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Number One Newbie Food Photography Mistake

We’ve all started and we’ve all made this super easy fixable food photography mistake. Let’s go through my old images and see how to spot the issue.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Today, I’ll walk you through a few mistakes I see new food photographers make all the time. They are very easily fixable and I’ll show you in my old photo examples. If you prefer following a video, here’s my YouTube video, and below you’ve got a transcript of the video.

In case you’re interested in more mistakes you might be doing and how to fix them, I have an article about that too.

Not making the main subject the hero

So one of the most common things I see food photographers do is not really thinking about their main subject and making it the hero or the focal point of the image. There should always be one clearly defined center of attention in the image. Always!

Actually, the more complicated scene you do, the more chance you have of missing what your hero subject is.

There’s a number of reasons why this can happen.

Let me explain.

Image #1

Let see the image below, for example. This is one of my oldest recipes from the blog. These are some super delicious chewy Guinness caramels. But you can’t really see it, because it’s wrapped in a wrap. I wasn’t thinking about, what about the hero dish is important. It’s not the wrap, it’s the caramel.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Image #2

So in the image below I’ve opened up a few caramels so the viewers can see them, and the image is a bit better, but everything that’s happening around is still overpowering. The bog glass and can in the back, the big bowl on the side, they all compete.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Image #3

Let’s see the third photo.

I’ve zoomed in a little and gotten a little more depth of field which is making the stuff around less obvious and less prominent.

Let’s see another photo form the same photoshoot. Again, the caramels should be where our eye goes, but that’s definitely not the case.

I mean it’s far from a perfect photo. I was just starting out. But through showcasing the caramels in the front and keeping distarctions away, blurred in the back I was able to keep the focus on the caramels, not the props and I also kept the storytelling.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Image #4

Let’s see another photo form the same photoshoot. Again, the caramels should be where our eye goes, but that’s definitely not the case.

First of all the caramels are not in focus. I missed the focus and placed it on the top of the glass, so now what’s in focus is the beer head.

Second thing, I’ve placed the caramel too close to the edge of the frame, so it gets lost in all the things that are happening inside this shot.

And third, the caramel compared to everything else in the frame is very small. So it also gets lost in terms of size.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

My tip for you if you’re seeing these kinds of issues in your images would be to get good at less busy scenes first, so you can focus on your main subject instead of all the props and an elaborate story.

And I suggest identifying your main subject and keeping it on top of mind all the time during the photoshoot. Always re-evaluate if your main subject is really the hero.

So, this was the number one food photography mistake I see new photographers make. I hope you got some useful tips, let me know in the comments if this is something you struggle with as well.

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.