograph's frame into a tic-tac-toe design and place your subject at one of the intersecting points.

2. Get a fork's-eye view. Lower and raise the camera to obtain unique perspectives. Place your camera on the table and photograph your plate from the point of view of your utensils. Photographing your meal from a low angle can bring volume and scale to your food, while allowing you access to a picture you would not be able to capture with your own eyes—unless you really crouched and strained at the table!

3. Limit your ingredients. This sounds like a no-brainer, but often food photographs look cluttered and jumbled. Don't shove an entire table or meal spread into a single shot. Rather than trying to capture everything at once in one picture, take ten pictures of your table and surrounding scene—snap close-ups of the plates, decorations, main dishes—and then create a storyboard or photo gallery. Taking pictures at different times during a meal will showcase dishes as they're enjoyed, incorporating a sense of timeline and narrative into the meal or celebration.

food photos

4. Give your food a sense of style. Food that's fresh tastes best—and photographs best. Be prepared to shoot the food right out of the oven or off the stove, so it looks true and effortlessly fresh and moist. Where appropriate, lightly brush the food with vegetable or olive oil to add shine and highlights.

5. Clean your plate. Manipulate food with tweezers, if you're looking to artfully position and style a dish before you photograph it. Clean up crumbs and food particles on plates with Q-tips and paper towels.

6. Crack the ISO code. ISO denotes how sensitive your camera's image sensor is to the amount of light available for the picture. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the image sensor and better equipped your camera is to take pictures in low-light situations (think: romantic dinners). Even if the lights aren't dimmed, shooting indoors without a flash is still darker than you may realize. When shooting darker foods (like pumpkin pies or barbecue) and table settings indoors without a flash, the ISO setting should be set to 800 or 1600 so that the camera sensor is more sensitive to the ambient, inside light and captures details, texture and shine.

7. White Balance—or Whipped Cream Balance. Anything but stark white whipped cream is less than pixel worthy. Don't spoil your food photographs by not knowing how to set your white balance. The auto white balance setting in your camera normally does a good job for most lighting situations. If you're shooting indoors with household lamps (under incandescent or tungsten lighting), use your camera's preset for tungsten white balance. If the lighting is fluorescent (as in many offices), then the fluorescent white balance setting will work better. A good trick is to take a custom white balance reading off of a white or grey card for a more accurate color rendition in your photo—and then adjust accordingly. Also, compact fluorescent lighting can be very tricky because the color balance changes from bulb to bulb. Try a custom mixture of artificial and natural light to achieve a desired effect.

food photos

8. Setting the Scene [Modes]: Many cameras have Scene Modes that automatically adjust the camera's settings for you (like ISO and white balance). If your camera has them, try Cuisine Mode, Indoor Mode, and Candlelight Mode to explore different effects and presets that are perfect for meal time.

9. Slow and steady wins the race: A tripod helps to avoid camera shake under low light conditions and with slow shutter speeds (below 1/60). To further reduce camera shake, set your camera to take the picture a few seconds after pressing the shutter release button. This will reduce the movement your hand might cause when taking the picture. With a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR), try the mirror-lock up feature to further reduce camera shake.

10. Macro—and cheese: To shoot food close up, use the macro setting on a point and shoot camera, which is typically indicated with a flower icon. Use a macro or a close focusing lens on a camera with interchangeable lenses to get closer to your subject. You can use macro to photograph the smiling faces of your guests around the table, too, right up close.

11. Grab a sheet or a shower curtain: Use household items such as aluminum foil, makeup mirrors and white napkins to reflect the light source into the shadow areas of the photo and capture more detail. To soften the light source, try diffusing it with wax paper or a sheer white cloth to achieve more details in the bright portions of the photo.

food photos

12. Don't flash-flatten your guests: Try to avoid using your camera's built-in flash since this direct light flattens the subject and reduces texture and depth of faces and food. It is better to use the available light from lamps and lighting fixtures in the room or natural daylight from a window.

13. Creativity continues after the oven turns off: Experiment with colors and moods by using the in-camera creative filters found in newer cameras, like the Olympus E-PL1. Your party shot could look even more festive and colorful by using the Pop Art filter. The saturated color reproduction will enhance your beautiful food and setting. Try the Soft Focus filter to capture the mood of a romantic dinner. Grainy Black and White film effects make any photograph feel like a classic.

For more information:

Happy shooting—and eating!

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This page modified March 2011