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Creative food photography composition techniques

With these nine food photography composition techniques you’ll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the rule of thirds, golden ratio or others. We are not going to talk about them today. Today it’s all about forgetting the grid. Well, not forgetting but rather focus on other powerful food photography composition techniques that add something extra to your food photos.

While you still want to keep those grids in the back of your mind, I want you to focus on details. Here are a few composition techniques that will add interest to your photos and help you bring your delicious dish to life.

Diagonals and movement

This is probably a #1 mistake I see with new food photographers (hello, I was there too). We were taught to place things parallel to the table or any edge. Your mom probably didn’t say: ‘Make your bed and make sure the lines are diagonal’ or did she? Probably not. We’re used to placing things straight, which is great in real life because this means order and cleanliness and we love to have a tidy (or at least a tidy looking) home.

But when it comes to food photography using only parallel lines is usually very boring and doesn’t create interest or dynamic.

On the other hand use of diagonals can be a really effective composition technique, since diagonals create movement and dynamic tension.

In the photo below you can see how I used two different diagonals. The napkin is placed diagonally and the dusting of sugar is following the other diagonal.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Negative space

Using space, that isn’t crowded with props is another great composition technique. If used wisely it can lead the viewer’s eye straight to the main subject. It adds harmony to an image and gives a sense of cleanliness and simplicity.

Negative space is not only a plain backdrop, but it can also be a part of the image where the props are very neutral or of a color that’s not distracting from the food but rather emphasizes it.

The great thing about negative space is that it creates a clean space for adding a copy.

This is the number one composition technique that I suggest new food photographers use. When I started out, I had almost no props that would actually be fit for food photography. I had things I used in real life and those are not always great in food photos.

By eliminating or using fewer props you can really focus on the dish itself without being distracted by the props that don’t really look good.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Go off-center

When you take a photo of someone, where inside the frame do you place that person? Was your answer in the middle? Yeah, we all do that. It’s natural to do that. But it doesn’t always make the biggest impact when we look at a photo like that, does it?

The same goes for food photography. Placing the subject in the center can be powerful when you know what you’re doing, but most of the time placing it off-center will lead the viewer’s eye around the image and to that main subject placed off-center.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Lines

Lines are a powerful technique of placing objects in the frame in such a way that they lead the viewer’s eye towards the main subject.

As in the photo below. There are chopsticks leading to the bowl on the left, the napkin is placed so that it creates a line leading to that plate. The rice and meat in the top right plate are styled so that they form a line in the middle. And this line is leading towards the main subject – the plate on the left.

One word of caution. I never set all the lines in a photo to lead towards the main subject. This would inevitably end up looking fake and unnatural.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Layers

This is my favorite composition technique when I want to tell a story. It allows you to add multiple props or layers of food that work cohesively together and tell a story about food. The great thing about layers is that they add texture to a photo. Using layers works miracles with flat foods, that don’t have a very distinct texture.

Layers can be anything. A backdrop, fabric, props, the food itself when it creates a nice texture and so on.

In the photo below you can see a few layers. There’s a wooden backdrop with lots of texture, two pieces of gauze napkins, a cooling rack, a pie pan, the pie itself and extra sugar on top. All these layers add another dimension and texture to the photo. However, they are not distracting since they are neutral in regards to the main subject – the pie.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Framing

Framing is a very simple concept. It literally means creating a frame around your subject so it creates a visual frame and leads the eye towards the main subject inside that frame.

Framing is very useful for dishes where it is not clearly visible what is in the dish. By placing the ingredients around to form a frame they let the viewer know what’s inside a dish and at the same time show where the hero of the image is.

It is also great for storytelling since the objects around your main subjects can tell a story of that dish while still emphasizing the main subject instead of distracting from it.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Repeat patterns

Patterns are one of the most if not the most graphical food photography composition technique of them all, especially when all the elements in the frame are the same.

Repeat patterns can be simply repeating objects of the same shape, like round objects or long objects.

Another powerful way to use patterns is to add something unexpected to the image. Like in the image below. There’s a cookie missing. This is breaking the pattern and adds interest to the image. It makes the viewer wonder where did it go. Did someone eat it?

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Foreground

One of my favorite storytelling composition techniques.

The foreground is the part of the image that is closer to the camera as the main subject. While it is normal to use the space in front of the subject it is less usual to extend the foreground to the point where it looks like there’s an object very far away from the main subject.

This technique adds a sense of space and depth to an image.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Mixing shapes

If with repeating pattern technique is to mix objects of the same shapes, this is the total opposite. By using objects of different shapes you can create visual interest.

This is the most obvious in a top-down photo, but you can do the same with any other angle, like in the photo below. By using a square box instead of something round, I was able to create a line that leads the eye to the main subject – the fruits on the plate. But it also adds contrast to all the round shapes in the frame.

With these nine food photography composition techniques you'll be able to add an extra zing to your photos.

Give these food photography composition techniques a try

I hope you enjoyed my guide and if you try some creative food photography composition techniques, let me know in the comments below.

One more thing, I highly recommend (as I always do) using a tripod or something to stabilize your camera.

I know setting up the scene before setting up the camera is tempting, but in order to take full advantage of powerful composition, placing the camera in its position is the key. Then once the camera is set, start setting up the scene.

And here are some extra thoughts because I love planning 🙂

Planning and sketching

Whenever I can I draw a sketch of the shot. Here’s the reason why?

I could easily rely on creating a beautiful composition by looking at the screen of my camera. But I don’t want to be stuck with the same rule of thirds with all my photos. Most of the cameras these days offer a rule of thirds grid option, so you can see the lines through the screen while you style. And I find this very very useful. But I don’t always follow the rule of thirds. In this case, it’s hard to imagine, where all the props and dishes will go. That’s why I draw a grid or print it out.

How To Take The Perfect Action Shot In Food Photography

Are you just as in love with action shots in food photography as I am? Do you struggle with catching the right moment and have problems with perfect timing. You’re in the right place!

Are you just as in love with action shots in food photography as I am? Do you struggle with catching the right moment and have problems with perfect timing. You're in the right place!

I’m going to help you with some short tips and tricks that will help you create beautiful action shots.

Action shots are one of my favorite types of photos when it comes to food photography. They tell a story, they are… well, actionable, they have this human element in them and they have such a distinct dynamic.

Have you heard the saying ‘Practice makes perfect’. I couldn’t agree more. The more you’ll try to do action shot the easier it will become.

But first, let me guide you through some tips that will help you grow your repertoire in food photography by adding action shots!

Let’s start!

1. Get a tripod

Unless you have a helper on hand (if you do, great for you!), you’ll need a tripod to hold the camera.

I find a tripod very useful for one other reason too. When taking action photos things, usually get quite messy. Even though you clean, I usually find that I missed a spot and it ends looking awful in the photo. I usually take photo of the scene before I even take the action shot. That way you’ll have a ‘clean’ photo which you can use in Photoshop to fix the mess that you might have missed. You couldn’t do that without a tripod since your composition would move if you handheld the camera.

2. Shoot in manual mode and set shutter speed first

Shutter speed is everything in action shots. It’s the most important setting, so you need to adjust it first. If you want a crisp sharp pour or sprinkle, you need to increase your shutter speed. If you want a blurry pour or sprinkle you have to decrease it. I try to use shutter speeds at 1/160 or above for crisp pours.

Second, adjust the ISO. I try to stay under 800, but since a lot of my photography is very moody and dark, I need to go up a little more.

Then, adjust the aperture. Unless aperture is really important to the story, I tend to adjust that last.

Are you just as in love with action shots in food photography as I am? Do you struggle with catching the right moment and have problems with perfect timing. You're in the right place!

3. Focus manually

I never use auto-focus for action shots. It’s just too unpredictable and I would end up with too many unusable photos.

My tip for setting the focus point is to either focus on the spot where the moving food will hit the non-moving food or if it’s possible, place an object about as tall as the pour/sprinkle will be and focus on that object. Lock the focus and remove that object and take a photo.

4. Adjust your food to movement

Sometimes some foods are too small to see or too dense to flow smoothly. When I’m shooting a recipe, I don’t want to stray too far away from what real food will look like. Sometimes I need to adjust it, anyway. Like adding some water to a sauce, so it has a smoother spill, or using coarse sugar instead of icing sugar to make the grains more visible.

Are you just as in love with action shots in food photography as I am? Do you struggle with catching the right moment and have problems with perfect timing. You're in the right place!

5. Remote control vs. Timer

There are a few options here:

  1. Remote control: I don’t often use it for action shots. I suggest using it only when you don’t need to be as precise about the spot where the moving food hits the surface. Otherwise, there’s too much to think about and it gets very messy.
  2. Self-timer: This is the setting in the camera, where the camera will take one photo after a few seconds after you push the shutter button.
  3. Continuous mode: I use this one the most. This setting takes multiple photos in a burst but with a delay, so you have time to prep for the action shot.
  4. Interval timing: Not all cameras have this, but it’s quite useful to take photos of a process that takes a long time. Like, if you wanted to take multiple photos of kneading bread. You can set the interval timer to shoot one photo in intervals that you set. It can be a second, or it can be minutes or even hours.

6. The right angle

Think about which angle will show the action best. You want an angle that really reflects the beautiful action. Also, think about the background. Is the background contrasting enough so the action will be visible and if there are any distractions in the background?

Are you just as in love with action shots in food photography as I am? Do you struggle with catching the right moment and have problems with perfect timing. You're in the right place!

7. It doesn’t have to include movement

When thinking about action shots, we usually imagine something moving in the frame, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Have you heard of implied movement? That’s when nothing is really moving in the frame but there’s something that tells us, that it’s not a still image and there’s some action going on. Like in the photo below, where I’m cutting oranges. Nothing’s really moving but the knife and the orange wedges let us know that there’s movement in real life.

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The takeaway…

Action shots are fun. And messy. And the most beautiful pieces of art! They take practice and sometimes they take some ingenuity. But anyone can create beautiful action shots! If you happen to create some action shots I’d love to see them! Tag #useyournoodles and @useyournoodles!