The Holy Trinity of Food Photography

In cooking, the “holy trinity” is onion, carrots, and celery—start any dish by sautéing those three vegetables and it’s a sure favorite.

But when it comes to the other half of food blogging—the actual photographing—it’s a whole new ball game. To take good photos, you need to account for plating, lighting, and camera angle.


February 16th 029

Chili-Rubbed Sole With Sauteed Kale and Avocado(post to come)

The best way to start plating is with a clean, white plate. That lets the colors of the food pop naturally. The more mingled the components of a plate are, the more cohesive the overall photo looks. And a variety of textures and angles creates motion and keeps the eyes moving over different areas.

January 16th 022

Photo from Raw Vegan Hazelnut Cream Cheese

Plating also can extend to the background, as well. Even when the dish is the main focus of the photo, you’re still showing whatever’s in the camera’s view and this can be disruptive to the overall photo. Choose either a neutral background or one that continues the theme of what you’re photographing. And always make sure the prime subject matter is in focus.

Camera Angle:

December 31st 046

Photo from Gluten-Free Chinese Dumplings

In general, there are 3 typical camera angles: Overhead, same-level, and eye-level(slightly angled down). Each one should be used to highlight different features of a plate, but the most general two to use would be same-level or eye-level. Camera angle is also what lets you reveal or hide the backdrop to your photo, so consider that as well when choosing how to photograph it.


January 19th 050

Photo from Grasshopper Brownies

When it comes to lighting, natural is almost always best. If you can find a spot with a strong, clean, natural light, then by all means use that. The more angles that the light hits the food the better as that reduces shadows.

January 30th 047

Photo from Better-Than-Boxed Brownies

The other option for lighting is a light-box, which I use probably more than anything else. The benefit of a light-box is that it gives you complete control over lighting and shadows. The drawback of a light-box is that they don’t let you continue the backdrop but rather create a focused, narrow space.

Do you have any questions on any of these? Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert at this at all; in fact, most nights I’ll eat dinner out of the frying pan if I don’t have to photograph it so I don’t have to do more dishes. I’ve learned most of these tricks by doing the exact opposite and looking back only to see how bad they actually were. The best tip is to just keep snapping away, because the more photos you take the better your eye gets for taking photos.

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29 Responses to The Holy Trinity of Food Photography
  1. Estela @ Weekly Bite
    February 19, 2011 | 9:05 am

    Great tips! I definitely need a light box 🙂

  2. Lisa (Dishes of Mrs. Fish)
    February 19, 2011 | 9:17 am

    Great tips! 🙂
    P.S. I dislike doing dishes very much too.

  3. VeggieGirl
    February 19, 2011 | 9:20 am

    THANK YOU for this!

  4. Rachel (tea and chocolate)
    February 19, 2011 | 9:38 am

    This is really helpful! I still need to make that light box.

  5. Heather
    February 19, 2011 | 10:14 am

    I definitely agree that getting an eye for photography comes with practice. It’s a bit embarrassing to look back at some of the pics I posted when I started blogging. I’ve come a long way in only a few short months and it’s all just come naturally.

    I love my lightbox! Best hour of my life putting that thing together!

    PS, I totally wanna lick that hazelnut cream cheese off the computer screen! 😉

  6. Cynthia (It All Changes)
    February 19, 2011 | 10:16 am

    I love these tips… especially hiding the background. As my kitchen counters are always a mess while cooking I need to work on this more.

    Also eating out of the pan is great…why make another dirty dish you have to wash? 🙂

  7. Lee
    February 19, 2011 | 11:07 am

    I actually use a flash for most of my photos. My house has horrible natural light (lots of trees.) I know that using a flash is a big food photography faux pas, but I don’t use the one that is attached to the camera. I have a big one that attaches to the hot shoe and the top and you can bounce the flash off the ceiling.

    Are you anti-flash? 🙂

    • Wannabe Chef
      February 19, 2011 | 2:04 pm

      Unfortunately, yes. The problem with flash is it’s strong light from 1 angle only which makes for drastic shadows. The best way to do flash is to have multiple lights going off at once.

  8. Erin
    February 19, 2011 | 11:16 am

    We need to get you discovered.

  9. Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn
    February 19, 2011 | 12:35 pm

    I love that you identified the holy trinity of photography! It is so true though – thank you for the tips!

  10. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by shuttersaute, Evan Thomas. Evan Thomas said: New Post: The Holy Trinity of Food Photography. […]

  11. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)
    February 19, 2011 | 3:40 pm

    Fun to see the evolution of your pictures from 18 mos ago to now!

  12. Hannah
    February 19, 2011 | 8:49 pm

    Gosh, you make it seem so straightforward, and yet I still struggle so much! Lighting is a big issue for me. One day I’ll make a lightbox, but I honestly have no idea where I could store one!

  13. Felice - All That's Left Are The Crumbs
    February 19, 2011 | 10:33 pm

    Thanks for all of the great tips. I still have a lot to learn but posts like this help so much.

  14. Christin@purplebirdblog
    February 19, 2011 | 10:37 pm

    I’m already impressed at how far some of my pictures have come in 4 months… next up, to get a DSLR so I can really advance my skills. 🙂

  15. Marisa
    February 19, 2011 | 11:38 pm

    This is a great post. All of these tips are really helpful! I like the light box idea…

  16. Kathleen @ Kat's Health Corner
    February 20, 2011 | 2:01 am

    I love your tips!!! Thank you SO much! 😀

  17. Tiffany
    February 20, 2011 | 6:55 am

    Super informative post! Thanks!

  18. Sarah (Running To Slow Things Down)
    February 20, 2011 | 7:35 am

    These are great tips! I really need to invest in making a light box. You’re right. Natural lighting (or a light box) is most often always the best option. 😀

  19. Veronica Gantley
    February 20, 2011 | 7:43 am

    Can you get that out of focus background look (like in your 2nd 3rd & 4th photo) from a click and shoot camera? Some of us cant afford thousands of dollars for a camera that can do that. Your photos look awesome.

    • Wannabe Chef
      February 20, 2011 | 10:40 am

      Yes, you can, or at least I could on my old point and shoot. If it gives you a selection of different scenes to shoot, choose either the flower(close-ups) or the gourmet(food shots) and it will choose a close point to focus on.

  20. Deborah Dowd
    February 20, 2011 | 8:23 am

    Great tips- I find that photography is my greatest challenge, and even though I have a light box, my best photos have been taken on my stove top (strong overhead light) or with natural light.

  21. Kate @
    February 20, 2011 | 10:01 am

    I really appreciate you sharing these tips with us…thank you!
    I’ve been working making on making my own light box these past 3 days and I can’t seem to just finally get it done… but I do hope that it will help me out.

  22. Christine (The Raw Project)
    February 20, 2011 | 11:29 am

    Wonderful tips, thanks! I need to break out my light box more and am still getting to know my macro lens.

  23. Jenn L @ Peas and Crayons
    February 20, 2011 | 6:11 pm

    Fabulous tips! Thanks =)

  24. Kate (What Kate is Cooking)
    February 20, 2011 | 6:55 pm

    I’m glad you linked to the recipes because I forgot to bookmark the grasshopper brownie recipe, and it looks so good I had to click over and save it!

  25. marla
    February 21, 2011 | 8:30 am

    Can never get enough of these helpful food photography tips over here. Thanks!