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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

A Guide to Photographing Moody and Dramatic Food Shots


EOS 77D, EF40mm f/2.8 STM, f/5, ISO 200, 1/200s, 40mm 

Have you ever looked at the food pictures in restaurant menus and wanted to order everything? Well, that’s what well-executed shots of food will do. It should make your mouth water, wondering how that delectable-looking meal will taste.  

So, how can you achieve these images without fancy equipment? We challenged food photographer, Kim Montoya, to capture a plate of pancakes in different ways by utilising a combination of various techniques. Here's a quick guide on how she did it.  


Props to the Light

EOS 77D, EF40mm f/2.8 STM, f/4, ISO 100, 1/200s, 40mm 


If you’re using a flash, lighting your dish from the front will make it look flat and unflattering. Always light your food from the sides or back to create contrast with highlights and shadows. This can help to make the food look more dramatic and enticing.  

If you’re thinking of using an off-camera flash, there’s the Canon Speedlite EL-1. Alternatively, if you don’t have a Speedlite that can be operated off-camera, you can consider using the LED light on your mobile phone.  

Including simple props in your shot, such as knives and forks, can instantly create a different look. It makes the food look as though it’s ready to be eaten. Other than cutlery and utensils, you can also use certain ingredients associated with the dish, such as berries that sit atop the pancakes. If you have props in the setting, remember to light them correctly as well. In some cases, the props may require a separate light from the food to create differentiation within the shot. As suggested above, you can try to use the LED light on your mobile phone to light the props and a flash to light the dish.  

If the food is seasonal, such as a Christmas log cake, certain props like faux holly leaves and berries can highlight the nature of the food and instantly create a connection for the viewers to know how this dish has a special link to a particular season. 

Just remember that each prop used must add value and meaning to the food while not distract the viewers’ attention. 


All about the Angle

EOS 77D, EF-S24mm f/2.8 STM, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/250s, 24mm 

Symmetry in photography can create bland-looking shots; our human eyes and minds are trained to spot breaks in patterns. Hence, you can place the food at an angle or off centre, like in the image above, to break the symmetry and make the shot more interesting.  

The most common angle to shoot food would be at a 45-degree angle. This gives a 3-dimensional perspective, making it look less flat. Depending on the dish, you can either shoot at a lower angle, such as 30 degrees or even 15 degrees. However, some food may be best represented with a straight-on shot, such as a burger. 

Nevertheless, you can always angle your camera and photograph the food from various perspectives to get the best-looking shot.  


Dark Background with a Pop of Colour

EOS 77D, EF40mm f/2.8 STM, f/4.5, ISO 200, 1/200s, 40mm 


While the look of the food is important, don’t neglect the background. Keep it simple and uncluttered so your viewers can spot and focus on the food immediately. A good technique for executing this is to use a flash on the pancakes while darkening the background. This can be done by using flags or scrims to control the light’s intensity, direction and spill, as you see what Kim has illustrated above. By doing so, this inadvertently creates focus on the food, as well as a more dramatic contrast to draw the viewer’s attention to the dish.  

Alternatively, you can use a large aperture such as f/2.8 to create shallow depth of field. This will bring the food and props into focus while keeping the setting out of focus but can still note what’s in the background. But bear in mind that the lens of choice will affect the depth of field as well. If you are shooting with a wide-angle lens, the depth of field at f/2.8 will not be as shallow as when you are using a mid-range focal length or telephoto lens.  

By itself, a stack of pancakes can look pretty bland. However, it can look more interesting with colours added to it by way of garnishing, like cherries, as shown in this shot. 

If the food you’re photographing already has some colours, look out for their contrasts and focus on them. If not, you can consider adding relevant elements onto the plate to spice up the shot. 

Whipping up a dish may not be something that everyone is adept at. However, by using any combination of these five simple tips and tricks, you can be sure to create a mouth-watering shot for almost any dish.  


For similar articles: 
Tips to Photograph Commercially Appetising Pizza Cheese Pull 
Whipping up a Food Vlog by Sarah Huang Benjamin 
How to Create and Photograph Stacked Still-Life Food Structures