When & how to crop food photos

When & how to crop food photos

This introduction to rotating, straightening and cropping food photos in Lightroom will be quite a short post.

It’s a simple edit, but cropping & straightening food photos can be an important part of post-processing, especially if you’re using food photos for a number of different channels – how do you get the right crop for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and for use on your website too?

Read this post to find out how to quickly straighten up your images and crop them to the best size.

When and how to crop & rotate food photos

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.


This post is part of a series on using Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom for food photography. See the other posts:
Pixlr vs Photoshop: Why I made the switch
Importing photos to Lightroom
Sorting & organising photos in Lightroom

Get the Adobe CC photography package (that’s Photoshop & Lightroom for under a tenner) using my affiliate link here.

Cropping & straightening food photos in Lightroom

I’m grouping crop & straighten together here for convenience. Though they are different functions, the crop, straighten, rotate & flip options are all in the same sidebar panel in Lightroom.

Why do you need to crop & straighten food photos?

Crop to remove the edge of an image

Cropping food photos allows you to cut out any unsightly edges. Often the side of a table or a piece of equipment will end up just in shot and can easily be removed by cropping a little off the edge of an image:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Original
Crop an image in Lightroom to remove the edge
Cropped to remove table edge

Crop to fit the rule of thirds

Another reason for cropping food photos is to improve the composition. Using the rule of thirds in photography is a simple way to make food photos more visually appealing and pleasing to the eye. For images with the subject centred in the frame, you can crop to instead place the subject at the one-third line:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Original
Crop an image in Lightroom to fit rule of thirds
Cropped to fit the rule of thirds
Crop an image in Lightroom to fit rule of thirds with grid
The rule of thirds grid

Straighten an off-kilter image

Often, when shooting food photos, images can end up slightly off-kilter. Particularly when shooting freehand, or trying to capture a particular angle in a confined space, it can be easy to make your food photos look like they were taken on the side of a mountain. Straightening food photos lets you fix a slightly off-kilter image:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Original
Straignten an uneven or off-kilter image in Lightroom
Straightened to align with the horizon

Rotate an image

As well as the ability to straighten an off-kilter image, you may want to completely rotate an image through 90° or 180°. This is often the case with overhead shots, as it can be hard for the camera to detect the orientation of an image when taken directly from above. Equally, rotating a food image generally only works with overhead shooting. Food shot side-on or from a 45° angle usually has a clear up/down orientation (a top and a bottom), but this is less so with flatlays:

Rotate an overhead image in lightroom
Original
Rotate an overhead image in lightroom
Rotated through 180°

Flip or mirror an image

You can also ‘flip’, to make a mirror image. Occasionally, flipping an image can make it look better. Make sure to look out for words, or cutlery positions that can make a flipped food image look awkward:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Original
Flip an image in Lightroom
Flipped image

When to crop & straighten food photos

Once I’ve selected the photo to edit, the first thing I generally do is crop & straighten it.

Do this before making any other edits, so you are working with the ‘final’ image composition when making other editing decisions.

How to crop & straighten using Lightroom

First, (affiliate) get the photography edition of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Lightroom & Photoshop) for about a tenner a month here.

You can crop & straighten in free programmes, like Gimp or Pixlr, but the slow workflow of those compared to the ease and convenience of Lightroom, make it 100% worth the little monthly spend.

Open Lightroom, import your images or navigate to the image you’re working on, and double click to select it.

Then, open the Crop & Rotate panel in the right sidebar, to access the controls for cropping, straightening, rotating & flipping.

Double click the image you want to work on to select it
Double click the image you want to work on to select it
Open the Crop & Rotate panel
Open the Crop & Rotate panel

Straightening food photos in Lightroom

First, straighten the shot, to line up any straight vertical or horizontal lines. Move the straighten slider left & right, using the grid overlaid on the image to line up a straight line. You can also use the numbers next to the slider to insert a precise degree of rotation to straighten the image by.

Straighten images in Lightroom
Use the Straighten slider
Straighten images in Lightroom
Align an edge in the image with the grid overlay
Set a precise degree° to straighten by
Set a precise degree° to straighten by

Rotating food photos in Lightroom

If you want to rotate the image, you can easily do that with the Rotate Left & Rotate Right buttons, to rotate exactly 90° left or right. Use either button twice to rotate 180°.

Rotatate left or right 90° or 180°
Rotate Left and Rotate Right buttons

Flipping or Mirroring food photos in Lightroom

Create a horizontal mirror image using the Mirror Horizontally button. To flip an image, creating a vertical ‘mirror’ of itself, use the Flip Vertically button.

Flip the image vertically or mirror it horizontally
The Mirror Horizontally and Flip Vertically buttons

Cropping food photos in Lightroom

Cropping your images is a powerful but simple tool in post-processing.

Cropping images before you even start detailed editing can be a quick and easy way to make big improvements to their overall look & feel.

This crop is more to fix any edges or composition issues than to fit specific standard social media sizes.

What dimensions to crop food photos to

The final dimensions of your image will vary, depending on the intended use.

For this post, we’re not talking so much about resizing food photos for various channels (I’m planning a whole other post on that), but about using the crop tool in post-processing to improve your images’ composition.

If you know that you plan to use your images only for a specific platform, then cropping to a ratio to suit that platform may be a good idea:

  • 1:1 (square) images for Instagram
  • 16:9 portrait (long) images for Pinterest or Instagram/Facebook stories
  • 16:9 landscape (wide) images for Twitter, Facebook & most website header images

If you’re not sure, or you plan to use the image across multiple channels, keep the dimensions as large as possible. Ideally, keep the original size & ratio, unless any edges need cropping out, as that will give you more flexibility down the line when you are resizing for different channels.

How to crop food photos in Lightroom

Set your aspect ratio. If you’re not sure, use Original to keep the same dimensions, or Custom if you only want to crop from one edge of the image.

Then, drag the tags on each side and corner of the image to the crop you want. Use the grid overlay as a guideline, to find the centre or one-third line in your image.

When you have the desired crop, press enter to save the image.

Set the aspect ratio
Set the aspect ratio
Drag the tags on the sides & corners to crop
Drag the tags on the sides & corners to crop
Use the grid overlay as a guideline
Cropping in original aspect ratio: use the grid overlay as a guideline
Cropping in custom aspect ratio to trim one edge
Cropping in custom aspect ratio to trim one edge

Now you know why & how to crop & straighten your food photos in Lightroom, the next post in this series will show you how I use the Lightroom edit panel.

When & how to crop food photos

Sorting & organising food photos in Lightroom

Sorting & organising food photos in Lightroom

Being organised is kinda my thing.

Like, my sister once wrote a song about everyone in the family, listing their best qualities (beauty or musical talent, for example) and when she got to me, there was a dramatic pause before she came out with “Zoe’s so… organised“.

We fell about laughing (in her defense, she was about 9 at the time) – but its kinda true. I like to always know whats going on, and for everything to be in its proper place.

Personal prefecrences aside, I would honestly be lost without some sort of orgnaisational system for photos.

Between client shoots, recipes for my food blog, styled shots for my business site and my Instagram (not to mention family photos & holiday snaps), I have a lot of photos flying around.

Sorting & organising food photos in Lightroom

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.


This post is part of a series on using Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom for food photography. See the other posts:
Pixlr vs Photoshop: Why I made the switch
Importing photos to Lightroom
Sorting & organising photos in Lightroom

Get the Adobe CC photography package (that’s Photoshop & Lightroom for under a tenner) using my affiliate link here.

How I sort & organise food photos in Lightroom

Photo organisation is personal to each individual, but there are some tools that can help you to stay organised and find the photos you’re looking for.

First, (affiliate) get the photography edition of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Lightroom & Photoshop) for about a tenner a month here

You can organise your photos into broad folders & albums.

There are a number of ways people organise folders & albums. Personally, I have 4 overarching folders:

  • ‘Fig & Fennel’ for client projects
  • ‘EatsLeeds’ for images on my food blog
  • ‘ZoePickburn.com’ for my own styled photos
  • ‘Personal’ for other images – holiday snaps, family photos & the like

Then each shoot gets its own album. An album per recipe for my food blog, for example, or an album for each client shoot (named with the venue/customer and the date of the shoot. eg. ‘Doner Summer, May 2019’)

You can organise your photos into broad folders & albums
You can organise your photos into broad folders & albums

Stack a series of images, inside a folder

Select all the images you want to stack (using ctrl+click or shift+click) then right-click & select ‘Group into stack’, or press ctrl+G.

Stacking images is especially helpful for groups of shots that look almost identical – wether because you were taking test shots, or you were shooting action shots with fast shutter speed and have a ‘burst’ or images.

Stack a series of images, inside a folder
Stack a series of images, inside a folder

Use labels to add keywords to each image, then filter images by keyword

I use this for broad, common themes – for example, ‘pizza’ or ‘salad’ – so I can easily find a specific type of food shot.

se labels to add keywords to each image, then filter images by keyword
Use labels to add keywords to each image, then filter images by keyword

Flag images as either ‘pick’ or ‘reject

When I upload a shoot to Lightroom there may be 50-100 images or more, so I use the flags to quickly reject images that are out of focus, under- or over-exposed, or poorly composed.

Then I filter to display only ‘unflagged’ images. As I go through those remaining images, I either reject them or apply light editing.

Then I flag images that are edited & ready for use as picked.

Flag images as either 'pick' or 'reject'
Flag images as either ‘pick’ or ‘reject’

Each image can also be assigned a star rating, and filtered based on those star ratings

I use star ratings when I need more nuanced differentiation than ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

This is especially helpful for big shoots, where I can end up with 100+ images (even after rejecting the unusable ones).

Each image can also be assigned a star rating, and filtered based on those star ratings
Each image can also be assigned a star rating, and filtered based on those star ratings

Now you’ve got some tips on keeping your photos orhanised in Lightroom, the next post in this series will show you the first changes I make when editing photos – cropping & straightening.

Sorting & organising food photos in Lightroom

Importing photos to LightRoom

Importing photos to LightRoom

I recently shared a comparison of Pixlr, the free, browser-based photo editor I used to use, Vs. Adobe Suite.

I switched to adobe predominantly for the time I save with Lightroom’s organisation & simple bulk editing options. Since starting Fig & Fennel and shooting photos for clients, as well as for my blog, the efficiency of Lightroom is just a necessity for me now.

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

You can (affiliate) get the photography edition of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Lightroom & Photoshop) for about a tenner a month here.

Since I’ve been singing the praises of Lightroom for food photography, I thought I’d start a blog series on that walks you step-by-step through my Lightroom process.

Let’s start at the beginning, with step one.

Importing photos to Lightroom

Shoot in RAW

First, its important that you shoot your photos in RAW format, in order to get the most out of Lightroom. RAW format gives you a larger filesize, but the file carries more information about the photo than a JPEG or PNG. This gives you more flexibility and control in editing.

Import your files

There are basically four ways to import your photos into Lightroom:

  1. Press the ‘+’ icon in the top right corner to add photos from your files, or directly from a camera or memory card if it’s connected to your PC
  2. When you create a new album, you’re prompted to ‘Add photos’
  3. Go to file > Add Photos
  4. Press ctrl+shift+i to import
Press the '+' icon in the top right corner to add photos from your files, or directly from a camera or memory card if it's connected to the PC
Press the ‘+’ icon in the top right corner to add photos from your files, or directly from a camera or memory card if it’s connected to the PC
When you create a new album (more on this in the next step), you're prompted to 'Add photos'
When you create a new album (more on this in the next step), you’re prompted to ‘Add photos’
Go to file > Add Photos OR press ctrl+shift+i to import
Go to file > Add Photos OR press ctrl+shift+i to import

That’s everything in terms of importing your photos. Make sure to shoot in RAW, then easily import your images to Lightroom ready for the next stage: sorting & organising your photos.

If you don’t have Adobe Lightroom yet, you can (affiliate) get the photography edition of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Lightroom & Photoshop) for about a tenner a month here.

Pixlr vs Photoshop: Why I made the switch

Pixlr vs Photoshop: Why I made the switch & which is better for food photography
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This post is kind of a follow-on to my tutorial on editing food photos in Pixlr.

Pixlr is great as a tool to make adjustments to a photo here and there – it comes with most of the features you’ll need for day-to-day photo editing, and is totally free to use.

The process of editing a batch of photos in Pixlr though, can be very time-consuming.

In this post, I’ll explain why I switched to Adobe suite from Pixlr, and what the key differences are between Pixlr vs Photoshop & Lightroom.


Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:


What’s the difference between Pixlr and Adobe Products?

What is Pixlr?

Pixlr is a free, browser-based application for editing photos. It lets you make simple edits to your food photos (or any photos for that matter).

Pixlr doesn’t have all the features of Adobe products, but it can offer more advanced options for editing than the native Windows or Mac photo editing apps, without spending money on software.

I have a tutorial for basic food photography touch-ups in Pixlr here.

What is Photoshop?

Photoshop is another application for editing photos. It lets you make simple & advanced edits to your photos. For photographers, & photography enthusiasts, photoshop really works hand-in-hand with Lightroom.

Together, photoshop & Lightroom have far more advanced editing features than Pixlr. That isn’t the real appeal of Adobe’s photo editing software though.

I like to take a less-is-more approach to photo editing. If you’ve taken a decent photo to begin with, you shouldn’t need to use the advanced editing features of Photoshop.

No, the real magic & advantage of Adobe products over free editing apps like Pixlr is in the ability to quickly repeat your editing actions with presets & duplication.

Pixlr vs Photoshop & Lightroom

Cost

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: Adobe products do have a cost associated with them, where Pixlr is free-to-use.

The cost is lower than many people think though. A subscription to Photoshop & Lightroom is around £10 a month – not a huge outlay, even for a small business or a hobbyist.

When considering cost, you also need to take other factors into account. Some of the productivity-enhancing features of Adobe easily save far more than £10’s worth of my time each month.

Pixlr Editor

Free

Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom

£9.98/mo


Editing features

This is the obvious difference between Pixlr and Adobe suite, but I actually don’t think its’ editing features are the thing that really set Adobe products apart from free alternatives.

You can, undeniably, do more to your photos using Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom than you can in Pixlr.

Having said that, for normal day-to-day food photography tasks you probably won’t need to use any of those advanced features that come with Adobe products.

Equally, Pixlr has more advanced options and abilities for editing your photos than most native Windows or Mac apps.

Pixlr
Editor

Limited in comparison to Adobe, but more advanced than native PC or Mac editors

Adobe
Photoshop & Lightroom

More advanced options than Pixlr (though you likely won’t need to use these features day-to-day)


Productivity features

This is where Adobe suite really comes into its own.

With Pixlr, you can only edit one image at a time – and there’s no way to copy edit settings.

In Lightroom, you can quickly adjust the settings of your photos (like brightness, contrast and saturation).

You can also repeat these edits across whole sets of photos, using either presets or by copy-and-pasting the edit settings from a specific photo.

I’ll dive deeper into the features of Lightroom & Photoshop that can save time when editing food photos in another post. Since switching to Adobe CC, my editing process has gone from a time-consuming chore to a creative workflow that takes just a few minutes.

Pixlr Editor

None

Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom

Ability to repeat edit settings with presets or copy & paste


Why I made the switch from Pixlr to Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom

Having read this article, it’ll come as no surprise that I now use Adobe suite to edit all my food photos.

The time saved with the ability to copy my edits across a whole batch of images makes the cost an absolute no-brainer for me.

I’m planning another how-to post on my photo editing process in Lightroom & Photoshop.

You can sign up for Adobe CC’s Photography package here, for less than a tenner a month. It comes with Photoshop, Lightroom & 20GB storage.

Pixlr vs Photoshop: Why I made the switch & which is better for food photography

Equipment for better phone food photography

Equipment for better phone food photography

While I use my (affiliate) Canon 1300D for professional photography and images destined for the blog, having a decent-quality camera always available in my back pocket is, undeniably, hugely helpful when I’m out and about.

There’s no need to faff about getting a big DSLR out at every meal – I generally use my phone camera to snap food for Insta, right before I eat it.

I keep these three little puieces of equioment in my car though and, with my phone camera, they let me set up kind of ‘mini photography studio’ on the go.


Improve your phone photographywith this printable cheatsheet of tips to take your phone food photography to the next level

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

3 pieces of kit that’ll help you take better food photos on your phone

1. Selfie stick tripod

This nifty holder lets you find the perfect angle for your food and even take a selfie, hands-free. It allows you to keep the phone absolutely still, so its easier to focus and get the perfect snap in low light. Using a holder like this also means that you can easily take photos that include your hands in the shot.

Use (affiliate link) this 3-in-1 selfie stick tripod to keep your phone steady while you take food photos.

2. Mini ring light

This ring light clips onto the front of back of pretty much any phone, allowing you to easily and discreetly fill any photo with a pleasant light. Natural light is best for food photography, but thats not always possible, so using a ring light like this, on its lowest setting, allows you to take food photos on your phone after dark.

Buy this Diyife phone ring light here, to improve your phone food photography

3. 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector

The wrong light source can ruin a good photo. Carrying a small 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector with you lets you manipulate the light (by diffusing bright, glaring sunlight or reflecting a single-source light to fill dark shadows).

Try (affiliate) this mini 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser for better food photography on the go.


Taking food photos using an iPhone or another smartphone can be an easy and cheap way to get great food photos when you’re out and about. With these pieces of kit you can improve your phone food photography for around £30. Kepp a tripod, ring light and mini diffuser/reflector on-hand, so you can easily take the best food photos on your phone.

Equipment for food photographyThe kit that’ll take your food photos from so-so to oh-woah
Equipment for better phone food photography
Improve your phone photographywith this printable cheatsheet of tips to take your phone food photography to the next level

My (non-technical) food photography essentials

My (non-technical) food photography essentials

Since starting Fig & Fennel, I’ve built up a photography kit of sorts.

This isn’t the technical stuff – I’m not going over the lenses, lights or tripod I use.

Whenever I go to shoot onsite, I bring a box of tricks to help me take the best photos I can – whatever the situation. This list of things is definitely not exhaustive, but should help you to start your own food photography kit, to keep on standby for taking better food photos:

Equipment for food photographyThe kit that’ll take your food photos from so-so to oh-woah

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

Essential kit for shooting food photography

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

My Food Photography Box of Tricks

1. Tweezers

Just a basic pair of bathroom tweezers, to reposition small or delicate items in-shot. If you want to get really fancy, a set of multiple sizes like these are perfect.

2. Notepad

Now, a notepad is great for taking down a shot-list onsite, but paper can also double as a photography tool. Fold up small squares to lift dishes to a very slight angle, or to stack between heaped items (like pancakes), to give them height. A ball of paper is also great for bulking out a bowl, making it look full and appetising, whilst minimising wasted food.

Literally, any notebook will do the job, though I go for spiral-binding (so pages are easy to tear out) and recycled paper, where possible. Something like this is perfect.

3. Bull clips

Bull clips, in a variety of sizes, come in handy onsite for all sorts of things. From hanging a (basic) light filter to holding and positioning food and props for the perfect shot. Some small assorted ones like these, plus a few sturdy letter clips like these will give you a good range.

4. Double-sided tape

Another essential from the stationery cupboard, you wouldn’t believe how much double sided tape I use. Especially helpful for sticking down those rolled-up backdrops, keeping that damn napkin/lettuce leaf/garnish/other small & likely-to-blow-away item in place for a shot, and hanging light filters or reflectors when there’s nothing to bull-clip them to.

Cheap tape like this is actually better, as it’s less likely to leave any residue (if it does leave a residue, use nail polish remover to clean it off)

5. Twine

Twine like this, is super-handy for tying back things like how-hanging lighting and ugly curtains, as well as for prettying-up a shot that just lacks a little something.

6. Water spray

My water spray bottle is an absolute essential – I’ve mentioned it in other posts, but it’s just amazing what a little spritz of water will do to liven up a dish that’s been sat out on a shoot for a while and is starting to look beyond it’s best. I just use a little travel spray like this, but if you want to be really fancy try a misting bottle like this one.

7. Cocktail sticks

like the tweezers, these cocktail sticks make it easy to accurately reposition tiny details in a shot. They are also great for adding height and stability to stacks, like sandwiches and burgers.

8. Squeezy sauce bottle

Artfully drizzled sauces can make or break a food photo. Keeping a few empty squeezy bottles handy can make the difference between an ‘artful drizzle’ and a ‘random splodge’.

I actually love empty sriracha bottles for this – the nozzle is finer than most sauce bottles, so you can be much more precise with your drizzle.

9. Tea strainer

Especially when shooting baked goods, a little sprinkle of flour or powdered sugar can really bring a shot to life. A tea strainer like this (in the style of a tiny seive) can make powdering much more controlled.

10. Peeler

I like to keep a little peeler handy as a way to add interesting, pretty garnishes to any dish that just isn’t quite popping. I just use a standard vegeable peeler like this, but if you want to get fancy you could get one of these peelers, that has attachments for spiralising and curling.

11. Citrus zester

As with both the previous items, a citrus zester lets you add a little pop of colour and interest to a ‘flat’-looking dish. Use a standard citrus zester or one like this, that’ll also grate small shavings (for example, of cheese or nutmeg).

12. Fabric napkins

I keep a variety of fabric napkins and cloths in my food photography bag. They make great props to add interest to an empty-looking shot. Start with a pack of basic cream or white napkins and add others as you go along.

13. Roll-out backdrops

I’ve written before about using rolls of patterned sticky contact paper (like this marble effect or this pale wood effect), wallpaper samples from hardware stores, and even quality wrapping paper. While I mount my favourites on foamboard to use again and again at home, having a few rolls in my kit can save the day when I arrive at a shoot to find only ugly or reflective surfaces.

14. Thin white sheet

I use a thin, white sheet as a diffuser when the light is falling directly onto a shot and causing harsh shadows. This is where the bull clips or double-sided tape really come in handy.

15. Big white card

The other side to diffusing harsh light with a sheet is reflecting bright, one-directional light back onto a shot with a reflector. While I do use a 5 in 1 Collapsible Photography Reflector/Diffuser Kit, a big white tri-fold presentation board works just as well and has the added bonus, when I’m out onsite, of being able to stand unsupported, being basically worthless (so I can leave it laying around without worrying about security), and doubling as a plain backdrop, in a pinch.

Everything I take onsite for food photography

Other items

I’m going to be honest, not everything in my food photography box of tricks made it into the abve photo. I also throw in:

Q-tips

Wipe up tiny spills & drips with q-tips.

Makeup sponges

Wipe up slightly larger spills & drips with makeup sponges.

Kitchen cloths

Wipe up disaster-level spills & drips with microfibre kitchen cloths. You can also use these to wipe down surfaces & backdrops, and to give crockery and glassware a quick polish mid-shoot.

Teaspoons

Like tweezers and cocktail sticks, teaspoons can be useful for repositioning small details. They can also be helpful for drizzling and dropping sauces that won’t go into a bottle. I prefer disposable biodegradable spoons – they’re lightweight, so much easier to handle than regular metal teaspoons.

Pipettes

Pipettes are another way to artfully drizzle sauces and liquids, great if you only have a very small amount of sauce to work with.


These are just my basics – they may be added to, depending on the shoot. Most of the things on this list cost just a few quid but can be absolute lifesavers. When you’re onsite and everything is going wrong, my food photography box of tricks can usually step in to save the day.

Equipment for food photographyThe kit that’ll take your food photos from so-so to oh-woah
My (non-technical) food photography essentials


Camera settings for food photography: Start using your camera in manual mode

Camera settings for food photography: Start using your camera in manual mode

Recently I started this brand, Fig & Fennel, as a way to professionalise (is that a word?) the freelance photography side of my business.

My food photography has improved massively over the years since I started my blog (if I do say so myself), and especially in the past months since investing in a photography course at the local college.

For a long time though, I was terrified of taking my camera off auto settings and into manual mode.

A DSLR can take great pictures in its automatic settings – cameras are very clever these days.

But without the control of manual mode, it is hit-and-miss. By switching your camera to manual you can make huge improvements to your food photography.

Start using your camera in manual modewith this short eBook guide to camera settings for food photography

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Camera settings for food photography

Lets start with the basics, shall we?

NB. While this information should apply to most DSLR cameras, it is based on my own experience and knowledge using my (affiliate link) Canon 1300D. I have tried to make the information about settings, etc. as generic as possible but if you use a different brand you may need to look up the way Canon’s settings ‘translate’ to your own camera.

Photography is all about light

There are three key settings on your camera that affect the amount of light coming in and hitting the sensor. The amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor is also referred to as the exposure. An over-exposed shot looks very pale and washed-out, and an under-exposed shot looks very dark and gloomy.

Examples of camera settings and exposure for food photography
Over exposed | Correctly exposed | Under exposed

Aperture

The aperture can be dilated, like the pupil of your eye, to allow more or less light into the camera. Each time you move the aperture setting up, the amount of light entering the camera doubles.

The aperture is measured in f/stop. A large aperture lets in more light and a small aperture lets in less light, however, f/stop numbers run in the opposite direction: The higher the number, the smaller the aperture (and vice versa). f/11 lets in less light, for example than f/8.

Additionally, f/stop numbers don’t double with each setting – even though the amount of light let into the camera does. f/stops can typically run from around f/1.4 at the largest aperture to around f/32 at the smallest aperture.

The aperture is set in the lens, not the camera body. My Canon 18-25mm lens though gives a range of f/4.5 to f/29, which is plenty of scope for normal food photography. The aperture ‘scale’ goes:

  • f/1.4
  • f/2.0
  • f/2.8
  • f/4.0
  • f/5.6
  • f/8.0
  • f/11.0
  • f/16.0
  • f/22.0
  • f/32.0

With each stop letting half the amount of light into the camera sensor as the one before

Though your camera may show settings in-between these, only these stops allow fully half (or double) the amount of light than the subsequent f/stop.

This article on photographylife.com gives a much more in-depth explanation of aperture and f/stops.

How to use AV aperture settings in food photography

The other thing to note about aperture is that a large aperture (ie. a low f/stop number) gives you selective or differential focus (where part of the image is in sharp focus and part of the image is in soft focus). Equally, a small aperture (ie. a high f/stop number) gives extensive depth-of-field, where everything in the image is in sharp focus.

I like to keep the aperture as large as I can when shooting food side-on or at an angle, as a sharp subject and blurred ambient background work really well for this type of shot. For overhead or flatlay images, a smaller aperture works well to keep the whole arrangement  in sharp focus.

Chaning the depth of field in food photography

Shutter speed

If the aperture is like your eye’s pupils, then the shutter speed is like your eyelid. They act as a pair of blinds that open and close extremely quickly.

The longer (or slower) the shutter speed, the more light is let in, and the shorter (or faster) the shutter speed, the less light is let in.

Shutter speed is measured much more simply than aperture – the setting is typically shown as, for example, 1/250 or 1/60, which means that the shutter is open for 1 250th of a second, or 1 60th of a second. You just have to remember that that’s what the number means. One 60th of a second is a longer length of time than one 250th of a second, so a shutter speed of 1/60 is a slower (or longer) shutter speed, and a shutter speed of 1/250 is a faster (or shorter) shutter speed. 

What shutter speed to use for food photography

Faster shutter speeds (for example 1/1000) let in less light. A fast shutter speed is great for getting a sharp image of a moving subject as they freeze action – for example in sports photography. A fast shutter speed will only work with ample lighting – in low light, a fast shutter speed will produce a very dark image.

Slower shutter speeds (for example, 1/15) let in more light. Slow shutter speeds can be useful for creating image movement blur (for example, when pouring a liquid) or when shooting in lower light. Be aware though that the longer the shutter speed, the more likely you are to create a blurry image by shaking the camera – for shutter speeds below 1/60 or so, use a tripod to keep your camera completely still.

Generally, I keep my shutter speed as fast as I can, depending on the level of light. As I prefer to shoot handheld than on a tripod, this allows me to be flexible and experiment with angles more easily. My go-to shutter speed is 1/250, though I may go down to 1/200 or 1/125 before I resign myself to being tied to a tripod for the whole shoot.

Photographing pouring liquids
A slower shutter speed (3.2 seconds) causes ‘motion blur’ with the moving liquid | A faster shutter speed (1 500th of a second) captures a ‘freeze action’ shot of the moving liquid

ISO

ISO is the measure of how light-sensitive your camera’s sensor is.

A lower ISO indicates that your camera is less sensitive to light (so the picture will look darker) and a higher ISO indicates that your camera is more sensitive to light (so the picture will look paler). As with aperture, as the ISO setting doubles, the amount of light hitting your camera’s sensor doubles too. You can learn more about ISO at ShutterMuse.com.

Set your ISO depending on the availability of light. Generally speaking, the lower you can set your ISO (and still get a good image), the better, as a high ISO can result in ‘noise’ or grain in an image. As a (very) rough guide:

  • 100-200 for outdoors or in daylight
  • 400-800 indoors or in the evening
  • 1600 at night
Which ISO to use for food photography

Anything over 1600 will result in a very grainy image, so avoid higher ISOs, even if your camera offers them. If your ISO is set to 1600 and your images are still coming out very dark, adjust the aperture or shutter speed to get more light to your camer’s sensor.

What is the best ISO setting for food photography

Manual camera settings

On most DSLR cameras there are 3 ways to use manual settings:

TV

TV stands for Time Value, and is sometimes called Shutter Priority. Some brands of camera label this ‘S’.

For this setting, you set the shutter speed and the ISO, and allow your camera to set the aperture automatically.

In TV, start by setting the shutter speed to 1/250 and the ISO to 100 or 200, depending on the available lighting. Now, have a look at your images and adjust your settings as needed:

  • Are they coming out very dark?
    • Raise the ISO to 400 or 800
    • Or increase the shutter speed to 1/200, 1/160 or 1/125
  • Still too dark?
    • Increase the shutter speed even further (and use a tripod and external trigger to remove any shake from the camera)
    • Or switch to full manual mode and make the aperture larger (using a smaller f/stop)
  • Are they coming out very pale?
    • Lower the ISO to 100, if it isn’t there already
  • Still too pale?
    • Reduce the shutter speed (but watch out for ‘shutter shock’ – when the shutter moves so quickly that it is captured at the edge of the image)
    • Or switch to full manual mode and make the aperture smaller (using a larger f/stop)

AV (Aperture Value)

In Aperture Value, or Aperture Priority, you set the aperture and the ISO yourself, leaving your camera to set the shutter speed automatically.

Using aperture priority allows you to set the f/stop, which can be useful for controlling the depth-of-field.

  • For a limited or selective depth of field:
    • Eg. a stack of pancakes shot side-on in crisp focus, with the rest of the room out of focus, or blurred
    • Use a large aperture by setting a low f/stop like f/2.8 or f/4
    • Set the ISO as low as you can (100 or 200 is best), to make up for the large amount of light let in by the wide aperture.
  • For an extensive depth of field:
    • Eg. an overhead shot of lots of different dishes on bowls and plates at various heights, where you want everything to be in sharp focus
    • Use a small aperture by setting a high f/stop like f/16 or f/22
    • While a lower ISO is generally better, you may need to change the ISO up to 800 or 1600, to make up for the smaller amount of light let in by the small aperture.

M (Manual)

M stands for Manual. In this setting, you control the aperture, shutter speed and ISO all at once.

What are the best camera settings for food photography?

Not to take the cheat’s way out but the best settings do, of course, vary depending on the situation.

As a rule-of-thumb I generally prefer to use AV, so I can set the f/stop and ISO to suit the available light and the required depth-of-field, but I can trust my camera to adjust the shutter speed dynamically, which gives me one less thing to worry about.

Food photography normally involves a static subject – not a moving one – so I don’t generally need to consider shutter speed effects like freezing action or creating motion blur.

If I’m shooting in a busy kitchen or onsite at an event though, I’ll use TV and as fast a shutter speed as I can get away with, to capture the action in sharp detail. This can also be useful for creating freeze-action shots of a liquid being poured.

Sometimes – particularly indoors and in winter – natural light can be scarce. If I don’t have access to lights (which I usually don’t when I’m shooting onsite), I’ll either:

  • Continue to use AV, so I can control the depth-of-field, but use my tripod and external trigger to avoid any shake when the shutter speed decreases
  • Switch to full manual mode, so that I can set the shutter speed high enough to shoot without a tripod, and balance the ISO and aperture to avoid any grain and get sharp, properly-exposed shots

The most important thing though is to do what works best for you. Practice, at every opportunity and try taking a number of shots for every setup, using different settings.

Start using your camera in manual modewith this short eBook guide to camera settings for food photography
Camera settings for food photography: Start using your camera in manual mode

Döner Summer

Döner Summer

I’ve worked closely with Döner Summer on a number of marketing projects (I am married to their co-founder, after all), not least of all shooting onsite at events.

In addition to a styled shoot using their vegan kebab product, I frequently attend events to help out and get some great pictures of the product and the atmosphere of the event itself.

The photos have been used to promote Döner Summer on Instagram, as well as their other social channels, on their website and in the marketing materials for their wholesale business The Vegan 3 too.

Pavement Vaults 2017

Having shot Tapped Leeds ‘ menu on multiple occasions, I was approached by another venue in the Tapped Brew Co. chain to shoot the menu and their York venue, Pavement Vaults.

I spent the day onsite at Pavement Vaults, shooting every item on the menu, with styled flatlays featuring multiple dishes anddrinks, as well as compositions showcasing particular deals and ranges.

Pavement Vaults now have 70+ high-quality, styled, on-brand images to use on their website, across social media channels, and in print advertising too.