How to Make Your Food Look Glamorous (Even If It's Mac and Cheese)

You don't have to be a photographer to take awesome pictures of food. Whip out the iPhone and learn how to make your food look glamourous.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Did you ever see photos on social media that show off amazingly delicious-looking meals? Food photography is a very hot subject right now, primarily because it makes people want to eat great food, learn new recipes, and of course, subscribe to social media accounts. 

Most of the time, people just assume that the photos are taken by pros who have a nice camera. But, this isn't actually often the case. Those photos may seem like they're taken by a professional, but chances are high that they were just snapped by a food blogger who knows their way around a smart phone. 

It's actually surprisingly easy to take a magazine-worthy shot of food. It doesn't even have to be fancy food for it to work out well, either. The following foodie-approved photography tricks work wonders, even on the most average of foods. 

Get the lighting right.

Photo via South Magazine

Photo via South Magazine

It's very hard to get a good photo of food without the right lighting in place, primarily because lighting helps highlight the mood as well as the food. If you can, try to shoot the food in natural light. Should natural light be unavailable, a soft, diffused white light also works. 

The worst lighting you can use for food would be dim lighting or that fluorescent bulb lighting that makes everyone look like death. These kinds of lighting setups cause the food to get a very unappealing orangey look to them - and that can't always be fixed in Photoshop. 

On a similar note, try to avoid harsh lighting or overly bright lighting as well. This can cause shadows to be cast on food in strange places - and that can make the food look unappetizing. The lighting should fill the nooks and crannies of the food and soften the dish's entire appearance. 

Make sure the dining area looks good with the food.

Photo by Maria Del Rio

Photo by Maria Del Rio

Trying to shoot flattering photos of food in the middle of a messy kitchen is like trying to shoot Kim Kardashian in a garbage dump. Yes, the subject may look good, but the surrounding area will still look terrible - and that will detract from the photo's overall look. 

A good way to get a better photo of the food would be to make the plates contrast with it subtly. For example, most food looks great on a white plate because it the white color of the plate makes the food stand out more. Meanwhile, with rice, a dark red or black plate may make the rice look crisper and more visually striking. 

Keep the area clean, with only one or two accents for a quick, easy shot. 

Stylize the food.

Photo via Brunch Boys

Photo via Brunch Boys

Food won't look appetizing if it appears to have been thrown on a plate in a fit of rage. So, take time to arrange the food in a way that shows care. 

Salads, for example, should have toppings that offer a pop of color. Soups might do well with a small garnish in the center. If your food item of choice tends to be served with sauce, drizzling the sauce on top in an artful way tends to make it look way fancier. 

Choose a neutral background with one or two small decorative touches.

Photo by Brunch Boys

Photo by Brunch Boys

Your best bet for the food's background is to stick to neutral colors, because neutral colors will ensure that the background doesn't take attention away from the food. This is why wooden backgrounds like cutting boards tend to do so well in these kinds of "Pinterest-ready" photos. 

Many photographers will also decorate the area surrounding the plate with items that tend to subtly signal freshness, comfort, or elegance. This is why many photos involve something like a book sitting next to oatmeal, or a bunch of flowers next to a salad. 

If you really want to make the food pop out, think about color contrasting.

If you really want to make the food pop out, think about color contrasting.

One really awesome thing about food is how brightly colored it can be. Think about the nearly-neon orange hue of cantaloupe, or the shock of green the a freshly cut lime can has. These kinds of bright colors are naturally eye-catching, so if you want to play that aspect up, consider experimenting with color contrast. 

For example, orange cantaloupes would probably contrast very heavily with limes on a black background. Meanwhile, bright red strawberries would pop out considerably on a blue or green background. Play around with it a little, and you'll eventually get a very good shot. 

Experiment with angles and distances when you take your photos.

Experiment with angles and distances when you take your photos.

There are three angles that always seem to be a safe bet when taking photos of food. Pictures from the top looking down on the food, or of a close, 45-degree angle to the plate tend to look the best most of the time. 

However, if the food in question is in a see-through glass, holding it out and taking a shot from the side also tends to look great. Glasses also look great when laid out in a row on a bar, and shot from a low angle looking upwards towards them. 

Take a couple of shots from each angle, and you'll probably find at least one that will look incredible. 

When in doubt, try closeups.

When in doubt, try closeups.

Closeup photos really can capture some amazing details of food, especially if the food in question would be fresh fish, salads, or a more complex dish. It's also worth noting that taking a closeup of a platter makes it way easier to get a good shot at a restaurant without looking like a twerp. 

If you need to show freshness, use a spritz of water or a little olive oil to make it seem "fresh out the garden."

If you need to show freshness, use a spritz of water or a little olive oil to make it seem "fresh out the garden."

Grocery store misters actually spray water on vegetables for the exact same reason. A little moisture makes things look fresher - even if it makes them wilt faster. Even with stovetop preparations, a dollop of olive oil tends to make it look even better. 

On a similar note, make a point of using fresh ingredients for your food photography. Cameras can pick up bruised food and wilted lettuce really quickly, and that causes serious blemishes on an otherwise wonderful shot. 

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How to Make Your Food Look Glamorous (Even If It's Mac and Cheese)
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