Smart food: How to take better smartphone food photos

Comments Comments

Whether you're photographing a restaurant dish or something you've just cooked at home, there are some simple tricks of the trade you can use to capture professional looking images.

1) Lighting

While professional food photography is often done in studios with elaborate lighting set-ups, you can get some amazing results using diffused natural daylight.

Avoid direct sunlight and instead use a reflector to bounce light into the shadow areas of your dish. Pay close attention to detail, especially in the shadow areas, and be careful not to blow out your highlights – especially in the food itself.

A simple piece of white paper can make for an inconspicuous reflector in a restaurant environment. If you have to shoot at night, try to avoid using on-camera flash if at all possible. A pocket-sized tripod can be used to keep the mobile camera stable.

Image: Alfonso Calero
Image: Alfonso Calero

2) Which lens?

Most new mobile phone cameras have two to three lenses that are marketed as 0.5 / 1x / 2x magnification. I would suggest you avoid the 0.5 unless you are after a slightly distorted and wide angle view.

1 or 2x magnification mimics closely a typically used 50mm lens. Avoid pinching and zooming past your longest lens as it will be a digital not optical zoom. Your image quality will be lessened greatly.

Image: Alfonso Calero
Image: Alfonso Calero

3) Composition

The expression 'keep it simple' is worth keeping in mind when it comes to composition. Try to avoid putting anything in the frame that distracts from the main subject. Move the camera angle up and down to find the perspective that makes the food look the most delicious.

A top-down view can look great but a 45-degree angle tends to add a more dynamic feel.

Image: Alfonso Calero
Image: Alfonso Calero

4) Depth of field

Using a wide aperture to produce a narrow depth of field can be a useful way to minimise background clutter and put the emphasis on the food. Be careful though to make sure that there is plenty of detail in the areas that matter.

The portrait filter on your mobile camera throws on a shallow depth of field filter. I like to use a program like Snapseed and its editing tool to have much more control of lens blur. Sometimes it can be good to blur the background to attract the viewers' eyes more to the main subject.

Image: Alfonso Calero
Image: Alfonso Calero

5) Backgrounds

Clean white plates on clean white backgrounds have been popular in food photography for a while. It's a style I like, as you can see from the images that accompany this story, but it's not the only option. If you are going to include a background with some more detail try to include elements that expand on the story of the food.

Developing your own signature style over time or curating backgrounds and props to suit the food more appropriately will help enhance the food experience. I would keep it simple. Have three foregrounds, three different types of plates and three backgrounds, that way you can chop and change to match the feel and colours and textures of the food.

Image: Alfonso Calero
Image: Alfonso Calero

6) Food styling

This is a complete subject in its own right and the people who are good at it have been doing it for years. If you are arranging the food yourself make sure everything on the plate looks fresh and delicious.

A chef mate once told me that placing all the food elements on a plate should not take more than five movements. The less you move the elements around, the more naturally they will fall into place. Try to include a mix of shapes, sizes, colours and textures on the plate.

Image: Alfonso Calero
Image: Alfonso Calero

7) Editing

Once you have photographed your best images, it's time to bring them into your editing programme of choice. I use Snapseed, and the most common tools I use are Tune Image, White Balance, Brush, Tonal Contrast and Lens Blur.

The best approach to editing is to take a more local rather than global approach. And, much like great food, marinating your images, i.e taking your time, will also give you a better perspective.

If all this has got your tastebuds salivating, you may find these other resources useful too:

Alfonso Calero is a professional photographer based in Sydney, Australia. Over the past 20 years, Alfonso has photographed everyone from politicians to artists and everything from exquisite food to amazing landscapes. See more of his work at, book a 1-on-1 photography course with him, or join his workshops in Uluru or Tasmania

comments powered by Disqus