3 things to consider when photographing Food & Drink

Food photography, like a rockstar

Look, there are a billion content creation tutorials out there that'll tell you how to shoot food and have great photography lighting. All of those how other how to light food photography guides are great. I think what people constantly fuck up with food photography, are these three VERY SIMPLE tactics. 

This shooting food photo guide is not the same as others, because shooting food is not the same as other product photography. The reason why it's so different is that food normally has a ton of different colors on a plate. That's because ingredients normally have a ton of different colors.

What most photographers forget is that restaurants are not designed for photography, they're designed for ambiance. For the people to feel comfortable. That means the light is adjusted so it doesn’t strain the eyes, but it also means that the light will most likely not be blue light. This means that if you have a yellow lightbulb, above a table and you put a plate down on the table, the light will illuminate the plate yellow. 

This will make your photo editing an absolute bitch. Trust me when I say that.


Block the yucky yellow light. Don't shoot near it. Get away from it. Don't shoot near any light other than a window otherwise, you may regret it. You're shooting food. It needs to be APPETIZING. Not your stylistic Instagram preset, you twat. No Peter McKinnon Food Photography over here please and thank you.

Remember that old saying, ‘keep it simple, stupid’. Shoot near a window because it will help food look yummy to the eyes and natural light allows you to control that natural look. Anytime I'm booked for a food shoot, I take the food straight to the window and get my shots there. 

Natural light is your best friend. Use it.


One thing I've learned very early on is that I'd rather have my images properly exposed and grainy/noisy, rather than underexposed and have to try and lift the shadows. The latter normally ends up looking forced and not appealing. That means that I'll do whatever I need to get it well exposed. High ISO, no problem. Need to hold the shutter open? Use a tripod. I've been in too many scenarios where I thought that I could get it right in Lightroom only to end up costing me more hours of work, and in the end, the final product was even worse.

Tip #3 - STYLING

Look, if you haven’t realized it yet, people eat with their eyes. That means the way the food is portrayed has to look good not just from a color and light perspective but also from a stylized perspective. Learn how to ‘fluff up’ food, how to style, what looks good paired, etc. I’ll outline three simple tricks  I use to style my dishes.

  1. Put the flattest dishes first and the ones with more height, in the back. For example, if I had a steak on a plate with fixing, a bowl of soup, a bread basket, and a glass of wine, I'd put the smallest plate (the steak) in the foreground and the bigger plates/items (soup, breadbox, and wine) in the background. That way the bowl of soup and wine don’t cover the steak. This eliminates any wonky shadows of the bowl of soup or glass of wine on the steak plate. And because more often than not, meat dishes are more expensive than a bowl of soup, chances are the restaurant would want that featured first anyways.  
  1. If you’re shooting beer, pop, or anything carbonated that’s gone stale, take a utensil or straw and give it a vigorous stir. It should release some carbon dioxide and make it look fizzy. If it’s a beer, you can also add salt to get some white head/foam.
  1. Use utensils, napkins, side dishes, and other small knick nacks to stile the crevices that could exist when you put together different shapes of plates. See images below. Notice how I styled the frame with little rocks. It’s on-brand for the cafe, fills in empty space, and looks hella awesome! At least I think so.

Anyways, I wanted to share these because I just went on my IG and this dude I know on the East Coast posted some horrific food shots and it inspired me to share these incredibly basic, but absolutely critical things to consider.

Don't assume brands/companies/restaurants are hiring you to give them Peter McKinnon-esque photos. Maybe they trust you to do a good job but hope that you'll adhere to their brand guidelines and provide them with assets that actually benefit THEM, and not just benefits your portfolio.

That's all I got for today folks.