Food Photography Composition Tips

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

Food Photography Composition Tips

Shoot Tethered

One of the first things I tell people when they are struggling to improve their food photography composition is to shoot tethered. Tethered shooting 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 camera (duh), a computer (double duh), a tether cable that is compatible with your camera make and model and editing software like Lightroom or Capture One. In the image below, I have my camera hooked up to my overhead setup and connected to my 27″ iMac.

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Tethered Shooting

The Rule Of Thirds

You’ll often hear photographers talk about the rule of thirds. This is a great place to start to help you start looking at your images as a composition rather than just a plate of food in front of your camera.

It’s 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 that shows up on your images as you shoot.

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.

As I mentioned earlier, the rule of thirds is a good place to start. But, it is by no means a rule you have to follow every time you shoot. 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.

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?

Grid composition
rule of thirds grid example

PLAY WITH ANGLES

In my experience, there are three popular angles for food photography:

  • OVERHEAD
  • 45 DEGREE ANGLE
  • STRAIGHT ON

When I first start thinking about my 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 instead. This allows me to explore the three popular angles along with some other more unexpected angles.

I will use stand-in props & food and move around until I find the angle 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. If sketching isn’t your thing, it’s absolutely ok to move around to find your vision and then lock the camera in place once you find it.

photography angles and composition

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. Can you see how shooting tethered would make this so much easier? 😉

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 and fresh ingredients can help you create a composition that is both visually interesting and unexpected. Experiment with subtle and bold pops of color to see what it does to the composition.

SUBJECT 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 on figuring out where to place things, go back to the rule of thirds and use the grid as your guide. Eventually, you won’t need it, but it’s a good resource as you learn and grow.

The example below shows styling the image to the camera by adding layers, texture and color and adjusting the placement.

PLAY WITH DEPTH OF FIELD

Depth of field is connected to your aperture. When you shoot with a wide aperture (lower f-number), 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-number), 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 and can help you create different looks to your image composition.

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.

When I’m shooting overhead, I tend to use a small aperture ranging from f8 to f22. This is because I want everything in the image to look sharp and in focus.

If I’m shooting at an angle or straight on, I may use a wide aperture ranging from f1.4 to f5.6 to focus on one thing and let the supporting elements be more softened in the foreground or background. Play with your depth of field and see what it does to your composition. There is no right or wrong answer, so experiment and watch what it does to your images.

See a couple an example of a sharp overhead image and a shallow depth of field angled image below.

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food photography composition overhead
food photography composition overhead

CONSIDER NEGATIVE SPACE

Negative space requirements play a big role in the decisions you’ll make about your food photography composition.

Negative space is the area that surrounds your subject. Positive space is your actual subject. I love using more negative space in my food photography. For me, I like feeling like the image has room to breathe, because the image isn’t over crowded with too many things to look at.

Personal preferences aside, there are other questions to keep in mind when it comes to negative space:

  • Will there be copy placed on top of the image and if so where? (like in a magazine or an ad)
  • Is there a bleed or gutter to consider?
  • Will the image be cropped? (for a book template or on a website or a banner ad)
  • Will the image be printed on a wrap-around canvas? (where you will need extra room on the outside edges)
  • Will you need to have a vertical and a horizontal version? What about a square orientation? (negative space adjusts with different orientations)

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composition and negative space example

THINK ABOUT LINES & SHAPES

Lines will help guide the eyes in your composition. Shapes will help please the eye by giving the viewer more to look at.

Play with these elements in your composition. You can often create lines with silverware, linens and sometimes even the food itself. Don’t feel limited to straight lines either. You can create S-shapes and diagonals too. With shapes consider repeating patterns or even mixing and matching.

See some examples below of how you can use shapes and lines in your composition.

Butternut Squash Soup on a Gray Board
composition-using-lines
composition using shapes
lines guiding composition
pears lined up on dark surface
composition behind the scenes

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.

Happy Shooting!

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote products that I actually use and support. 

All images ©Regan Baroni 2021.

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