5 tips for taking great food photos

5 tips for taking great food photos

If you really have to show off your lunch to your friends, the least you can do is make sure the shots look good

Travelers in Asia don't have to dine at expensive five-star hotels or Michelin-star eateries to get a great meal. 

I am more likely to frequent streetside hawker stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants where the food is cheap and cheerful. 

And when I get home it’s often the food photos I’ve taken that attract the most attention from friends. So I’d like to share five easy tips for taking better food photos to make your friends and family drool. 

Don’t worry about what camera you’re using, these tips work for any camera from your mobile phone up to the big DSLRs.


1. Make sure the food looks good to start 

Look goodWho cares what it tastes like. If it's colorful, shoot it.

It needs to be stated: if the dish looks like something the dog just coughed up, your picture will too. So don’t bother taking a photo of any old food.

Some foods look better than others. Stews, curries and other foods may taste great but they don’t look that good.

Try to take photos of bright, vibrant and beautifully presented food with a variety of colors and textures. Fruit and vegetables as well as desserts and baked goods always look good. 

Make sure the food looks good on the plate; I often rearrange the food, wipe the plate clean and rotate the plate to get the best angle.

The photo above is of a morning glory salad from the Thai cuisine kitchen of the Chiang Dao Nest mini resort in Chiang Dao, Thailand where I was invited into the kitchen to watch the chef prepare the local specialties.

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2. Avoid the blur 

BlurrySometimes teapots make great tripods, as in this picture.

Blurry photos are the result of a slow shutter speed and your hand shaking. 

In an ideal world, you would use a tripod, but most people don’t travel with a tripod. Even if they did, setting one up on the restaurant floor can be tricky.

Essentially, a tripod keeps your camera stable for slower shutter speed shots so it can take in more light. Without a tripod, I’ll pull a MacGyver and put my camera on a glass, cup or jug -- whatever can keep my camera stable.

This photo was taken at a streetside breakfast stall in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Without a tripod and under the shade with only a bit of overcast light coming through the awning, I had to use a slow shutter speed.

My hands are quite shaky so I rested my camera against a teapot to keep it stable. I’ve been known to use a friend’s shoulder or even their head too.

Yes, it may look strange for a few seconds but photography has been described as “a few seconds of embarrassment but a lifetime of good memories.”

The food isn’t going anywhere, so you have lots of time to compose your shot and get the settings right. There is no excuse for blurry photos.


3. Learn the light

LightingLights, camera, Facebook.

My first piece of advice is to never use the flash; it is much too harsh and creates ugly shadows.

Since you’re traveling, you’ll most likely be using natural light, so experiment by taking food photos at different times of the day, and notice how the light shines in different directions.

Don’t be shy about moving to another table with better lighting. I like lighting that comes in at an angle or from the side as it helps create depth.

In this photo, I was served this appetizer at the Chiang Dao Nest restaurant and loved how the light played off the vegetables and dips.

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4. Get in close

Get in closeA good eye can make the simplest things look great.

Food photography is very much about the composition and details. Experiment with different angles from shooting up above to getting in real close and filling the frame with the food.

If you’re using a point-and-shoot camera, you may have noticed a flower icon. That’s for macro photography which allows you to get very close (within a centimeter or less) to your subject to capture more detail. 

In this photo, I was in a farmer’s home in Sichuan province and got in very close to a basket of wild, mountain-grown fiddleheads that were washed and ready for a quick stir-fry.


5. Set yourself up wide

WideWidth adds context.

Food photography can be more than just food alone. I like to take wider shots of not only the food but also the table, the restaurant setting, sometimes even the chefs or waitresses. 

To do this you have to pay attention to the table and background environment. Don’t hesitate to move forks and knives, glasses and chairs that look out of place in the photo. 

With a wide angle shot like this one from the terrace restaurant of the Chiang Dao Resort, I had to make sure that the table setting was neat, my lighting was correct and there were no resort guests walking through my shot. 

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Derrick Chang is a Canadian photojournalist based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in Time, the New York Times, CNNGo, Huffington Post, and other Asian media outlets. He enjoys hiking from one mountain village to another, waiting for the golden light and dining on street food.

Read more about Derrick Chang