This article was created and edited by devoted ChefTalk user Bonbini - thanks!

Last time I talked a bit about getting to know your camera. Here's the link if you haven't read it yet. The next step is to understand the basics and explore a few techniques.

Understand the basics and techniques

My approach to food photography is very simple. I tend to get my shots as quickly as possible so that I can enjoy the food I made. Understanding the basics, like how to light the food and set up the shot properly helps me get a great result without wasting time.


The best light for food photography is natural light. All my food shots above were taken by the window with natural light, using hand-held white reflectors to decrease shadows and help throw light back onto the subject. You don't need fancy reflectors—I use pieces of Styrofoam.

For example, below is the lighting setup for the shot I used in this article. The subject was taken in front of the window, with natural light coming through a sheet of wax paper and lighting the subject from behind. The wax paper was used to diffuse the light and eliminate harsh shadows. Shooting with one source of light will create shadows, add more drama and dimensionality. But, overly dark shadows cause distraction. So I placed one reflector in front and another one on the right side of the subject to get rid of the shadows. Sometimes I only use one reflector, depending on the lighting conditions. I have no rule where to fill the shallows. It depends on how I want to set the mood and texture of the subject.

Most of the time, I handhold my camera while shooting because I have more freedom to move around the plate. Also I usually choose a sunny day to take the photograph because it doesn't require a slow shutter speed. In low lighting setup, I use a tripod to ensure the best result.

Here's another lighting setup. I didn't use wax paper because it was overcast and the clouds already act as a natural diffuser. I placed both reflectors at 45 degrees to each side.

In order to get the exposure I want, I always set my camera on manual mode. It allows me to play around with aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Knowing how this combination will affect your final image is the key for a proper exposure.

Aperture : The aperture controls the amount of light that goes into the camera sensor, ranging from    f2 to f22. The small f number will give small depth of field (DOF). Small DOF means some part of the photo will be in focus, the rest will be out of focus or blurry. I like to focus on the main subject, so I set the aperture to the smallest f number on my 70mm lens (f/4.5).

Shutter Speed : Shutter speed controls the amount of time that the shutter is open for light to come in, ranging from 1 second to 1/1000 second. The longer the shutter is open, the brighter your photo will be. For this example, I experimented with different shutter speeds at an aperture of f/4.5. Then I chose the shutter speed that gave the best exposure.

ISO : ISO is a measure of sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera is to light. Higher ISO is used in low-light situation. Increasing ISO will increase graininess in your photo. The lower the ISO, the higher the quality of your image. I normally set the ISO at the lowest number.

Here's an example of using the same aperture setting at different shutter speeds. Adjusting these two settings creates different exposures.

I suggest turning off the flash when shooting food photography. Actually, I don't use flash at all when photographing except when I want to freeze the motion. For example, look at the photo on the right that was taken with flash, it doesn't have a good texture on the surface like the one on the left that was taken with a reflector. Using a flash will flatten out the surface of the subject.

For beginners, I suggest shooting with natural light first. When you're comfortable with a natural light setup, then you can try to experiment more with artificial light. Aside from my camera's built-in flash,   I don't own any artificial lighting and I have no experience with it. In my opinion, natural light makes my photos stand out so I'd like to stick with it.


Composition refers to arranging and framing the subject and its elements through the viewfinder.        A good composition can attract the viewer's attention. However, it's a matter of personal taste. I'd say that the Rule of Thirds is the way to start. The rule is to imagine lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, then you place the main subject where the lines intersect rather than centered in the frame. Here are two examples of the Rule of Thirds. The main subjects are placed slightly off center.


As well as using the intersections, you can arrange the area in third or along the lines. It doesn't have to be exactly at the intersection. For example, the main focus of the red velvet cake is placed about a third of the way up. Although photos are usually more interesting when the main subject is off-center, I sometimes place my main subject right in the middle. The rule is just a guideline. Once you know how it works, you can start experimenting and create your individual style.

More tips:

  • Plan ahead by having an idea of what shot you need and set up the shot with props before making the food. Some food oxidizes and changes color fast. The shorter the time, the better the image.

  • Less is more. Too many objects distract the main subject. So, don't over prop.

  • Unique plate increases degree of interest.

  • Get close to the food, really focusing on one part of the plate. The closer you get, the better you'll see its texture and detail.

  • Shoot at your camera's highest resolution. You can always take away resolution later, but you can never add it.

  • Try vertical framing. It isolates the subject and cuts down on wasted space.

  • Try shooting at different angles. Low angle shots can show details of texture, while overhead shots can be used to show off geometry.

  • Be inspired by others.

  • Take a lot of photos because practice makes perfect!
My goal with this article was to share tips and experiences with others. I hope that it will help beginners take better photographs.