How To Be a Smart Phone Food Photographer


Step 1: Download your Apps

Your smart phone app has all sorts of great editing capabilities, but I recommend the following free (or mostly free) apps for editing your food photos:

  1. Instasize
  2. Foodie
  3. Photoshop Express
  4. Instagram app

Step 2: Plate your food

There are a few steps to plating your food, so consider the following when your getting ready to take a photo of your newest dish:


1. Choosing your plate - You want to make your food pop!

I suggest keeping it simple. A white plate can make food stand out. Black plates can be bold and dramatic. Creative surfaces like wooden cutting boards or stone slabs can work well for rustic dishes.

Think about what kind of a dish it is and how that may inform what type of a surface you want to plate on.


2. Use of color

Color is something you need to think about while you're conceptualizing, cooking, and plating your dish. The dish itself should have a dynamic color profile to it, but so can the plating and staging. Here are a couple of things you can do to help along the way.

  • Color wheels help us learn which colors compliment each other by looking at the opposite color on the spectrum.
  • Garnishes can add a wonderful pop of color to the photo, whether that is by using different spices (red pepper, sea salt), bright herbs (chives, micro celery), and edible flowers

3. Composition

  • Rule of thirds is a staple in artistic composition. An image is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. Important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. You can apply this formula in many ways, from how you plate, to how you stage your photo.
  • Negative space can be an asset. For instance, your entire plate doesn't need to be full. How about plating in the center? Or perhaps you can consider the rule of thirds. Try plating the food on just one third or two thirds of the plate. Oftentimes this can result in a more dramatic and engaging photograph. You can also incorporate negative space later, in the staging your photography and using props.
  • Be creative in how you plate! Chefs at high end restaurants will use tweezers to place garnishes as well as paint brushes and the backs of spoons to artfully apply sauces or purees to the plate. 

Step 3: Find your light

1. Find good natural light
Nothing beats natural light. Pointing an artificial light source without the right equipment to soften it at won't make the photograph better. Find a spot with great lighting, and don't be afraid to go outside if you need to!

2. Avoid using your camera flash
Flashes on your camera can create unwanted glare and expose the wrong parts of the image. They're very difficult if not impossible to bounce or soften, so avoid them at all costs.

3. You can use your camera app to expose as you go
For iPhones, when you touch the screen to focus on a specific part of the image you are shooting, a yellow box will form around the spot you touched and a little sun will appear. Touch the sun and drag up or down to adjust exposure.

PRO TIP: Use white paper, a white t-shirt, or white posterboard (the thicker the better) to bounce your light source - even natural light. This softens the light and creates an additional light source to fill in the photo (or a fill light). To counteract that, a black posterboard or shirt can be used to absorb more light and create contrast.


Step 4: Style your photo

1. Choose your surface
Depending on your dish and your plating, the surface could be as rustic as the top of a tree stump, or a sleek as a white marble countertop. Think about what else you want in your photo when choosing your surface.

2. Props/Accessories - Props and styling elements can make a photograph incredibly dynamic and can add a nice pop of color to your photo, so don't be afraid to get creative and spread out! That being said, you don't need props for a good food photo. Sometimes all you need is a delicious looking meal that is plated perfectly.

Here are some prop ideas for you:

  • Ingredients and/or cookware 
  •  Silverware
  • Napkins
  • Flowers, leaves, etc.
  • Multiple plates/dishes (tablescapes)
  • People! They can interact with food in all sorts of fun ways.

3. Composition

  • Remember the rule of thirds? Think of that when staging your photo, especially if you're using multiple plates or props!
  • Also consider using negative space in your composition.

Step 5: Shoot your food


Tips for the new smart phone food photographer:

  • Adjust exposure as you go
  • Good angles to shoot at are either directly above the photo looking down, at eye level, or slightly above eye level. Avoid funky angles.
  • If you want to zoom in or out, do so by getting closer to the subject or moving further away, as opposed to using the camera app to zoom
  • If you have the newer smartphones that can go into portrait mode - play around with that and see what you can get! The depth of field can create really engaging photos, especially at eye level.
  • Remember to have fun!