Food photography and smartphones go hand-in-hand like fish and chips or peanut butter and jam. Some people can’t help but feel compelled to take a picture when they see a plate of good food in front of them and share the photo with others. And what better way to do that than with a smartphone that’s always readily available?
However, for many people, the picture they get from their phone of the food looks far less appetizing than what they see in front of them. And that can be frustrating, especially if you want to take mouth-watering shots and post them on social media.
In this article, we’ll look at several things you can do to take good photos of your food using a phone.
1. Use a phone with a good camera
It pretty much goes without saying that in order to take good food photos with a mobile camera, you need to use a good mobile camera. Smartphones have very small cameras and components, which impacts the quality of the images they can produce. So, if a camera has poor specs, then it won’t be able to produce the best food photos possible.
For example, a smartphone camera with a small sensor, very tiny pixels, and poor-quality lenses will not take good pictures at all. In fact, the photos will appear dark and grainy, particularly in low-light conditions.
A mobile camera with better specs will take better pictures. You can click the link below to find out more.
2. Get enough lighting
Lighting can make or break your smartphone food photos. Without good lighting, your pictures will turn out dark and speckled with digital noise. Therefore, it’s important that you get as much light as possible.
The best lighting to use is natural light from the sun. If you’re shooting a picnic setting outdoors, for example, natural light is readily available. However, light from the sun can be harsh and cast unwanted shadows. So, you need to be mindful of the time of day you shoot and weather conditions.
Early morning and late afternoon are good times to shoot outside because the lighting is softer and has a warm glow. An overcast day has soft lighting and soft shadows, thanks to cloud cover.
If you’re doing your food photography indoors, openings such as the kitchen window are a good source of natural lighting. Take note of how the light enters through the window throughout the day and plan to shoot when the light coming through is best. If the light from the window is too harsh, consider using a thin white cloth to diffuse it.
In some instances, you may want to use extra lighting. If your phone has a good quality camera, then house lights can also be a decent source of lighting but the results might not be the best, depending on the type of lighting.
For the most professional-looking results when shooting indoors, you might want to set up some dedicated mobile photography lights. More on this later.
But whatever you do, never use the on-camera flash. It might be tempting especially in low-light conditions, but using the flash on your phone only leaves your photos looking flat and washed out. If you feel you need to use flash, move your food to a well-lit area instead or set up a source of light.
3. Decorate and set up your shot
Don’t just place your food on the table and take a shot. That’s boring. Put some extra elements in the frame that will not only add visually to the picture but also contribute to the story being told in the shot.
Choose the right background
One of the important things that you need to consider when taking food photos is the background. It has to compliment the subject and what the image is about.
For example, if you’re taking overhead shots of food that hasn’t been prepared yet, it can be placed on a granite countertop or wooden chopping board. If it’s food that’s already been served, it can be on a mat, tablecloth, or tray. The surface on which the food is placed will serve as the background.
If you aren’t taking shots from directly above the food, then the background is whatever is behind the food. A simple background usually draws attention to the food. A background with lots of activity can be distracting.
Props add life and character to food photos. It can be glassware, cutlery, spices, condiments, fruits or raw veggies, drinks, napkins, sunglasses, car keys, or whatever else you can think of that compliments the main subject. Play with different styles and use creativity to tell a story.
For example, if you are taking a photo of a meal you have prepared for your child, you can serve the food in the child’s favourite dish using their spoon as a prop. You could also add a strategically placed sippy cup and their favourite small toy in the picture.
Those elements, put together, create a more visually appealing image than just a plate of food on its own, and gives us the idea that a young child is about to enjoy their favourite meal.
But take care to not overly decorate the shot with many bits and pieces to the point where it becomes too busy and the photo loses its spark. Keep it simple.
Prepare and present your food well
It goes without saying that in order to have great looking food photos, the food itself needs to look good, to begin with. This is achieved by selecting and preparing the food well, plating it, and presenting it beautifully.
If you’re cooking the food yourself, add ingredients that will add life to your plate. Take extra care of how you prepare the food, as overcooked food doesn’t translate well photographically.
When plating the food, using plain white plates always works best because white plates don’t compete visually with the food being served. But that’s not to say that you can’t use dishes with patterns or certain colour schemes. If they don’t draw too much attention to themselves, then they should work well. Just make sure that everything looks clean.
The amount of food and how it is arranged on the plate also matters. It’s more visually appealing to limit the amount of food on the plate to smaller portions that leave empty spaces on the plate. This creates contrast and makes the food look visually pleasing.
I’m no qualified chef nor food stylist. So, for more helpful tips on how to present your food, have a look at this WikiHow article. It will thoroughly take you through all the steps that will help you make your food look enticing on a plate.
4. Arrange your shots well
A lot of people don’t really give much thought to this, but it makes a huge difference in how your food photos turn out. How you compose the shot, the angle at which you take the shot, and how much space the food fills in the frame can mean the difference between a good mobile food photo or a bad one.
Composing your shots refers to how you position the food within the frame. In food photography, the main subject of attention is placed in the middle of the frame with decorative elements scattered on the outskirts of the frame.
To help you compose your food photos on your phone, you can switch on the camera grid which divides the screen into nine blocks using four lines that intersect vertically and horizontally. You can use the lines to help you frame the food in the centre.
However, there is nothing stopping you from composing your shots any way you wish, as long as it looks good and makes sense visually.
In terms of angles, the most ideal choice is to shoot from above. Overhead angles are good for including all the detail of the food, the cutlery, glassware, and whatever else is in the scene. The focus is entirely on the table and what’s on it instead of including potentially distracting backgrounds.
Shooting straight on from the side is perfect for shooting layered food or drinks. For example, a shot of a burger and a beer is best taken from this angle to highlight the different layers and ingredients of the burger. An overhead shot in this instance will not work to show off the different layers of food. Just make sure the background is not distracting and compliments the food nicely.
Shooting at a diagonal angle works well for combining the overhead view with some detail from the side. Just be mindful of perspective distortion caused by shooting too close from this angle.
A slight change in angle can make a big difference. If you’re not sure which angle will work best, take multiple shots from multiple angles until you’re happy with what you’ve got.
Consider how you want to frame your shots. Is your frame going to be a wide shot or a close-up? There is beauty in detail, and to capture that, you may need to shoot certain foods from really up close. This shot is more about appreciating the beauty of the food and highlighting the talent in the cook's presentation.
What you need to be careful of is unintentionally cutting off parts of your food from the frame. If you wish to capture a plate of food in its entirety instead of a closeup, make sure the entire plate fits in the frame and that there is enough space on the sides and the top. Make the subject look balanced within the frame.
If you want to get a shot of a large meal you have prepared for a group of people, it would look best as a wide shot from either a 45-degree angle or from above. This way you get a shot of most if not the entire table and so you get to see how all the food is set and arranged.
Wide shots can go beyond the traditional food shot. They can also capture the energy and atmosphere of a space. Sometimes having glimpses of people in the shot adds a human touch to the image.
5. Invest in additional equipment
It’s possible to do mobile food photography with just your smartphone. And, to be honest, the results can look pretty good as it is. However, if you want to be able to take even better food photos with a smartphone, you need to invest in some extra gear.
Using a tripod is important because it keeps the camera steady and helps prevents blurry photos. And if you’re shooting in manual mode and your shutter speed is slow, you will definitely need to use a tripod.
The reason for that is in order for the smartphone’s tiny image sensor to capture more light, your ISO has to be high. But to avoid raising the ISO too much and introducing noise, your shutter speed needs to be slow.
However, using a slow shutter speed increases the chances of your photos coming out blurry, even with the slightest camera shake. Therefore, using a tripod will help you take clearer photos.
Besides keeping your camera steady, using a tripod allows you to set up the scene without having to constantly pick your phone up and then put it down again. You can simply place your phone on a stand and frame the shot you want.
From there, just place all the elements you want in the picture anywhere you want in the frame while checking on your mobile camera if everything is coming together well.
As previously mentioned, lighting is very important in smartphone food photography. And if you want your food photos to look more professional, you need to set up your own lights for the shot. This allows you to be in control of the amount of lighting in the shot and add drama to the shot by playing with shadows.
Of course, if you’re just casually taking photos of your food with your phone, then setting up lights might sound like overkill. But if you want your mobile food photos to look pro, then you need to go the extra mile.
For more mobile camera accessories you might need to take food photos like a professional using your phone, check the link below.
6. Shoot in manual mode
Most of us usually take photos on our smartphone using the ‘Auto’ mode. And most of the time, the pictures come out looking pretty much okay. However, there are advantages of using the camera in manual mode.
Shooting in manual mode allows you to choose how you want your images to be exposed. For example, you can change your ISO and shutter speed settings in order to adjust the exposure of your pictures. Having manual controls over these settings allows you to take photos that look the way you want them to look and not how the camera "thinks" they should look.
Don’t use digital zoom
Using digital zoom is NOT a good idea because it will lower the quality and resolution of your photos. If you need to get a tighter shot, then move in closer to your subject. Also, the more you zoom in, the shakier your camera gets.
So, unless your device has optical zoom and you're using a tripod, then don't zoom in. You can read more about it here.
7. Editing moderately
There are countless apps you can use to edit and add flare to your smartphone photos, but no amount of over-the-top editing will ever make a poorly constructed picture look good. You need to take some really good pictures, to begin with, and then make them look even better.
The secret to great looking food photos is subtle editing. There is no rule book that states how much you need to adjust the contrast or brightness. There’s no absolute measure for how much you need to adjust the highlights or shadows. It all depends on the photo and all the elements that make up the image in its entirety.
Editing is a subjectively creative process that depends on what looks good to you. If a filter looks good and works well with your image, then go for it. Be warned, though: heavy use of filters can change the colour and tone of the food, making the image look fake or unappetizing. So, use your own judgement and use filters sparingly, if at all.
A good mobile photo editing app to use is Snapseed. I just love it. It’s a powerful, free-to-use, pro-level app that allows you to edit and fix quite a lot of areas.
8. Be creative
Don’t be afraid to be creative when taking food photos with a phone. Creativity is what brings the food in the photo to life. You can use colours and textures to make your images pop. Foods of varying colours, textures, and shapes look a lot more appealing on the plate than meals with a simple monochromatic colour scheme.
You can also use your creativity to tell a story through images of food. Earlier, I mentioned how adding a sippy cup and a small toy can change the meaning of the food in the photo. But you can do that in more way than that.
Another example is a picture of a romantic dinner. The photo could include a bottle of wine, candles, a flower, and other atmospheric elements such as defocused fairy lights in the background. From just this, we can tell that the image is meant to be romantic and that someone probably prepared the meal for a special someone.
Growing up, you may have been told to not play with your food. But if you want to some really creative, out-of-the-box food photos, you may have to play with your food quite a bit to get the shots you want.
9. Keep practising
They say practice makes perfect, and that’s also true with mobile food photography. If you want to be good at taking photos of food with your smartphone, then you need to keep taking photos until you get good at it.
But don’t just randomly take lots of pictures. Practice. Practice decorating the scene until you get good at it. Practice shooting at different angles until you get the hang of it. Try different lighting setups until you understand lighting better.
Also, go online and see what other food photographers are doing and copy them. Try to replicate their photos until you understand how they did it. After some time, you might eventually develop your own food photography style if you keep practising.
Food photography is not as complicated as some might think, but it does require some skill and practice to be able to take mouth-watering food photos with a phone camera. Hopefully, the advice above will help you capture food photos worth sharing on social media.
And once taking amazing food photos with your phone has become second nature to you, why not consider putting your images on websites and apps that pay you for your mobile photos? You could make a little bit of extra cash on the side.