A beginner's guide to food photography at home

First published:
March 17, 2021
February 12, 2024

A beginner's guide to food photography at home

First published:
March 17, 2021
February 12, 2024

Cover image by Maie Vaks

A subject that can easily be captured from the comfort of your own home - there is no better time to try food photography. Follow these tips to get started

Food has fascinated people for centuries with its exquisite flavours, textures and tastes. As more and more inspirational chefs around the world such as Raymond Blanc and Gordon Ramsey have created delicious signature dishes, plates of food have become more visually attractive and appealing over time. Consequently, food photography is growing in popularity and has become an enjoyable niche to shoot.

Whether you are new to the subject or have captured food before, food photography can be a challenging genre to master. These eight tips will help you on your journey to improving your images:

1 Shoot indoors

Food is a great subject for practising indoors and something you can do relatively easily at home. Unlike landscape photography, it isn’t dependent on the weather or favourable light conditions. You can be more flexible with food photography and can shoot at any time of the day and in all weathers.

Raspberries against a black background, studio shot
Food can look great when photographed at any time of the day and is an ideal subject to shoot in your spare time at home. 1/50s | f2.8 | 50mm

2 Subjects

One of the great things about food is that it is an essential part of our daily lives, and for many it can the highlight of the day. Food is all around us, and there are many subjects within this genre that you can photograph, from something home grown such as vegetables or fruit, to a favourite dish or even something you have purchased from a shop.

When you cook your next meal or do some baking, apply some creativity with your camera. There's so much you can capture; the raw ingredients, the cooking process, the finished dish, or even the utensils and crockery.

Shortbread against a rustic background
The next time you put your baking hat on - get creative with your camera! Just remember, when photographing the details of food, ensure the part of the image you want the viewer to focus on is sharp. 1/100s | f2.8 | 50mm

3 Stock up

If you haven’t got anything in the kitchen that you want to photograph, stock up on ingredients the next time you go to the supermarket. Having these in your cupboard means you have the resources readily available to practise your food photography and can use these ingredients to produce something fun to photograph.

To start with, you could take a piece of fruit or a handful of berries or seeds, and as you grow more confident with the camera, begin to incorporate more elements to your compositions. Like the example below:

Overhead view of noodles, broccoli and chopsticks
Be creative in the kitchen and put some simple dishes and kitchen items together to make a pleasing image. 1/100s | f5 | 50mm

4 Consider your set up

Once you have some ideas about what food to shoot, how do you photograph it successfully? Well one of the key ingredients to taking great food images at home are the objects you include. Photographing your main subject alone can be great but there are times when adding extras can elevate the scene.

Your main dish should be the focal attraction of the image. You could include other items like garnishes to your main dish or include cutlery and utensils in the shot. You could even include some props such as a bowl or tea towel, to help give your image a theme or story.

By arranging the items well you can avoid obscuring your main dish with the additional components. Keeping things simple helps to prevent the scene from being overly complicated and pleasing on the eye.

Overhead view of an assortment of dishes
Think about your compositions and the space around it. Wooden surfaces in a kitchen or on a dining table provide ample space and make a great backdrop for photographing plated dishes. 1/30s | f8 | 24mm

Where you will shoot is another factor in the set-up of your food shots, and might be determined by what you are capturing. For example, if you are taking food shots of the ingredients and materials, you could create your setup in the kitchen, whereas shots of a finished dish could be placed on either a kitchen surface or the dining room table when it is being served up and enjoyed, see the above example.

Overhead view of banana bread
An interesting arrangement of food with other items can enhance the composition and give your image a story. 1/160s | f5 | 50mm

Another major element of the food photography set up is the direction you are shooting from. Like the image above, a straight down (overhead) approach is a great way to compose your image and get a full view of the food. Alternatively, shooting from a side angle adds a different dynamic to the composition and is a great way to highlight certain details of ingredients or other items.

Sushi and chopsticks
Use a 45° or other side angle to add a different dynamic to your images. Photo by Tom Eversley. 0.3s | f6.3 | 70mm

5 Natural and artificial lighting 

Next, consider what light is available in your home and where it is coming from. I like to shoot in natural light and find when shooting in front of a window the light can be ideal for photographing food. Overcast days can be ideal for shooting food images as the cloudy skies act as a giant softbox and you'll get even light coming in through the window.

Watch out for harsh sunlight as food images captured in strong direct sunlight can look often too bright and can bleach out the details of the dish. Moving your setup away from direct light into the shade will help you to capture a more balanced image.

There might be times when light in your home is minimal, such as when you're not next to a window or you are shooting at night. In these situations, you can use your own lights to brighten up your food scene. Consider using a flash or artificial lighting such as room lights or a lamp to add some light and lift the scene.

Overhead view of tea in teacups
Photographing on overcast days near a window can provide you with the soft and even light that is ideal for food photography. 1/200s | f5.6 | 50mm

6 Consider your background 

Once you have chosen subject, location and lighting, you will need to consider a background for your subject. A lighter coloured background to the subject of your image can help brighten your image, whereas a darker tone makes it look more moody. Cooler colours can also help to make the food look fresh and more vibrant.

I chose a more natural looking, lighter background with this bread shot below. And by adding in the chopping board, cutting up some of the bread and keeping the crumbs in the composition, it gives it a more rustic, homely feel.

Overhead view of bread on a wooden chopping board
You can balance the tones in an image by using neutral colours for the subject of the image and the background. 1/60s | f5 | 50mm

It is worth noting that cleaner backgrounds generally work better in food photography. Try to ensure that the background complements (rather than distracts) the food in the image.

Try out different types of background and see which you prefer and works best for the shot. It is worth practising until you get a look that you’re happy with. You could experiment with things like wood, slate, colour paper and fabrics and keep a collection of different backgrounds to use so you'll have a range of choices to fit what you're photographing.

Bonus tip:

When you're thinking of backgrounds it's also worth keeping in mind that surfaces that are shiny tend not to work well in food photography.

7 Equipment

When getting started in food photography, using the camera you already have is the best way to practice. However, once you build up your skills, you may want to invest in some additional equipment to take your shots to the next level:

- Lenses

To get the most out of your shots, knowing which lens to use is one of the biggest challenges to overcome. For top down shots, consider a wide to mid-range lens such as a 24mm lens or 50mm to capture a wider view of the subject. For shooting straight on, anything over 85mm, such as a 100mm macro lens can be a great choice to help you capture the subject and zoom in closer to particular aspects.

- Tripod

When photographing food you will want to ensure your images are sharp. One of the best ways to do this is by placing your camera on a tripod. If you are shooting in low light this will be even more essential as your shutter speed capacity will reduce. A tripod will provide enough stability to compensate for slower shutter speeds and will help overcome the risk of camera shake.

Flapjacks on a plate with a blue background
Shooting on a tripod is advantageous in getting more depth in an image as you'll be able to shoot with a higher aperture. 1/6s | f11 | 50mm

8 Settings

- Aperture

When photographing food it can be a challenge at first to know which camera settings are best to use. This really depends on the type of shot you are looking to achieve. For close up shots of food aim to focus on the part of the image you want to keep sharp and use a wider aperture of around f/4. And for more pulled back shots stop down the aperture to f/5.6 or higher to provide more front to back sharpness and more of the image in focus. See the examples below:

Sugar sprinkled over strawberries
Use a low aperture to focus on one particular area of your shot. Image by Maie Vaks. 1/500s | f2.8 | 50mm
Bonus tip:

Add an extra element to the concept of your shots with a little bit of motion. Like the image above, you could try sprinkling over some sugar over berries to illustrate the concept of jam making, or when you're baking, document the kneading process with a slower shutter speed to show movement.

Kneading flower
Add a small element of movement to enhance the concept of your shot, image by Tommy Lee Walker. 1/320s | f6.3 | 100mm
Overhead view of popcorn
Use a higher aperture (and a slower shutter speed) to capture all the details in your shot. Image by Creative Photo Spain. 2s | f11 | 90mm

- Shutter speed

When it comes to shutter speed, a 1/60s or higher will help to keep shots sharp, especially when hand holding the camera and shooting from overhead. However, remember you can still capture steady images shooting at much slower speeds when using a tripod - which will allow you to use much higher apertures for your shots.

Next steps

Food photography is a wonderful genre to improve your photography skills indoors. There will always be something to photograph, from ingredients you've got in the cupboard to a wonderful dish you've prepared. All you need to do now is apply these tips to help you capture your best ever food photography images!

All images by Jeremy Flint unless otherwise stated.

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