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4 tips to take great food photos

Customers eat with their eyes first. In other words, their decision to eat at your restaurant can be influenced by the images on your website, social media profile, and online menus. Beautiful, appetizing food photography is an easy way to gain an advantage in the competitive restaurant industry.

Don’t have room in the budget for a professional food photographer? You don’t have to shell out for an expensive photo shoot to get gorgeous shots. Whether you’re capturing photos with your iPhone or investing in a DSLR camera, these food photography tips can help your images stand out from the crowd.

Say cheese: Food photography tips and tricks

If you’re new to restaurant photography, the process can be overwhelming. Allow plenty of time to practice, and be prepared to experiment — different angles, props, and light placements can bring out unexpected details. Use these tips to take high-quality food photos that showcase your best-selling dishes.

1. Opt for color

Color is one of the factors that make food appealing. Rich, vibrant tones are an indicator that the ingredients are ripe and flavorful. In the context of food photography, colors are also eye-catching — a distinct advantage when you’re trying to attract customers’ attention on a crowded social media feed.

Ways to incorporate more color into your food photography and food styling include:

  • Highlighting colorful ingredients. When photographing food, make sure the brightest elements — usually, fruits and vegetables — are clearly visible. You might place red bell peppers on top of a salad instead of mixing them in, for example, or ensure the avocado and tomato slices are peeking out from the side of a sandwich.
  • Finding colorful add-ons. Use garnishes, toppings, and sauces to jazz up dishes that naturally lack color. Place a container of bright red ketchup on a plate of fries, or top a bowl of fettuccine Alfredo with a sprig of brilliant green parsley.
  • Incorporating props. When all else fails, add colorful props during the food-styling process. If you’re shooting a stack of pancakes, try pouring syrup out of a turquoise container. Just make sure your props don’t overshadow the food.
  • Trying both natural light and artificial light. Colors tend to look different depending on the light source. If the tones don’t look quite right under the kitchen lights, try setting the plate in the sunshine. Natural light often brings out the nuances in a food photograph, enabling a wider range of tones to come through.

2. Take action shots

Static food photos tend to look similar, especially if they don’t contain props or other elements of interest. To draw attention to your dishes, try taking action shots that highlight the natural texture and movement of the food.

Not sure where to start? Think about how customers interact with the food. Do they dip it into a sauce? Pour dressing over it? Will they eat it by hand or with utensils? Grab a few props and try to recreate that experience in a photo; it’ll feel natural and look more interesting.

Try these ideas for action-based food photography:

  • Picking up a piece of sushi with chopsticks
  • Dipping a crostini into a spinach-artichoke dip
  • Pulling apart a sandwich with melted cheese

Food-prep shots are another option. Take a few photos of your chef flipping a stir-fry into the wok, grating Parmesan onto pasta, or adding a swirl of sauce during the plating process. Try to capture the steam rising from the food in natural light — it adds movement. This is an effective tactic for dishes that aren’t particularly dynamic, such as oatmeal or mushroom risotto.

3. Use less food

A plate piled high with food can look crowded and overwhelming in a photo, making it difficult for customers to appreciate the details. To solve this problem, put less food on the plate when you’re food styling. In doing so, you’ll create a larger background and give the main elements more room to shine. Try plating a smaller portion of the main dish, reducing the serving size of side dishes, or eliminating sides entirely.

Here’s the trick: Don’t include the entire plate in your photo. Instead, try shooting from different angles, and adjust the light source. You may need to move the food around on the plate to get the best possible composition. While you’re at it, try different focal lengths to blur foreground or background elements. Eventually, you’ll find the food photography strategies that suit your brand’s visual identity and the personality of the restaurant.

Plated pasta

4. Try a contrasting background

For each dish you photograph, examine the color and texture of the ingredients. Then, choose contrasting backgrounds and props; the difference will draw attention to the unique features of the dish. Even a hard-boiled egg can look like a work of art against a textured, sand-colored plate.

Is the food bright, colorful, and textured? Darker stoneware dishes and props can add rich contrast without overwhelming the viewer. Are you working with light colors and fine details? Try photographing them on smooth, white plates to make the natural elements pop.

Be wary of a contrast that’s too dramatic — it makes it difficult for some cameras to expose both elements correctly, especially if you’re not sure how to set the white balance. Shoot a white egg on a black plate, for example, and you might end up with blown-out highlights and a lack of fine details on the egg. The right balance will depend on your equipment and light sources; try a selection of backgrounds to find an appealing option.

Don’t be afraid to edit your photos; even professionals need to make adjustments. Play with the white balance and color saturation in a program like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

A photo of salmon plated on colorful veggies.

Why restaurant photography matters

Upgrading your photography can make a huge difference, whether you’re posting on your restaurant’s social media profiles or updating your online menu. In fact, our research found that restaurants that add pictures and descriptions to your menu — both physically and digitally — can boost orders by 70% and result in 65% higher sales.

Imagine a customer comes across two restaurant profiles while scrolling on social media. One has yellowish light, grainy quality, and dull colors; the other has rich textures, unexpected compositions, beautiful props, and saturated colors. Chances are, they’re more likely to choose the second restaurant based purely on the emotions it elicits.

One of the biggest challenges of owning a restaurant is convincing customers to come in. Beautiful food photography makes that job easier. And once a customer is hooked, the photos remind customers of the positive experience and encourage them to return.

High-quality food photos can also:

  • Help customers find your restaurant through image searches
  • Attract a larger following on social media
  • Create a better experience for website visitors
  • Make your online ordering menus more appealing

If you’re like many restaurant owners, you’re always looking for ways to improve your online business. Better food photography is an easy win — professional-grade images showcase the quality of your dishes and drinks on the internet, convincing people to place a delivery or takeout order. Combine your upgraded images with other menu engineering tips and you might be surprised at the impact on your restaurant’s bottom line.

Want more industry insights?

You don’t need to be a professional photographer or a food blogger to take stunning photos for your restaurant. In fact, the camera on your smartphone probably has all the technology you need. Use our food photography tips and experiment with different props, lights, and setups, and with a bit of practice, you’ll have photos that reflect the quality of your meals.

Want more tips and tricks to help boost customer engagement, both in person and online? Grubhub is the perfect place to start — we make it our business to keep restaurant partners updated on the latest data-driven strategies for success. Get started with Grubhub today to sign up for more restaurant insights.

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