7 Simple Tips for Taking Appetizing Food Photographs this Winter

With shorter, darker days looming ahead, foodservice establishments will do well to start thinking of how they can create beautiful food photos for their winter marketing material. The nights are growing longer, giving food photographers much less natural light to work with, which means you will have to come up with creative ways to bring in more light to your photos. At the same time, these cold days inspire darker and moodier pictures to match the season’s atmosphere.

Whether you’re aiming for photos of food with more warmth and light or photos with a hint of drama, these simple tips will help you take some good-looking winter food photography that is bound to get your customers craving for your food products.  

1. Use a lot of reflectors.

Going for well-lit images may be more of a challenge on darker days, but using reflectors will allow you to pull in more light and direct it to the specific spots you want it to fall. Reflectors don’t have to be expensive. You can use a couple of white foam boards that can be positioned around the subject.

Mirrors also bring in a ton of light to your photos. Experiment with a combination of foam boards and mirrors and their positions until you find the best one that works for you. Bright images bring in lots of light and cheer that are perfect for the festive holidays.

2. Go outside.

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When you want to take a bright photo on a dark day, consider going outside to catch more of the natural light. Taking pictures on the porch or on the backyard just right after a snowfall can make a huge difference. The snow will reflect plenty of light that you can use to brighten your images. Also, don’t be shy about using white reflectors to illuminate your subject, even when you’re working outside.

3. Direct the light.

If you want more somber photos, you will have to play with your light sources and determine the best directions in which the shadows fall. An easy way to spice up your food photos is to use side and backlighting to create dark shadows on the other side of the light source.

In place of white reflectors, use black reflectors to absorb more light and cast longer shadows on your subject. Black reflectors are also useful in blocking the light that may hit glass, silverware, or other objects that reflect a lot of light. You can use foam boards, cardboards, or poster boards painted black. For something you can easily switch up, take a piece of board and paint one side black and the other side white. This way, you only need to have a single prop instead of two even when you’re taking photos with different lighting needs.

If you’re using artificial light, a one-light setup with a diffuser is often enough for a dark and somber feel. The one-light source creates plenty of contrast with its heavy shadows while diffusing a soft glow around the subject of your photo.  

4. Use a tripod.

For capturing the more natural light, use a tripod. You don’t have to buy a high-end tripod best reserved for award-winning photographers. Even a small and inexpensive tripod will do and will be useful if you’re working in small spaces.

A tripod lets you set your exposure manually and keep the shutter open for longer periods of time to let more light in during darker days, while reducing camera shake that can create blurry photos. With a tripod, you don’t have to worry about setting a high ISO and getting grainy pictures just so you can get brighter images. To further minimize camera shake, you can also opt for a timer or a remote shutter release.

Yes, having to lug a tripod around will surely slow you down, but it will also give you more time to think about how you want the light and shadows to fall on your subject, how to compose your photo, and the like.

5. Use dark props.

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For upping the drama level on your winter food photos, have a bunch of dark props nearby. You’ll find that simple props such as dark-colored fabric, brown paper, cutting boards, and rustic-looking props such as antique metal with a patina will be more than useful. Some photographers even use candlelight for an even mellower mood.

Bright-colored plates and dishes can create too much contrast, so go for matte dishes that reflect less light. Use plenty of texture in the background. A slate countertop or old (but clean!) cookie sheets are a great way to add texture to your images. Even a simple wooden chopping board with a dark espresso tinge will help. Black is often the go-to color, but muted colors and earth tones also look good for your winter photos.

6. Place your subject in the brightest area.

Even if you prefer dark, moody food photos for your marketing materials, it doesn’t mean your photos have to be dark and completely underexposed. Position your subject in the brightest spot on the photo so that it quickly catches the viewers’ eye. Choose one main subject, in this case, the food, and use a couple of supporting elements, such as a glass of wine, some scattered crumbs, or a chef’s knife artfully placed in other parts of the photo.

Assign two to three focal points, but the food should always be the center of attention. You can attract attention to your main focal point using light, of course, but you can also use color, contrast, or isolation to direct the viewers’ eyes to the subject. It’s important not to emphasize the focal point too much, though. You don’t want to clutter the image with too many elements since much of the photo will be in shadow.

7. Use a photo editing software to enhance your images.

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Don’t be afraid to use post-processing software to improve your pictures because this is where you can create photos that really stand out. Software such as Photoshop and Lightroom let you adjust the brightness of your photos. When using dark images, it is better to use the luminance sliders on Lightroom so that you can brighten objects individually. Brightening the entire image can render the shadows flat and remove all drama from your images. Keep the food relatively bright and make sure everything else recedes nicely into the shadows of the background.


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