A detailed guide to editing food photos in Lightroom

How to use the edit panel in Adobe Lightroom for food photography

I recently shared the 3 edits I make to almost every photo in Adobe Lightroom CC.

But there is so much more you can do in Lightroom. This post will go through all the other adjustments that can be made using the edit sidebar panel.

I often adjust these setting somewhat when I’m editing food photos, but the amount really varies depending on how the photo I started with works out, and on the aesthetic I want to create with the final image.

Here’s a run-down of all the options available in the Edit sidebar panel, and exactly how to use the edit panel in Adobe Lightroom CC – strap in because its a lengthy post!

Opening the edit panel

First, you need to get the Adobe CC photography package (that’s Photoshop & Lightroom for under a tenner) using my affiliate link here.

Then, import your photos or navigate to the image you’re working on, and crop & rotate until you’ve got the perfect composition.

Finally, open the Edit sidebar panel by clicking the icon in the top right (illustrated below), or using the keyboard shortcut ‘e’.

open the Edit panel in the right sidebar
Open the Edit panel in the right sidebar

Editing food photos in Lightroom

There are 6 panels under the edit panel in Lightroom: Light, Colour, Effects, Detail, Optics & Geometry. I’ll go through them one by one, but just click the links to jump down to that section.

Using the Light panel in Lightroom

Light is the first section in the Edit panel. Light is essential to photography, and the Light panel allws you to adjust the lighting settings after taking your photo.

Do bear in mind that, as with any other edits or adjustments, we’re not here to fix bad photos, but to enhance good ones. If the lighting was just too dark or too bright and the image wasn’t captured properly, there isn’t really much you can do about that.

I’ll write more in-depth about shooting in RAW later, but for now, just know that adjusting the light (and other settings) is more likely to be possible for photos shot in RAW than for JPGs or PNGs.

Additionally, bear in mind when shooting, that its much easier to properly-expose an under-exposed photo later than it is to properly-expose an over-exposed one. If a photo is really bright and over-exposed, the detail is blown out and can’t really be added back in later, whereas you can raise the exposure on a dark, somewhat under-exposed photo and keep much of the detail that was captured.

This is something that I struggled with for a long time (and still do to some extent). I prefer the look of light and airy pictures, which means I have a tendency to over-expose rather than under-expose when shooting. Just remember, too dark is better than too bright!

The Light section of the Edit panel
Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Whites, Shadows & Blacks can be adjusted from the Light section of the Edit sidebar panel

Exposure

When using manual camera settings, the exposure refers to the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor. In Lightroom, its kinda the same – only you’re artificially adjusting the amount of light later.

The higher the Exposure setting, the lighter the picture will appear – too much and the image will totally wash out. The lower the Exposure setting, the darker the picture will appear. Again, set it too low and the image will be too dark to see much.

Image with very high exposure
Set the Exposure too low and the image will appear very dark
Image with very high exposure
Set the Exposure too high and the image will appear washed out

Contrast

The contrast in an image refers to the difference in brightness between light and dark areas. Technically, it determines the number of shades in the image.

The higher the Contrast, the more definition there is between light and dark areas in an image – too high and the picture will look exaggerated, too low and it will look flat and dull.

Image with very low contrast
Low Contrast gives soft definition between light & dark areas, and can look flat
Image with very high contrast
High Contrast gives lots of definition between light & dark areas, but can look exaggerated

Highlights

The Highlights slider is very similar to the Whites slider (below), in that they both allow you to lighten (or darken) the brightest parts of an image. While this is true, the Whites slider only adjusts the true ‘white’ parts of the image, where the Highlights slider adjusts all the brightest pixels – whether they’re ‘white’ or not. That means that adjusting the Highlights can be useful to return some detail to a bright part of an image.

Lowering the Highlights makes the brightest pixels in the image appear darker. Raising the Highlights makes the brightest pixels in the image appear lighter.

Image with Highlights set very low
Lowering the Highlights makes the brightest pixels in the image appear darker
Image with Highlights set very high
Raising the Highlights makes the brightest pixels in the image appear lighter

Shadows

As with Highlights & Whites, Shadows & Blacks are very similar but have distinct functions. When you adjust the Shadows, you are adjusting the darker-toned areas of the image – areas which still have detail but look dark.

Adjust the Shadows slider down to lower the tone of those dark areas, making them even darker and losing some of the detail. Adjust the Shadows slider up to raise the tone of the dark areas, and make the detail of those areas more visible.

Image with Shadows set very low
Adjust the Shadows slider down to lower the tone of those dark areas, making them even darker and losing some of the detail
Image with Shadows set very high
Adjust the Shadows slider up to raise the tone of the dark areas, and make the detail of those areas more visible

Whites

Again, the Whites slider is very similar to the Highlights slider. Use them to lighten (or darken) the brightest parts of an image. The Whites slider only adjusts the true ‘white’ parts of the image, which can be useful for brightening underexposed images – but be wary of also adjusting the overall colour tones of an image when adjusting the Whites slider.

Lowering the Whites brings down the bright tones in the white pixels in the image – making the image appear overall darker. Raising the Whites brightens the tones in the white pixels in the image – making the image appear overall lighter.

Image with Whites set very low
Lowering the Whites brings down the bright tones in the white pixels in the image – making the image appear overall darker
Image with Whites set very high
Raising the Whites brightens the tones in the white pixels in the image – making the image appear overall lighter

Blacks

The final slider in the Light section is for Black tones. The Blacks slider is very similar to the Shadows slider but again has its own functionality & uses. Where adjusting the Shadows slider affects the darker-toned areas of the image, adjusting the Blacks slider makes the true black areas of the image (with little-to-no detail) lighter (or darker).

Adjust the Blacks slider down to make and black pixels in the image appear darker. Adjust the Blacks slider up to make and black pixels in the image appear lighter. You can also adjust the overall exposure of the image to reveal more (or fewer) details in the Black sections.

Image with Blacks set very low
Adjust the Blacks slider down to make and black pixels in the image appear darker
Image with Blacks set very low
Adjust the Blacks slider up to make and black pixels in the image appear lighter

Using the Colour panel in Lightroom

The Colour panel has two main functions for editing food photography.

The white balance – controlled by the Temperature and Tint sliders – can be used the fix the colour & quality of the light used to shoot.

The Vibrancy & Saturation sliders both affect the intensity of the colours in an image (though in slightly different ways). They can be used to change the overall aesthetic of an image – whether it should be popping with colour or more muted.

The Colour section of the Lightroom edit panel
Temperature, Tint, Vibrance & Saturation can be adjusted from the Colour section of the Lightroom edit sidebar panel

White Balance

I covered white balance in more depth in this post on the three adjustments I make to (almost) every photo in Lightroom, so I’ll just give you a quick review here.

White balance deals with the colour of the light in an image. Particularly when using artificial light sources, an unnatural colour can easily be cast on your photos, which can make the whole image look slightly ‘off colour‘.

We talk about white balance, not colour balance, because this discolouration is usually most obvious in things that should look ‘white’ to the naked eye.

You can set white balance manually on your camera before shooting. Even if you do that, you will likely need to make slight white balance or colour adjustments later.

There are a number of ways to adjust the white balance in Lightroom: using a white balance pre-set, using the dropper to select an area of the image that ‘should’ appear white, or manually adjusting the colour mix of Temperature and Tint.

Temperature

In photography, the colour temperature refers to the warm or cool tones in an image, affected by the light source used when shooting the photo. The colour temperature of a light source is measured in Kelvin.

The Temperature slider runs on a scale from blues to yellows. A higher Temperature setting has a ‘warm’ orange-yellow glow, and a lower Temperature setting gives your pictures a ‘cold’ blue glow.

Image with temperature set low
A lower Temperature setting gives your pictures a ‘cold’ blue glow
Image with temperature set high
A higher Temperature setting has a ‘warm’ orange-yellow glow

Tint

Tint is the other aspect to white balance. While photography shot in natural light will likely only need to be corrected for temperature, using any artificial lightsource will likely require an adjustment in the Tint setting.

Tint runs on an axis from green to magenta. A high Tint number in Lightroom gives your photos a pink/purple glow, and a low Tint number in Lightroom gives your photos a green glow.

Image with a green tint
A low Tint number in Lightroom gives your photos a green glow
Image with a magenta tint
A high Tint number in Lightroom gives your photos a pink/purple glow

Vibrancce

Vibrance and Saturation are another pair of controls that do very similar things to your image – through not quite the same. They both affect the intensity of the colours in an image (increasing or decreasing the intensity) but in different ways.

First, Vibrance. Vibrance is the more subtle of the two controls and should be your first option for adjusting the colour intensity. Adjusting the Vibrance doesn’t put a blanket adjustment on the entire image, it only adjusts the intensity of colours that already appear to be muted. This is particularly useful for images featuring people (whether that’s the faces of happy diners of the hands of a busy chef), as the Vibrance doesn’t affect skintones either.

Turning the Vibrance up intensifies the most ‘colourful’ parts of the image, with less effect on any already less-saturated sections. Turning down the Vibrance decreases the intensity of the most colourful parts of the image, bringing the intensity of colour in line with any already less-saturated parts.

Image with Lightroom Vibrance setting lowered
Turning down the Vibrance decreases the intensity of the most colourful parts of the image, bringing the intensity of colour in line with any already less-saturated parts
Image with Lightroom Vibrance setting raised
Turning the Vibrance up intensifies the most colourful parts of the image, with less effect on any already less-saturated sections

Saturation

As with Vibrance, Saturation can be used to increase or decrease the intensity of colours in an image. Unlike Vibrance though, using the Saturation slider adjusts the intensity of all colours throughout an image – regardless of how intense the colours already are.

Turning up the Saturation increases the intensity of colours throughout the image – turn it up too high and areas of colour will lose definition, making the image ‘posterised’. Turning down the Saturation decreases the intensity of colours throughout the image – turn it down to zero for a black & white monochrome effect.

Image with low saturation in Lightroom
Turning down the Saturation decreases the intensity of colours throughout the image – turn it down to zero for a black & white monochrome effect
Image with high saturation in Lightroom
Turning up the Saturation increases the intensity of colours throughout the image – turn it up too high and areas of colour will lose definition, making the image ‘posterised’

Using the Effects panel in Lightroom

The Effects panel in Lightroom is mostly used to lend a filmic quality to your images. Adding some grain and a light vignette can give stylised food photos an air of old-fashioned film photography.

The Effects section of the Lightroom edit panel
Texture, Clarity, Dehaze, Vignette & Grain can be adjusted from the Effects section of the Lightroom edit sidebar panel

Texture

Texture and Clarity have similar uses. They can both be used to enhance the texture of items in a photo – like the weave in a fabric napkin, or the minute scratches on a vintage spoon. They can also be used to minimise the appearance of textures – smoothing the surface of a countertop, or of a liquid.

Adjusting the Texture has a more subtle effect on an image than adjusting the Clarity, allowing you to retain fine details whilst increasing or decreasing the appearance of textures.

More Texture makes an image appear sharp and less Texture makes it appear soft and hazy.

Image with low texture in Lightroom
Less Texture makes an image appear soft and hazy
Image with high texture in Lightroom
More Texture makes an image appear sharp

Clarity

Unlike the Texture slider, adjusting the Clarity affects the image contrast slightly, sharpening the edges.

Clarity works in a similar way to the Contrast slider, adding some sharpness to your image by adjusting the definition between light and dark areas. Unline the Contrast setting though, Clarity only affects the mid-tones of an image – which can enhance textures.

Higher Clarity brings out some of the texture in an image, though raising the Clarity too high can result in grainy quality. Lower Clarity removes some of the texture and adds a softness to the image, but can make an image appear blurry.

Image with low Clarity in Lightroom
Lower Clarity removes some of the texture and adds a softness to the image, but can make an image appear blurry
Image with high Clarity in Lightroom
Higher Clarity brings out some of the texture in an image, though raising the Clarity too high can result in a grainy quality

Dehaze

Dehaze is used to remove (or add) a hazy, fog-like quality to photos. It’s predominently intended to add detail back into landscape or outdoor images.

Specifically, Dehaze adds some contrast to the background of images. You can also reduce the Dehaze adjustment, to remove some of the contrast in the background of an image.

Low dehaze setting in Lightroom
You can reduce the Dehaze adjustment (essentially, adding haze), to remove some of the contrast in the background of an image
High Dehaze setting in Lightroom
Dehaze adds some contrast to the background of images – it’s predominantly used for landscape or outdoor images

Vignette

The Vignette reduces or increases the brightness at the edges of an image.

Use vignettes to bring focus onto the subject at the centre of an image, and somewhat obscure the edges of an image. Vignettes can also add an old-fashioned, vintage quality to your photos.

Adjust the Vignette down to remove brightness from the edges of the image for a dark/black vignette effect, and adjust it up to add brightness to the edges of the image for a light/white vignette effect.

Low vignette effect in Lightroom
Adjust the Vignette down to remove brightness from the edges of the image for a dark/black vignette effect
High Vignette effect in Lightroom
Adjust the Vignette up to add brightness to the edges of the image for a light/white vignette effect

As well as adjusting the Vignette slider itself, there is also a dropdown to adjust other aspects of the vignette effect. In these examples, I’m adjusting a low (black) vignette, but each of these settings can also be adjusted on a high (white) vignette, apart from the Highlight.

Vignette Midpoint

The Midpoint essentially adjusts the size of the vignette. A lower Midpoint gives a larger vignette and a higher Midpoint gives a smaller vignette.

Vignette with low midpoint
A lower Midpoint gives a larger vignette
Vignette with high midpoint
A higher Midpoint gives a smaller vignette
Vignette Roundness

The Roundness refers to the corners of the vignette shape. A more round vignette ultimately leaves a circular shape in the middle of the image (good for 1:1 square images), and a less round vignette leaves a rectangular shape in the middle of the image.

Vignette with high roundness
A more round vignette ultimately leaves a circular shape in the middle of the image (good for 1:1 square images)
Vignette with low roundness
A less round vignette leaves a rectangular shape in the centre of the image
Vignette Feather

Feathering is the amount of blending between the edge of the vignette and the centre of the image. A higher Feather gives you a more subtle blend, and a lower Feather gives you a starker line between the vignette and the image.

Vignette with low feather
Lower Feather gives you a starker line between the vignette and the image
Vignette with high feather
A higher Feather gives you a more subtle blend between the vignette and the image
Vignette Highlight

This slider is only used with a low/dark vignette effect. It allows you to recover some of the brightness of the image. The Highlights slider can make a vignette look more natural, as it allows for brighter parts of the image to remain bright whilst still undergoing some of the vignette effects.

Vignette with no highlight
0% Vignette Highlight
Vignette with some highlight
50% Vignette Highlight
Vignette with full highlight
100% Vignette Highlight

Grain

Though Grain is similar to Noise (which is adjusted in the next section), they are subtly different. While they are both based on the amount of light entering the camera sensor, the key difference is that noise comes from digital photography, while grain comes from old-fashioned analogue film photography.

Typically, the presence of grain is viewed as a bad thing in photography, but as with vignette effects, you may want to add grain to give your images a vintage appearance.

You can use the Grain slider to add grain into your image, and use the dropdown to adjust the size and the roughness of the grain.

Lightroom image with no grain
No Grain
Lightroom image with some grain
100% Grain

Using the Detail panel in Lightroom

The Lightroom Detail panel lets you remove any digital noise and make your images look sharper.

Some Detail correction (Sharpening and Noise Reduction) will be automatically applied by Lightroom when you import RAW images. You can override those automatic adjustments if required, though you shouldn’t need to for most images.

When you do need to make adjustments in the Detail panel, zoom in to 1:1 view (by pressing 1:1 in the bottom right of the screen, or CTRL++ on your keyboard) to see the level of detail needed.

The Detail section of the Lightroom edit panel
Sharpening, Noise Reduction & Colour Noise Reduction can be adjusted from the Detail section of the Lightroom edit sidebar panel. Zoom in to 1:1 view by pressing 1:1 in the bottom right of the screen before adjusting Detail settings

Sharpening

Similarly to the Contrast setting, Sharpening creates the illusion of sharpness and detail in your images by highlighting the difference between the lightest and darkest pixels.

To Sharpen, Lightroom identifies edges in the image and increases the contrast between light & dark pixels there. In this example, the sides of the bowl in the foreground against the dark cloth would be identified as an edge. Contrast, on the other hand, defines the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of the image – without grouping them into ‘edges’.

Adjust the Sharpening slider down to create less contrast between light and dark pixels at the edges in the image, making the details look less defined. Adjust it up to create more contrast between light and dark pixels at the edges in the image, making the details look more defined.

The Sharpening dropdown panel gives you three extra elements of control to the Sharpening adjustment:

  • Radius – The Radius of the Sharpening adjusts the thickness of the edge of the area being sharpened. A low Radius sharpens only the specific pixels identified for Sharpening and a higher Radius also effects the other pixels nearby.
  • Detail – The Detail of the Sharpening adjusts how much Sharpening is applied to the image. Less Detail means only the largest and most clearly defined edges (eg. the side of the bowl) will be Sharpened. More Detail applies Sharpening to every small edge of the image (eg. each strand of microgreens) – too high and you may start to create grainy ‘noise’.
  • Masking – Masking adjusts how much of the image the Sharpening applies to. Without Masking, every pixel identified as part of an edge will be Sharpened to the same degree. Add more Masking to Sharpen areas with the most clearly defined edges.
  • What the difference between Detail and Masking? At first glance, they seem very similar. The best way I can describe the difference is that adjusting the Detail slider selects which edges will have Sharpening applied to them. Then, once Lightroom knows which edges to Sharpen, turning up the Masking slider varies the level of Sharpening applied to those edges. Zero Masking applies the same amount of sharpening to all the identified edges and when Masking is increased, the more strongly defined edges will be Sharpened more, while the less strongly defined edges will be Sharpened less. This can help to reduce or remove any noise created by turning up the Detail.
Image with low sharpening in Lightroom
Adjust the Sharpening slider down to create less contrast between light and dark pixels at the edges in the image, making the details look less defined
Image with high sharpening in Lightroom
Adjust the Sharpening slider up to create more contrast between light and dark pixels at the edges in the image, making the details look more defined.

Noise Reduction

As mentioned above, the ‘noise’ in an image is somewhat similar to the grain. It is, essentially, caused by taking photos in low lighting conditions, and/or with the ISO set too high. Noise is a fuzzy, grainy distortion that appears in some digital photos.

There are two types of digital noise you might see in your photos. The Noise Reduction slider (in this section) reduces the luminance noise (which appears as small flecks of white or dark pixels) and the Colour Noise Reduction slider (in the next section), reduces colour noise (which appears as discoloured pixels, usually in solid areas of dark or light colour).

Though Lightroom does have these Noise Reduction settings, they aren’t perfect. It’s much better to get your camera settings right and avoid as much digital noise as you can in the first place.

Raising the Noise Reduction slider reduces some of the noise in an image by ‘smoothing’ the pixels. Raising the Noise Reduction too far can remove some of the fine detail in your image and create an artificial, glossy look. You can’t add noise into an image in Lightroom.

There are two additional Noise Reduction settings in the dropdown:

  • Detail – The Noise Reduction Detail slider allows you to finely control the amount of detail lost in smoothing pixels. Adjust it up to recover some details back into the image (but understand that this may add some noise back in too). Adjust it down to remove more detail for a smoother result
  • Contrast – The Noise Reduction Contrast slider allows you to control the amount of contrast lost in smoothing pixels to reduce noise. Again, adjust it up to add contrast details back in, but avoid adding so much Contrast that noise is increased. Adjust it down to lose more contrast.
  • Note, the Noise Reduction slider applies the pixel smoothing effect of Noise Reduction to the entire image, not just targeting specific areas where digital noise is clearly visible.
Image without noise reduction
Zero Noise Reduction – noise can’t be added into an image in Lightroom
Image with noise reduction
Raise the Noise Reduction slider to reduce the appearance of noise in an image by ‘smoothing’ the pixels – raising it too far can remove fine details & create an artificial, glossy look

Colour Noise Reduction

Like luminance noise, colour noise is caused by poor lighting conditions and/or too high an ISO setting. It appears in photos as multicoloured pixels in areas which should appear as a single flat colour. Again, you would be much better avoiding colour noise in your photos in the first place than removing it later.

Colour Noise Reduction also has two additional dropdown sliders:

  • Detail – The Detail slider works the same way here as it does for luminance noise reduction: Slide it up to recover some of the details lost in smoothing the pixels
  • Smoothing – The Colour Noise Reduction Smoothing slider lets you adjust the appearance of the smoothness that noise reduction gives to the image

Raise the Colour Noise Reduction slider to smooth pixels and reduce the appearance of colour noise. As with luminenec Noise Reduction, raising the slider too far can remove some fine details and give your image an artificial, glossy look. You can’t add colour noise into an image in Lightroom.

Image without colour noise reduction
Zero Colour Noise Reduction – colour noise cann’t be added into an image in Lightroom
Image with colour noise reduction
Raise the Colour Noise Reduction slider to reduce the appearance of colour noise in an image by ‘smoothing’ the pixels – raising it too far can remove fine details & create an artificial, glossy look

Using the Optics panel in Lightroom

There are just two options in Lightroom’s Optics panel, and both are tickbox on/off options, rather than sliders.

The Optics section of the Lightroom edit panel
Remove Chromatic Abberation & Enable Lens Correction in the Optics section of the Lightroom edit sidebar panel

Remove Chromatic Abberation

Chromatic Abberation is when a purple or green halo or fringe appears around the edges in parts of an image. It usually appears when there is lots of contrast in the image, and the lens is unable to capture the full range of tones. In food photography, it can be particularly prevalent with ‘shiny’ objects in an image – like cutlery. If you can see a green or purple outline in your image, tick the box to automatically remove the appearance of Chromatic Abberation.

Enable Lens Correction

Every lens can naturally cause slight distortions and vignettes to an image. Lightroom’s Lens Correction automatically corrects any distortions – straightening lines and removing any vignetting. Make sure to select the type of lens you used to shoot the photo, when you tick the Lens Correction box.

Image without lens correction
Before Lens Correction
Image with lens correction
After Lens Correction – slightly darker shades at the corners (vignetting) is removed and lines (particularly the edges of the cloth) no longer have a slight curve

Using the Geometry panel in Lightroom

The Geometry panel allows you to do more detailed straightening and levelling than you can in Crop & Rotate.

It allows you to adjust a lot of options, like the Distortion, Vertical and Horizontal lines and the Aspect. The Geometry panel is particularly useful for adjusting images with lots of straight lines. I’m not going to go into them all here. To go over every adjustment in the Geometry panel could probably be a post of its own.

The Geometry section of the Lightroom edit panel
The Geometry panel allows you to do more detailed straightening and levelling than you can in Crop & Rotate – its particularly useful for adjusting images with lots of straight lines

This post has been a really detailed look at all the options available for editing and adjusting your food photos using the Edit panel in Lightroom. It seems like there are a lot of options, but in reality, there are just a few adjustments that I make over and over again. There are also a few ways to batch the process of editing your photos, using presets and copying edits, which is where Lightroom really shines over other editing software for food photographers. Sign up to my mailing list to get more tips, tricks and tools for food photographers.

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
When & how to straighten, crop & rotate your food photos
The 3 Lightroom edits that make my food photos pop
A detailed guide to editing food photos in Lightroom



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

How to use the edit panel in Adobe Lightroom for food photography

The 3 Lightroom Edits That Make My Food Photos Pop

3 edits I make to food photos in lightroom

As with photo organisation, the editing process is quite personal to each individual. For me, the edits I use vary, depending on what exactly the photo needs.

Having said that, there are three adjustments in the edit sidebar panel that I do typically make to every photo. Generally, I use these edit sidebar panel settings:

  1. Light: Exposure
  2. Light: Contrast
  3. Colour: Whitebalance

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.

Using Adobe Lightroom CC for food photography

I love Lightroom because it makes it really easy to edit my food photos, whithout spending a whole lot of time on them. It’s like waving a magic wand: I can take a food photo from ‘nice enough’ to ‘OMG I gotta eat that’ with just a few adjustments.

That’s why I started this blog series on using Lightroom for food photography. You don’t need to be a ‘food photographer’ to use Lightroom. It simplifies the process of photo editing, so anyone can quickly & easily make their food photos pop.:

  • The restaurateur who wants to showcase their new menu item can use Lightroom to make that photo look even tastier, so everyone has to come down and try it
  • The blogger who wants their latest recipe to go viral can give their post a fighting chance with a share-worthy photo edited in Lightroom
  • The casual Instagrammer who wants to make everyone well jel of the amazing breakfast bowl you spent half an hour perfecting instead of doing your makeup this morning (just me?) can spend just a few moments in Lightroom perfecting the photo, too

My previous posts in the series cover the absolute basics.

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

Then, import your photos or navigate to the image you’re working on, and crop & rotate until you’ve got the perfect composition, and come back to see the three magical edits I make to almost every food photo.

How I edit food photos in Lightroom

There’s a lot of edits and adjustments you can do in Lightroom. Various parts of the edit panel let you adjust aspects of the photo like lighting and colour. You can even slightly adjust things like the sharpness or the angle of an image. Skip down for an overview of every setting in the edit sidebar panel.

First, let’s back up.

How do you open the edit sidebar panel in Lightroom?

First, open the Edit panel in the right sidebar to access the controls for light, colour, effects, details, optics & geometry.

open the Edit panel in the right sidebar
Open the Edit panel in the right sidebar

The three Lightroom actions I use (almost) every time

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I generally adjust three key settings in the edit sidebar panel. The first two are in the ‘Light’ section.

Exposure & Contrast are in the Light section of the Edit panel
Exposure & Contrast are in the Light section of the Edit panel

Exposure

First up, Exposure.

When using manual camera settings, the exposure refers to the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor.

In Lightroom, its kinda the same – only you’re artificially adjusting the amount of light later.

The higher the exposure setting, the lighter the picture will appear – too much and the image will totally wash out.

The lower exposure, the darker the picture will appear. Again, set it too low and the image will be too dark to see much.

Very high exposure image
Set the exposure too high and the image will appear washed out
Image with very high exposure
Set the exposure too low and the image will appear very dark

Contrast

The contrast in an image refers to the difference in brightness between light and dark areas. Technically, it determines the number of shades in the image.

The higher the contrast, the more definition there is between light and dark areas in an image – too high and the picture will look exaggerated, too low and it will look flat and dull.

Image with very high contrast
High contrast gives lots of definition between light & dark areas, but can look exaggerated
Image with very low contrast
Low contrast gives soft definition between light & dark areas, and can look flat

How exposure & contrast work together

Exposure & contrast really need to work together. Here are three examples of slight adjustments to the exposure and the contrast settings, to give the picture a different mood or aesthetic:

Example of a light & airy image
A ‘light & airy’ image | Exposure: +0.45 | Contrast: -10
Example of a bright & vivid image
A ‘bright & vivid’ image | Exposure: +0.25 | Contrast: +10
Example of a dark & moody image
A ‘dark & moody’ image | Exposure: -0.10 | Contrast: +35

For the rest of this tutorial, I’m sticking with the middle example – Exposure at +0.25 and Contrast at +10. This gives the picture a natural, bright & vivid feel.

White Balance

White balance sits in the Colour section of the Edit panel.

White balance in the Colour section of the Edit panel
White balance in the Colour section of the Edit panel

White balance deals with the colour of the light in an image. Particularly when using artificial light sources, an unnatural colour can be cast on your photos. This can make your whole photo look slightly ‘off colour (often a bit bluey or orangey) in when it comes to processing the image. We talk about white balance, not colour balance, because this discolouration is usually most obvious in things that should look ‘white’ to the naked eye.

You can set white balance manually on your camera before shooting. Even if you do that, you will likely need to make slight white balance or colour adjustments in post-processing.

White balance Presets
Click the white balance dropdown for white balance pre-set options
Click the white balance dropdown for white balance pre-set options

Lightroom has a number of pre-set options for white balance:

As Shot

White balance set to 'As Shot'
White balance set to ‘As Shot’

Auto

White balance set to 'Auto'
White balance set to ‘Auto’

There are also white balance settings based on the lighting conditions when the photo was shot

Daylight

White balance set to 'Daylight'
White balance set to ‘Daylight’

Tungsten

White balance set to 'Tungsten'
White balance set to ‘Tungsten’

Cloudy

White balance set to 'Cloudy'
White balance set to ‘Cloudy’

Fluorescent

White balance set to 'Fluorescent'
White balance set to ‘Fluorescent’

Shade

White balance set to 'Shade'
White balance set to ‘Shade’

Flash

White balance set to 'Flash'
White balance set to ‘Flash’

Clearly, none of these pre-sets look quite right for this image.

Whitebalance Dropper
Use the dropper icon to set the white balance by selecting a part of the image that 'should' be pure white
Use the dropper icon to set the white balance by selecting a part of the image that ‘should’ be pure white

You can also set the white balance in the image by using the dropper. Use the dropper icon in the white balance section, then select a part of the image that ‘should’ be pure white.

In the example above, you can see I’ve selected a spot on the bottom of the glass in the top left of the image.

In the three examples below, I’ve set the white balance by selecting three different spots in the image. The bottom part of the glass on the top left; a grain of rice from the bown at the front; and a part of the white section of the cloth.

Glass

White balance set using the dropper to select the bottom part of the glass on the top left
White balance set using the dropper to select the bottom part of the glass on the top left

Rice

White balance set using the dropper to select a grain of rice from the bowl at the front
White balance set using the dropper to select a grain of rice from the bowl at the front

Cloth

White balance set using the dropper to select a part of the white section of the cloth
White balance set using the dropper to select a part of the white section of the cloth
The points in the image selected using the dropper icon to set the white balance
The points in the image selected using the dropper icon to set the white balance

Once I have a ‘base’ whitebalance (usually using either ‘as shot’ or the dropper), I adjust the temperature and tint sliders slightly to get the perfect colour balance.

In this example, I think the most attractive and realistic option is the one using the white balance dropper to select a white section of the cloth used as a prop.

The specific settings there are Temperature: 4950 and Tint +24.

For comparison, I’ll show you what the image looks like with the selected white balance setting (Temperature: 4950 and Tint +24), but using the other options for exposure/contrast:

The 'light & airy' image with white balance adjustment
The ‘light & airy’ image with white balance adjustment
The 'bright & vivid' image with white balance adjustment
The ‘bright & vivid’ image with white balance adjustment
The 'dark & moody' image with white balance adjustment
The ‘dark & moody’ image with white balance adjustment

The result after 3 quick adjustments:

After those three quick adjustments the final image looks much brighter and more appealing. The final settings are:

  • Exposure: +0.25
  • Contrast: +10
  • Temperature: 4950
  • Tint: +24
The original image before any edits
The original image before any edits
The final image with three adjustments
The final image with three adjustments

This isn’t to say that I only make three edits to each photo.

There are lots of other adjustments you can make in the Edit panel.

I do usually make some adjustment to other settings in the Light and Colour sections, as well as adjusting the sharpness and noise reduction in the Details section. The amount and type of adjustments though really varies depending on the quality of the photo I started out with, and on the final ‘look’ I’m aiming to create with the final image.

I do whatever it takes to get it looking picture-perfect. But these 3 edits are my go-to starting point when editing food photos in Lightroom and getting them well on their way to drool-worthy masterpieces.

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
When & how to straighten, crop & rotate your food photos
The 3 Lightroom edits that make my food photos pop
A detailed guide to editing food photos in Lightroom

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
When & how to straighten, crop & rotate your food photos
The 3 Lightroom edits that make my food photos pop
A detailed guide to editing food photos in Lightroom

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.


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

How to Edit Food Photography in Pixlr

How to Edit Food Photography in Pixlr

In this post, I’m going to show you the method I use to edit food photography in Pixlr, for use here on the blog, and in social media. Scroll down for step-by-step instructions & a quick video.


This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

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.


As with any hobby or new skill, the more you practise and invest in food photography (from investing the time to learn the basics, to investing in new photography kit), the more you’ll start to improve.

It might be slow at first.

But after a few months and years of persistance, you can sit your earliest photos side-by-side with your newest ones, and I promise they will have improved immeseaurably. Just look:

This was the header shot for one of the earliest recipes on my first blog Lentil and Mushroom Salad

Improving your food photography with Pixlr

And this is the header shot for a recent Orange and Almond Salad recipe on my food blog

So yes, my actual photography has improved.

I’m better at composing and styling a shot, I’m better at taking my camera out of auto, I’m better at finding (and making the most of) the best light source.

I’ve invested in a much better camera, too.

But the skill that gave my photography the most noticable jump in improvement?

Learning to polish my photos in an editor.

You don’t necessarily need to splash out on Adobe photoshop or lightroom (which can be pricy for someone who just wants to touch up the odd photo here and there).

When I’m taking food photos on-the-go with my phone, for use on social media, I just use a free editing app VSCO (you can get my tutorial for that here)

If you want to edit photos on a bigger screen, bt you’re not ready to spend money on Adobe products, try Pixlr.

About Pixlr

Pixlr is a browser based application for editing photos. Its completely free to use.

You can access the editor at pixlr.com/editor.

It lets you make simple edits to your food photos (or any photos for that matter).

Pixlr might not be able to replace Adobe products for advanced users, but the software functionality is comparable to programmes like Gimp, PaintShop Pro and Photoshop.

Pixlr offers more advanced options for editing than the native Windows or Mac photo editing apps.

Before

Using Pixlr to edit food photos

After

Free app like photoshop to edit food photography

How I edit food photography in Pixlr

Firstly (and I cannot say this enough) you need a basically decent picture to begin with

Learn the basics of photography (try some of these books, if you’re not sure where to start) and use the best lighting you possibly can (hint: its 100% free, so long as you can carve out a little bit of time during daylight hours).

The best editing only involves very light touch-ups. See it as enhancing, not fixing.

It’ll be very difficult to make a terrible photo look good with any software, this tutorial is more about making a decent photo look awesome.

What’s that saying? You can’t polish a turd.

The next step, before you even open Pixlr, is to know your style

This is something that eventually starts to come naturally – the result of playing around.

The style of photos I aim for is light and airy, with pops of brightly coloured food.

If you prefer a moodier or brighter style, adjust your editing steps accordingly – it may be that, where I turn the saturation up a notch, you prefer to turn it down, or that you prefer the lightness a little higher than I do. Experiment and find your own signature style.

Ready to edit?

Here’s a run-down of each step I normally take when I edit food photography in Pixlr:

  • Open the image you want to edit – you can import images directly from Google Drive, or open them from your PC once you’re in Pixlr
  • If the image is a little ‘wonky’ or off-kilter, straighten it by going to edit > free transform, and rotating with the little arrow in the corner
  • Crop your image to get rid of most of the ‘white’ exposed in rotation, and to re-frame the subject. Select the constraint you prefer:
    • ‘No restriction’ gives you free reign over the image dimensions
    • ‘Aspect ratio’ lets you choose from common aspect ratios, like 1:1 (perfect for Instagram) or 16:9 (standard ‘full screen’ dimensions)
    • ‘Output size’ is based on the actual image size (rather than dimensions) that you’ll get. By default, this is set to the same size as the original image
  • The ‘clone stamp’ tool can be really useful for tidying up the edges and background of the image. Select the tool, then right-click or control-click to select the area to clone from and use the pointer as a brush to paint the cloned area
  • Use the ‘spot heal’ tool, with a wide brush, to mitigate any  obviously copied areas left by the ‘clone stamp’ tool
  • Make the ‘spot heal’ tool bruch much smaller to remove small mistakes, like misplaced crumbs and splashes, or small areas of bruising, discolouration or other minor imperfections on food
  • Next, adjust the tone of the whole image with settings under ‘Adjustment’. Normally, I use:
  • Brightness & Contrast (I increase both a little)
  • Hue & Saturation (I tend to leave the hue where it is, but increase both the suturation and the lightness a little)
  • Colour Balance (offset red, blue and green colour balance – I don’t normally use these, though they can be helpful for editing out the slightly orange tones of electric lighting)
  • Colour Vibrance (increase or decrease the vibrancy of colours in the shot. Again, I don’t normally use this, but I can sometimes be useful for making colours pop)
  • Levels* (as in Photoshop, levels are used to fix colour balance and tonal range of an image. Using levels is a little more complex than the other settings, and I don’t normally adjust the levels in a quick edit of an image)
  • Curves* (like levels, curves in Pixlr serve the same function as they do in Photoshop: they adjust tones to brighten, darken, add contrast and shift colours. Curves are a little more advanced to learn, and I don’t normally use them in quick & simple edits)
  • Exposure (Artificially increase or decrease the exposure of your shot. As with any other setting, its better if you can get this right when shooting, but that may not always be possible. I like my shots on the mose-exposed end of the spectrum, so I often turn the exposure setting up a notch or two)
  • Another way I use the ‘adjustment’ tools is to adjust only part of the image – to make the colour of the barries really pop, or to create a little more contrast in the main subject than in the background of the image. There are a few ways to select a specific area of an image:
    • The ‘wand’ tool lets you ‘magically’ select an area with a specific tone. This can be really useful for selecting only the plain backdrop of an image, for example. Adjust the tolerance to select more or less of the image
    • The ‘marquee’ tool selects a rectangle or an ellipsis. This can be really useful for quickly selecting a bowl or plat in an overhead shot
    • The ‘lasso’ tool is the one I’m using in the example. Use the freehand lasso tool to select any area completely freehand, or the polygonal lasso to essentially join-the-dots around an area you want to select.
  • Finally, save your image to your PC or your Google Drive

*I’m planning a detailed post about using levels & curves in Pixlr to take your food photography to the next level – keep checking the blog to know as soon as it goes live

Watch this quick overview video to see exactly how I edit food photography in Pixlr:

How to Edit Food Photography in Pixlr

How to use VSCO to edit food photos on your phone

How to use VSCO to edit food photos on your phone

This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

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.


Use free apps like VSCO for food photography that is even more beautiful

 So, recently I posted my guide to taking more beautiful food photos on your phone, which included a bunch of simple tips that will make your phone-based food photography way more beautiful. Today though, I’m sharing some of my top tips for using free photo editing app VSCO for food pictures that will make your Instagram followers drool

This post isn’t going to tell you how to TAKE pretty pictures on your phone – you’ll need to check out my phone food photography guide for the full deets on that. This is working under the assumption that you’re taking decent pictures of some pretty food, and you just want to up your food photography game with a little help from VSCO (just FYI, I have literally no affiliation to VSCO, I just think that it is an AWESOME free tool for anyone into photography).

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How to Use VSCO for Food Photography

Just a note: this post was first published in 2016, so the look of the VSCO app has changes slightly – the basic functionality & the edits you’ll make have largely remained the same though.

1. Download the VSCO App

Go to VSCO.co to access the VSCO app. The app is available on the App Store for iOS; and on the Google Play Store for Android (I use the Android version). Download the app, create an account and log in within a few minutes.

2. Take a picture…

Obvious, right? In my previous post, I mentioned two points that at particularly important here you should a) take photos directly in your phone’s camera app (this gives you more flexibility later) and b) set your phone’s camera to capture a square (1:1 ratio) image, instead of having to crop later (on a Samsung, open the camera app, then use the settings gear, to select ‘picture size’ and 1:1)

3. … And open it in VSCO

Now you can take your picture. Then press the ‘share via’ icon and scroll down to select VSCO. Your image should now be open in VSCO. Tap the image to select it, then click the slider icon at the bottom of the screen to begin editing.

How to Use VSCO for Food Photography Edits

4. Apply any filters

Here you can choose a filter, if you like. I don’t tend to use filters because I prefer the control of being able to manually adjust the image (which we’ll get to in the next step, don’t you worry), but if you are using filters, I think that the options in VSCO are just a bit more subtle than the options in Instagram. Get my guide tp using VSCO filters here.

How to Use VSCO for Food Photography Edits

5. Manually adjust the image

How to Use VSCO for Food Photography Edits

Once you’ve made a decision about filters (and when you first start using VSCO for food photography editing, I know how addictive it can be to just scroll through the filters trying them all out), slide upwards on the arrow at the bottom of the screen and select the slider icon again to access all the adjustment options. Being honest, the best way to get a feel for them is probably to spend a few minutes trying them all. I go into a bit of detail below about the key ones I use:

For each of the settings below, select the relevant icon, and adjust the level by moving the slider at the bottom of the screen right or left. When you’ve got that particular setting adjusted to the right level, click on the circle in the bottom right of your screen to save, or the x in the bottom left to return to the image before you made that adjustment. The key settings that I adjust go in pairs, as follows:

Crop & straighten

How to Use VSCO for Food Photography Edits

Though they are different things, I’ve grouped crop and straighten together because the adjustments they make to the image are fundamentally different to the other ways I use VSCO for food photography image editing, in that they physically change the composition of the image, rather than adjusting the makeup of it (to use a flimsy simile, cropping and straightening are like going on a diet and losing weight to make yourself look different and the rest of the edits I’m using are like changing your clothes to make yourself look different. Kind of. I did say it was flimsy).

As mentioned in point 1, take all your images in 1:1 ratio and you shouldn’t need to crop unless a sneaky finger or shoe is just visible in one corner, in which case crop as little as possible (sticking with the 1:1 ratio, of course). Similarly, try to line your images up to the ideal angle before you come to editing, but if your image has very clear straight vertical or horizontal lines, then a little straightening may be called for.

How to Use free app VSCO for Food Photography Edits
How to Use free app VSCO for Food Photography Edits
How to Use free app VSCO for Food Photography Edits
How to Use free app VSCO for Food Photography Edits

Exposure & contrast

I’m lumping these together because, 9 times out of ten, they should be used in exactly the same way: Adjust the exposure up to +1 or +2 (occasionally +3 or +4 if the image is very dark, but any more than that and it will just look overexposed), then save, and adjust the contrast by the same amount or sometimes +1 less (so if the exposure is adjusted to +2, the contrast will be adjusted to +1 or +2)

Using VSCO - the free app for photo editing
Using VSCO - the free app for photo editing
Using VSCO - the free app for photo editing
Using VSCO - the free app for photo editing

Saturation & temperature

Again, these are bunched together because they serve a similar purpose and I tend to use them in tandem: Increase the saturation to +1 or +2 to make all the colours in the image a bit more bright and vibrant, then adjust the temperature to anywhere between -1 and +2 to balance out the artificial look of an over-saturated image.

VSCO for food photography
VSCO for food photography
VSCO for food photography
VSCO for food photography

Sharpen

The sharpen function is in a class all of its own, and is usually the last adjustment to make in VSCO for food pictures. It adjusts the definition of the image – a tiny adjustment, but it gives images a little boost that just makes them that bit more pretty. Adjust the sharpness to anywhere between +6 and +12 to make your foodstagrams really stand out.

How to use VSCO for food photos
How to use VSCO for food photos
How to use VSCO for food photos

6. Save the image & upload to Instagram

Free Android app for food photography
Free Android app for food photography

Once you are happy with your Foodie Instagram Picture, scroll up on the arrow at the bottom of your screen and select the circle on the bottom left of the screen to save the image.

In the home screen, tap the image to select it, the tap the three-dot ‘more’ symbol in the bottom right of your screen.

From this menu, you can either choose ‘Share’ to send the image directly to Instagram or ‘Save to Gallery’ which I usually use, so that I can share to Instagram later.

Free Android app for food photography

That is the way I use VSCO for food pictures, but I massively encourage you to have a play with all the adjustment options and find a combination that suits you and your style. Eventually you’ll get into a routine, and know what adjustments an image is likely to need, almost before you’ve even taken the picture.

via GIPHY


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How to use VSCO to edit food photos on your phone