Try These Professional Tips To Step Up Your Food Photography Game

It's all about lighting.
Make your top-down shots graphic.
Make your top-down shots graphic.

If you're like most Instagram users, the best part about making a nice dish at home or going out for a cafe or restaurant meal (aside from, you know, eating it) is sharing a photo of your food to all your friends and followers.

It's a way of showing off your hard work, or that fancy avocado smash (much to the dismay of your house deposit savings), as well as giving you a way to record your culinary adventures.

Let's face it, though, mobile food photos can look dim and sketchy at best. Either your food looks blurry and bland, or you just can't get the lighting right.

To help you step up your food photography game, The Huffington Post Australia enlisted the expertise of professional food photographer, Nikki To, who has worked with the likes of Jamie Oliver, the Shangri-La Hotel and top Sydney restaurants like The Apollo.

"I think food and photography has always made sense for me because I love both areas," To told HuffPost Australia. "Growing up, food has always been a big part of my life. My family is Chinese so food is a strong part of our culture when it comes to celebrations and getting together."

Having originally studied economic and social sciences, To fell into a photographic assistant role and hasn't looked back since.

A photo posted by nikkito (@nik_to) on

Nikki To in her element shooting food. Note: diffused lighting by a window is best.

To's first and most important tip for taking good food photographs -- whether that's on a smartphone or DLSR -- is to have fun and practise often.

"It'd be the same advice for anything you'd like to get better at, and it's what I'd say was and still is the biggest way that I improved my photography -- practice, practice, practice," To said. "Have fun with it and experiment, it's the best way to learn and improve."

When it comes to the key factors of a terrific food photograph, To said it's all about telling a story, eliciting emotion and, of course, showcasing beautiful food.

The story around the plate of food you're photographing can be just as interesting and important than the standalone image of the food itself.

"Depending on what you're shooting, it's usually a good idea to make the food in the photograph look pretty damn delicious. But that answer is probably a bit obvious, right?" To said.

"Most of us want to see delicious looking food, so one of things I'm challenging myself to do with my food photography is to try and tell a bit of a story about the food I'm shooting. With so many millions of images of food out there these days, I think it's nice if an image can trigger a bit of imagination and inspiration."

But it's not just the food itself that makes a brilliant photo. It's about the context.

"If your photograph can prompt people think about the context and ideas around the food you're shooting then I think you're really onto something," To explained. "There are so many places your mind can go when you look at a photograph.

"What is it that keeps you engaged with images of food? Is it thinking about the taste of the food, the chef who cooked it, the produce that created it, the restaurant it comes from? The story around the plate of food you're photographing can be just as interesting and important than the standalone image of the food itself."

Here are Nikki To's top five food photography tips when it comes to shooting.

1. Use natural light

"It's not always possible depending on where you are, but natural, diffused light is always my preference when shooting food," To said.

To get good natural lighting, place the food on a surface near a window, but in a spot that is away from harsh sunlight. Early morning, late afternoon and overcast or cloudy days are perfect settings for natural light.

2. Consider composition

"Think about composition and space within your images," To said. "It often works when images have a bit of negative space or when things aren't always even and lined up."

To guide you with composition, look at the rule of thirds -- experiment with placing your object along the lines and in different thirds to find what works best.

Find the right angle. For example, a stack of pancakes will look more impressive from this viewpoint than looking straight down.
Find the right angle. For example, a stack of pancakes will look more impressive from this viewpoint than looking straight down.

3. Play around with angles

Just because you're shooting food doesn't mean a dish won't have a 'bad' side. To get the best angle for the dish you're photographing, turn the dish a few different ways and take sample shots.

"I've found that food can have a 'good side'. Make sure you're shooting at the right angle for the food you've got in front of you," To said.

4. Make it graphic

"I often like to think about food photography as being graphic, especially when it comes to shooting those overhead top-down shots," To told HuffPost Australia.

"You start to see lots of different shapes and lines within the food, plates and table settings, and this is where you can start having a lot of fun."

You can also make food photographs more graphic by using shadows -- late afternoon light casts longer shadows and creates a more moody, dark atmosphere.

A photo posted by nikkito (@nik_to) on

5. Eat it!

"Make sure you eat the food you're photographing -- don't let it go to waste!" To said.

"Taking photos of food is great because you can actually experience what you're shooting by eating it, so don't take too long with that photo or your food will get cold."

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