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11 Food Photography Composition Tips (for Mouthwatering Results)

11 composition tips for food photography

Looking to improve your food photography compositions? You’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’m going to share my favorite composition tips – for arranging and styling food, yes, but also for adding creative touches that’ll give you an ultra-professional look.

So whether you’re a complete beginner just starting out in food photography, or you’re a more experienced photographer looking for some composition-enhancing tips, this guide will help you on your way.

Starting with tip #1:

1. Change your angle for an unusual perspective

Beginning food photographers often shoot food straight on, as if they’re sitting or standing at the table with their camera.

And while such an approach can work, it can also fall a little flat. Instead, consider a different perspective, one that will enhance the most interesting parts of the food or highlight key elements.

For instance, a straight-down approach – where you shoot from overhead, with the sensor parallel to the plate – is a great way to showcase all of the food, plus it can add some artistic flair.

Alternatively, shooting from low down or the side gives the viewer a new angle to consider and will highlight the food’s details.

raspberries on black

2. Consider orientation (portrait vs landscape)

As you’re undoubtedly aware, you can photograph food in either portrait or landscape orientation – but don’t just stick your camera in one position and call it a day.

Instead, think carefully about which orientation best highlights the food and best frames your composition.

Personally, I think landscape-oriented images tend to look great for showing off beautiful compositions. But try rotating your camera and see if a vertical shot might work well, too. You may find that a vertical composition actually enhances the photo by eliminating distracting elements around the central theme.

cookies set out on cloth food photography composition

3. Use the rule of thirds for well-organized food compositions

It’s a photography classic, but for a good reason. So if you’re struggling to come up with beautiful compositions, why not try the rule of thirds?

You see, the rule of thirds works by dividing your image into thirds (via gridlines). It suggests you align your main subject and other compositional elements with these gridlines; that way, the entire image feels both balanced and dynamic.

For example, I placed the bowls along gridlines here for a pleasing composition:

bowls carefully arranged composition

4. Break the rule of thirds

It is important to note that the rule of thirds is only a food photography guideline, not a true rule – so you certainly don’t need to stick to its terms.

After all, rules are there to be broken! Don’t be afraid to move food items around and test out different compositions. Try putting your main subject in different locations, away from the rule of thirds gridlines and intersections, and see what you get. Who knows; maybe you’ll hit upon a composition you really love!

Pro tip: Positioning the main subject dead-center or slightly off-center generally works well. It’ll lead the viewer’s eye around the image and then toward the main subject:

the rule of thirds broken with centered bread

5. Consider adding elements to the composition

The objects you include alongside your main subject are essential to creating beautiful compositions.

Of course, it’s important to have a main food element – but you should also add extra items to elevate the scene beyond the ordinary.

Some examples of items to include could be additional food pieces, garnishes to brighten the main subject, cutlery such as a knife and fork, and even cooking utensils.

plates of food
If you are shooting dishes around the main subject, you will need to go wide enough to capture everything in the frame.

6. Add props

In the previous tip, I recommended including little extra elements, such as cutlery or garnishes.

But if you want to really double down and create unique images, you might also try including props. I’m not talking about bits of food, but rather objects, such as bowls, plants, jars, rustic boxes, and the like.

Aim to arrange the items so you showcase – rather than obscure! – your main dish.

7. Re-arrange the elements (beyond the normal)

Often, the natural way to arrange food elements is as a chef or waiter would:

Food on the plate, knife to one side, a glass in the back, etc.

But to create a more striking composition, I suggest you mix it up. Move some of the items to a different place in the frame. For instance, you might move the knife out in front of the food, as I did here:

toast food photography composition

Really, the important thing is to experiment; test out different compositions, use your creativity, and then capture the shot you like best!

8. Use patterns

As a food photographer, patterns are your friend.

And while you don’t always need patterns in your photos, you can use them to creatively highlight your food. For instance, you might lay out a batch of baked goods in an eye-catching arrangement, or you might circle your main subject with a selection of different-colored fruits.

The key is to create a sequence or structure that creatively emphasizes the main dish. That way, the viewer knows where to look – and is also impressed by your artistry.

9. Use negative space

Here’s another tried and tested food photography composition technique:

Use negative space in your image.

Negative space refers to the part of your frame that is free from any elements or props, like a bare table, a stretch of cloth, etc.

And while additional elements and props can look nice, negative space is a great way to encourage the viewer to focus on the main dish without the added distraction that props bring. Plus, more negative space makes for more simplified compositions, which is generally a good thing.

stack of bread

10. Shoot specific parts of the food

Not all of your food has to be in each image.

So instead of zooming out to shoot the entire dish, get close and capture parts of the food. Emphasize mouthwatering details that’ll look great to the viewer, but make sure to carefully structure your compositions; the goal is to make the main subject stand out against the rest of the shot.

11. Use natural and artificial light

Did you know that light can significantly affect your food photography compositions? It’s true. Light can add volume, create shadows, and emphasize (or de-emphasize) different elements.

So before getting started, you will need to think about the light that is present in your food photography location. Observe how the light falls and ask yourself: does it look natural? Is the light too bright or too dark?

Strong direct light, for instance, can ruin your compositions by making the food too bright. So when faced with direct light, try moving your food to avoid this harsh light, or place your entire composition in the shade to create a more balanced image.

In situations where there is not enough natural light, you will need to brighten up your compositions another way. One solution is artificial lighting; consider using a flash, or even a lamp or fixed room lights, to add more brightness and lighten the subject.

bowls arranged on blue
Moving food and drink into the shade can eliminate the harsh shadows produced by direct sunlight.

Food photography composition: conclusion

Food photography composition can make or break your images of food, so you should pay careful attention to these tips.

That said, remember to be creative; if you don’t like one of these tips, ignore it! Food composition and styling is a personal choice and is entirely subjective. There is no right or wrong way of photographing things – so be sure to balance these tips with your own vision. That way, you can create images that look great, and that you love.

Now over to you:

Which of these composition tips is your favorite? Do you have any tips of your own to add? Share them in the comments below!

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Jeremy Flint
Jeremy Flint

Jeremy Flint is an award-winning photographer and writer, specialising in travel, landscape and location photography and is known for documenting images of beautiful destinations, cultures and communities from around the world. Jeremy has won awards including the National Geographic Traveller Grand Prize and the Association of Photographers Discovery Award, besides being commended in Outdoor Photographer of the Year. He has also been a finalist in the Travel Photographer of the year and British Photography Awards several times. He has been commissioned by commercial and editorial clients worldwide including National Geographic Traveller, Country Life, Discover Britain, USA National Parks and Visit Britain and has travelled extensively to over 65 countries.

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