Tips & tricks to elevate your food photography

We talked to pro food photographer Yasmin Albatoul, as she showed us a few of her personal methods for getting food photography to an elite standard.
A composition of a series of images showcasing waffles, topped with blueberries and caramel, served with a cup of tea, laid out on a vibrant mustard yellow surface.

Food photography is incredibly popular on social media. One look at Instagram will tell you: we love to share pictures of food. Sharing a picture of food is perhaps only a few steps removed from sharing that food with others. There's something communal about it, almost like you're breaking bread together.

Posting pictures of food online emerged as a trend at the same time that Instagram, the image-led social media platform, skyrocketed in popularity.

For photographers interested in snapping pictures of tasty eats, it presents a challenge because, with so many food pics, it's difficult to stand out in-feed. Yasmin Albatoul , professional photographer and food photography influencer based in Algeria, knows this challenge well. She has known other challenges, too.

"As a woman, where I live, I'm not able to travel alone or to go around the city to shoot street photography," she says. "And when I was at university, my friends always said to me: 'You can't make a living from photography, it's just a hobby'. But I said: 'Yes, I can. I'll shoot photography at home'."

Yasmin, it turns out, was right. She is now a professional photographer. Her dynamic, colourful, and often surreal shots grab your attention – and may cause your mouth to water. Her unique style and arresting images have led to many commissions for commercial photography work, and her Instagram has an audience of 105k followers (and counting).

Part of what makes Yasmin's photography stand out on Instagram is its professional sheen. There's a significant difference, she says, between taking a picture of your food at a restaurant before you eat it and styling food for a commercial shoot to capture with a proper camera.

"Mostly people take pictures of their food in restaurants on a phone without prior planning or any additional equipment," she says. "These are spontaneous pictures that they share through their stories on social media sites, but when we talk about professional or commercial food photography, it is a different matter."

Overhead view of waffles, topped with blueberries and caramel served next to a coffee, jug, and knife and fork, laid out on a grey slate surface.

When capturing her compositions, Yasmin explores a diverse range of shots, which allows her to showcase different elements of textures and patterns present. © Yasmin Albatoul

A jug pours thick caramel over a plate of waffles topped with blueberries, laid out on a grey slate surface.

Taken on Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/8 and ISO 125. © Yasmin Albatoul

If you're interested in elevating your food photography game to a pro-level, then the key thing, according to Yasmin, is to approach the task with creativity. A big focus for Yasmin is composing her images by colour and adding movement, and she does this with a combination of surprising props – such as string and oil.

"I can no longer do without a bottle of oil and a brush because I want the food to be strikingly shiny."

Read on for a breakdown of her tips and tricks to capture some next-level food photography.

1. Consider the colour of each food as you style your shot.

In terms of colour vision, humans have an edge over most animals. Scientists mostly agree: one of the reasons we can see in colour is because it was useful for our ancestors to spot fruit and determine its ripeness.

"I choose colours according to the general atmosphere of the restaurant or the food and the environment it comes from. For example, I prefer blue as a background for seafood, as it subtly suggests its origin."

It makes sense that colour should be a main consideration in food photography. Colours capture our attention. And choosing the right colours to place together can make the entire composition 'pop', appearing bright and lively.

"Blue looks wonderful against the orange colour of prawns, for example. The choice of the elements in each photograph, including the background colour, are all built around the main subject."

A white scalloped plate holding a small lemon meringue pie next to a glass of cream tea laid on a green background scattered with coffee beans with a colour chart sitting in the top right corner.

Enhancing your composition with a harmonious blend of colours can elevate your photograph's visual impact. Here, Yasmin unveils her colour chart, revealing the careful selection of warm tones that accentuate the vibrancy of yellow without overshadowing it. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/10 and ISO 160. © Yasmin Albatoul

A plate of small nests of spaghetti topped with slices of mushrooms and green leaves on a dark green plate with a colour chart sitting in the bottom right corner.

In this image, Yasmin has opted for cooler tones, drawing the viewer's eye to her main focal point with a pop of colour. Taken on Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/9 and ISO 100. © Yasmin Albatoul

2. Style your whole shot, and not just the food.

As a food photographer, you'll want to capture more than just the food. Utensils and cutlery are two examples of the sort of company food usually keeps. But you don't typically want the bowl that the food is photographed in to be your everyday bowl. It needs to complement the rest of the piece. Another good rule-of-thumb is to find a bowl that is slightly larger than average to display a bounty of food comfortably.

"When we eat, we serve food on a plate that is most often white and plain. This is why choosing the dishes and cutlery so that they look luxurious, and so that the food appears more beautiful, is particularly important."

When thinking about props for styling your food photography, you want to think about more than the colour. You should also consider the material and the overall aesthetic of the item. Wooden spoons, for example, look more natural than metal ones, and don't reflect light, making them preferable for many shots.

You can of course present your food on a plate, but there are other options too. A marble slab can add some heft, grandeur, and sophistication. (These are also excellent for shooting frozen treats like ice cream to keep them cool.) Cake stands, too, offer a striking way to arrange food with a clear emphasis.

Other props, such as fresh herbs, suggest freshness and flavour as well as adding in a new dimension of colour and texture. Spices and sprinkles can suggest further flavours still. And don't forget about tablecloths and other kitchen items to add a desired colour into frame.

Two plates with a nest of Kunafa with a chocolate sauce and garnished with a sprinkle of pistachio nuts.

Exploring a range of patterns and textures beyond the food subject can elevate your composition. In Yasmin's photographs, she employs a keen sense of attention to detail, ensuring that each additional element contributes to the overall image. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/150 sec, f/9 and ISO 200. © Yasmin Albatoul

An oval white plate topped with an array of food in a pool of chili and lime sauce garnished with green leaves.

Yasmin demonstrates that the frame and composition don't need to be overcomplicated to complement the food, and a stripped-back approach can bring out the vibrancy of colours. Taken on a Canon EOS R5. © Yasmin Albatoul

3. Find creative ways to stage and style your food – with some unexpected items.

In any genre of photography, there are going to be certain tricks of the trade you would usually only learn by experience. In this case, we've asked Yasmin, and so we can spill some professional secrets on how to stage and style food.

"One of the most important things in food photography is adding some tricks to make the food look delicious and last as long as possible," says Yasmin.

Some of these tricks for making food look delicious don’t necessarily sound delicious – such as drizzling motor oil on pancakes.

"We can use dishwashing liquid to keep the coffee foaming for as long as possible. We also grease meat with oil to make it look shiny and more delicious. We'll also replace whipping cream with shower foam because it lasts longer and is not affected by the heat of the lighting."

A hand suspending a burger with two wooden sticks over a bun topped with green leaves and white sauce.

Yasmin uses wooden sticks to make her subjects look airborne with an illusion of weightlessness, adding a unique element to the image. Taken on a Canon EOS R5. © Yasmin Albatoul

A cheeseburger deconstructed in mid-air showing layers of melted cheese, burger, onions, and a tomato slice with the two buns to sandwich it together.

Here is the end result. After digitally removing the wooden sticks in post-production, this structure creates a sense of motion, as though the image itself is poised to come alive. Taken on a Canon EOS R5. © Yasmin Albatoul

4. Add motion to your shot with clever props and editing.

Speaking generally, food doesn't move. For this reason, representations of food in paintings are most often composed as a 'still life'. But modern photography can breathe more life into pictures than painters like Monet could have ever imagined.

"The movement in the picture tells us a compelling story. When you see an image with a static composition, it can feel boring. Nothing is happening. You may not remember the picture later. But adding movement in the picture makes it unique and unforgettable."

Seeing Yasmin's images of food – many of which appear caught in motion – demonstrates how eye-catching a dynamic food photography shot can be. In much of her work, the food seems like it's being assembled, with a final sprinkling caught mid-air. Other times, Yasmin creates images that appear to show food being disassembled to reveal its ingredients, as shown above.

Yasmin tells us she uses thin wooden sticks and glue to prop small pieces of food into positions to provide the illusion of movement in the photograph. She then cleverly removes the sticks later using editing software. You can alternatively use string if you want to suspend something in the air.

"The elements of the picture, such as cookies, for example, or any cake, can be fixed with thin wooden sticks," says Yasmin.

These types of tricks are useful for capturing action-packed settings, such as frying up dinner on a wok. And remember: the action can come in many forms, from cheese sticking to the plate as you pull a slice of pizza from it, to steam billowing gently from a cup of coffee.

Finishing garnish added to photography as Yasmin Albatoul captures a food composition in the studio with a Canon camera.

Yasmin frequently provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse, revealing the process behind capturing her mouth-watering shots, occasionally with a helping hand.

Over the shoulder view of food photographer Yasmin Albatoul drawing the word pasta with a wooden stick.

Even after capturing the image, the creative process continues. Yasmin often refines and enhances her compositions further by editing and adding elements on her tablet.

5. Capture your process behind-the-scenes to share on social.

A big trend on social for pro-level photographers is 'the set-up versus the shot'. These image carousels or videos reveal the process behind stunning photos, pulling back the curtain to show some of the work behind each composition.

The reveals are inspiring to other photographers, as they show the near wizardry that goes on before the camera shutter clicks.

Remember: through sharing food photos, we can make connections. Food is something that we associate with bonding together, and this is one of the reasons food photography has become so popular. By sharing pictures of your food, a private dining experience can be transformed into mutual appreciation.

One study found that taking pictures of food can have a positive impact on taste too. Scientists asked one group of diners to take a picture of their food before eating it. Another group ate the same food but with no picture. The first group, who had photographed their food, reported that it tasted better.

Food photography is something to celebrate, as it helps bring us all together. And, perhaps most importantly, it makes the food taste better.

To learn more about how Yasmin captures stunning shots of food, take a peek in her food photography kitbag.*

* Available in selected languages only.

John Marshall

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