Guides, Photography

A Rookie’s Guide: Food Photography 101

This article could be titled: “The Phone Eats First”. The global phenomenon sweeping through social media where diners snap and share a crafted shot of their beautifully plated dish even before their very first bite. . Ever meticulous, in-the-know consumers scouring their social media, researching, sharing what smells good to their eyes. Extensive photos are searched to determine where and what they want to eat. The actual order, a validation of what a customer’s eyes have already consumed. 

Whether through a photo on social media or on your restaurant’s website or online menu – Taking and posting quality photos of your restaurant’s food is one of the best ways to connect with potential guests. Better yet, it’s not difficult, and can even be enjoyable! 

Here are 4 areas to begin and tips that are sure to improve your next food shoot. 

Choosing a Camera

Photo Credit: Nate Johnston –

Camera’s have come a long way in recent years. The latest smartphones have cameras with over 12 megapixels which means you can enlarge a photo of your favorite dish to 10 x 12” without distortion (or pixelation). For most print photos you will want a resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch) and use 72 DPI for screen/web images. While smartphones have come a long way there are still numerous pros and cons to the three main types of cameras available today. 

Smartphone Camera

Shooting on a smartphone can be a huge time saver if you plan to post and edit photos right from your phone. You can also quickly upload, share and email the photo or video. There are lots of tips and tricks to shooting with a smartphone, for example, go to your camera settings and turn on the “grid” feature. This will come in handy when trying to create angles and symmetry. Also, turn off your flash! If you follow the other tips, you can shoot perfectly tempting food photos from your iPhone!

Point and Shoot Camera

If you want to take your photography to the next level but the billions of settings intimidate you, a point and shoot camera is a worthy investment. Point and shoots are compact, user friendly, and produce quality content. This Panasonic camera, for example, is easy to use and takes highly detailed photos. 

DSLR Camera

DSLR cameras are great for those who have photography experience or want all of the bells and whistles of a quality camera. In general, DSLR cameras can produce higher quality photos, allow for more creativity, and offer more features than its smartphone and point-and-shoot counterparts, but DSLRs cost more and require more skill. This is a 101 article so if you have a DSLR and are looking to skill up we encourage you to find a local photography club and leverage the plethora of online resources available on youtube and other specialty photography websites.


So you’ve nailed down your camera choice, you have the ambition and the artistic vision, but what now? Lighting is everything when it comes to shooting food and should play a big role in planning your shoot. Light can make or break your photo. Aim for soft even lighting. 

Food photography
Photo Credit: Brooke Lark –

Natural Light

Natural lighting is the most flattering light for food photography. Schedule your shoot in a space with plenty of natural indirect sunlight to showcase the true mouthwatering colors and textures of your food. Best practice is to avoid direct sunlight, find a location that has good indirect light to reduce shadows and over-exposure. 

Flash (or rather Not-to-Flash)

Avoid artificial light, if possible. Most professional photographers will have the correct gear to ensure adequate diffused lighting. However, If you can’t or prefer not to shoot outside in natural indirect light, consider purchasing continuous lighting, or placing you object near a close extra large window. Try to avoid using flash photography, or fluorescent lights which cause yellow coloring and never translate well to a photo. 


Be sure to adjust exposure settings on your camera to find the best lighting. On an iPhone (and many other smartphones), this can be done by simply tapping the screen, or tapping and dragging the sunshine icon up or down. This step can also be done in the editing process.

Plating & Presentation 

Let’s put your best “plate” forward. Start by choosing your best plates, napkins and silverware to create a canvas for the food.Yes, skip the to-go containers. The presentation of your food is perhaps the most fun part of the process! This includes aesthetic plating, backdrops, appetizing angles, and even the use of props. Styling food realistic props like drinks, napkins and silverware can bring your photos to the next level. You might even choose to photograph people interacting with your food to really tap into people’s imaginations. (Note: for menu item shots – it’s largely considered best practice to avoid shots with hands and people)


After you’ve shot your photos, certain editing techniques can compensate for some poor lighting, coloring, or other issues. The Adobe Lightroom smartphone app is relatively low cost (free version is available) and can be used to color correct and edit photos. You can even take your photos directly in many of the photo applications that exist on the app stores.  Aspect ratios – are great to use 3:2 or 1:1 square are fairly standard for our team to use on menu items and 16:9 for Instagram photos.


Apps to consider:

There are a large volume of applications available for your smartphone and computer that you can easily access and use for little to no cost. We will add the caveat you do get what you pay for.

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • VSCO 

There are many photographers who specialize in Food photography. If you are looking to schedule a skilled photographer you can find one online at A highly rated local Chicago Photographer is Peter Rossi: