• August 1, 2014

    Photo Fridays: 5 Tips for Beautiful Food Photography Composition


    I know there has been quite a time gap since my first Photo Friday post, but I was overwhelmed by the positive response to the last one (thank you for your comments and emails!) and I’ve got a notebook full of ideas I want to share with you. I keep putting it off, however, actually because of the big interest I saw in the last one – a couple of things happened: 1) I feel like I inadvertently put myself in a position of authority on the subject, and I’m very much still learning and 2) now I feel like my photos have to be perfect for a photography tips post (which means it was never going to happen).

    So today, I am sharing some thoughts on composition, with examples from some favourite bloggers I follow. Smooth cop out, eh?

    But there’s more! These particular bloggers fill my feed.ly reader with stunning visuals of vibrant, healthy, fruit-and-vegetable-dense dishes specifically. I have an ulterior motive for that…

    Apparently, when you feast your eyes on food porn of the Farmers’ Market variety, rather than the gooey-sticky-creamy variety, you might reach for a juicy peach instead of a donut. Makes sense – you eat with your eyes, and crave what you see.

    Bolthouse Farms (you know: carrots, smoothies, juices etc.), has identified an lopsidedness in the subject matter of food photos shared socially – apparently the balance is tipped heavily toward the indulgent.

    Now, we all know that I’m not averse to having caramel drip seductively down your computer screen, but I’m also way more frequently squealing and waving my arms wildly over rainbow carrots at the Farmers’ Market than I am about a cupcake.

    So I’m doing my part to help them with their mission to create a healthy internet food porn balance, as cataloged by their food porn index, by bringing you a feast of beautiful produce-forward images to study for photo composition today! Bolthouse Farms, drawing on the conclusions of a Harris Poll QuickQuery Survey that revealed 51% of Americans are motivated to eat healthier by seeing pictures of fruit and veggies in their social feeds, believes that if we change the imbalance of #foodporn to be healthier, we can make the world itself a healthier place. Cool, eh? Let’s do it!

    I’m using the term “composition” to refer specifically to the arrangement of elements within an image.(I’ll talk about food styling in another post.) Here are my five tips for beautiful food photography composition, not to be used all at once, but to be considered independently as you develop your own style:

    1. Back AWAY from the food: literally.

    I find the most amateur mistake new food bloggers make (myself included, when I started) is to get their lens right up to the plate.

    Instead, retreat a little bit (as shown above). Let the food breathe. A few fresh herbs, some crumbs and/or a napkin add a layer of visual interest, while allowing the eye to relax and take in the subject.

    An artful closeup can be fun to include in a blog post, too, especially when there are lots of textures or colours to showcase, but for the most part, take a step back.

    The photos above are by David, one half of the Green Kitchen Stories duo. Magazine art director by day, he shares absolutely stunning visuals of the beautiful vegetarian dishes his partner Luise creates from gorgeous, natural ingredients. The #foodporn on the left is a Chioggia Beet, Endive & Quinoa Rainbow Salad and on the right is a Haitian Corn & Sweet Potato Soup.

    2. Use negative space: I personally love the dramatic look created by a having generous amount of space around the subject.

    Try positioning the food and props in one corner of the frame, and let the rest of the image be filled with a textured background.

    These images are by Laura, a fellow Canadian, of The First Mess. I absolutely devour her beautiful photography, and love her seasonal, natural-foods cooking style. Both of these healthy #foodporn images are from her simple grilled sweet potato + black bean burrito bowls with spicy cumin garlic drizzle.

    3. The “Rule of Thirds”: when composing a photo, imagine it is divided by lines into thirds both vertically and horizontally. The subject of the photo should ideally be placed along one of those lines, or even at one of the points where those lines intersect.

    My own Instagram snapshot.

    Your camera may have the option to show a grid to make this easy, or you can crop the photo later in photoshop using a grid.

    You can do a simplified version of this just by placing your subject off-centre. Spend a few moments moving the subject around in the viewfinder to find a “sweet spot” where the image has a balanced look.

    4. Symmetry and balance: OR an alternative approach to composing a food photo is simply to place the subject in the centre, with equal space on both sides.

    Photo by


    Jeanine and Jack of Love and Lemons do this often and with panache. Against their usual white marble backdrop, with or without a neatly folded tea towel, the effect is clean, beautiful and seemingly effortless.

    If you don’t read their blog, you must. start. today. Offering mostly vegetarian fare, Jeanine is a genius of artfully created simple, flavourful dishes to inspire a plant-forward lifestyle, and together the duo takes beautiful photos. The #foodporn on the left is beautiful cherry tomatoes for their roasted cherry tomato bowls, and on the right is a stunning heirloom caprese salad.

    5. Create drama with diagonal movement: compose your scene so that dishes and props seem to be cascading down the frame.

    You can create a really eye-pleasing image with just a few props positioned so that they fall diagonally through the photo. The jaunty angle of the oblong dish (in the right-hand photo) and directional placement of the knives (in both) add to the viewer’s impression of artistic movement through the frame.

    Aran, of Cannelle et Vanille, is a true artist and a master of composition (and she offers workshops!). These are her photos, above – the one on the left features lovely garlic ramps and radishes, and the one on the right displays vibrant-hued microgreens scattered over tartines, fresh herbs in oil and roasted carrots.

    So those are my 5 tips for food photography composition. What did you think? Shall we join the movement to seduce with produce, fellow social-sharing photogs?

    P.S. Be sure to visit the gorgeous blogs of the talented photographers above and say hi!!!


    Hi, I'm Jennifer Pallian, BSc, RD. I studied cooking, baking and food chemistry in a university lab, have years of experience as a professional test kitchen recipe developer and providing technical baking support to bakeries and home bakers. Want to know why your bread didn't rise? I've got your back.I now work full-time as a blogger, putting the years of science and baking to work right here. On Foodess, I share the best recipes in my arsenal - tested-till-PERFECT recipes for cozy baking, easy recipes for weeknight meals and delicious globally-inspired comfort food, plus lots of science-based cooking and baking tips. Welcome!

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