Adventures in iPhone photography from the creators of… Camera + MagiCam Filters

How To Shoot Better Foodie Photography With Your iPhone

December 19, 2014 by 16 Comments

About Jack Hollingsworth

Jack Hollingsworth, a denizen of Austin, TX, is an award-winning, 30-year career veteran in commercial photography. Jack has fallen in love with his iPhone camera as his primary capture tool. He is also an avid Camera+ devotee and has been since day one. He deeply believes that, when all is said and done, the iPhone may just be remembered as the most influential capture device ever in the history of photography.



Thanks to Instagram, everyone is a foodie photographer these days. In all my years of shooting, I have never seen interest in food photography so high. It’s literally off the charts! People are shooting and posting food pictures faster than we can digest them (pun intended!).

Let’s face it, most of the food photographs you see on Instagram are marginal at best. Food is a hard subject to shoot well. Here are a few basic foodie tips to help your photographs stand out and make your culinary creations ‘mini works of art’.

Camera Angle

By far, the two most popular camera angles for shooting food are front view and top view.

The front view is often referred to, in photographic lingo, as a ‘front 3/4 view’. This means your camera is roughly 45 degrees in front of the subject you’re shooting. This front view is predictably the most popular since it is how your food appears (to your eyes) as it sits in front of you.

front 3/4 view

The second most popular view is the top down view, often called ‘overview’ or ‘birds eye’. It is my favorite since it is the most graphic and, to me, the most visually appealing.

top down view

Stack It Up

I love stacking layers of food on top of each other. It’s fun, interesting and generally captivates the viewers interest. Stacking food elements also helps fill the frame.

stack it up

Light

You have two options when it comes to lighting your food. You can use natural light (outdoors) or artificial light (indoors). Most of the time food looks more flattering and appealing in natural light.

Once you get past this decision, you have another one to make. Do you want ‘direct’ light or ‘indirect’ light? Direct light is where your light source is directly hitting your subject. Indirect light is where the light is being softly reflected, bounced or diffused back onto your subject. For the most part, when you’re shooting food, you want the light to be as indirect as possible.

direct light

indirect light

Split Lighting

Split lighting can be a little tricky. This is where the light is ‘split’ between highlights and shadows. In other words, you have both in your photograph. When you find yourself in this situation, it’s always best to expose for your highlights. Lock your exposure reticle on the brightest part of the subject and not on the shadow.

split lighting

Room Temperature

Here’s a tip that just might surprise you, and one that photographers and food stylists have known for decades – food looks and photographs more natural at room temperature. This is no problem if you are shooting indoors but if you’re shooting outdoors in a very hot or tropical environment, shoot fast.

room temperature

Eye Level

When you’re shooting sandwiches, like we are here, then get down to ‘eye level’ or even ‘table level’. Rest your camera on the table so you can see what is inside the sandwich.

eye level

Mess It Up

Let’s face it, if you’re like me, eating is messy, and it’s the way it should be. Look closely at this blueberry muffin. I shot one frame all neat and perfect and then, for an alternate shot (my favorite) I messed it up. We are all attracted to imperfection. It suits us well as photographers and as human beings. Give yourself permission to mess up your composition. The more…the merrier.

mess it up

clean muffin

Background is Important

I like to think of food photography as 80% content (the actual food) and 20% context (the setting, location, ambiance, etc.). While I’m a big fan of focusing on the food, whenever and wherever it is possible, I also like to show just a hint of environment. I even like to shoot the same plate of food in different settings and then decide, after the fact, which one I like best.

background is important

on grass

Don’t Get Too Close

Be careful and don’t get too close when you’re shooting food. Food isn’t the best subject for abstraction or macro. Back up and give the food plenty of breathing room. Also remember that with your iPhone camera, you are shooting with a built-in wide-angle lens. If you get too close to your food plate, the wide angle will exaggerate the photo and make it look anything but natural.

don't get too close

Styling Isn’t Just For Hipsters

I saw this salmon entrée as I walked by someone else’s table, but I didn’t like the presentation of the entrée itself. I sent a humble request back to the chef, via my waitress and asked him to really style up the plate so that I could photograph it. You know what? He did. He even came out to meet me and see what I was up to. He thanked me for caring about how the entrée looked on the plate and was grateful for my interest. Styling isn’t just for hipsters.

styling isn't just for hipsters

salmon

Share Only Your Best

Please, if you are an active foodie photographer, spare showing us every meal you ever eat. Share only your best and most flattering food shots. Keep the bulk of your foodie photos to yourself as memory keepsakes.

share only your best

Minimize Filters

I hardly ever put Instagram filters (or any photo app filters) on my food shots because it mostly looks unnatural. The goal of foodie photographs is to make the food shots as natural, attractive and appetizing as possible. Keep it real. Minimize filters.

minimize filters

Backlight Your Food

If you browse professional food magazines and blogs, you will notice that a lot of food is ‘backlit’. In other words, the light is coming from behind (and not in front of the food). This makes the composition fresh and airy. It also adds a bit of stylistic modernity to the final shot. I shot this salad using a simple backlight technique, and then I shot another one with side lighting as well as top lighting. Which one do you like?

backlight

side light

top light

Give Food an Environment

Sometimes all it takes to elevate your photos is just a hint of the environment, just like we’ve done here with this simple bowl of tortilla soup.

give food an environment

Primary and Secondary Elements

All photographs have what they call ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ visual elements. Art critics call this ‘weight’. The trick here is to get the viewer to focus on the primary element and use the secondary elements to frame the composition.

primary and secondary elements

guacamole

dessert

No Fuss. No Muss.

For those of you new to photography, these tips may seem a bit too much as well as time consuming. You might be thinking that to shoot great foodie photography it will completely interrupt your eating experience. I am here to tell you that this is not true! Most of what I’m showing you here can be done, and done well, in less than a minute. When I shoot food, my motto is: No fuss, no muss. I don’t want to bring attention to what I’m doing or to myself. I want to get in and get out and make my food photograph only a tiny part of my dining experience.

no fuss. no muss.

Secret Sauce is Love

If you love food like I do, then it will show up in your food photography. Passion always trumps product in the kitchen as well as behind the lens. Bon appetit!

secret sauce is love

16 Comments

  1. Moses, I don’t use many collage apps in my mobile photography. If you are asking how i get the split-frames in my video…we do all these in Photoshop the use After-Effects to bring then on/off the screen. Hope that helps

  2. The tutor said about food “warm it up a bit” the shot, not the food. What setting is that?

  3. I am a big time Nom Nom foodie freak. Thank you so much for such an informative lesson on Food photography. I appreciate it.

  4. Thanks Jack.

    All the points were interesting and helpful
    The best tip for me was to backlight the food.
    Small change = big difference.
    Thanks
    Julia

  5. Your tutorials is absolutely fantastic! I’ve never taken pictures of food. Now, you certainly have gotten me started on an exhilarating hobby!
    If I may, I did have trouble trying to understand back, side and top lighting. (I liked the side lighting picture out of the 2 others.) Does such lighting mean where the camera is at? For example, if I’m standing and taking a picture of the food from above would that be back lighting? Or is it a feature we use on our iPhone? I have 6+ and do have camera+ app.
    Again, I cannot even begin to thank you enough for taking time to thoroughly explain to us amateurs how to take decent pictures. Thank you!

  6. Tip #11 is an important one to remember! I don’t know what it is about eating out, but I always want to snap a picture of my food first. Maybe it makes the meal feel more special. As an aspiring foodie, I really need to remember to only post the best of the best to social media platforms.

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