Food Photography Tips: Introduction

My personal food photography journey started slightly earlier than my love for wedding and portrait photography. Since I cook a lot, one day Nasim suggested that I document it and possibly turn my recipes into a blog. It started with one single shot of the final look of the dish before we devoured it, and ended up developing into step-by-step recipes that started gaining popularity. Although I took a break from food photography, I still kept on getting questions regarding the craft of food photography. So, I decided to start writing articles dedicated to food photography tips and techniques and how to work with food in various situations.

Food Photography

In this first article on food photography basics, I will talk about where to chirp the inspiration for food photography and how to develop simple techniques for capturing food. As I mentioned above, my food photography experience started from actually cooking for my family. I believe that if you cook the food before you photograph it, you have a special connection with your subject (food!). You know what to eat it with, you know what color it will be and you have a sense of presentation, more or less. Even if you do not know how to cook, understanding food, knowing the background of the recipe or being just a food lover will give you tremendous flexibility to develop your personal unique style. With a little technical help like simple knowledge of design, color and shapes will add to the plethora of information to make your task a success.

For me, getting my eyes trained was a big goal. What I mean by that is, I thought if I exposed myself to as many food journals, recipe books, quality recipe blogs and food photography books, my mind eventually would come to terms with my desire to learn this craft. I like to think of this as a repetition process to train the brain.

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My first step was to search for food blogs where I could find the content I needed. I signed up for Foodgawker and this ultimately gave me a good head start. Foodgawker is not just a site with pretty pictures – the recipes are often equally delicious. Small steps at a time, I kept on learning from other bloggers and developing my own style.

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The second step was to get my hands on as many food journals I could; this would include spending some time in the library, looking through journals in book stores and purchasing the ones with the most content.

My third step involved purchasing books which would help me master technical skills as a food photographer. Among us there might be some who have an eye for design, color and patterns. But I consider myself a pretty average person, who needs to acquire skills of food styling by learning and training myself. I also think that no one is born a great photographer :) If one has a desire to learn, with the help of simple tools you can learn ample in order to deliver the photographic product. For food photography, I would start with learning the styling techniques along with understanding how light works. If you have been shooting for a while, learning the lighting side of food photography will be much easier for you. The initial knowledge can be gathered through various literature out there.

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Remember that no book will give you complete training or knowledge of food photography. You will still need to learn and practice a lot. If you wish to have some material as a reference, here are my favorite books which teach the food styling and techniques to some extent:

From Snapshots to Great Shots
A Guide to Creating Your Own Appetizing Art
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling
Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the camera

Go to your nearest book store and if these are available give them a skim through and see what you like. I will be posting more and more techniques regarding food photography, along with different lighting techniques to show you what you can achieve at home using inexpensive lighting equipment. Also, I will teach you to use natural light to your advantage without using artificial lights.

I am looking forward to sharing more info with you soon and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me using the comments section below.

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  • Scott

    Hi Lola,

    I cook a lot and am now in the market of buying a lens for food photography. Would you mind sharing some tips in picking the right lens for food photography. Do I really need a macro lens or will a nifty-fifty be enough for it? Your suggestion is highly appreciated.


    • Lola Elise

      Hi Scott, hope you are doing well! While my next installment of introduction to food photography will contain information about gear for the craft, I can give you a hint that most of my food photos where shot with one and only nifty-fifty :)

      • Scott

        Thanks Lola, I look forward to your article! :)

      • Yannis

        50mm lenses hold a special place in Mount Olympus, among the rest of the Gods…

  • Peter

    Now, that’s what I call great subject matter! No silly poses required and see how creative you can be!
    God, does that chicken look good. The cake in the first photo looks delicious, too. As you said “let the creative ideas flow” but don’t forget the Chablis.

    Glad to see that you’re back on the right track, Lola.

    • Lola Elise

      Thank you, Peter :) I love your sense of humor.

  • Vicki

    Can’t wait for lighting help!

    • Lola Elise

      Hi Vicki! Next week I will write about the light setup I use and what can purchased for different levels of food photography.

  • John Adams

    Interesting article, Lola. I’m half Italian (my Mom) so I’ve enjoyed cooking and eating good food my entire life. I’m an amateur photographer but never thought about combining two of my favorite hobbies by taking pictures of food. You’ve inspired me to give it a try. By the way, your chicken looks delicious.

    • Lola Elise

      Hi John! Do give it a try. You will be presently surprised by the results :)

  • Joni Solis

    Yummy! Pretty! And now I am hungry. My favorite is the last ones with the berries. I just ate a handful of wild blackberries this evening while walking my dogs.

    • Lola Elise

      Hi Joni! Berries are my favorites, too. With the color palette of berries, they can be integrated into so many displays in photography!

  • Holly

    I am looking forward to your series on food photography. Thanks for the list of good books– I’ve heard of a few but not all and will start to track them down. I learn something each time I read about food photography and sometimes it helps me to read the same information but from different sources so that the info sinks in. So much to learn and really enjoying it!

    • Lola Elise

      Hi Holly! Thank you for your comment. This is the sole reason why I always keep references on everything. I takes practice and constant reminders for me to nail something down good, so that I will never get it wrong :)

  • Doug

    Wow — this is very impressive food photography. I’m far more impressed with your work compared to many very highly-marketed food photography “experts.” At least to my eyes, these are gorgeous photographs with considerable artistic content.

    • Lola Elise

      Thank you very much, Doug!

  • paula

    Thanks Lola for introducing this interesting topic. I’m hungry for more!! : )
    Lovely pictures!!


    • Lola Elise

      Thank you, Paula! :)

  • Irina*

    Hi Lola! So, do you also cook? ;) I mean I just love to photograph – I am a terrible cook. Greetings from Finland! =)

    • Lola Elise

      Hi Irina :) As much as I only want to photograph, I cook for the family all the time :) Breakfast, lunch and dinner :D

  • Joni Solis

    Another place to go for visual inspiration: I have found some great food photos and links to some wonderful blogs with delightful food photos is Pinterest.

    Question: Do they have books for professional cooks on how to make food more visually pleasing?

    I am a terrible cook. I do love picking berries and eating home grown tomatoes right off the vine — that is where I photograph them too.

    • Lola Elise

      Yes, Pinterest makes life much easier for chirping inspiration :) Check out the list of books I listed in the article and see if any of them is what you want.

  • Anna

    Hi Lola,
    THANK YOU! for such a great topic. I love your photography style and the recipes. The foo looks edible, approachable, delicious, and like an average person can do it. It doesn’t feel “staged” or somehow “plastic” or “fake”. It looks like it just came out of your pan (is that “chicken tabaka” by any chance?).
    Can’t wait for the next installment.
    Oh, would you ever considering having a class on this? Something hand-on? If I remember correctly, you guys had a class a few years ago, but it wasn’t food photography specific.

    • Nasim Mansurov

      Anna, we will have some photography workshops later this year. We did not plan on workshops specific to food photography, since it would probably be hard to attract more than 1-2 people…

      • Anna

        I’ve been looking forward to your workshops for a few years now. :) Would you happen to have any indication as to when it might be (time of year of month)? I’ve been trying to come for a few years and my schedule hasn’t worked out in the past, so I’m hoping to make it this year and hope to plan around it. I understand about a food photography-only workshop. I suppose the tutorial on here are the next best thing. :)

        • Nasim Mansurov

          Anna, I posted our 2013 workshop schedule.

          Please let me know if you have any questions!

  • Johny Wong

    Hi Lola,

    I just finished my lunch when I read this post. And now I’m hungry again :)
    Do you cook all those food yourself ?

    • Lola Elise

      Hi Johny,

      Yes I do :)

  • DEL B

    Great post! I’ve learned a lot from it. I will try to incorporate these with my photography techniques. Thanks, Lola!

  • Roberta Briffa

    Hi Lola, great article. I have been running a foodie blog for more than two years now and am learning to take photos of what I cook myself, rather than asking my hubby to do all the photo work plus editing. Poor guy, I promised him a break! Looking forward to reading more. Thanks!

  • Bali wedding photography package

    very helpful, hopefully the photos that I take will be great.

  • Bibi

    What a wonderful blog! I’ve just bought my first ever DSLR (the modest Nikon D3200) and I stumbled uspon your site by chance and I absolutely love it! So much useful info, concepts explained in a comprehensible way, accompanied by some great shots. Thanks so much guys for all your hard work and the passion you put into it.

    A very enthusiastic beginner :)

  • Andrew

    I have been involved with food for the last 7 years and just recently I bought myself a very nice point and shoot camera (Coolpix P510), only because I couldn’t justify spending so much for a DSLR. My problem is trying to get the depth of focus spot on. I want the place setting and food to pop; however I don’t care to get the background. Any tips or suggestions? Appreciate it.

  • ron

    Hello, enjoyed your shots and looking forward to your future comments/tips/suggestions. My wife is a Food Stylist (for the last 25 years). She is enthusiastic and knowledgeable for all things Food. Subsequently she knows and can prepare virtually every variety of food. One of the things she constantly reminds photographers and production people is “the food is the star” . Also, not all food for photography is for eating; a lot of spices are not used for the shots tho they would be required for eating. Salt and other spices change the “color” in the lighting and sometimes deteriorate the ‘stamina’ of the food for the shoot. There is always a ‘stand-in’ then the ‘Hero’. Lights and camera angles and placement are the work of the ‘stand-in’.