Much like lighting, food photography composition is incredibly important. How you arrange everything in the frame helps viewers know where to look. And, when you know how to do it beautifully, it keeps people staring for a little while longer. The tricky part about composition is that there are no set rules or guidelines to follow. How you compose your shot is really up to you and your eye. It takes some thinking and planning, and of course, lots of practice. In this post, I’m going to share my favorite composition tips to guide you towards creating scroll-stopping food images.
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Food Photography Composition Tips
1. Shoot Tethered
One of the first things I tell people when they are struggling to improve their food photography composition is to start shooting tethered.
Tethered means that your camera is hooked up to your computer so you can see your images on a larger screen as you shoot. When you can see your image come together on a larger screen, you can make adjustments as you go and watch how it affects your image. Tethering is a super efficient way to shoot and a much faster way to practice different composition ideas. Reviewing images on the back of your camera is fine, but the screen is so small, it’s easy to miss things you might want to correct.
To shoot tethered you need a special cable to connect your camera to your computer along with some editing software like Capture One or Lightroom. You can see in the image below, I have my camera hooked up to my overhead setup and connected to my 27″ iMac.
To figure out which tether cable is compatible with your camera, check out Tether Tools. Type in your camera make and model and it will guide you towards the right cable. You’ll want to be sure that the cable is compatible with your specific computer port too.
2. The Rule Of Thirds
You’ll often hear photographers talk about the rule of thirds. This is a great place to start, but is by no means a hard rule to follow every time you shoot. Always keep in mind that composition isn’t about rules, it’s about your vision. It’s important to let your creative eye lead you so you can create images that are unique to what you see.
However, the rule of thirds is basically a grid composed of nine squares and four grid lines. Your camera may have a grid option within the menu to help guide you. Or, if you shoot tethered, you can use a grid overlay within your editing software.
By positioning your elements along the grid lines, it can help you create a nicely balanced composition. And, where the grid lines intersect is where you could consider placing the points of interest of your image.
See the two grid examples with images below.
Notice how the pomegranates are highlighted on the right vertical grid line and are positioned to intersect with the right two intersection points?
Then, notice how the bowl of cherries is lined up with the bottom horizontal grid line and intersect with the bottom two intersection points?
3. Play With Angles
There are three popular angles for food photography:
- 45 DEGREE ANGLE
- STRAIGHT ON
When I first start thinking about my food photography composition, I start thinking about what angles will work for the subject I’m shooting. With some foods, only one angle works out. With others, there are several possibilities.
Some photographers prefer to sketch out their ideas first. But, I prefer to move around with my camera in hand instead. This allows me to explore the three popular angles along with other unexpected angles.
I will use stand-in props & food and move around until I find the angles I like. Once I find the angle I want, I’ll position my camera accordingly (using a tripod or my overhead setup) so I can start styling my composition based on the position of my camera.
4. Style To The Camera
With food photography, once you’ve figured out your angle, I highly recommend styling to the camera. This means that you either use a tripod or an overhead setup where your camera is locked into the position you want. This allows you to move things around as needed to create a stunning composition based on that viewpoint. This is why shooting tethered makes practicing composition techniques so much easier.
5. Add Layers, Texture & Color
We always want the food to be the star of the image. And, while I’m a big fan of simplicity in food photography, sometimes the image needs more than just the plated food alone to really stand out. Including things like surface variety, backdrops, linens, props, different colors and fresh ingredients can help you create a composition that is both visually interesting and unexpected. Your compositions will come to life in different ways as you experiment with different layers of interest.
6. Food Photography Composition & Placement
When you include layers and texture through different surfaces and props, it opens the door to a variety of placement options within your composition.
If you get stuck, go back to the rule of thirds and use the grid as a guide.
7. Depth Of Field
Depth of field is connected to your lens aperture. When you shoot with a wide aperture (lower f-stop), you get a shallow depth of field which causes the background to become out of focus. When you shoot with a smaller aperture (higher f-stop), you get more depth of field and the background is more in focus. Your aperture will vary in range depending on what lens you’re using.
Keep in mind that your aperture setting will affect the exposure of your image too, so be sure to make other adjustments to your ISO and shutter speed for a properly exposed image.
See a couple examples below. The overhead shot has everything in focus, which means I used a larger f-stop/aperture. The angled shot uses a smaller f-stop/aperture focusing on the cherry tomato. This causes the other elements blur into the foreground and background a bit.
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8. Negative Space
Negative space is the space that surrounds your subject. Using negative space in your composition helps your images feel less crowded. When there’s too much going on, it can be hard to know what part of the image to focus on.
See one of my client’s example image below. The negative space is along the left side and bottom of the image so the client could include the recipe in that space.
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9. Leading Lines & Shapes
Leading lines and shapes will help guide people’s eye in your composition. It can be fun to play with the placement of lines and shapes in your composition to see how different patterns and placements can affect the image. You can create lines with silverware, linens and sometimes even with the food itself. Consider repeating patterns and mixing and matching your shapes too.
See some examples below of how you can use shapes and lines in your composition.
In a nutshell, food photography composition is going to take some practice. You’ll have to move things around to see what works and what doesn’t. Once you start finding compositions that work, your images go from “meh” to “wow.” Just keep practicing and as always, reach out with questions anytime.
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2021.