When I did the blog posts about food photography, and food photography post production a while ago now, I got some emails and comments from people asking how this stuff relates to using a compact camera, instead of some flashy big digital SLR. So, without further a do, lets get down to the nitty gritty, and look at using a cheap old compact camera for food photography.
SOLUTION: Always use a tripod when shooting with a compact camera, even if your camera has Image Stabilization. SOLUTION: If you can, go through the options on your camera and disable all on-camera sharpening. Here is a quick shot showing the basic layout I used to take the compact camera photo at the start of this blog post.
The single most important factor to getting decent looking compact camera food photography (any food photography really – not matter what camera system) is lighting. I wrote about scrims in a previous food photography article  – you can read all about them here. The best thing to do is to pop down to your local art supply store, and get a big roll of artists vellum. If you want to get extra fancy then you can make yourself a simple frame (much like a frame used for artist canvas) from some cheap wood. Typically you want to place this on the other side of the food to which your light is coming from.. This helps brighten the dark areas slighty, and gives much more detail in the shadows, which makes food look more rounded, and have more volume. Here are two shots from a previous post I did on food photography – showing before and after using a bounce card. Next to the camera itself, a sturdy tripod is the most important piece of camera equipment – especially for compact camera shots. I shoot most of my food photos with a compact camera because I just don’t want to spent the money on a fancy one quite yet.
Since we stay in an apartment, I will position my little table right next to the main door when natural light is at its best.
I just discovered your space a couple of weeks ago and have been reading up your photography posts.
One of the biggest lessons I ever learned was you can’t force perspective in photoshop.
Thanks Matt, you’ve inspired me to give my pokey student-dorm kitchen another chance. I have been endeavoring to get decent food shots out of my old point and shoot for some time now. I read or try to read many articles on food photography and I have not really started giving it my 100% never motivated even after ton of information. I’ve been searching all evening for info of P&S food photography, this is the best info by far!!! When I shoot food with my DSLR, this is the lens I use 99% of the time… A macro tilt shift lens give you some of the flexibility of a view camera with the speed of use of the dslr. So to sum up the difference between medium format digital cameras and DSLR cameras for work in food photography, I’d say that the DSLR has the hands down advantage in most respects.
This illustration, even though it shows a view camera, shows you the only possible focus plane (without a tilt shift lens) you have with a dslr. In my mind, at least, the medium camera is not a very good option when it comes to food photography, so lets now compare the DSLR to the view camera and see how each stacks up.  I have confess here that I use both cameras to photograph food. I would have thought a Phase One back on your 6×9 would have been an ideal combination. Have you tried putting your DSLR on the back of your 6×9 camera that has a 90mm lens mounted on it?
What a great read, you are a store house of information, Just to watch you do your magic will be a great learning experience. While yes, I do agree, there are differences that make a full frame more desirable to a photographer, I wanted to let you know that a full frame vs a crop sensor isn’t the deal breaker. One of the things that people tell me they love about my ebook, Eat Pretty Things, is my consistent commitment to encourage you to purchase with purpose.
As I mentioned, I actually had to make sure I labeled the images both exporting & when editing them to make sure I kept the full frame images separate from the crop sensor images. If you don’t want to invest in a new camera, my best advice is invest in a good lens. If it was 100% true, that the gear doesn’t matter, why would the photographers use the best and most expensive gear? Choosing the best angle, when shooting food, comes from a good observation and an inner feeling. Food Photography is very similar to photographing people in a sense that each person has her best side. For this shot, food was placed directly onto the white plexiglass surface, a soft box was positioned below the plexi.
Camera is tilted right, so the subject tilts counterclockwise and the dish is welcoming you in, motivating the spectator to indulge in image. Camera is tilted left, so the subject tilts clockwise, pulling away from you, engaging the viewer the desire to follow. The camera is positioned above the front of the subjectd, then the camera is tilted up until the subject fills the frame.
Turn you camera so the subject starts in one corner and ends in the opposite corner, breaking the space diagonally.


When looking through the viewfinder align the edge of the frame to any line you see in your subject. Try to forget about the rule of thirds and everything you just learned, just move around your subject and really try to see it and when you see it, draw the camera to your eye and start framing.
Sasha Gitin is a New York based food and lifestyle photographer shooting for advertising and editorial industries.
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Hi Reza, I have just started myself, but a good prime lens with macro and wide apertures is possibly the easiest and best.
This is quite useful for me as I encounter food on my travels but usually take pretty average shots. Look for a camera that lets you adjust settings manually and has a good quality lens and sensor.
Really though, no amount of tweaking in your image editor of choice can make bad lighting look good.
Since highlights can often be either enlarged or blown out quite easily with a compact camera, careful attention needs to be paid to soft lighting, to help limit greasy highlights on food. When placed between your light and your subject, it softens the light right down – knocking down highlights, and creating softer, more gentle shadows.
When you are ready to shoot your picture, tape a big sheet of this over the window you are shooting by. Really dark shadows are just kinda severe in food photography – unless you really know what you are doing for styling and shooting.
Sometimes if you are shooting a large table top scene, it is great to have a bounce card that is 6ft x 4ft for instance – to bounce a lot of light back into a scene. The head is the bit that the camera attaches on to, and has all the controls for tilt and so forth. If they are on the food, or the plate holding food, consider moving the scrim to knock those highlights back. As a newbie in photography, I do felt constraint and frustration when trying out food photography. My laptop gets pushed aside for food shots, as the only light I get in my room spills over my desk at about 3pm.
And I’d like to ask for your permission to public the translated version of your article on my blog, because I receive many letters from some food-bloggers too, for whom the language barrier is a big problem. I have done some photography in the past but your blog is far better than anything I have been taught before. At the time of this article the differences are not all that much, especially if your final use for the images are on the web as opposed to print.  If you need for the food photography is for the web, then the detail difference would not even be noticeable. If you look closely, you can see that the front standard is tilted slightly forward, giving me a plane of focus that will make both the front and the back of the photo sharp. Of course a bag bellows would be needed in order for the camera body to be close enough but that shouldn’t be an issue. Their X2-Pro system is designed for a digital back or DSLR and gives you movements via the bag bellows. It’s now the perfect food photography camera, but what about the focus that was so important to me before? I wanted to prove to you that I could take consistently good images with both my crop sensor & my full frame. Which image was taken with the full frame & which was taken with the crop sensor camera? While, yes, full frame cameras can be an awesome investment in your photography career, don’t forget, you make the awesome images.
If you purchase anything via my links, Eat Your Beets gets a few extra pennies at no extra cost to you.
I’m a big believer that the person behind the camera can do way more with a picture than the quality of the camera can. I dont know what it is, something about the colors or saturation that I can always spot full frame.
Before composing your image, try to enter into a visual meditation, move calmly around your subject and simply observe with your bare eyes. Considering the variety of food out there, diverse cooking and presentation styles, the final results are endless.
The photograph will maintain a graphic dynamic composition that will engaging the eye to scan the image from the foreground to the background.
I really like Head-on Zen and diagonal angle, the food looks quite tasty and nice this way. I use diagonals quite a bit in my food photography and reading this has reminded me I should try a couple of the shots I don’t normally do. This talks about bounce cards, scrims and so forth – methods that I will be using in this post.
You can use a scrim to soften any harsh light that might be causing large white hotspots and reflections. If you need them sharpened, then you can use your photo editing package of choice to make those adjustments, as YOU want them!
Personally I avoid shooting in the same direction as the light, this can make an image look flat, and like it was taken with a flash. This will soften the light coming through the window, reduce ugly highlights, and make food look pretty.


This way you have a movable scrim, that you can position in seconds, and tweak to your hearts content. I like to use a thick foam core board, just because I am a complete klutz, and tend to break things pretty easily. These cards can also then work out great for blocking lots of light coming in from windows that you might not want.
Makes packing down and setting up faster, and if I want to take a quick hand-held shot of something, I can – and when I snap the camera back on to the tripod it is in exactly the same position as when I took it off.
My boyfriend just put together a photo box for me, so we’re currently experimenting with that.
At the moment, the place I live has small access to quality natural light and not a good space for having equipement around with a curious 3.5 year old hyper boy. I used a compact to take most of my early pictures and once in a while it’s the only thing I can grab.
Your photos of your set up really help to go beyond basic visualization of how to set up a shot and light a great photo. I shall be reverting back to this post all the time because I too am self taught and still learning. I am attending culinary school and need a better quality point & shoot to photograph my school experience. I wanted to pin point the reason my images weren’t coming out the way I wanted them to so I assumed, surely it was my camera, right! I’m leaving the judging up to you to see if you can tell which image came from which camera.
Honestly, could you even tell a huge difference or would you have even thought these images were taken with two different cameras if I hadn’t told you?
I’ve got one more major project to finish and then I can’t wait to sit at your feet (I wish it was literally) and LEARN!!!
She is a passionate advocate for veggies & healthy eating, especially when it comes to families & kiddos! When you do not have a point of reference (no horizon line, no plate, no sense of environment) you can shoot from most unusual angles and get away with it. So I turned the camera until these 3 lines ware parallel to the vertical edge of the frame. When you start getting a warm fuzzy feeling entering through your stomach and spreading to your chest, just push the button. However having not done food shots recently I’ll have to wait a little while until I get to do it for a client. In the shot above the whole left side of the plate was completely blown out, until I used my portable scrim to block out the harsh lighting from the window I shooting next to. It seemed like earlier this year a few food mags started doing this with food shots, and it just looked horrible (again, in my opinion).
For instance – in that play area I shoot in, sometimes the light is so strong back there I put a couple of the large bounce sheets up against a couple of windows in there, just to knock back the ambient light a bit, and give more directional light (so the incoming light is focused through one window). The best source of lighting is the large terrase but the seagulls always hanging around the airspace!
Thank you for taking all that time to teach us on how we can improve our food photography game!
In the meantime, I wish you could visit my blog and e-mail me and tell me what I can do to improve!!!! She also indulges in her other passions of simplifying life through minimalist fashion, fitness in all forms & food photography.
When you are shooting close ups, the point of reference loses its importance, so any camera angle will produce an appetizing image or not? This created a very monumental and unusual composition, granting unprecedented importance to this slice of a regular cheese cake.
If the camera had been leveled, then the middle wedge would create a horizontal line that would divide the composition in two sections and forcing the eye to travel away from the center.
It makes perfect sense that the human brain will naturally break things into sections and food photography is all about breaking away from that logical norm. Now start laying out (styling) the area, constantly referencing the LCD screen to check prop placement and so forth.
Tons of natural light, generally reasonably soft (unless shooting at noon, then the light in the summer piles through those windows). Even just standing behind glass, inside the apartment with food in your hand enough to send them perching at the balustrade!
But in this case, I wanted the eye to flow freely though the whole image while stopping only at the focal point. Even a few degree tilt can be the difference between a regular old snapshot and a luscious, stomach grumble-inducing image of melted cheese.
Also use this screen to work on your lighting – move your scrim and bounce cards around, and watch how the lighting changes in the LCD screen. If shooting early in the morning I tend to favor the dining room however, which gets more early light, from a large picture window. Living at the North Sea country suffered cold, windy and cloudy days as well I sure will try out your suggestions as now I have a compact camera for my travels.



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