Food photography is a long-established discipline, and thanks to the rise of Instagram and visual-heavy social media, is also one of the most popular subjects for hobby photographers. (According to a Canon survey, over 55% of camera-users take photos of their food!) But sometimes, something is lost in translation… and a photo of what was a delectable meal can come out looking not so appetizing.

In a recent interview, California-based food photographer Liza Gershman gave her insight on her work, and some tips on adding a bit of sizzle to bland food photos.

On food photography and its relationship to other disciplines:

Like any genre, there are people who only photograph portraits or only landscapes. But I find that every new genre of photography that I take on enhances other aspects of my photography. I think that I photograph beautiful food and beautiful cocktails because I know how to photograph a face, I know how to photograph light because of weddings. … I always encourage my students to, if they say, “I’m a landscape photographer,” then I say to them, “Go and take a food class.” If they say, ” I’m a food photographer,” I say, “Go and learn how to photograph a wedding.” Because the more you learn about photography in general, the better it will be.

On what lenses to use:

Kit lenses are a great starting point and they’re wonderful to use when you’re becoming familiar with a DSLR. Then it’s time to build your lens collection. Start using lenses that really support your vision of your photography. If food photography is your primary vision, when you look into food photography trends, we often see a very shallow depth of field. And as a professional photographing in a lot of natural light, I also need a wide aperture so I can really capture interiors of restaurants and still have my images prefer to be bright. I suggest moving to a lens with a f/2.8 aperture or faster than that.

More tips:

  • Simplify: Keep things clean and simple.
  • Get close and focus on an interesting part of the food.
  • Try different angles in addition to the typical bird’s eye view. Try a 45-degree angle or from the side.
  • Add garnish or enhance with fresh fruit, and use pretty plates.
  • Don’t use the in-camera flash. Use natural window light instead.
  • If you are using manufactured light, move it far away from the food so you get some softness.
  • Switch your camera to shutter priority mode for more action. Slower shutter speeds (like 1/30 of a second to one second) allows more light in, which is great for dimly lit restaurants, but you’ll need a tripod or something to stabilize the camera and it’s harder for action. If you want to capture action, consider 1/60 of a second to 1/8,000; the latter is good for freezing motion. A good lens can help you achieve better results.
  • Play with bokeh. Set your camera to aperture priority mode and shoot a plate of food with more focus (f/16) or add some background defocusing (f/2.8 or lower). Aperture setting is dependent on your lens.

If you’d like to develop your photography, sign up for DLPHOTO’s Beginner To Pro Photography Course or one of our Pro Photography Workshops today.