How to take professional-looking photos of food with your phone

Food photography in the last decade or so has shifted from dark and food-focused toward bright overhead light that casts stark shadows on messy, organic-looking scenes.

A great food stylist can make a pile of lettuce look like a work of art.

I am not a great food stylist, but I do have an appreciation for this trend and it’s fairly easy to hack with a mobile phone camera. You’ve probably seen this style in magazines and it’s popular on social media as well.

I used my favorite giant light source — the sun — for this shoot, since I assume most people don’t have access to studio lighting that’s the more common choice of food photographers. The trick is to have your props ready to go and placed in the shade as the sun will make quick work of fresh veggies.

 

 

I photographed this scene at about 11:30 a.m. so the sun was at a slight angle almost directly overhead. Try shooting the same subject at different times of day to see how the light affects the scene. I used cold coffee in the tumblers so there would be some transparency to their shadows. Water, wine, juice and tea are other options that work well.

 

 

Also think of layering objects and their shadows. I overlapped the coffee glasses to give the composition more continuity, but I wanted the radishes in the first vertical shot to flatten out against the background, so I made sure there was some separation between them and the shadow of the fruit box.

 

 

Finally, when you’re setting up a scene, as in the last photo, it’s OK to let it be messy. Allow plates and food to “fall off” the edge of the photo. Don’t allow things to be too evenly spaced or the scene won’t look natural. And if you spill some breadcrumbs, just think of it as part of the food story you’re telling.

A tip before you get started: gently wipe the lens of your phone’s camera with a soft cloth to prevent fingerprints from obscuring your photos.