Food Photography Composition is probably the single most effective technique for sucking the audience into your food photos and keeping them drooling over that recipe. Beautiful light, amazing props and a well styled dish are the standard for mouth watering food images, but how you compose these elements, elevates what might be an ordinary shot into a stunning food story.
I included a table of contents below so you can quickly navigate through this huge food photography composition guide. Also be sure to check out the links to other resources and gear I have placed throughout this guide, which will help you put all this information into action.
Food Photography Composition Guide
SETTING UP THE CAMERA
FOR THE PERFECT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY COMPOSITION
Tripods and overhead camera tripod setups are magical. Essential pieces on any food photography equipment list. They give you the ability to be hands free and easily create your food photography composition by allowing you to style to the camera. A lot of food photographers prefer to hand-hold the camera and that's fine. However, when you give yourself a frame of reference by locking down the camera, you can track the progression as you build your story one frame at a time. Here is a great article about styling to the camera to get that perfect food photography composition.
Ever wondered how to get that perfect overhead shot without falling face first into your food? I go into a whole lot more details about the perfect overhead camera tripod setup for food photography here. I created a simple setup using ordinary studio equipment. It’s lightweight and portable and I go through the gear you’ll need and how to set it all up! This overhead camera setup is awesome at your house or studio, but its really my go to setup because in 5 minutes I can break it all down and easily cart it off for those on-location shoots at restaurants and hotels.
How To Build The Best Overhead Camera Tripod Setup
My Favorite Tripod For Food Photography
TIP: I use the XPRO Magnesium Ball Head from the 055 Manfrotto Tripod for my overhead camera setup as well, that way I didn't have to buy two. However, if you want to shoot from above and level with the food at the same time then you might want to invest in 2 tripod heads.....and two cameras I guess 😉
If your interested in what's in my camera bag and all the food photography equipment I use in my studio, check out my huge gear guide HERE!
THE BEST CAMERA ANGLE ˚
As a college lecturer food photography, I have looked at thousands of professional (and not so professional) food photos, while doing research for my courses. Having seen so much work out there, at this point, I feel pretty comfortable stating there are only two camera angles for food photography. Of course there are an infinite amount of camera angles. And you can snap away as you wave your camera around by the strap if you want to be more “creative,” but that won’t change that these two camera angles are the go to setups for professional food photography composition.
The 0-45˚ shot and 90˚ shot. Although this is not always the case, if you look at a lot of food images, you will start to notice that these two are definitely the dominate camera angles for food photography.
THE 0-45˚ AND THE 90˚ CAMERA ANGLES For Food Photography
If it sounds pretty simple, thats because it is! The first step in improving your food photography composition is to place the camera on an imaginary arc, either level with the table or slightly above for the 45˚ angle. And for a more graphic look, place the camera directly overhead shooting downward from the 90˚ angle.
Consistently sticking to one of these camera angles will make huge leaps forward in improving your food photography compositions.
TIP – TO AVOID MAKING PICTURES WHERE THE FOOD LOOKS LIKE IT IS SLIDING OFF THE TABLE IN ANY DIRECTION, TRY to not PLACE YOUR CAMERA IN BETWEEN 45˚-90˚ AND MAKE SURE IT IS LEVEL WITH THE TABLE.
THE 45˚ CAMERA ANGLE
Keeping the camera angle consistently in these two ranges deters you from trying to use a gimmicky camera angle to add “creativity” to your food image. Creativity should come from what you place inside the frame, rather than the frame itself. An odd shaped window overlooking a smelly trash heap doesn’t make the trash heap look any better and it wouldn’t make a beautiful sunset anymore beautiful. There is so much to think about as far as styling, composing, lighting, focusing, arranging and maybe even cooking. Try to keep as many elements of your food shoot as routine as possible. The camera angle should be one of those elements that takes little time away from your process.
TIP: All three of the photos below have the same lighting, to see how to make your artificial lights look like natural light food photography check out this article HERE! Simply the best light for food photography.
TIP: FOR A 45˚ CAMERA ANGLE, try AN APERTURE BETWEEN F/2.8 -F/5.6. THIS WILL GIVE YOU THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF DEPTH OF FIELD TO SEPARATE THE FOOD FROM THE BACKGROUND. FIND A NICE BALANCE ACCORDING TO THE SIZE OF YOUR DISH; YOU DON’T WANT YOUR APERTURE TO BE TOO SHALLOW, BLURRING OUT MOST OF YOUR FOOD AND YOU DON’T WANT IT TO BE TOO NARROW, CAUSING ALL THE DETAIL IN THE BACKGROUND TO COMPETE WITH YOUR DISH.
THE BIG DADDY OF CAMERA ANGLES
The 0-45˚ is the most versatile of the two camera angles for food photography. It’s descriptive, has depth and includes way more information for the viewer. Here are a few important reasons lining up that camera from the 45˚ angle improves your food photography composition.
WHY ARE FOOD PHOTOGRAPHERS IN LOVE WITH THE 45˚ CAMERA ANGLE?
1. A more descriptive and natural look at the food: not every dish looks great from 45˚ and 90˚. Most of the time you really have to pick one or the other depending on your subject. If food is tall like a cake with different layers, you’ll most likely want to shoot it from the 45˚ position to show the viewer all that yummy goodness inside. It’s also how the viewer is used to seeing food presented when they sit at a table. Look at the two photos below and you’ll see what I mean.
The 90˚ shot of these shrimp and curry potato towers just doesn't express the food correctly, the viewer can't see what's under the shrimp. The 45˚ is also the view a person normally gets when sitting at a table, it's what the viewer is comfortable with and therefore they will be more receptive to this type of angle.
Another added benefit of the 45˚ camera angle for food photography is the ability to show more of a story around the food. You get a foreground and background to play with and style, which goes into the next reason.
Props and ingredients can be used to create food photography compositions that have layers, such as cutlery, glasses, tins and fabrics all styled around your subject. They can also be used to frame your subject surrounding what you want the viewer to see first in the food photo. Just make sure the props add to the story; relating in some way to the main dish.
3. The bonus of Depth of Field: with a large aperture you can really single your subject out. Unlike the 90˚ angle where everything is on the same focal plane the 0-45˚ camera angle allows for some sexy bokeh.
So why is this an advantage?
Well as nice as it is to have props to help tell the story, you don’t want them to steal the show and a large aperture will keep them in check. The depth of field (amount of area out of focus) will not only single your subject out, but create a dreamy texture in the background and foreground. The trick is leaving those props in focus just enough, to tell the story, but not to much as to take attention away from your food.
Want to brush up on the camera and lighting? Check out my huge Beginners Guide To Better Food Photography HERE!
THE 90˚ CAMERA ANGLE
TIP: FOR A 90˚ CAMERA ANGLE I RECOMMEND SHOOTING BETWEEN F/8 TO F/16. THIS WILL MAKE SURE THAT EVERYTHING WILL BE IN FOCUS, FROM THE TOP OF THE FOOD TO THE TABLE, GIVING IT MORE OF THAT GRAPHIC LOOK.
THE 90˚ CAMERA ANGLE For Food Photography IS THE YIN TO THE 45˚ YANG
The 90˚ angle is graphic, eye-catching and unique. It is not what the viewer is used to and therefore, if done right, immediately grabs their attention. Like looking at nature from a aircraft, what is ordinary for the viewer, all of a sudden, becomes abstract.
WHAT IS SO ZEN ABOUT THE 90˚ CAMERA ANGLE FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY?
1. The ability to compose with shapes: when shooting from above, shapes can be your best friend and not in the way you might think.
With the 0-45˚ camera angle you fail to show the natural shape of the food or dish. All those great circles, square and triangle shaped props and food get lost with the compression of the lens and the point of view. So, where the 45˚ has it’s place, the 90˚ rocks at showing off shapes in a graphic way.
Try creating food photography composition with contrasting shapes, like circular foods on square plates. Or try repeating shapes, the possibilities are endless, but “composing with shapes” doesn’t stop at physical appearance.
2. Trap the viewers eye: Do you want to know what the 90˚ camera angle for food photography is REALLY good at? Why professional photographers use it over and over again?
The SECRET to keeping that viewer glued to your photo…
Simply put, the 90˚ camera angle helps TRAP their eyes.
Yup, I said it, trap their eyes. Sounds weird? Its not. Look at the examples here with the 90˚ camera angle for food photos, you can actually build food photography compositions in patterns that stop the viewer's eyes from moving out of the frame. Look at the way these photos were composed. You can see that in the photo to the left, the composition moves the eye in a circular motion around the frame. The middle photo causes your eye to bounce between two subjects. Finally, the photo on the right is composed to make the eyes move in a triangle around the frame.
https://www.youtube.com/weeattogetherThe eyes never want to leave the frame, they are trapped in the shape, which the photographer created.
Food photography composition like this keeps their eyes bouncing back and forth between your subjects. So if you want to create images that people can’t stop looking at, create food photography composition with shapes.
3. Negative space that you can use: the 90˚ angle was born for negative space. Don’t be afraid of leaving some of that table bare. It’s okay. It won’t go unused for long. The 90˚ camera angle allows for some great opportunities to place some copy, some graphic text, a menu or even your recipe. As you are styling, imagine where the text will live. Make it part of you food photography composition.
An oldie, but a goodie. These top 5 ways for improving food photography composition never die out. Have a watch and be sure to subscribe to the WeEatTogether channel on YouTube to find a whole bunch more great food photography tips, tricks and tutorials.
Never underestimate the power of well placed lines within that food photography composition. Using props and food to create lines will drive the viewers eye straight to your subject, they will place action in a still environment and can give symmetry to your photograph.
Props and food can help point the viewers eyes to your subject. Have a look at the 4 images below. The lemons inside the bowl of the smoked salmon image do a good job leading your eyes to the main dish. Or the chicken skewers on top of the table grill. Take advantage of these opportunities when they arise, but be careful not to make it too obvious or staged.
Diagonal and Parallel Lines will give the still life image that much needed bit of action. The multiple lines created in the second image are accentuated by the two sprigs on top of the seared cod. All these lines work together to create an exciting composition.
The Parallel lines created with the salt and pepper spoons and the drip of sauce atop the wagu beef dumplings give a bit of symmetry to image that might otherwise be a difficult image to compose because of the odd shaped platter.
Nothing singles out your subject like composing with layers. The technique here is simple and can bring you huge gains in your compositions.
Mainly a technique for the 0-45˚ camera angle, using layers is really as easy as offering up a foreground, middle and background for your viewers. Simply placing your main dish in the middle will make your meal stand out; framed by the rest of the objects within your image. A shallow depth of field helps here as well, like in the image of the quail eggs.
Try not to think of layers as simply the arrangement of objects though, rather think of it as layers of your creativity. Each layer adding more depth to your story.
Framing objects within your photos, tells your viewers what’s important to look at. It can be done in a number of ways and you don’t always have to frame your main dish.
This technique can be as direct as placing your food on a dish or as subtle as the spout on the Arabic coffee pot slightly curved over the baklava.
Framing the key ingredient is a good trick to remind the viewer whats important in the dish, especially when the ingredients are mixed or not obvious. Take the whole figs framed between the props and wooden platter for example.
Repeating Patterns or Shapes
Creating concepts around repeating shapes or patterns always leads to visually striking images. Instead of cooking a single serving, try baking up a set, like with these strawberry & rhubarb crostata.
Repeating the shape of your meal is something to keep in mind when composing your props too. The circular cutting board and bowl go nicely with the shape of the tortillas and rolled dough.
Repeating patterns add that graphic element to all types of photography and food is no different. The repeating diagonal lines of the straws and the repeating pattern of the tangerines carefully placed, brings harmony to these compositions. Our brains are constantly searching for patterns so when we see it in compositions, it’s a big treat.
Did you run out food? Do you need just one more prop to make that perfect food photography composition? Try out this awesome editing trick here that will save the day!
COMPOSING FOR LIGHT
Light is important and should be at the top of the list when it comes to setting up your shot. But its a monster of a subject in itself, best saved for another tutorial.
When I'm thinking about light in my food photography composition, I’m thinking more about how my specific subject reacts. Food reacts differently to light especially shiny surfaces like soup, fruits, syrups, and even meats. Foods that give off a reflection! Check out these two lamb chop images.
In the first photo the light is nice, but the lamb chop’s surface is dull. When we see dull, we think dry! And thats the last thing I wanted the viewer to think when looking at these chops. I wanted to show how juicy they were.
A little science secret… light actually strikes an object at the same angle it reflects from that object. It’s called The Angle of Incidence = The Angle of Reflection.
So with a little twist of the plate, angling the chops into the light, those mouth water reflections appear!
STYLING TO THE CAMERA
Styling to the camera is the backbone of improving food photography composition. The small hitch, crushing your dreams of compositional perfection, is not having that camera locked down in one position. It a natural instinct to set up that table first with all your gourmet food and props and then pick up the camera. But you have to fight that, what you see with your eyes is not what the camera will see. If you want to make those stunning images, start with a naked canvas and point your camera at it. Once you have your camera set, start building your scene one element at a time. Layer upon beautiful layer.
•Start With The Idea
•Place The Main Dish
•Build Around It
•Take Away The Unnecessary
With each layer, refer back to your viewfinder to make micro-adjustments and add another piece of the story, until you have one spectacular food photography composition to be proud of. Here are six quick food photography tricks where you can see some images that would be impossible without styling to the camera. If you would like to see more about each trick check out this article here.
Find More Great Food Photography Tips below on WeEatTogether.com
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