Professional food photography guide.

Food photography is a genre of still life photography that uses food as the primary subject. There are many things to consider in this exciting genre that you should know.

Food photography is a very popular genre of photography and with good reason. Food photography showcases the beauty of food, drink, and can instantly bring any appetite to life. 

From classically plated shots of beautifully prepared meals to quick snapshots of your family’s favorite comfort foods, food photography can be used to highlight anything from the finest restaurants to your kitchen table. 

Many photographers start their careers in the food photography niche because it’s such a vast genre of still photography that covers many different industries. Food photography might be advertised in food magazines, social media platforms, products and packaging, and even documentaries. That’s why food photography is also a specialization of commercial photography

Keep reading to learn more about food photography and how it can help you in your photography business, or even as a hobby!

berries in bowls

What is food photography?

Food photography is about capturing food’s essence as a photographic subject. A food photographer is responsible for taking pictures of food and drink, to highlight the look, texture, taste, and even suggest the aroma. Food photographers also aim to evoke memory and emotion with their images. 

Food photographers make it easier for restaurants or other retailers to market their products by creating enticing imagery that brings their menu items alive. Food photography focuses on creating visually appealing images that are used for a variety of purposes.


Why food photography is important.

Many people wonder why food photography is important. Food photography is important because images influence our food choices. It’s no secret that what we see can alter our perception and appetite. 

We’re all vulnerable in some way to external stimuli when it comes to food – whether that be your friend’s cake or seeing another person enjoying their dessert. Food photography can also set expectations for food’s appearance, serving size, and presentation.

pretty sliced fruit

Is food photography art?

Food photography can be a work of art created by talented artists who like what they do and love what they create. It comes down to the intention of the photographer.

Food art photography is about capturing what you see when you eat good food with your eyes through your lens while using your creativity to make something beautiful that others can appreciate too. Sometimes ingredients can also be used for their shape, form, texture, or color to create art. 

Food art photography is not necessarily about capturing a composed dish; sometimes it’s more about the art of the natural world, food and community, or culinary creativity. 

burger in package

Is food photography commercial photography?

Food photography is commercial photography. As in most businesses and industries, there are different kinds of food photographers; some do mostly editorial work for magazines and newspapers, while others do it as a sideline to their commercial or advertising photography careers. 

If you specialize in shooting beautiful food images for your clients’ menus, packaging, or marketing materials, that’s food commercial photography.

Types of food photography.

When it comes to food photography, there are several types of styles you can choose to specialize in. Each type of food photography requires its own set of skills, characteristics, and equipment that sets these food photographers apart from other types.

gourmet food for sale


There’s a reason why food photography is so prevalent in ads. Whether it’s a simple breakfast cereal or an elaborate beauty dish shot of a restaurant dinner, images that evoke hunger are extremely powerful tools. The food industry is enormous, and its reach extends well beyond restaurants and cafes. 

Every day we see images of food being marketed to us, but have you ever really stopped to wonder what makes us say yes? A single image can make all the difference—and no wonder brands spend millions on them each year. 

In fact, according to Forbes magazine, companies spent $2.5 billion just on advertising food in 2011. 

To get a good start with advertising food photography, you need to:

  • Identify your target market.
  • Start a customer database of potential clients.
  • Create a portfolio.
  • Use social media to engage with your audience.
  • Create a website to grow your brand.

With advertising food photography you’ll need to be comfortable working within a brief that a brand or client will present to you. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with pitching your work to clients, and understanding industry standards and requirements.

food packaged

Product and packaging.

With food product photography, it’s not enough to just take good photos – you must also attractively present your products. Think about food packaging photography as a form of art that highlights your item and showcases its unique qualities. 

Many food photographers will do special things to showcase products such as: 

  • Getting creative with lighting and backgrounds to generate a more appealing package design.
  • Trying out different camera angles for photographing food that makes products appear tastier than others.
  • Taking photos close-up to accurately reveal details of the product, including any packaging.
  • Place products on white or seamless backgrounds so each feature will stand out.

Packaging photography comes with its own set of challenges. You’re trying to highlight the product but have to work within the packaging design so that the images work in tandem with the branding and graphic elements on the product.

This type of food photography could take you in a couple of directions; photographing the food to be used on the packaging label, on the box, etc… or photographing the final product in its packaging for the purposes of listing it for retail use. 

cookies and milk


Working in editorial food photography is very different from commercial work. There are usually no guidelines for what you should do, and it’s important to understand that your style will significantly influence editorial work. 

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind with editorial food photography: 

Keep your scene and workspace clean: it may seem counterintuitive, but while photographing food, it’s extremely important to keep all dirty dishes out of sight or off camera. Unnecessary visual clutter just distracts viewers and takes away from how fantastic your dish looks on camera. Ensure that your viewer only sees what matters most.

Use natural light whenever possible: Natural light will always be your best friend when doing editorial food photography. Natural light creates an inviting and familiar aesthetic that will be flattering to your food drawing the viewer in. You can control natural light with diffusers or reflectors to help soften harsh shadows or to fill in areas of your image that need more light. Although it has its place, too much contrast between the shadows and highlights is typically not as desirable, and can be challenging to correct digitally later on. Getting the image right, or as close to right as possible, in-camera will always be your best bet.

BBQ food truck


Consider elements like texture, color, and mood when planning your documentary food photography shoot. If you’re shooting your food in a studio setting or on location, are there any interesting backdrops you can take advantage of? It may be worthwhile to go scouting before you begin shooting. 

Lighting – As with other types of food photography, keep in mind that lighting is important in documentary food photography. Wherever possible use natural light, but you may have to work with available light or bring in some artificial light, like flashes. You will often be working with whatever available light is present so it’s good to be familiar with how to adjust your camera settings for mixed lighting.

Angles Test out different angles for your shots, and experiment with perspectives—for example, taking a photo from a low angle to show off a great loaf of sourdough bread, or zooming in on a chef preparing a dish from across the kitchen.

Prepare – Allow yourself ample time before snapping your photos so you can create images that will truly highlight what makes food photography an art form. It’s always helpful to go into a scenario with an idea of what you might come up against, especially in the fast-paced culinary industry: you often have less time to work than you think. Research the kind of food you’ll be shooting to see if there are any interesting compositions you want to try or if there are any elements that will be challenging to photograph. 

person eating a bowl of fruit and grains


Lifestyle food photography is a style of photography that is meant to capture a moment in time, and one that includes food. It is not typically used for commercial purposes, but it can be – especially around holidays or for food publications. 

This type of food photography focuses on capturing genuine emotions, personalities, and expressions of subjects in real situations with food. It doesn’t always need to include people but should include some sort of human influence. 

A few tips for good lifestyle food photography sessions are: 

Think about the environment: Try to capture images as they would naturally unfold. It’s great to style your scene to a certain extent but try not to have unnecessary props or background clutter. The focus should be on the action, that is unfolding in-frame between people and food.

Focus is key: Make sure everything you want to be captured is in focus. Having a shallow depth of field can help a lot when it comes to creating a certain atmosphere in your images, but do not go overboard with it because it could just make everything in your image look out of focus, without a grounding element to bring the image together. 

Natural light: Make sure that your lighting is even throughout your picture. You should also try to get natural lighting if possible because it will give your image a more natural, organic look than artificial light would. If you must use artificial light, your best bet will be to use strobes with umbrellas or softboxes, but you could also use flash and try to diffuse or bounce the light to create an even light with no harsh shadows. Of course, these are just suggestions- try experimenting with different lighting styles to see what works best for your scene.

Take test shots: While doing any type of food photography, take several test shots and look at each one closely. With food photography, you don’t have to worry about missing a fleeting moment like the first kiss at a wedding, but keep in mind that food also looks best when it’s fresh so you are on the clock from the moment the dish hits the table. Make sure you take some test shots and assess what you need to adjust before the food starts flying out of the kitchen. This will go a long way when getting the best results for your shoot.

As with all genres of food photography, make sure you’re relaxed and having fun. A relaxed, comfortable hand and steady eye will show in your final product, and it will benefit your photography business well into the future. Don’t forget, we eat with our eyes first!

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