There are a few compositional “rules” to food photography and photography in general. Below are those that I’ve found increasingly helpful while composing shots with a brief explanation and some examples! These are only seven ways to create a compelling food photography. I hope that this post helps you to Improve Your Food Photography with These 7 Composition Tips! Tell me your favorite rule or something not listed in the comments!
With that said, once you know the rules, feel free to break them in every single way! They say that rules were meant to be broken…
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is probably my most favorite composition element and the one I use most in my photography. You have to mentally divide your image (in your viewfinder) into 9 equal parts, with two lines running horizontal and vertical. You then should place your subject along these lines or at the points where they intersect. Like I have done in both images above. Of course, you don’t have to completely place something where each line intersects/creates a point on the grid, using just one or two points and off centering your image is just as eye catching!
How to show rule of thirds grid in photoshop: (PC) Edit > Preferences > Guides, Grids & Slices. (MAC) Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid, & Slices.
Next change: Gridline every: 100 % and Subdivisions: 3. Open your image and if you don’t see the lines go to View > Show > Grid.
How to show rule of thirds grid on a camera: Go to menu and navigate to Live View Shooting using your cameras controls. Scroll to Grid and choose 3×3. Now hit the live view button. On my camera it is the Start/Stop button near the viewfinder. (I use canon, it may be different on your camera.)
Making something repeat or having something perfectly symmetrical is always pleasing to the eye. Above are two examples of balancing the composition of an image with a pattern. The tortillas in the first image and the pewter plates in the second are balancing the frame quite nicely.
A way to break this rule would be to disrupt the symmetry. This can create drama and be extremely pleasing to the eye as it then draws our eyes to the object that disturbed the perfect pattern.
Leading Lines are lines in an image that draw your eye. Your eye is naturally drawn to lines and will follow any line present through an image. In the cupcakes above you can think of leading lines in two different ways. The first would be the lines of the cupcake wrapper left on the peeled cake. They draw your eye up to the frosting and then in turn, up to the fork.
Also, you can see how the main cupcake is in the foreground yet the two in the back are on different planes and make your eye jump from the first cupcake, to the one on the left and then back to the right side.
In the case of the runny egg on toast, it is more straight forward. The egg immediately catches the eye and then it draws the vieweres gave to the back of the photograph, toast by toast!
Angles & Viewpoint
This is the angle in which you shoot from. I struggle with this one a lot and tend to use the same angle over and over, which gets boring. I have gotten comfortable with this because it always looks nice. I’m trying to break out of my comfort zone, you should too! If you are shooting food for a client, or even your food blog or other online publication you should make sure you have optimal coverage in terms of angles.
This means shooting the same dish at least three different ways:
1. 90 degrees/Overhead – Take a look at the first image above with the leaves and a bite out of the donut.
2. 45 degrees – The middle photo above was shot around 45 degrees.
3. Head on – The last image of the donuts was shot straight on.
Deciding if you should shoot horizontal or vertical is another task that will improve your images. My advice is to shoot both horizontal and vertical for each of the three ways listed above. This will ensure you have a lot of different viewpoints to choose from during post processing and it gives you options. Some will work better than others and it will become clear which images to use!
If you are able to create a foreground, middle ground and background in an image, you have just created depth. It is helpful to think of a photograph as a story in this case, all stories have a beginning, middle and end and that is similar to depth in a photo!
You can do this in multiple ways:
One way is to put different objects into the three planes of a photo in a pleasing way. You can even put some of these objects such as a bowl or a spoon halfway out of the frame. It’s okay to leave some parts of the photo up to the viewers imagination.
The other is to create depth of field. When you see an image with something really sharp in the one part of the image, lets say the foreground, and the rest of the image becomes increasingly blurry this is usually refereed to as shadow depth of field or bokeh. To obtain this aesthetic you have to set your aperture (f-stop) to a low number or “wide open” as this creates a larger opening. This will result in shallow depth of field or a blurry background! I’d start out with a f/5 and work my way down to f/2.8 (your lowest possible aperture depends on your lens. Some lenses only go to f/4 while others can go to f/1.2.)
Negative space is your friend! The photos above leave a lot of head room or space at the top. This is helpful to add text to a blog post for a “hero image” or other graphic design elements such as a recipe. While taking images try to think of the purpose of that specific image. Will there be text or other graphics? Are you leaving enough room for them to be added?
If you were shooting for a magazine that had text for the left side of an image you might do something similar to the photo below on the right side. This would be nice negative space for a recipe or for teaser content for what’s inside, think the cover of a magazine!
Sometimes when I am composing an image I work from the edges to the middle of the frame. This helps me leave negative space in the image if needed, similar to the photo on the right side. It also helps to creates a nice flow throughout.
I love to compose an image in such a way where some of the elements are out of frame. This lets the viewer visualize the missing pieces. For instance, take photo of the muffins on the left. There are muffins and wrappers hanging on the edge of the frame. It’s okay to do this, I promise. It makes for a more compelling end image!