How To Take Scrumptious Food Photos With Your Phone

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Whether it’s your birthday, a dinner out with an old friend, or a recipe you made that you want to share, everyone needs good food photos. Often, the only camera you have handy in on your smartphone. Not to worry! This guide will explain the ins and outs of how to take scrumptious food photos with your phone.

Some phones are better than others at taking photos – but even if you’re not the lucky owner of one of those new, uber fancy, 41 megapixel phones, you can still manage to get shots that are keepers. It’s all about understanding what your specific cellphone camera is good at – and where it might be lacking.

Start With The Basics

The basic building blocks of good photos are focus, composition and lighting. For food, you want to find good light, compose your shot (removing distractions to emphasize the food itself), and take steps to lessen the chance of blur (hold the camera steady, use the self-timer, and raise ISO). Try turning off the flash, although some cameras (especially older ones without manual adjustments) may struggle to produce non-blurry images without flash, especially indoors.

Aim to make your BBQ shots a little better by standing with your feet far apart and your elbows tucked to your body to hold the cellphone steady (or try the self-timer if your phone’s camera supports that feature). You can also hold your breath or brace your arms on something (just don’t brace them on the hot BBQ grill!) or try leaning against something for support. If your camera doesn’t have flash or manual adjustments, try to take your pictures in good light (hint: this is often outside in the shade or by a window).

Working hard to get a non-blurry photo with my iPhone 3G. (Image: Bruce Hart)

Working hard to get a non-blurry photo with my iPhone 3G. (Image: Bruce Hart)

Play With Your Settings

If your camera has a variety of settings, experiment with them to see what makes food look the best. You can make rather boring food look smashing by using a different white balance (WB) — for example, compare these two images of the same plate, one shot with auto WB (left) and one with fluorescent WB (right).

HTC Rezound. Depending on the food, the lighting, and how you like your potatoes, your settings may vary. Image: Tamra Hart

Depending on the food, the lighting, and how you like your potatoes, your settings may vary. HTC Rezound. Image: Tamra Hart

Depending on the type of phone, you might have a setting for ISO as well. Many phone cameras let you adjust ISO from 100 to 800 (or higher). In general, 100 ISO is used for outdoor images in bright light, while 800 is used for indoor images. If your picture is coming out blurry, try setting the ISO to a higher number. If your cellphone camera has a flash, you can get photos in dark restaurants at lower ISO numbers, but those flashes can be harsh and not flattering to food, so try getting a good image without the flash first (many cellphones allow you to set the flash to “on”, “off” or “auto”) and only use your flash as a last resort.

If your camera offers a zoom option, experiment to see if zooming in degrades quality. If so, you might be better off taking a wide shot and then using the crop feature in your camera app.

Go Toward the Light!

… Or at least know which direction it’s coming from, and “pose” your food to take advantage of it. Doesn’t matter if you’re displaying a home-cooked masterpiece on your finest china, or admiring the sesame seeds on your burger bun, you still may want to move the plate around so that the light you’re using flatters the food. Look for a North-facing window (a favorite for artists) if you want gentle light, or turn the plate so the shadows fall off the food (instead of across it) if  you’re shooting with a Western or Eastern window and bright sunshine.

These onion rings were so amazing we didn’t care if the hamburger was in the shadow -- and yes, they tasted as good as they looked! HTC Rezound. (Image: Bruce Hart)

These onion rings were so amazing we didn’t care if the hamburger was in the shadow — and yes, they tasted as good as they looked! HTC Rezound. (Image: Bruce Hart)

Follow The Recipe – Then Improvise!

Just knowing the rules won’t help you take food photos that wow your friends. Once you know the basics with your cellphone camera it’s time to get creative. Try shooting down on your plate from above, or shoot from way below eye level (it’s always fun to make broccoli look like mountains). Shoot from far away and really up close. Crop your image to make it more abstract, or back up a few steps to get more of the scene in the photo.

peanuts

A pile of peanuts at the local bar and grill become a texture when cropped in close. HTC Rezound. (Image: Bruce Hart)

And the fun doesn’t stop with the actual shooting — you can also add some post-processing effects to amp up your images. If your phone doesn’t offer built-in processing for your photos, then try installing an app like Snapseed or PicTapGo to see if they can make your photos look more interesting. And of course, you can never go wrong with using the Kicksend app to get those drool-worthy masterpieces printed and displayed.

Borrow a Cup of Cellphone

And finally, what should you do when your cellphone’s camera really just isn’t up to par? Simple! Borrow a good one. Nobody leaves without their phone anymore, so odds are at least one of your friends, relatives, kids, or neighbors will have a phone you can borrow long enough to get the image you want. Happy food snapping, everyone!

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Top image iPhone 3G; Bottom image HTC Rezound. I bet you can guess which cellphone shot didn’t make the grade — I’ll be borrowing my husband’s HTC Rezound for every family BBQ from now on. (Image: Tamra and Bruce Hart)

Featured Image: Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times

Tamra Heathershaw-Hart is a photographer, writer, and graphic designer based in Salem, Oregon. You can find her on Google (https://plus.google.com/105664046560955484743‎) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tamrahart‎).

2 Comments

  • Reply August 28, 2013

    Maria Palma

    Great tips here! I find taking photos of food the most challenging. I usually have to try different angles just to get the lighting right. I have a friend who is coming out with a photo app just for food, so I’m looking forward to that!

  • Reply November 22, 2013

    Hector Seymour

    Thanks for your tips. Taking photos of food is harder than you would think. My best tip is to use natural light whenever possible. It is always better than using a flash or artificial lighting.

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