How to Photograph Salads Like Panera

Panera Salad Photos - Menu Board

Have you ever been to Panera Bread?

A few days ago, I went to pick up their Honey Wheat bread and noticed their menu board. Every time I go to Panera, same thing happens.

And every time this happens, I end up reacting the same way.

This time was no different.

So I walked in to the store and walked towards the cashier.

And immediately I started gawking at their menu boards. The photos on these menu boards were so… stunning that I just kept looking at them.

I started “reading” those salad photos. Trying to find where the light was coming from, or how the subject was styled…

Take a look at this photo…

Salads Photos on Panera Menu Board

Salads Photos on Panera Menu Board

The girl at the counter waited for me patiently while I was… well, lost in those photographs.

And after a while…

She said, “Sir… what would you like to order?”

Uh oh.

By now the line behind me was… long. Yup!!

The reason I was there? To pick up the bread. Remember?

And what was I doing?

Well… drooling over their salad photos.

So I bought what I wanted to as I was rushing out, I grabbed their menu with lots of salad photos…

Yes!! Salads – one of the toughest subjects to shoot.

I came home and started making mental notes about the salad photos. And that brings us to this post…

So here’s what’s in this post….

In this post, I deconstruct 5 salad photographs from Panera. One in the post below and four more in the  bonus video.

I will breakdown key elements of these food photos that make Panera salad photos so appealing.

3 Frustrating Challenges When Photographing Salads

What are challenges in photographing Salads? – I don’t know for sure. Salad photographs are tough because –

Challenge 1 – Salads are Complex Subjects

Salads are complex subjects.

If you are thinking “What are you talking about?”, hear me out.

Here’s the thing –

Salads have many many elements in it. There are the greens to start with. Then there are other veggies. And nuts and seeds. Protein. And the dressing.

So with all these elements, how do you make sure all elements get appropriate attention?

I’ll show you how Panera does this.

Challenge 2 – Food Styling for Salads

What’s so challenging about styling salads? Well… go back to challenge #1.

What do you think?

Now because there are many elements, as I said before, giving appropriate elements right attention is important.

When I say attention, I mean visual attention. In other words, when the viewer looks at the photograph, the key elements should pull his attention.

This is where food styling comes in.

However, with so many elements in the salad, how do you style the salad?

I’ll answer that question below.

Challenge 3 – Salad doesn’t look appetizing enough

Salad photos need to make you want to eat the salad. The salad needs to look appetizing.

This, I feel, is the biggest reason why you may not connect with salad photos. Some photos may just not move you, because the salad doesn’t look appetizing enough.

There are of course many reasons for that.

And I’ll discuss how Panera makes their salad photos appetizing.

After the detail salad photo breakdown below, you’ll learn x specific ways to make your next food photos appetizing.

Before that though… here’s something exciting

Bonus: In addition to the salad photo deconstruction below, you should watch the video deconstruction of 4 more salad photos from Panera. Click here to start watching the video.

Let’s get started…

Spinach Power Salad Photo – The Overview

The photograph above is from Panera. It’s called spinach power salad.

Now tell me this…

In this photograph, where does your eye go?

I’ll tell you where my eye went in a minute…

But let’s first talk about the photograph overall.

The interesting thing about this photograph is that it’s not very “fancy”. It’s close to what you would get in Panera, when you ordered this salad.

The photo is intentionally cropped with the usage in mind. It’s an unusual aspect ratios. It’s not straight from a camera.

The placement of bowl in the frame or the crop is also something to note. The “visual gravity” of the photograph is to the extreme right. The negative space on the left (and then the text and logo), balances it.

What else do you like about the image?

Take a look at the photo above.

Now let’s do this…

Let’s deconstruct the photo.

Salad Photo Deconstruction

Spinach Power Salad

Let’s start deconstructing the photo one by one.

Look at the main subject.

That’s the salad in the bowl. What do you see?

The ingredients are clearly visible. How many can you find?

Count them. How many did you find?

Take a look at them… All these ingredients are well lit.

Light of course, is coming from top of the frame. At the same time there is also a second light source, perhaps a more softer, on the opposite side. It could be a bouncer or reflector.

BTW you can watch the bonus video, where I deconstruct four more salad photos. Go watch the video. Click here to start watching the video.

Note how this lighting set up helps to light all the ingredients.

My eye went to the salad inside the bowl. And specifically to the center of the bowl, where there are few egg pieces.

What element  in the photograph pulls your attention?

What’s the first thing you see in this photograph?

What about that the purple napkin? Does your eye go to the napkin? Before going to the salad?

My eye first went to the salad. Then after moving around quite a bit, it landed on the napkin.

So what composition techniques are used in this photo?

Let’s look at this in detail…

Composition Breakdown

Take a look at the breakdown and then read on…

Salad Photo Composition Breakdown

Salad Photo Composition Breakdown

Let’s start with what we all can point out right away – the relationship between the bowl and the frame. See the placement of the bowl. It’s very close to the right edge of the frame. In fact, the bowl is even cropped a little.

What about the camera angle?

It’s top down. 90 degree. It makes for a good angle for this subject – all ingredients are visible. The circle bowl adds interest to the rectangular frame.

What if the angle was more like 45 degree? or even 10 degree?

The bowl itself would take more space in the photograph and salad would be less visible. That’s not a very appealing picture. At least in my mind.

Prop Styling Breakdown

The props used in this photo are very minimal.

Can you find them? 🙂

There are really only 3 props in this case – The background, the bowl and the purple napkin.

Take a look at the photo below.

Salad Photo - Prop Styling Breakdown

Salad Photo – Prop Styling Breakdown

Let’s talk about the background first…

The subject here is a salad. Salad with many ingredients.

With a subject this complex, how would you direct your viewer’s eye toward your subject?

By simplifying all other elements…

So using a background that is simple makes sense. Similarly, the color of this board needs to be subtle enough to not pull from the hero – the salad.

When you first look at the photo, the bowl is almost invisible. This is done by using the same colored bowl as the background.

So now, what about the purple fabric in all of this?

Note how much area is the purple fabric taking? The more I look at the photo, the more I love the use of this. It’s outright brilliant.

The purple fabric pulls your eye in the right 1/3 of the area when you look at the photo. But at the same time, not enough to land your attention on the fabric itself. The salad takes over as soon as your eye goes in that direction.

What do you think? Leave your response in the comments below.

Now let’s talk about the next important challenge…

Salad Food Styling Breakdown

Did you notice the food styling?

And did you count all the ingredients?

Salad Food Styling Breakdown

Salad Food Styling Breakdown

Did you find all of 6 of them?

Remember the challenge with styling a salad – there are too many ingredients.

In a salad, it’s important to make sure all ingredients are visible. Specially when you are showing a dish for a restaurant or even a cookbook or your food blog.

If a salad is supposed to come with eggs, it’s important to show that. There are also legal requirements that are important to understand.

So in this case, did you find all the 6 ingredients?

If not, let me help you

There’s spinach. And eggs. And crispy onion. Mushrooms. And meat (bacon).

Did you find the 6th ingredient?

Did you notice the dressing? Take a look at the bowl – at 12 o clock and 2 o clock. Do you see the drops of dressing?

Take a look at the photo below.

Salad Food Styling - The Ingredients

Salad Food Styling – The Ingredients

Also notice how these ingredients are spread out. They are not just thrown in on a certain place. Take a look at the fried onions for example. They are spread in the bowl.

Same for pieces of eggs. They are all across the bowl.

Did you notice how they’ve used the dressing?

The salad dressing seemed to be well mixed. Most new food photographers, just pour the dressing once they’ve set the bowl. This leaves the salad looking dry and unappetizing.

I don’t like to chew on dry leaves. Do you?

I’d like to have my salad fresh and a little moist, please.

Right? I am sure you would like the same. So why don’t you do that when shooting the photo?

Now, at the same time, when you look at some of the stock salad photos, you’ll notice the exact thing I mentioned above – leafy greens without dressing. So maybe it works for some. But not me.

I find a salad photo that’s has some moisture… maybe it’s dressing, maybe it’s the olive oil drizzled over.

So we’ve deconstructed this salad photograph. We’ve talked about key elements in this photo that make it appealing.

Take a look at the photo again and “read” again. Do you now notice everything we’ve talked about?

Panera Salad Photography

Panera Salad Photography

Here’s the next step…

Now watch the video deconstruction of four more salad photos.

That’s right…

There’s a video bonus. In this bonus video, I deconstruct 4 more salad photos from Panera. Some right from their menu board. Some from their printed material.

Click here to watch the video.

4 Simple Ways You Can Take Better Salad Photos

So what can you learn from the salad photos we’ve looked at in this post and in the bonus?What are some ways you can improve your salad photos?

Continue reading and find 4 ways to do just that – take better salad photos

1. Find the Best Camera Angle

Like we saw in these photographs, finding the best camera angle is part of the compositional dance. Understand your props and experiment to find an angle that will work best.

2. Make Food Appetizing by Styling the Right way

Styling is a major failure point for salad photos. Like you’ve seen in the photo above and bonus video, appetizing salads move you. Ensuring all ingredients are visible and in the right quantity is critical.

3. Using Right Amount of Dressing/Sauces

Dressing is one of the ingredients that helps you make salads look appetizing. But only the right amount. Too less and the salad looks too dry. Too much and it becomes soggy! Right balance is important.

4. Use Prop Colors to Make the Salad Pop

You already know that props have a key role in making an outstanding photo. Here’s something to keep in mind, simple props work better than patterned props. Salads are complex. They have many ingredients. So keeping your props invisible works the best.

Once again, remember how props were used in all the photos? If you don’t take a look at the photos again.

And if you haven’t – watch the bonus video and get all the photo deconstructions.

Have more questions?

Go ahead and leave a comment below. Ask your questions on how to photograph salad. Or tell us what I’ve missed in the photo above.

Bonus: Don’t forget to watch the video deconstruction of 4 more salad photos from Panera. Click here to start watching the video.

Click here to watch the bonus videos