The connection between what food looks like and how it tastes is undeniable.
“You eat with your eyes first,” Margaret Marshall, author of Healthy Living Means Living Healthy, writes and she believes the aesthetics of food are every bit as important as the taste and smell. So when you’re posting images of menu items on your website or social media, you really want to make them count.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of deli owners and restaurateurs rely on low-quality photos or stock imagery. But there’s no reason to do either. With the right techniques, you can capture some truly mouth watering images of your own product to entice your customers.
Here’s how to make food photography work for you.
Start with the Right Camera Equipment
Before you take any pictures, it’s essential that you have the right camera equipment. You don’t have to spend a fortune with the sticker price of entry-level professional cameras averaging in the $500 neighborhood.
In terms of features to look, Hillary Grigonis at Creative Live offers some suggestions on the best cameras for food photography. She recommends going with a full frame camera for close detail and one with interchangeable lenses to achieve a greater level of depth and higher resolution.
Christina Peters at Food Photography says that any new digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera should work and has the capabilities you need to get consistently great shots.
Use a Tripod
Stability is key when taking a photo.
As Kathryne Taylor of Cookie + Kate explains, camera shake is one of the main causes of blurry photos. In addition to using a faster shutter speed, she recommends either holding your camera steadier, or better yet, using a tripod with a remote. This will ensure that the camera stays completely still when you’re taking a photo.
Food Photography Techniques
Have you ever noticed that some food photos “pop” and are incredibly alluring, while others look vapid and completely uninspiring?
What accounts for these difference? And, more importantly, how do you ensure that your food photos look amazing? It’s all about understanding some fundamental techniques to make your images look professional.
Use Natural Light
Most experts agree that natural lighting is the way to go when shooting images of food. The Snapinfluence team says artificial lighting from built-in flash or overhead lights interferes with the color and composition, which can throw off the aesthetics.
They recommend using a white curtain, a bed sheet or even a piece of paper to diffuse the light and get it just right.
Overcast days are ideal for food photography, writes iPhone Photography School, because the clouds serve as a natural diffuser, creating a soft light that’s perfect. They suggest positioning the food near a window where you can get plenty of natural light.
Use a Clutter-Free Background
When it comes to food photography, negative space is your friend and something that you want to take advantage of. Photography Mad provides a formal definition of negative space saying that it’s the area between and around the objects in a photo that allows you to see shapes and sizes more effectively.
A simple, neutral background is almost always your best bet because it puts all of the attention on the food.
Not only that, a blank canvas tends to give your images an elegant, stylish appearance. Just think about the food images you see on Instagram and Pinterest. The vast majority have a clutter-free, minimalist background with plenty of negative space.
There are three types of backgrounds that work exceptionally well for food photography, according to the iPhone Photography School team. These are:
- Dark backgrounds for dark colored food
- Light backgrounds for light colored food
- Wooden backgrounds (think chopping boards) for nearly any kind of food
Kelly Huibregtse at A Side of Sweet offers some helpful advice about finding cheap, yet beautiful backgrounds for food photography. Some of her recommendations include:
- Faux marble – cover a foam core board with faux marble contact paper
- White poster board
- Distressed metal shooting surface
- Vintage baking sheets
- Linen towels
Experiment with Different Angles
In her list of 99 food photography tips, Rachel Korinek at Two Loves Studio list several that involve finding the right angle. For example, Amanda of A Cookie Named Desire creates different levels to show food, a cutting board, cake stand or even glasses at different heights.
Lew at Malaysian Mom says that she likes to take overhead shots, ideally from either a 75-degree or 25-degree angle. She refers to these at “hero angles” because they work so well in numerous situations.
Of course, there is no definitive angle that you have to adhere to. So try out several different options until you find the perfect one.
Add the Human Element
One mistake that new food photographers make is trying to make a shot look professional to the point that it looks almost sterile. Remember that you want your food photos to look inviting and irresistible. You want your customers to be able to envision digging in right then and there.
A simple way to do this is to add the human touch. Carol Hart at KimKlassendotcom writes that adding some hands into the shot, or just fingertips, helps add an element of life. You might depict a person holding a plate of food, cutting into it with a knife or dipping something. This isn’t to say that you want to do this with every single shot, but it really helps put things into context.
Sharpen and Enhance
You can also add to the clarity and color of an image with some basic editing. The Shopify team recommends using a featured called an Unsharp Mask to sharpen an image and make it look crisper.
This is available in most photo-editing platforms and works by increasing the contrast between adjacent pixels, which makes the food look more defined against the background.
To enhance the color, you’ll want to experiment with different filter and color options on your photo-editing software. Or you can simply upload your image onto a tool such as Enhance Photo!, and it will take care of it for you.
Leveraging Social Media
The final step in this process is to find a home for your food photography on social media. This is arguably the most effective way to drive quality traffic to your site so that you can ultimately convert visitors into customers.
And Instagram should without a doubt be your focal point. Its content consists solely of images and clips and is one of the top sources for food enthusiasts to learn more about delis and restaurants.
Rachel Hosie at the Independent cites research showing that 18-35 year olds spend a full five days a year browsing through food images on Instagram, and nearly a third will avoid a restaurant if it has a weak Instagram presence. So this is the network that most deserves your attention.
The Wishpond team explains that one of the top tactics for maximizing visibility on Instagram is to include relevant trending or niche hashtags with your posts. For instance, on National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day, you might post a mouthwatering image of your deli’s pastrami sandwich along with the hashtag #nationalpastramiday. That would be an example of a trending hashtag.
For a niche hashtag, you might include geo-centric information. So if you’re located in Brooklyn, NY, you might use #brooklyndeli as a hashtag.
After Instagram, your focus should be Facebook and Pinterest. Facebook works well because of its massive user base (over 2.12 billion users according to Statista), and Pinterest works well because food and drink is one of its top niches. Of course you can experiment with other social networks, but these would be considered as “the big three” for food.
For more advice on marketing your deli or restaurant on social media, these case studies from Toast are helpful as great examples to get your creative juices flowing.
Images: Elnur/©123RF Stock Photo, welcomia/©123RF Stock Photo, citalliance/©123RF Stock Photo