Complete Guide to Mouth-Watering Food Photography – Part 3: Plan for Making Great Photographs

Complete Guide #3 “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail”

I am sure you have heard, read or even used this quote many times in life. Planning is important in food photography, just like in any other aspect of life. Photography without planning is like a random event. You may get a great picture once in a while by accident, but you won’t get that consistently.

Plan for Making Great Photographs

In the first two parts of this series we talked about The Complex Art of Food Photography and Understanding Your Subject. In these two posts we talked about simplifying the process of photographing food, knowing your subject, drawing a sketch and understanding what you are trying to photograph.

After going through the above exercise, we have lot of information. We also know what the food is and what are its features. We have selected a feature that we would like to show in the photograph and we also have a visual description of a rough concept. The next step then is to start planning for making great photographs. The next five steps in the process are:

  1. Set up the Table
  2. Think about Plates and Silverware
  3. Think about Food Styling
  4. Think about Light
  5. Think about Props and Background

Now, that you know about the next five steps, time to look at these into more detail.

Step 5 – Set up the Table

With Visual description in hand, we can start setup up the stage where this photographs will be shot. I usually use our kitchen counter top when shooting in home and at night. The table here does not have to be huge, anything flat where plate (and anything in background) can be placed is good enough. There are few things that should be kept in mind when setting up the table. In brief, here it is – table height, table size and lighting conditions. Setting up the table will be discussed in more details in future, but for now you get the idea. But choose the table and its location, so that the background does not have too much clutter. If you cannot find such a place without clutter in background, just use a white foam board. I find white foam boards very useful. I recommend setup the table while you are planning because having table set up will help you when making rest of the decisions.

Step 6 – Think about Plates and Silverware

After setting up the table, wisely choose what plate you would like to put your dish in for photography and what kind of silverwares you would like to use. Usually white plates works in almost all situation. White food is hard to photograph in white plate and white background, so in those cases, you can use light colors plates. Recently I am starting to see a trend of placing food in plate that complements that food color like strawberry ice cream (pink in color) in light pink plate and pink background.

Step 7 – Think about Food Styling

This is a very complex subject in itself. There is no way I will be able to do justice with this step without going into a lot of detail. Food Styling is an art in itself. An understanding about art and design is crucial for beautifully styled food. However, if you don’t have time to learn about it now, you can find inspiration online. I usually start with flickr and search for the food there. If I am going to style dessert, I would just go flickr and search for “dessert”, sort it by interestingness and there you go, you have a whole bunch of pictures to charge up your inspiration battery. Alternatively, you can look for some food photography and food styling inspiration on this blog. As I said, food styling deserves a separate post for itself.

Step 8 – Think about Light

Think about what light will be used. Will it be natural light or artificial soft lights. I prefer to use natural light as much as I can but at times, I have to photograph inside where there is no natural light at all. In those cases, lights need to be placed in such a way that the feature you picked  is enhanced. Make sure you have sufficient light and keep in mind that if food looks dark or black due to ineffective exposure or lighting, it can have a negative effect on appetite. Photography is all about light, if you can tame the light, you will become a great photographer. Don’t restrict yourself to light sources, use reflectors and refractors too. Use mirrors, silver reflectors, white boards and other such materials to direct and tame the light.

Step 9 – Think about Props

Think about what props can be used in your situation. May be you can use a napkin that compliments the food. Or may be you can stack the plates. What about putting the raw recipe ingredients in background or may be a glass of wine? If you have looked at some inspiration, you may have some ideas in your mind. Decide which one or two would look good.No don’t start setting up the props right now. Position the dish /food first.

Rest of the Guide

Complete Guide to Mouth-Watering Food Photography is 5 part series on improving food photography. Here are all of the parts of this guide:

Don’t miss the remaining posts. Stay tuned. Get rest of this series by subscribing to the RSS feed or by subscribing to email updates. Yes! Its all FREE!!

Do You Plan Before You Shoot?

What do you do? How do you plan your shoot? How in depth planning do you usually do? Are there any tricks that you use? What planning secrets you share with us?

Photo Credit: Original photo Food Photography –Japanese Udon by

  • Great idea for a website. Food bloggers (me included) always need tips to improve their photography. I’ll be reading!

  • Thank you for your comment. Let me know how I can help you.

  • Thanks so much for these tips. My plan – pick one, work on that aspect of my photography and then move on. Well done

    • Thank you. What would you add/remove from the process mentioned above?

  • J.B. Bulharowski

    Just starting into food photography – I got a lot to learn, and hopefully, I’ll learn here (any maybe there?)! Thanks for setting up the site; I’m hooked.

  • Great tips for photographing food, or any type of still life. Good job on the site.

  • John Campos

    Great tips, my daughter is a huge food network fan and is growing into a creative little chef. Lately she has been keeping a photo diary of her food creations, so great tips on helping us capture great photos.

  • Deea

    Great article, thank you!

  • I simply want to mention I am very new to blogging and truly liked you’re website. Most likely I’m planning to bookmark your site . You surely come with wonderful posts. Thanks for sharing your web site.

  • I blog quite often and I seriously appreciate your content. This article has truly peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your Feed too.

  • Pingback: laser()