Restaurant food and beverage photography tips from the pros
Updated: Feb 25, 2020
Perfect for cell phone photography too.
The Most Important Ingredient is Lighting
Natural light is your best friend, but not direct sunlight which is often too harsh for food and can cause severe shadows. Take photos during the day near a window. If taking photos outside, be in a covered or shaded area that is well lit and not in direct sunlight. A slight overcast is actually great for photo taking. Do NOT use your flash, ever!!
All the Angles
What’s your good side? Food has a lot of good sides but not all food and drinks are equal. Some look good from above, some look best at eye level and some just look great from all angles. Take as many different angles as you can and delete whatever doesn’t work later.
If you need to share pictures of the same dish over several months, you'll want as many different angles and backgrounds as you can get so it doesn’t look like the same exact photo repeating.
Negative space can actually be positive.
The subject doesn’t have to remain centered. Learn about the rule of thirds here and take advantage of the grid that comes with image sizing on Instagram. It’s there for a reason. Try some photos with the subject off to one side just a bit, providing some negative space and see how much more interesting it appears.
Take vertical and horizontal shots.
When making videos for ads you will sometimes need to make several different versions with different aspect ratios. This is when it’s handy to have shots that fit for tall and wide videos.
Backgrounds and Table Settings
Be aware of what’s in the background and on the table. Take a test shot and review to see how it looks. You want to capture the food in all its glory but sometimes a background can make or break the photo. Lights in the distance often enhance the photo, whereas a messy tabletop might take away from the perfection of the dish.
Don’t be afraid to stage the table with cocktails or a pretty table setting and move things around to fit in the background better.
The subject doesn't need to always be alone.
Again, we suggest taking multiple shots. Some of the item alone, some with other dishes and drinks in the background.
Be aware of the dishes you are using. Deep dishes may hide the food or leave too much shadow in the dish that it takes away from the beauty of the creation.
Yes, you want your photos to look professional, but with a human element. It’s okay to have a hand and arm in the shot. For example, a photo of a beautiful dish being placed on the table as an “action” shot. Or perhaps you’re focused on the dish but in the background is a waiter placing another dish on the table.
Holding food. Pizza, burgers and other handheld “finger foods” look great on a plate but also in your hand. Be sure to get a shot of a “clean” hand holding a sandwich.
We cannot stress this enough… When taking a photo with your phone, tap the screen on the part of the photo you want to focus on (usually the food or beverage). That tells the camera to focus there and make that part of the photo crisp and clear, avoiding a blurry photo.
Use Portrait Mode on the iPhone or a similar feature on other phones. This allows you to capture professional-looking photos. Tap on the upper part of the item. For example, if you’re taking a photo of a burger on a dish, tap the top of the burger to ensure you are focusing on the whole thing. If you are within range, the square outline should be yellow. After taking the photo you will see the background is blurred while the foreground is in focus.
Let’s be real, Portrait Mode is fabulous but it doesn’t always work
With clear glass as it often blurs it so much that it literally erases parts of the glass. You don’t want to use a photo of a wine glass that seems to be floating in the air because the stem is blurred out. For these, try using a DSLR or take photos in your regular photo mode and tap on the glass to focus. If you bring the phone closer to your subject, then focus, you will often get a crisp shot of the item, while blurring the background, producing a quality photo.
If your beer is looking flat, use a straw or utensil to stir the beer. This will bring foam to the top.
Hold the sauce, or cheese or other topping that you would normally cover the dish with. You don't need to hold it entirely but go sparingly with the toppings since we want to see some of the dish below. An all white topping on that beautiful meatball dish is not going to do it justice.
Easy Editing Tips
Play around with editing settings to find the look you like best. Some restaurants may like high contrast, high saturation photos while others will like a delicate, natural looking style. Choose your style and stick with it. It’s part of consistent branding.
When your photo seems too dark, turn up the exposure just a little and strengthen the contrast. You can even try lightening up the shadows a tad.
If your photo seems too bright, consider altering the contrast, bringing up the shadows and lowering the highlights.
Adjusting warmth. If you want photos that look natural, you may need to adjust the warmth of the photo. Lowering the warmth will take whites from a yellow-ish tint to a more pure white. Go too far and you’ll end up with a blue-ish tint. Think LED light bulbs. You want to find the color just in between warm and cool.