Can you picture a juicy cheeseburger in your mind? You probably can. Maybe you can even see the details such as the cheese melting ever so slightly, pieces of lettuce sticking out, the sauce...
Chances are, you are going to want to have a bite after just picturing it in your mind. This is how powerful the connection between our minds and appetite is.
We love our food. We love imagining it, looking at it, and definitely love eating it. In this post we are going to talk about what you can do to take great pictures of food and why it is so important for your brand and your customers.
WHY VISUALIZING FOOD IS SO IMPORTANT
When was the last time you ordered food online without looking at the pictures first? We are visual beings. Simply adding photos of food to your menu page is known to increase sales by 30%.
People communicated visually long before writing or even speaking. Our language evolves fast enough; but when it comes to visual cues and symbols, we are pretty traditional. Even our smartphones use old analog objects for icons that we hardly ever use anymore! These objects and symbols are deep in our mind’s dictionary. This connection between the eye and brain is great news for your delivery-centric or delivery-only brands because when people see great pictures of food in your online delivery menu, they associate it with a delicious meal.
Matching a menu item with an image is helpful in creating an appetite for your dishes as well as letting your customers know what they should expect. The most important thing to watch here is to make sure that you deliver what you have promised. Appetizing menu photography is crucial, but you should never show a dish that you cannot replicate.
In some countries visualization of food is an industry in and of itself. Some Asian restaurants frequented by tourists know the importance of visualization so well that they create and display plastic dishes to show tourists exactly what they are going to be served.
Pictures of your food can also be used for populating your restaurants’ social media accounts and running advertisements. With the emergence and popularization of food photography on Instagram, everyone is now used to seeing delicious food photos. And they appreciate a great one. Zizzi’s research before the pandemic shows that 18-35-year-olds spent five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram; and 30% would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.
Ordering food remains to be one of the most joyful activities we can still participate in after the pandemic. People spend more time looking at food and ultimately, ordering it. In an online world, photographs and your menu is your storefront - a way for your customers to peek into your kitchen. Brands that don't take the time to shoot or share interesting pictures can easily be overlooked among the noise. Deliveroo's research shows that menu items without images are less likely to sell than those with clear photographs. Customers feel much more comfortable when they can visualize what the food you offer looks like - and what they should expect at their doorstep after they complete their order.
So how can you use this to your advantage and shoot mouthwatering photos of your delicious dishes? Let us begin by saying that it is worth investing in professional photography services since you are going to be using these images over and over again. Some food aggregators even offer to help you craft your menu with professional photoshoot services. That being said, you can apply the tips from the industry to take great photos yourself.
10 TIPS FOR TAKING GREAT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
1 - PLAN AHEAD WHAT AND WHEN TO SHOOT
Being organized before you shoot is crucial. Depending on what items are on your menu, you might need to shoot some food items fast before they melt or fall apart. Prepare a list of food items you want to shoot for the day and have a list of shots to take of those items. You are going to put a lot of time and energy into your shoot and it’s wise to make the most of it.
Before you begin your shoot make sure you have plenty of materials handy. You want to have more ingredients than a recipe actually calls for since you might not be able to use some ingredients if they are not camera-perfect.
Block out the time to shoot and make sure your staff and ingredients are ready. Have your lighting, camera settings, and any props you’re using set up before the food is cooked. Then all you need to worry about will be to find the best angle.
Pro tip: If the shoot is going to last long and you need to keep your ingredients looking great, use a moist paper towel to cover up some of the fresh produce that you are not shooting at the moment.
2 - LEARN ABOUT THE TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS
Some food aggregator websites might have certain requirements for your menus. For example, some of them may require you to shoot at certain angles or fill a certain percentage of the frame with the dish itself. They might restrict you from using branded content or some items as props. It’s much better to know what you are allowed to shoot or not before you spend time, money and energy creating beautiful imagery you just cannot use.
It’s also important to know if you need certain sizes. For example, Instagram used to only accept square photographs for a long time. Knowing your restrictions beforehand will help you plan around them much better.
If there are any guidelines or restrictions there are probably good reasons behind them as well, so it might be a good idea to pay attention to them. They might be too valuable to ignore.
3 - USE WHAT YOU HAVE
You do NOT need professional shooting equipment to take amazing photos. A few conscious decisions and creative solutions will give you unbelievable results.
The phone you are using probably has a perfectly adequate camera. Or you can borrow one from a friend. And you can get creative with backdrops. If you want to have a professional photoshoot, go ahead. But if you want to or have to do this yourself, know that what you have is enough and it’s time to put it to work.
4 - PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHTING
Any photographer will tell this to you, no matter their niche. Making use of natural lighting is your best friend. The great thing about this is that you do not need to invest in expensive professional equipment to take amazing photos. You can use a table, your kitchen counter, or even set it up on the floor - you just need to make sure you get enough natural light from a nearby window.
There are some tricks to make better use of the natural light, and you will improve with trial and error:
● Aim for a natural, soft light to avoid harsh shadows. If it’s a sunny day, you can use white curtains to soften the light. Contrary to what you might think, cloudy weather is actually better for photography because it creates balanced, harmonious lighting.
● Use a reflector to distribute the light and shadows. You don’t have to own a professional reflector - any large piece of white paper or envelope will do. Another hidden trick is to wear a white shirt - it will help reflect light off of you.
● Avoid mixing light sources - especially the use of flash photography. This doesn’t mean you cannot shoot at night. Just make sure to use lights that have the same sort of bulbs, such as LED bulbs. Do not turn on the lights if you are shooting in daylight. The image you take might look dull on your camera or phone, but it will create a much more interesting and natural image after you manually edit it instead of adding unnatural lighting.
5 - EXPERIMENT WITH ANGLES
The best advantage of working with food items is that, unlike humans, food cannot get bored or move. Unless you are shooting ice cream - food is there to pose for you as long as you wish. So make use of this and experiment with different angles!
Keep in mind that you are trying to emphasize the most appealing part of your subject matter. Top view will help you present the variety of your menu item whereas a front view shot will allow your customers to see all the layers of a hamburger or any sandwich. There are certain food items that lend themselves better to certain angles, like a top-view pizza or salad. You could also slice a sandwich or a wrap in half and place them in different angles on the plate to better showcase the ingredients.
45-degrees is usually preferred for single dish photography since it simulates the viewer’s vision as they commonly face their food. Commercial food photography makes use of this liberally.
While there are helpful suggestions as to shooting certain food items at certain angles, what matters is that it works with what you have at hand. So experiment with different angles and choose the one that makes it look the best.
6 - BE INTENTIONAL WITH PROPS
All props tell a story. Some of the most popular props are the fresh ingredients that are also in the dish; spices and their grinders, table cloths, plates, cutlery, cooking utensils, flowers… As long as you know the story you want to tell, you can use them however you want.
For example, you can squeeze some lemons, cook with some, and still show some whole lemons and cut slices in the background. Have plenty of ingredients that you can work with. This is important if you are using multiple ingredients that aren’t visible in your dish. Props will help you show them what they will taste.
Usually, cooking utensils are used in food blogs or recipe books. Since your aim is to increase online orders, tableware could be a better option for you. A delicate plate could serve you better than a gorgeous chef’s knife. It’s important to choose a story and make your decisions with confidence from that standpoint.
7 - BE COHERENT
The most important thing about food photography is that it gives your customers an idea of what will be delivered to them when they order your food. Make sure to follow a specific theme, which is consistent across your menu items.
You can take bright and cheerful pictures. Get white plates on a surgically clean tabletop that clearly displays only the food. Or you can create dark/moody settings if it goes hand in hand with your branding and cuisine.
Make a choice and stick with it. At least for a season.
8 - PICK YOUR FOOD
When cooking, the blemishes of produce or the equal spreading of sesame seeds on a burger bun don’t matter as much as their taste. But when taking pictures of food, it is the imperfections that will make your customers doubt the taste.
Make sure to pick the freshest looking tomatoes, and the crispiest pieces of lettuce as you are shopping for your photoshoot. While editing such errors out afterwards is always a possibility, if you are going to do this yourself, paying attention in the first place will save you a lot of trouble.
9 - HAVE AN EYE FOR DETAIL
When it comes to food photography, details matter a lot. With the goal of appealing to customers and increasing orders, whether customers give you a chance or not might depend solely on that one image.
● In general, pay attention to cleanliness.
● Do not include additional elements in the image that will not be delivered to your customers. You might accidentally raise their expectations and then disappoint them.
● Make sure to maintain a balance of the shapes and sizes of the plates as well as the colors in general.
● Pay attention to the background. Make sure there isn’t anything that isn’t supposed to be included in the shot.
10 - EDIT BEFORE POSTING
Simple edits can elevate most photographs.
Experiment with different settings to see the effect they have on your photographs. Try sharpening the image to better define the edges of plates and distinguish them from the background. Warmer tones generally make your dishes appear more appetizing. And adding a little bit of saturation usually yields positive results.
11 - NOTICE AND REFINE YOUR TASTE
As you go about your everyday life, notice the images that speak to you. What sorts of images draw you? What sort of moods? Keep note of these choices and moods and use them as inspiration for future shoots.
12 - KNOW THE INDUSTRY SECRETS
You might not need to apply these at all, but paying attention to what the industry professionals do regularly can help you.
Commercial food photographers have a lot of unexpected tricks up their sleeves such as adding cardboard spacers between the layers of a hamburger to distinguish ingredients more clearly, using paint instead of chocolate so it catches the light better, using dish soap for long-lasting foam in fizzy drinks…
The most important thing is not to overdo this. You want to create appealing photographs while reflecting your actual food - not deceive your customers.