Food Photography Tips for Chefs and Restaurateurs

No budget. No problem. Follow these suggestions to shoot your own mouth-watering promotional photos.
Professional New York Photographer Caroline Sinno suggests turning off the flash when photographing food to avoid unnatural coloring. (Photo: Caroline Sinno Photography)

“We eat with our eyes,” or so say generations of chefs and restaurateurs to explain their prettily garnished, saliva-inducing plating of food.

Research by the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry backs what restaurateurs have long espoused: “Images generate the feeling of hunger due to the hormone ghrelin, which is released in greater amounts through visual stimuli.” Simply put: Pretty food photos make people hungry.

Today’s restaurant patrons find new places to dine via websites, social media and foodie hubs like Yelp, often basing their decisions solely on succulent photos of juicy steaks, frothy frappés and tempting tarts. Bland photos make them set the GPS toward the competition.

The National Restaurant Association suggested that online peer reviews on sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon are the new “word of mouth” generating business for restaurants. By claiming your restaurant’s page on these sites — and uploading your own photos — you maintain a stronger hold on your brand’s image.

What’s a restaurant with no budget for professional photos to do? Many restaurateurs are shooting their own promotional photos with digital point-and-shoot or smartphone cameras.

New York City photographer, Caroline Sinno of Caroline Sinno Photography, suggests beginners keep it simple and use the techniques employed by professional photographers to change their photos from wishy-washy to mouth-watering in less time than it takes to set the table for the next shot.

Keep it real

“Natural lighting is always best!” said Sinno, so, “turn off the flash.” A flash will color contaminate photos, making foods appear unnatural. Strive for the natural white light available at midday to keep food colors true and to avoid shadows.

Fortunately, with the light adjustments available on most cameras and smartphones, you don’t have to photograph your food during the lunch rush. Get the best shot you can, then cheat a little with the light and color correcting tools available on most cameras and smartphone apps.


Blurring edges in a photograph helps the viewer focus on the food instead of the background. (Photo: Michael J. Bennett)

Focus on the food


To improve the composition of a photograph, use the rule of thirds, which divides a photograph into thirds using two horizontal and two vertical lines. (Photo: Chaky)

When using a digital camera, ensure the food is the focal point of the shot by employing the “rule of thirds” for photo composition. Imagine a grid of nine squares created by the intersection of two sets of parallel lines overlaying the objects in the viewfinder or screen, as in this photo. Check your camera settings, as some cameras and smartphones have a grid option to assist with composition.

Center the most important object in the photo at the intersection of two lines to draw the eye to that point of interest. Sinno suggested, however, that particularly with smartphone cameras it is sometimes better to center and fill the frame with the food. You might need to experiment a bit to find the right angle, so don’t be afraid to stand on a chair or get up close and personal with the food.

Add emphasis by blurring the edges of the photo like the pros do to draw the viewer into the photograph. You can use photo editing software or the blurring tool available in apps such as Instagram.

Style food simply

“Try to use a white plate or non-patterned background” Sinno said, so your food remains the focal point. She suggested beginners remove extra objects from the table to keep images uncluttered.

Professional photographers incorporate food styling techniques — contrasting colors or patterns, a cluster of ingredients in the background, cutlery or sprinkles of pepper flakes for color into their food photos — but they use them sparingly and with a trained eye.

Beginners should experiment gradually. Add a couple lemon slices for a hint of color. Try a different angle with the onion ring tower or zoom in for a close-up to show the rich color and texture of your harvest pumpkin soup.

Edit sparingly

Editing is the photographer’s garnish. With plenty of free editing programs available in addition to the editing options of most smartphone cameras, there’s no reason to be afraid of touching up your food photos.

Begin by correcting any lighting or color issues to make the food as appealing as possible. Then crop, resize or sharpen the images as you see fit. After all, you can always restore the original image and start over if you don’t care for the results.

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