How to improve your food photos on budget?

Whilst booking a food photographer for your shoot is a great way to go about adding professional photos to your venue’s/brand’s marketing assets, it may not always be possible.

Sometimes you just need to get the job done yourself and that is absolutely fine if you know some of the key principles of photography.

Dumplings and pork buns on red backdrop


Lighting in photography is everything. Light creates shadows, makes your dish shine in certain angles and pop in other areas. Overhead bulbs and lighting hanging from the ceiling is not considered suitable for photographying food. If anything, overhead lighting should be switched off when capturing food to avoid any yellow overcast or highlights on your images. Only lighting you should focus on, is the natural light coming from your window.

When it comes to photos, your light should only hit your subject/dish from one direction. Usually it’s one of the sides closer to the window. However, when you place something close to a window, you will soon notice, that the other side of your dish or set up looks fairly dark comparing to the one by the window. That’s where you want to place something white to the other side of your scene to bounce back light coming from the window to your scene in the middle. In photography it’s called manipulation of light. You can use white foam board for that or any any other type of white panelling you have available. The difference will be noticable straight away and your scene will be more evenly lit all over.

When shooting outside, you should try to block your light from multiple directions, otherwise you may end up with images which may look flat. Flat images have little to no shadows, overblown highlights and a bit washed out look – they miss the depth and make the food lose its appeal. To add more depth to your scene, try placing black board into your scene to absorb excess light and add more depth.

Time of the day matters. Light appears different during the day. In the morning, the light is more neutral, less bright and cooler in tone. Hence morning is a great time to snap away some food shots. Light at mid-day is a lot more intense and brighter with darker and intense shadows. Great for those bright summer vibes shots. And then we have light after 3 pm, warmer in tone, generally less desirable time to shoot food but great for those cocktail and wine shots.

Focus matters

When shooting your images, your focus should always be on the best part of the dish or the whole set up. If your scene features more than one dish, aim your focus on the hero dish somewhere in the middle or front. You always want to show off layers or texture of the food. All those glossy highlights of a fresh salad, drizzle of chocolate sauce or your favourite fruit tart. Textures of a slice of cake or a tender grass fed steak and details of your pizza topping- they all deserve a closer look. When snapping away your images, have a think about what makes the dish special. That’s what you want to show off and capture.


There’s no denying, I love colours and capturing colourful scenes but it’s important to remember to not get carried away with mixing colours and patterns that don’t really work together. I have seen scenes where there is a busy colourful plate of food on a patterned tile backdrop. Whilst the food may look great, you can’t help yourself but stair the backdrop – it takes the limelight off the actual dish. The same tiled tabletop may however look amazing with a few cocktails on it or a bowl of soup. My advice is to stick to a neutral light backdrops if your brand’s style is light and bright or with a dark coloured backdrop that does not over power your food if you’re venue has a moody feel. If there is texture in your backdrop/tabletop surface, even better. This will add visual interest to your scene.

Also, consistency is a key. When choosing surfaces to shoot your food on, you want to stick to the same style throughout your socials feed.

Overall, there is a whole colour theory behind what colours compliment each other and what colours really don’t gel but that’s a story for another time. If you really want to deep dive into the colour theory, I recommend reading Elena’s post from Happy Kitchen here.

There you go – a few simple tips to improve your images when booking a food photographer is not an option.

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“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body: it’s truly love.

Giada De Laurentiis

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