7 Most Common Food Photography Crimes (and How to Save Yourself)


Being a food photographer, I am hungry for beautiful food photos – photos that inspire me and instigate me to create strong photos.  On a regular basis, friends and readers send me a tweet about a blog they like or a photo that moved them.

Some of these blogs are photographically strong, others are great blogs in general. Some of these photographs are beautiful and once in a while there are some photos that are just crime against photography.

Let’s discuss all of this in more detail…

Food Photographer’s Crime

Food Photographers live to make food look beautiful. A photograph that moves your audience in a positive way is a great photograph. These food photos make you want to grab that dish and gulp it down your throat.

And then there are some food photos that just make you lose your appetite. Some of them are very strong but in the wrong sense. These photos make you look away or even close the browser immediately.

That, my friends, is a crime for food photographers.

7 Most Common Food Photography Crimes

Some of those photos can be improved by changes some techniques,  while in other cases, photographer needs to understand the fundamentals of photography.

Below we look at seven most common crimes and how to avoid them. The most effectively wrong photo combine more than one of these following attributes.

Let’s jump right to the first one-

1. Camera Angle

This is probably the most common mistake that is made. Camera angle plays a very important role in food photography. We talked about the best camera angle, and in most cases 45 degree isn’t one of them.

The temptation to take a quick photo as soon as you get the camera in your hand may be strong, but don’t let that cloud your imagination.

To save yourself from this crime,change the angle. Climb that chair. Kneel down. Take lots of photos. Read how to do photographic dance.

2. Get too close

There is one advice that new photographers get very often. “Get close, fill the frame,” they say. And make no mistake, filling the frame with your subject is important. Sometimes though, some of us go overboard.

We zoom in way too much. We take a little too many steps. We get so close that, it is absolutely impossible to understand what this dish is.

Honestly I would rather stand two steps back and would look at my food from distance that is greater than distance between my nose and my eyes. Step back and take a photo.

3. Patterned dishes

In many of these strong photos, one thing that stands out is use of dishes. Using dishes with pattern and lot of colors takes readers away from the main subject of a food photograph – food.

Some patterned dishes enhance photographs. Others create noise. If you are photographing a salad that has lot of texture, a plate with lot of different colors on its border is not going to help the photograph. It is only going to create distraction.

Plates may look absolutely beautiful without any food in it, however, once food is plated and you are taking a photograph, food becomes the most important thing. Everything that is distracting you from food is just that – distraction.

To solve this, start with plain white dishes. That’s always a safe bet and once you start to understand colors and photography a little better, then start experimenting. But for my sake, please don’t use distracting dishes.

4. Yellow Lights

Yellow lights in food photography  are just ugly. Yellow lights create a very unappetizing photo. Food color is captured incorrectly and white balance is distorted. We have talked about white balance and how to get food color right a lot.

There is a lot that has been said before about white balance. Read more about it – how colors change with light or getting red color in cranberries.

5. No Food Styling

Food styling is crucial in food photography and one of the toughest art to master in this business. But this does not mean, you can’t learn food styling at all and that putting

Look at this post by Tami Hardeman. She shows how to transform an “icky colored food that looks like glop” to a beautifully rice dish. Look at some of the mind-blowing food photographers and inhale some inspiration.

6. Using on-camera flash

About 13 years ago, when I first picked a Russian-made film camera Zenit, one of the first advice I got from my mentor was this, “Don’t use on-camera flash directly on your subjects”. Those days, I was taking more photographs of architecture, portraits, flora and landscape.

Flash directly pointed at a flower, made it look flat and feature-less. Colors just washed out and the subject was just unappealing.

Then few years ago, I started photographing food more. That advice has still applies to food. On-camera flash is a big no no. For food photography too, flash makes subject look flat and feature-less.

So just don’t use flash. Or use it with a diffuser.

7. “Great Photos”

Feedback is important for every artist. Let me change that – Quality feedback is important for every artist. Right feedback will help you improve your skills.

Part of becoming a better photographer is understanding what a great photo looks like. People around us are nice and try to encourage us by giving us compliments.  Please discern between good feedback and a “nice” comment.

This happens not only on your blog, but also on flickr. We’ve all seen just plain “nice” comments. Don’t take these to heart and fall-in love with your photography. Unless of course you are truly great photographer – and other great photographers are saying the same thing.

Your Crimes

Have you committed these crimes in your early days? Dare to share your old photos ;)? You can attach your photos in the comments below.

What food photography mistakes have you seen by food bloggers? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.

  • Um, yeah. Guilty as charged on just about all accounts, especially the lack of styling. Usually my kids are nagging me about eating and I give up and snap a quick photo. The other mistake I’d add (which I’m also guilty of) is not doing any post processing. I’m pretty sure the auto-correct on Picasa doesn’t count.

    • Hey Wendy,

      Tell me about guilty as charged. When I was starting, I made some of these mistakes as well… Specially like me if someone has been photographing for a while.

      The thought that food photography is similar to any other type of photography is often misleading.

      Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

  • Robert

    I’m always telling other photographers about having an eye for a particular type of photo. I can take beautiful landscape shots and studio portrait shots.. but when it comes to plated food.. I never get the shot I would like.

    • Robert, I believe when I was typing my response, you left a comment as well… Totally agree… that was one challenge I had faced as well, as I mentioned in the comment above…

  • I have been guilty of every single crime at one point or the other. I am learning! Would love to get your feedback on my food photos. Thanks!

    • Anna,

      As I had said above, food photography is hard. The first step is realizing what a good food photo looks like and then self-analyzing your own photo and growing…

  • I love food porn. I get hungry just going back and looking at some of my glorified snapshots. Good tips in the post. Thanks.

  • I’ve made all of these but I used them to “fix” this shot and some others recently. In fact, this shot was a direct result of finding and reading this blog 🙂 [img]http://500px.com/photo/5388859[/img]

  • Guilty as charged ! 😛 ;D I really need to change that yellow lights in the kitchen tsk ! Thanks for these very helpful tips !

  • These are excellent tips! I’m a prop stylist, and the patterned plates are a particular pet peeve of mine!

  • Awesome tips and wonderful post, thanks for the efforts. I am guilty of all the points, it’s only recently I have started thinking more on this subject and my food pictures have become little better, though not the best. With Indian food, it is more challenging to plate or even style a dish. But then again I have seen beautiful pictures of Indian food. So it’s a matter of learning the art..thanks..will waddle around and learn..thanks

  • I sometimes tend to get close to the food/subject but thanks heavens one can still recognize what it is. I hate using flash too and as much as possible I take photos with very good natural light! Actually I like that this confirms that I’m going to the right direction. I’m not a professional food photographer though but I love taking photos of food!

  • blaine

    Thanks for your tips,it’s useful,see you again.

  • Hi,

    Some great tips on what to avoid. In your mistake 4 you talk about avoiding using yellow light. Would you suggest natural light being the way to go for the best color and depth?


  • When I started out I definitely was guilty of several of these – though I think #7 works both ways and is relevant no matter the skill of the photographer – if we are not open to critique then we close ourselves off to a method of improvement, and likewise, we aren’t doing a fellow photographer many favors by simply telling them “nice photo”. If one likes a photo, it is nice to say why, and if someone asks for critique it is helpful to thoughtfully analyze their photo and offer up constructive criticism, both positive and/or negative.

  • I at least committed four of these crimes in my recent image. I still think it is not a bad image, but feel free to see for yourself and critique: http://mellimage.blogspot.de/2012/04/food-cheesecake-brownies.html

  • Many thanks! Please note that a link or a name is missing in “5. No Food Styling”.

  • Nice tip about the plates. Some people don’t realise how important it is to have simple plates when photographing food. Complex patterns can dominate the picture.

  • Guilty as charged for me as well! As a novice in the world of food photography, my biggest downfall (at least what I see as my biggest downfall) is impatience. Snapping too quickly and then just accepting that the photos I have are as good as it’s going to get. I rush myself – with stlying, shooting, positioning, even post processing – and then just say I’ll do better next time. I need to teach myself to slow down and really think of each photograph as an art. Thanks for your inspiration!

  • Great post! I agree that styling is one of the crucial part in photographing food. I went to Tami Hardeman’s blog as you said and I learned so much from there. Thanks for posting this very useful blog.

  • Guides and tips you discuss here are agreeable. Putting a pattern on dishes is very important so that the image will emerge colorful.

  • This was really such a nice article. I do really wanted to put more comments in here. Great!

  • I agree! Yellow lights makes your food looks not delicious. I’m just starting into food photography and i’m still in the learning process. I’m gradually shifting now from landscape to food photography.

  • Neel, thank you so much for the helpful article! Like many other readers, I am guilty of all 7 crimes listed above, but I think my worst one is the camera angle, often shooting straight down on the food I’m photographing. Since I’m a chef and often trying to take snapshots while I’m also cooking and serving food, I’m often in a rush to photograph. But knowing these tips will really help improve the quality of my photography. Thanks for the article!

  • green coffee extract

    Hi Neel, I would like to see thank you for the ideas that you offer in your post. I will follow your tips and techniques, because I really love getting photos of foods and uploading it to my facebook page. =)

  • These are all valuable tips that you presented here especially for us newbie in photography. I love taking pictures of almost anything that caught my attentions that includes those sumptuous foods. Thanks Neel=)green coffee weight loss

  • WOW, I’ve definitely committed multiples of the food photography crimes listed above. Take a look at the attached photo for evidence from my earlier days! I still leave it up on my blog as proof that I’m advancing my skills, but I consider taking it down often, it’s so embarrassing. This one was shot directly under our kitchen light at night, natural light nowhere to be found!

    I just wish there were more photos on this post, they could be really funny!


  • [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/devika_smile/7758477876/[/img]


    I’ve had photos wash out with flash. Since I often don’t have an option of using natural light, I’m trying to figure out what sort of artificial light to use.

    Please give feedback on the attached image.

  • I have a lot to improve then! Thanks for the tips!

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  • I have a lot to improve then! Thanks for the tips!