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Busy composition – when is it enough?

There’s a trend in a busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you’ll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

When it comes to composition, my style is not very minimalistic. I sometimes do minimalistic images, but more often I will add lots of elements to my photo. Trying more minimalistic images is also one of the things I want to do more in the future!

But we’re not going to be talking about minimalistic compositions today. We will focus on how to create a busy composition without making it too busy.

Because the line is very thin!

So let me give you a few tips on how to approach busy food styling:

1. Your dish should be the hero

Pretty obvious right?

But when you’re planning on adding lots of elements in your image, chances are they will overshadow your main dish. And your main dish should ALWAYS be the hero!

So a good exercise is to stop and take a good look. Really think about whether any element is distracting and ditch it, or place it just enough outside the frame so it doesn’t take as much attention.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

2. Make your dish the biggest element in the scene

Example. When you go to the forest to pick mushrooms, and you a small one and a big one. Which one will you pick first?

Okay, bad example, I never go mushroom picking, I’m the worst. I have my dad do this 🙂

But you get the idea, right? Bigger elements get more attention, would you agree? Same in composition, if you have an element inside your composition that is larger than everything else, it will probably become the focus.

Imagine you have an image with a burger and some fries and you want the burger to be the star. If you placed a huge bucket of fries right next to the burger it would become the hero.

But if you make sure, you only have enough fries so that they still look ‘abundant’, but the whole container of fries is not larger than the burger, then you’re good.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

3. Avoid overly colorful and patterned props

This is usually my advice for any type of food photography and styling. But since rules are meant to be broken, you can get away with crazy props in certain minimalistic photos. Not with a busy composition though! It is even more important to be selective about the props you use.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

4. Add some negative or passive space to your busy composition

Every image needs air to breathe and a place for our eyes to rest. Especially when you have lots of elements in the frame. So think about where you can add a little negative or passive space. If you are not familiar with the term ‘passive space’ it is the part of the image that isn’t necessarily empty but can be filled with neutral props and elements, such as linen, bowls, glasses that are almost the same color as the backdrop.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

5. Use leading lines and curves in a busy composition

Lines and curves are one of my favorite composition techniques when it comes to busy composition. They are used to lead the eye around the frame and to your subject. So you can see why they would be really important in busy compositions. With lots of elements, our eyes can get confused. By using lines and curves you can guide the eyes carefully around the frame (so the other elements are not left unnoticed!) and then to our subject.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

6. Make your dish stand out with color

One of the ways I keep focus on the main dish in a busy composition is to set it appart through color. I try to keep every other element other than the main dish very low key in terms of color.

Our eyes tend to go to the brightest and most vibrant parts of the image first. So by removing color from other parts (even when there’s a lot going on) I can get the viewer’s eye to always end up looking at the main dish.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

Hands In Frame For Food Photography

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a freak when it comes to showing hands in frame. I feel like they add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Hands connecting with food make a scene look very natural and the hands almost invite the viewers hands to also interact. It puls you in and makes you feel like you’re here helping, not just observing.

​Now, let me tell you how you can incorporate hands in the photo.

Make sure to have a clear story

I think it’s pretty clear why this is necessary. If there are some hands just hanging out in the frame without a specific reason it will look like a mistake.​

So think about how you can add a story to your photo. Did someone just bring a meal on the table, are you offering a drink to the viewer, did you just come from the farmers market and are bringing fresh veggies, are you lighting a candle to add some mood to your meal,…

Do you see a pattern here?

All of these stories make sense. So think about what the story is and how you can add interest to the frame.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Wash your hands – dah!

Okay, you’ll say that’s obvious. Who touches food with dirty hands?! Uhm okay, it happened to me more than once (a lot more than once), that I styled the set and hurried to take the shot with my hands in the frame and completely forgetting that there was some flour, sesame, or whatever food I was touching before, still on my hands (and my camera – oops).

You can usually edit this out (unless it’s a huge mess), but who has the time, right?

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Out of focus

The hands don’t necessarily need to be the focus of the image or interacting with the main subject. Having a cake and someone eating a slice in the background can have a powerful story.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Show some action

I love process and action photos. They are the most dynamic food photo can be. Pouring a sauce, sprinkling some sugar on top of a doughnut, piping on frosting, cutting veggies… All these actions start with hands, so you don’t need to cut hands in the frame, but rather make them a part of the story.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Make them look soft and natural

This is probably the hardest part. At least for me. For some reason, placing your hands in a natural-looking way doesn’t always mean that they are actually in a natural position. More often than not, you’ll feel weird and unnatural holding your hands for the frame. It goes the same with your body if it’s also in the frame.

​That’s so weird right?

​So how can you make them look natural? Well, there’s trial and error and mostly it’s checking out the photo and trying to determine what looks unnatural. Are the fingers too square? Maybe they too close together and looking very tight or are they too wide apart looking like claws. Are you making sharp angles with fingers or elbows (this one happens very often)?

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Make composites

​When it comes to images with multiple set of hands in frame, they are not the eaiest to capture in one take. And impossible if you’re the only person in the room.

Here’s where composites come in handy. All you need is a few photos taken with the same settings and photoshop. The rest is explained in my IGTV video here.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Think about how the light hits your hands?

Also a very important part. If the hands are very close to the light source they might be too bright and have too much highlights. One way to solve this is to place them in a different position or if that just doesn’t go with your story, you can try editing the brightness in post-processing, which is my next point.

​Editing

Editing people and editing food are two very different types of editing. That’s why it can often happen that while the food looks nice and inviting, the hands may look lifeless.

​This totally depends on the way you edit your images and the dish you are photographing. But, if it happens that your hands look lifeless and colorless, chances are they are too green. I usually bring photos like this in Photoshop and use the Selective tool in the Layers panel to add a Selective tool layer. Then choose Reds from the Colors Panel and lower cyan just enough to make the hands look natural again. By that point the whole image will look weird, so you need to mask out just the hands in the Selective color layer. And you’re done!

Btw, I have a Moody Food Preset Collection available, if you’re using Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to create some images with hands in the frame. Hands are not the easiest to photograph, but they add so much character to an image that it’s worth going the extra mile.

Using curves in food photography

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

When it comes to composition, there is a number of compositional techniques that you can apply to your food photography. Which one you choose is greatly impacted by your style, the story or even who your client is.

I’m a big fan of natural-looking food photography and some of the key compositional techniques that I like to use are curves and lines. Today I’m going to focus on using curves because I think they add so much dynamic and sense of movement to the photo as well as making the composition look natural and somewhat feminine. Curves are also a great way to lead the viewer’s eye towards your main subject in a natural way.

Curves can be a separate or I should say main composition techniques or it can be just an addition to others, such as the rule of thirds or golden rule to add some movement to the photo.

Since curves can really be anything, I put up a list of curves that I use in my food photography the most.

S-curve

This is a curve that mimics the letter S. I sometimes use S-shape to build the entire composition around it like in the ramen photo. Or I use it to support my composition and add movement and softness to the photo like in the cookie photo.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

C-curve

C-curve is the simplest curve you can use and the reason I love it so much is because it’s subtle and adds dynamic to the photo without being too obvious. Just like the S-curve, you can use it as a main compositional technique (egg photo) or support other techniques (apple pie photo). One great way you can use a C-curve is by placing the curve around your subject, which makes the objects on the curve almost hug the main subject.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Irregular curve

That’s any curve that connects objects in your frame in a way that makes the eye flow through those items towards the main subject.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Spiral

Most often I use spirals as a main compositional technique and not so much as a supporting technique. That’s mainly because the spiral can look very obvious very quickly. When they are obvious they also look unnatural. The other reason is, that the spirals lead your eye toward its center. So I wanna make sure that the center of the spiral is my main object.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Continuing s-curve

That’s an S-curve that is continuing and is forming a wave. I use this technique when I have lots of objects in a frame, that I want to visually connect and lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

A combination of curves

More often than not I use a combination of curves so I can visually link different objects in the scene with different effects. For example, let’s take a photo of the breaded sweet bread. I used a C-shape by placing pine in a C-shape to create a shape that hugs the main subject and gives a warm feel. I used the hands to lead the eye to the main subject.

In the second photo with lemons, I also used different curves to add dynamics to an otherwise simple shot.

In most of the above photos, I’ve used a combination of curves. I intentionally left it unmarked for you to go through and try to find other curves and think about how they affect the photo. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found any other curves in these photos.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Creative food photography composition techniques

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!