Food photography composition is incredibly important when it comes to improving your food images. The composition of your image is how you arrange visual elements within your frame which includes thinking about the placement of your camera, food, props and colors. The tricky part about learning different composition techniques is that there are no set rules. Composing your shot is all about your own creative vision. In this post, I’m sharing some food photography composition tips to help you develop your creative vision a little further.
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Food Photography Composition Tips
1. Shoot Tethered
One of the first things I tell people when they want to improve their food photography compositions is to shoot 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.
Reviewing images on the back of your camera is fine (I did this at first too), but the screen is so small, it’s easy to miss things you might want to correct before you get to the editing stage. When you can see your image on a larger screen, you can make adjustments as you go. Tethering is a little more setup in the beginning, but will save you hours on set and in editing.
To shoot tethered you need a tether cable that connects your camera to your computer. Check out Tether Tools to figure out which tether cable is compatible with your camera and computer port. Type in your camera make and model and computer port and it will guide you towards the right cable.
You’ll also need editing software like Lightroom or Capture One. Check out the image below. I have my camera hooked up to my overhead setup and connected to my 27″ iMac using Lightroom.
READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT TETHERED FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
2. The Rule Of Thirds
You’ll often hear photographers talk about the rule of thirds. This is a great place to start with practicing different composition techniques, but it is not a hard rule that you have to follow every time.
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 more balanced composition. Where the grid lines intersect is where you could consider placing the points of interest of your image.
See the two image examples below to show you the grid and how the rule of thirds works.
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 and each require you to adjust the composition of your images to fit the frame:
- 45 DEGREE ANGLE
- STRAIGHT ON
When I first start thinking about my food photography composition, I want to figure out what angles will best represent the food I’m shooting. I like to hold my camera and start moving around to see what angles look the best. Then, I stabilize my camera to a tripod and start arranging the different elements within the frame. This is called styling to the camera.
Tip: Food is time sensitive. The longer it sits, the less attractive it becomes. It helps to use “stand-in” food while you figure out your angles and prop arrangement. Then, once you’re ready for the real food, you’ll have a general idea where you want to place things.
4. Consider Your Orientation
In order to figure out what orientation will be best for your images, you need to think about where you are sharing the image(s).
For example, if you are shooting an image for the homepage of your website, you will need a horizontal orientation of the image and a vertical orientation of the image. This is because your website is either being viewed on a computer (horizontal) or on a mobile phone (vertical).
5. Play With Color
Colors in food photography are incredibly powerful. Depending on the food that you’re shooting, the color(s) of the food can help guide the other colors you choose to work with. When thinking about color in your food photography compositions, there are two color temperatures:
- COOL COLORS
- WARM COLORS
The cool colors consist of the greens, blues and purples. The warm colors consist of the reds, oranges and yellows.
Monochromatic are when you use different shades of one color. It’s a more subtle, yet harmonious technique for your compositions. In the left image example below, I was shooting grilled corn on the cob and decided to highlight different the shades of yellow.
Complimentary colors are two colors opposite each other on the color wheel. This combination produces high contrast and more bold looks. In the middle image example below, I was using watermelon radishes. When you slice them open they are this gorgeous vibrant pink. I decided to use a sea-foam green board as the surface.
Analogous colors are three colors side-by-side on the color wheel. It’s best to use one color as your dominant color and the others as accent colors so your image isn’t flooded with too many colors competing for attention. In the far right image below, the client’s branding was dark blue. We decided to use dark blue(s) in the surface and props and let the bright purples and pinks come through the Thai salad as accents.
6. Switch Out Your Backdrops & Surfaces
Food photography backdrops and surfaces are incredibly important because they set the foundation for your image. Think of backdrops as what sits behind the food and surfaces as what the food is placed on. When you go from light to dark, it drastically changes the mood of the image. If you are using color, they can add boldness and contrast. Check out the image of the eggs below. It’s the same bowl, the same eggs and the same lighting. But, the surfaces are totally different. Notice how it changes the mood of the image?
READ MORE ABOUT: THE BEST BACKDROPS FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
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7. Play with Props & Ingredients
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 a little more than just the plated food alone to tell more of the story.
Including a variety of props and ingredients that make sense for the food can help you create a composition that is both visually interesting and unexpected. Think of it as adding different layers to your image. Your compositions will come to life in different ways as you experiment with different layers of interest. See the soup image come to its final form as different elements get added.
8. Depth Of Field
Depth of field is connected to aperture and ties into the angles you’ll experiment with for your food photography composition.
When you shoot with a wide aperture (lower f-stop), you get a shallow depth of field which causes the background to become more 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.
Note: Keep in mind that your aperture setting will affect the exposure of your image too, so be sure to make adjustments to your ISO and shutter speed for a properly exposed image.
See a the image examples of the Caprese salad 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 directly on the cherry tomato on the plate. This causes the other elements blur into the foreground and background a bit.
READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE
9. Negative Space
Negative space is the space that surrounds your subject. Sometimes people are too close and their entire frame gets filled. When you fill the entire frame, it can be hard to know what part of the image to focus on because the image looks too crowded.
Using negative space in your composition helps your images feel less crowded. Don’t be afraid to pull back on your food images.
See the images below. My client needed an overhead shot of the chili with plenty of space on the left side and bottom of the image to put the recipe.
10. 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.
I hope this post gave you some helpful tips to guide your food photography compositions. Remember, composition isn’t about rules. It’s about your creative vision. Use the tips as a guide to help you push your creative vision further. Reach out with questions anytime.
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2021.