Are you a food blogger who’s spent ages taking pictures of the perfect tacos only for the images to look like they’ve been taken by a three-year-old with shaky hands? Does your ice cream fruit bowl melt before you manage to take a single good photo?

You’re not alone. 

Taking good food photos is challenging, and taking photos that can compete with the hundreds of stunning food photos that are uploaded on social media and other online platforms every day can seem close to impossible. 

However, with the right knowledge, you too can make your food photos look appetizing and use them to motivate the readers to take the actions you want them to, whether it’s purchasing something from your store or trying out a recipe.

In this article, we’ve gathered the best industry secrets on food photography to help you work on composition and food styling

So grab your cameras, and let’s start! 

Using non-food items to take your images to the next level

While they may look delicious, not all professional food images include edible items. Surprisingly, photographers often rely on non-food elements to enhance the visual appeal of their shots, which also helps maintain the food’s fresh appearance for a more extended period during a photo shoot. 

Here are some tricks you might not have considered before:

Use mashed potatoes instead of ice cream

Ice cream, while tasty, has the annoying ability to melt in minutes, especially under the glare of artificial lighting. Mashed potatoes, on the other hand, can effectively mimic ice cream without the risk of melting. 

Food coloring can help to mimic the desired ice cream shades, and to perfect the illusion, the mash can be served using an ice cream scoop. 

Mashed potatoes disguised as ice cream

Add glue to your cereal

Most cereals become soggy shortly after getting doused in milk, which doesn’t make for attractive photos. Replacing milk with non-toxic white school glue can keep the cereal looking crisp, as it bears a similar look to milk. 

💡Hint: Don’t fill the entire bowl with glue. You can just nest another smaller bowl inside, cover that with saran wrap, and then put the glue on top. 

Adding glue to a bowl with saran wrap on top

⚠️While this swap can keep your cereal looking camera-ready for longer, make sure to keep it away from children to avoid accidental ingestion. 

Hold ingredients in place with toothpicks

In food photography, toothpicks can give essential support for precarious food stacks such as burger buns. Toothpicks allow you to position the bun to show off its layers, such as the glistening cheese or the juicy patty. 

For example, in this picture, the toothpick is placed in such a way that it keeps the burger together, but it also shows everything in there. If you were to eat it like this, it would be messy, but it’s perfect for photography. 

A picture of a burger on a white ceramic plate
Photo by Zoran Borojevic on Unsplash

Add a touch of oil or spray the food with water

Freshness is important, and there is nothing better than bright fruit and veg. A famous trick used by professional food photographers is to create shine by adding a touch of oil or spraying the food with water. Bear in mind that some foods, such as fruits, may look better with water spritzing, as using oil will make them appear greasy. 

To do this, apply oil sparingly with a brush or lightly spritz food with water to replicate enticing water droplets. Don’t apply too much – a heavy coating can make the food look unnaturally shiny instead of pleasantly fresh. Instead, aim for a moderate shimmer that emphasizes the food’s natural appeal.

A close-up picture of a tomato with droplets of water
Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

Use cardboard spacers for cakes, burgers, and pancake stacks

Getting the structure right is important, especially while shooting stacked foods like cakes, burgers, or pancakes. The problem with stacked foods, however, is that they can quickly become soggy, wet, and floppy. Not very appetizing, right?

To avoid that, place cardboard spacers in between layers. This way, all the food juices will be absorbed by the cardboard, while the food layers, be it pancakes or burger ingredients, stay fresh and photogenic.

For hot foods, a cardboard spacer acts as a barrier that keeps the layers separate, reducing the impact of steam on other layers. With cakes, cardboard serves as a stabilizer that minimizes the chance of the upper layers sliding off the cream filling. However, using cardboard comes with its share of considerations – it adds to waste and needs careful positioning to remain unseen. 

An alternative to using cardboard for pancakes could be to place a clean, dry kitchen towel between the stacks to absorb excess moisture, preventing the pancakes from becoming soggy. 

💡Tip: While placing the cardboard, ensure it’s properly hidden from direct camera angles, maintaining the authenticity of your food setup. If it appears in the photos, it compromises the illusion of the perfect layering you’re trying to create.

Try shaving cream instead of whipped cream

Whipped cream adds a delightful visual texture to food photographs, but its tendency to deflate quickly can be challenging. A surprising workaround used in food photography is substituting whipped cream with shaving cream, which maintains its fluffiness and structure for significantly longer. 

Foods styled with shaving cream – or any non-edible substitutes – should never be served or left where someone could unknowingly ingest them. If the food will be eaten post-photography, consider alternatives like stabilizing the whipped cream with gelatin to maintain its structure longer. 

White vanilla and blueberry cupcake on a stone background
Photo by Natallia Nagorniak on Unsplash

Creating steam with soaked cotton balls

The effect of steam or vapor can go a long way. There is nothing better than watching the steam rise from a warm bowl of stew or a cold beer that is frothy and beading with condensation against a warm backdrop. While capturing these fleeting elements in real-time is challenging, there are some trade secrets that can help create these captivating visuals.

A savvy trick with cotton balls can come to the rescue: 

  1. Firstly, set up your image the way you want and capture some test shots to ensure everything is perfect.
  2. Then, take cotton balls, dampen them with water, and pop them in the microwave until hot.
  3. Finally, place these hot cotton balls where they won’t be visible in the photo, like behind the food. Their steady emission of steam creates a warm, freshly prepared look for your food.

Note: Please remember that these cotton balls are hot, and handle them with care to prevent any burns.

Add salt or dish soap to your beer to keep the foam head

Speaking of beer, here are some ways to keep that foam looking fresh even during a long photoshoot: 

  • Adding salt to the beer: Salt crystals help stabilize the foam bubbles, prolonging their beauty.
  • Adding dish soap to the beer: A tiny amount of dish soap can sustain the frothy head of beer for a longer period. If using soap is a concern, safe alternatives like egg whites or glycerin can also be employed.
A picture of a clear glass beer mug with beer
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It’s important to understand the ethical considerations involved in using these techniques. Viewers tend to perceive food photos with some degree of expectation. Hence, while these are effective tricks to enhance the visual appeal, it might be wise to inform your audience – if applicable – that these methods were employed solely for photographic effects. 

💡Pro-tip: You can improve your skills by comparing before-and-after shots, seeing the difference these tricks made, and deciding whether they meet your photography goals.

Styling and composition tips to elevate your food photos

Spotless plates and a tidy background

Props and tidy backdrops are so important. With impeccable cutlery and plates, your food stays front and center. A clean environment removes distractions, ensuring your food is the hero of the photo. Remember, a smudge on a glass can detract from your perfectly plated dish! 

Don’t overload your plate

Overflowing plating might seem appealing, but less is more when it comes to food styling. Scaling down the portion allows you to focus on composition and aesthetic precision. A simple yet effective tip is to play with odd numbers

For instance, place three scallops strategically on a plate rather than four for a visually pleasing composition. 

A picture of a white plate topped with scallops on top of a wooden table
Photo by Laura Kennedy on Unsplash

Master the color wheel

Not just for artists, the color wheel holds the key to photos that visually pop! With it, you can determine which colors complement each other. 

Color wheel infographic

For a dish like a sponge cake with a pale yellow hue, a look at the color wheel shows its complementary color is violet. By including violet elements, whether the backdrop, plate, napkin, or even a tablecloth, your cake will stand out notably and look appealing.

Angle your shots

Viewing your subject from various angles can alter the image dramatically. Towering foods like stacked sandwiches usually look their best from the side, while flat-lying foods look great overhead. Pull out your phone or camera, pick a dish, and try shooting the same platter from five perspectives to see firsthand how angles affect your photos.

For your viewers to appreciate the size of your food, add elements for reference. Including hands reaching out for a slice of pizza or a spoon scooping up a piece of pie will give a sense of scale and a feel of action. 

A picture of two hands grabbing a slice of pizza each
Photo by Mahyar Motebassem on Unsplash

Add some movement to the image

Introducing an element of motion into your food photography adds a layer of dynamism that brings your images to life and draws viewers in. Capturing a lively scene can transform a standard food photo into a compelling narrative that resonates with the viewer:

  • Adjust your shutter speed: A slower shutter speed can help you capture the motion of pouring a sauce or sprinkling icing sugar. However, remember, a steady hand or a tripod is crucial to prevent blurring the entire scene.
  • Use burst mode: This is particularly useful when capturing action shots. By taking multiple photos quickly, you increase your chances of getting that perfect mid-action snapshot, whether the splash of gravy over a roast or the sprinkle of cocoa on a cappuccino.

Visual examples are an excellent way to appreciate the impact of motion. Hence, consider having before-and-after photographs, one static and the other with movement, to see the difference firsthand.

Composition and the rule of thirds

Composition plays an important role in capturing attention. A widely used principle in photography to achieve balanced composition is the ‘rule of thirds’. This rule divides your frame into nine equal parts using two horizontal and two vertical lines. 

The theory suggests that placing the main subjects or points of interest along these lines or at their intersections can create more balance and interest in your photo. 

The rule of thirds illustrated with pancakes

While this rule acts as a sturdy foundation in arranging composition, it is not set in stone. Remember, the most memorable photos often break the rules, so don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Play around with depth of field

The depth of field, or the zone within your photo from near to far that appears sharp, plays a significant role in directing viewer attention. The key to manipulating depth of field lies in understanding the relationship between aperture and sharpness

Graphic showing the different F-stops in photography

Typically, a low aperture (indicated by a lower f-stop number such as f/1.8 or f/2.8) results in a blurry background, creating a shallow depth of field. This can help in isolating a dish against a busy background. 

On the opposite end, a high aperture (higher f-stop number like f/8 or f/16) will yield a photo where both the subjects and the background are sharp, practical in scenarios such as capturing an elaborate spread of dishes.

Altering your aperture settings according to the scene at hand can help control what parts of the image you want to highlight or downplay. 

Showcasing your food photography on a blog with WP Recipe Maker

Mastering food photography is an ongoing journey that is constantly evolving with new discoveries, techniques, and styles. 

While the unconventional tactics we’ve mentioned add a unique touch, there are also fundamental techniques of styling and composition that are equally essential in creating stunning food photographs. 

But another question comes: What do you do after taking the best food photos?

Well, you share them with the world, of course. 

Food blogs are where people go for inspiration and to look for tried and true recipes, helping them better their own cooking skills and get out of their comfort zone. So if you’re a food blogger, you must appeal to these audiences by giving them striking images along with every blog post or recipe. 

WordPress is the biggest blogging platform where most food bloggers host their sites. To make the most out of it, many food professionals include interactive recipe cards, which you can also easily create by using a plugin like WP Recipe Maker

Example of a recipe card with WP Recipe Maker

“Enhancing photography skills is essential for food bloggers, particularly when displaying recipes. Strong visuals are key to capturing the audience’s attention and effectively illustrating cooking processes. Improved photography allows bloggers to create engaging, visually appealing content that communicates the essence of their recipes, thereby increasing audience interest and understanding. WP Recipe Maker is the perfect tool to showcase these visuals on your food blog.”

Birthe Vandermeeren

WP Recipe Maker is a user-friendly WordPress plugin designed to streamline content uploading and organization on your food blog. Even if you’re new to blogging, WP Recipe Maker’s intuitive interface makes it effortless to use and make the most of its features. 

With it, you can: 

Remember that mastery is an ongoing journey. Adopt a mindset of continuous learning, experimentation, and observation of emerging trends in food photography. This will keep you on top of new techniques, tools, software updates, and refreshing perspectives that could enrich your photography practice.

Be a part of the WP Recipe Maker community: Don’t wait to transform your food blog. Try WP Recipe Maker today, experience the difference firsthand, and let your food photography journey inspire others.

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