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An explosion in America’s obsession with gastronomic delights is evident in the millions of Instagram shots and Facebook posts that abound each day surrounding food. Food blogs are now approaching the 17,000 mark. There’s over 15 prints magazines alone dedicated to cuisine. The field is ripe for more artful portrayals of food than ever before. Take advantage of this explosion of taste buds by honing your skills in food styling.

Before the Shoot

Study what’s trending and gleam ideas from places like Instagram’s #FoodPhotos. Check out Apartment Therapy’s complete list of the best food sites online (two of our faves –  FoodGawker and FoodPorn Daily). Create a Pinterest board to curate a digital tearsheet file of your favorites.

Next, learn how to select the best food for your shot:


Spend the time carefully examining your selections. You may have to put up with some odd looks from fellow shoppers but making sure your subject is perfect from all angles is crucial. The less Photoshopping the better. (1)


If it’s in the budget, buy at least 2-3 times what you’ll need for the shoot. Account for styling errors in cutting, preparing and cooking.

dripping pear

Where to Shop

Premium grocery stores may cost more but they’ll have the best-looking selections. Explore local farmers markets to find unique shapes, colors and products.

Perfect Presentation


Natural light lends itself best to food photography. Try a window setting with a bounce card or two. Late morning and early afternoon are the optimum times of day. If there’s no natural light available you’ll need to brush up on your studio lighting skills. Try a reflector bowl or softbox with a grid to create the illusion of daylight.


Less is more when it comes to food photography. Let the plates and dishes you choose act as a framework for the shot. Photograph the dish in its entirety and then do a take away. Remove a few slices or grab a few bites. This will enhance the crave factor. Consider color, texture and balance when presenting the food. Elevate food on the portion of the plate farthest from the camera by using wet paper towels, shortening, cosmetic sponges or mashed potatoes. (3)

champagne glasses with bokeh


Utilize color and shape through propping to improve your shot. Frequent thrift and second hand shops to build a cache of cloth napkins, placemats, utensils and tablecloths for your next shoot. Again, simple is better. Don’t over prop. Utilize the art of bokeh, or the blur, by using a shallow depth-of-field and eliminate distracting backgrounds. (3) To achieve this technique, invest in a macro lens such as a 28-200 mm AF 2.8 zoom lens.

See more: Prop Styling for Photo Shoots

How to Shoot Hot Food

Creating Steam

There’s nothing like an elegantly swirling cloud of steam to create that warm, comfort-food feeling. Learning to get the perfect amount of steam is the tricky part. Too much can melt or make food limp. Steam chips, best for hot liquids, can be pricey. Practice using a clothes steamer at different distances and angles from your subject. Or, heat a cotton ball or sponge in a microwave and place it behind your subject. (4)

steaming cup of coffee

Utilize Color

Enhance the food’s natural color and give it a just cooked look with a quick brush of olive or vegetable oil just before shooting. PAM, Karo syrup or water also work well. Try adding a warm glow to savory cooked food shots with a gold reflector board.

How to Shoot Cold Food


Nothing says “ice cold” like the droplets of condensation dripping down a frosty mug or glass. Get the thirst buds going by first spraying the glass with dulling spray and then squirting with water or glycerin.

Fake It

Faux ice cubes (and even drips and pours) can all be purchased pre-made and will give your photo the chill factor. Want a dessert with whipped cream? Try shaving cream instead! Need a non-drip ice cream cone? Try this easy recipe from the pros. Faking it will add flexibility to your shooting time. 

Learn more online by listening to these informative interviews with the industry’s best at Learn Food Photography and Food Styling or catch their free series of podcasts available at the iTunes store.

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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