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Tips for taking fabulous food photos

If you are looking for a unique gift for any time of year, impressive framed photos — or homemade photo-centric cookbooks — of your favorite foods or dishes can delightfully surprise the food-loving giftee on your gift list. Here are a few expert food photography tips from Me Ra Koh, internationally acclaimed, award-winning photographer whose work has been featured on Oprah and VH1.

Food photography

Olives and Bread

Even if you are an amateur photographer and have little luck getting acceptable shots of simple things like your family or pets, you can still take professional-looking pictures of food by following a few good food photography tips.

Pictures of food make novel gifts as well as unique offerings to a host or hostess, a gourmet friend, or an aspiring foodie hoping to decorate her kitchen with mouthwatering food photos.

Never taken a picture of a delicious dish? Don’t despair: It is quite easy, and you can do it with these five simple tips.

Food photography tip #1: Fill your frame

When you are putting together your photography meal, so to speak, think about color, texture and presentation. Does it look beautiful, appetizing or simply interesting to you? If not, make some changes so it has eye appeal. At a loss? Peruse photos in cookbooks or online for ideas.

Koh, whose photography can be viewed at adds, “If you look through your camera’s view finder, you have a square space to fill. Whatever you fill this space with will be what your ‘frame.’ The next time you look through cooking magazines or cookbooks, notice how the photos are often close ups of the food. The only background we may see is often blurred color or blurred objects. The first step is getting rid of the background and filling the frame.”

Food photography tip #2: Create buttery blurred backgrounds

If you want that yummy, buttery, blurred background (sometimes called “bokeh”), Koh advises that you put your camera in Portrait Mode (consult your owner’s manual for instructions). Koh says, “This mode will automatically make your subject (the food) the focus and your background blurred.” In addition, use a lens with an F-stop/aperture of 1.6 to 2.8 — rent a lens if you have to.” Having a panic because you have no clue what aperture is?

She quickly adds, “Okay, stay with me! All aperture means is ‘How blurry do you want your background?’ If you want more blur in your background, your F-stop or aperture number has to be low, like 1.4, 1.6, 2.0 or 2.8. If your F-stop or aperture is higher than these numbers, your background won’t be really blurry. The low aperture makes all the difference in your food shots.”

Food photography tip #3: Find the right food setting

You’ve got your food, now you need the best setting to show it off. Koh explains, “For food shots, I like to use light-colored table tops and window light. Sometimes I move a table to be right in the direct window light. I want to avoid using flash and other external lights as much as possible. That’s stuff isn’t necessary and just makes things more confusing. All you need is your low F-stop/aperture lens.”

Food photography tip #4: Adjust your camera’s aperture

“Now that you have your spot, switch your camera mode to Aperture Priority,” instructs Koh. “This will either be an A or AV on your camera. Now adjust your aperture using your dial on the back of your camera, to the lowest aperture number possible.” If this is at all confusing, go back to your owner’s manual, which should tell you exactly how to adjust aperture.

Food photography tip #5: Be creative with your clicks

Cupcake with sprinkles

Since food is quite unassuming and will sit there waiting for you for as long as you need, Koh suggests that you have fun. Go back to the beginning and be creative about how you fill the frame. She adds, “Tilt your camera or stand up on a chair and shoot down.” Food is much easier to shoot than people and pets, as they are hard-pressed to sit still and often don’t appreciate getting their photo taken.

As a bonus, digital cameras offer a lot of freedom to experiment, as you don’t need to pay for film or processing. In fact, the cupcake photo at right was taken by one of our editors, a photography hobbyist with no formal training. She says that getting the right shot took only experimentation and patience.

Things to do with pictures of food

Now that you have a variety of photos, it’s time to share them, give them as gifts or keep them for yourself.

Here are some creative ideas to put your food photos to use:

  • Create your own cookbook using heirloom recipes — with corresponding photos. Get some tips on creating a photo book here!
  • Create a collage to display in your kitchen.
  • Frame photos and hang them in your house or give them as gifts.
  • Put together a portfolio of your food photography — for personal or professional use.
  • Turn your photos into beautiful recipe cards — food on the front, recipe for it on the back.
  • Print your favorite photo on invite cards for your next dinner, featuring the dish to be served.
  • Sell your photos! Get tips on how to make money from your photographs here.

Food is universally loved, part of every day, and incredibly emotional. Giving food photos as gifts, combining them into published book form, or just using them for your own personal enjoyment will make your life — and the lives of those whom you gift — an even more delicious endeavor.


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