15 Easy Tricks for Taking Better Food Photos *Without* Special Equipment, According to a Pro

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how to take better food photos: hands taking a photo of a mezze spread on a table
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Do you ever look at a gorgeous food photo and think, why can’t I get my burger to look like that? All the time. To figure out some tricks of the trade, we asked professional food photographer Christine Han and eight of our favorite food influencers for their top tips for snapping better pics on your smartphone (no special equipment required). Here are their 15 easy hacks for taking drool-worthy photos as a newbie.

I’m a Photographer and Here Are My 3 Best Tips for Looking Good in Pictures

Meet the Expert

Christine Han is a professional photographer with years of experience shooting editorial and commercial food photos, as well as cookbooks. She is the owner of Christine Han Photography and the account @christineshoots on Instagram.

What’s One Common Mistake People Make When Shooting Food Photos?

You're likely overdoing it. Before you add fancy linens, glassware, cutlery and side dishes to your food photo, reel it in. You don't need to fill every inch of space in the shot. "Balance feels very good to the eye and the viewer needs a place to rest," explains Han. "You don't always need negative space, like if you are very close up and filling the entire frame with something, but there's still a balance."

You also don't need a stunning kitchen to take good food photos. You can use just about anything as a background. If you don't want to invest in a vinyl backdrop (like this one that looks like a marble counter), Han suggests using a cutting board, linen, your kitchen counter or even the back of a book.

As for props, keep it simple. "Less is more! Focus on the food, then build around it," suggests Han. "Pick a beautiful bowl or plate, and perhaps a simple linen or fork to go with it. Place it all on a pretty surface by a window, get close and you'll be surprised by how beautifully it comes together."

Pro tip: You can often use a smaller utensil than what you'd actually use to eat, like a salad fork rather than a dinner fork.

How Can I Get Better at Food Photography Right Away?

Like everything else, it takes practice. "There is no other way to get better," asserts Han. "The best camera is the one you have! Get good with that one. My iPhone has given me many favorite images over the years. You don't need fancy gear to make great images."

It helps to start with dishes that are already photogenic to hone your skills. "A gorgeous, fresh salad or baked goods are often pretty without having to do much at all," notes Han. "If you're looking for a little more, roast some cherry tomatoes whole, or do something with a nicely fried sunny side-up egg. Both are highly photogenic." (On the flip side, you'll want to avoid brown foods and soups until you get more comfortable.)

What Are the Easiest Changes I Can Make Right Now?

Food photography 101: Natural light is your friend. "Take your food to a window and shut off any room lights. Natural light from a window is often the best light, and turning off any competing lights, which are often orange or fluorescent, will do wonders for your image," advises Han.

Once you have your photos, you can make a few low-lift adjustments to them on your phone. "You can easily increase brightness, contrast and saturation just using your phone camera's built-in editing tools, which is the quickest, easiest way to make your image pop. You can also explore different apps like VSCO. I really like their filters," raves Han.

8 More Tips for Snapping Better Photos from Popular Food Influencers

Do Photo Research First

“When I’m looking for inspiration…say, I don’t know how I want to style an ice cream sandwich…I’ll go on Pinterest and search ‘ice cream sandwich food photography’ and see all of the gorgeous ways that people styled their ice cream sammies. I have different backgrounds, linens, cutlery, etc., so mine will never look the same. But studying photographs that you think are beautiful can help you start to develop your own style.”

- Rebecca Firth of @displacedhousewife and Displaced Housewife

Shoot Colorful Foods

“Make sure whatever you’re shooting has plenty of color, whether that's in the form of a garnish, an avocado, colorful vegetables, red pepper flakes, etc. You need something that's going to catch everyone’s eye.”

- Gaby Dalkin of @whatsgabycookin and What’s Gaby Cooking

Consider Patterns and Negative Space

“The eye loves seeing a recognizable shape to stare at over and over again—circles, squares, swirly lines, etc. They should be arranged to create structure in what could otherwise be a chaotic food scene. You see it on Instagram all the time—overhead shots of 12 tightly swirled cinnamon rolls, an up-close shot of a huge pile of ripe strawberries at the farmers market—and you immediately want to double tap. It’s equally important to leave enough negative space for the eyes to have a place to rest and take in the object without confusion or distraction.”

- Jerrelle Guy of @chocolateforbasil and Chocolate For Basil

Turn Your Phone Upside Down

“Turn your phone upside down when shooting food. You'll get a better, close-up angle. Another tip is to make sure you wipe off your camera lens every time you snap a photo; you'd be surprised how dirty and blurry it gets.”

- Monique Volz of @ambitiouskitchen and Ambitious Kitchen

Photograph Everything (We Repeat, Everything) in Natural Light

“Use natural light. The more you shoot, the better you will become. Try shooting at different times of day, in different lights and at different angles to find the best look.”

- Maria Lichty of @twopeasandpod and Two Peas & Their Pod

Curate Your Food Props

“I love passing through antique malls to shop for food props. I’m always on the lookout for antique silverware and serving utensils. They look less shiny and you won’t get that horrid reflecting when shooting them. The smaller your plates are, the better. When you use large dinner plates, your meal gets lost. For big meals, I typically squeeze it all on a salad plate so the plate looks full and beautiful.”

- Alex Snodgrass of @thedefineddish and The Defined Dish

Don’t Be Shy About Filters

“I always edit with editing filters—especially brightness, contrast and saturation—to amplify colors and make food pop. It’s a great way to showcase the vibrancy of healthful, plant-centric food.”

- Gena Hamshaw of @thefullhelping and The Full Helping

Create a Signature Style

“Stay as consistent as possible. There are some fabulous apps now that allow you to save your own presets or copy your editing history from picture to picture. I still recommend tweaking each photo since every image is different, but if you're just getting started honing your visual eye, presets help save time and ensure that there's a cohesiveness to your feed.”

- Phoebe Lapine of @phoebelapine and Feed Me Phoebe

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Food Editor

From 2017 to 2019 Heath Goldman held the role of Food Editor covering food, booze and some recipe development, too. Tough job, eh?

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Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...