Without a daily spamming of food photos flushing through my inbox, my job as a food journalist would be dim.
In the decline of global magazine readership and sales during the past two decades, the medium to tell a story has been replaced by photo-forward journalism shared on the monopolistic Instagram, old-age Facebook, Gen Z-esque Snapchat, and mega Xiaohongshu.
In telling stories about food, marketing restaurants and bars to a hungry public, and spreading awareness about the strengths of a venue, food photography is key to attaching a value to your tasty products.
To understand the importance of food photography in marketing restaurants, we spoke to Hong Kong-based food photographer Lakshmi Harilela, chef and photographer David Holmberg, food stylist and journalist Gloria Chung, and creative director Jake Thomas. Catch their tips on how to shoot the best food photos too.
The importance of food photography in the F&B industry
When we advertise and market products, such as F&B products, we can only use two senses: visual and auditory; readers can’t taste the food. It’s so important to visually sell the dish in as much detail as possible.
[Food photography] is known to dress up the dish and make it stand out, but it’s not just about the dish. It’s the way you light it, the way you compose the shot, and, most importantly, embrace and reflect the restaurant’s brand. The picture can speak for itself and tell you visually exactly what kind of restaurant it is.
It is not the camera or tools that matter most [with food photography], but the photographer’s vision and creativity. It’s about how you see things, thinking outside the box, and experimenting.
Photographs of the food give the restaurant’s identity a visual representation. You want to catch eyes and attract guests to experience the restaurant for themselves.
What makes a good food picture
There is no single right answer; it all depends on the brand and what you need to convey and to which audience. There is, however, a right approach: be as creative as you can. I’ve seen food photographed so close you can feel like it’s right there, I’ve seen a burger resting on a bare a**, and I have shot a bao resting on a dusty Hong Kong red taxi, because that’s what was best for the brand.
As a food photographer, my visit to LucAle, a neighbourhood Italian eatery created by two chefs Alessandro and Luca, was a turning point. Tasked with capturing their authentic Italian menu, I found myself drawn to the story behind each dish.
Through my lens, I not only showcased the vibrant cuisine, but also connected with Alessandro’s passion for cooking. This assignment unexpectedly led to a personal bond with him, blending our professional collaboration into a deeper relationship. In photographing LucAle’s menu, I discovered a compelling narrative that extended beyond the kitchen, enriching both my career and personal life.
Proper lighting helps to accentuate the dish’s highlights and shadows, adding depth and dimension to the photo. I am personally a big fan of natural light; it’s the best for food photos. When I shoot in a restaurant, I also opt for the ambience light to recreate the vibe of the space.
In today’s world, food photos, especially on social media, should not be too staged. Audiences are used to natural, unpretentious, relatable photos.
How to take better food pictures
Get weird, get creative, and think about light. Where is the light coming from? Is it harsh or soft? Serious or fun? Risky, challenging, or safe? Still life or abstract? Play around and create options, but always, always, connect with the brand, and you’ll never fail.
Find the correct angle for the specific dish, whether that be a straight-on shot for a tall dish or top-down for something that is flatter. Stay away from indoor lights and ideally get close to a big window or go outside when photographing food.
Experiment with different angles and positions to find the best lighting for each dish. I always prefer natural light, so when you go to a restaurant, choose the table next to the window or with natural light.
Consider using simple props or utensils to add visual interest without distracting from the main subject. I always use whatever I can find in the restaurant – flowers on the table, menu, small objects, and cutlery – to add a few interest points to the photo.
Remember, food photography is a creative process, and personal style and experimentation are key to developing your own unique approach. Enjoy the process and let your passion for food shine through your images.