3 Steps to Great Food Photos from your Smart Phone


Smart Phone Food Photog FeaturedWhether you are a food blogger or just a person bent on making your shut-in friends writhe with envy, the numbers of would-be foodie photogs is on the rise. One of my personal pet peeves is getting picture after picture of someone’s restaurant served dish on my news feed—when it looks inedible—accompanied by a caption in the strain of, “Yuuuummmmmy!”

I am sorry to inform you that you labeling the photo as “Yuuuummmmmmy!” doesn’t make it look any better. I recognize that the dish looks appetizing to you, but I’m left wondering if you have a loose definition of the word, or if your photography skills are just not up to the challenge. It’s probably the latter.

I am not a hater of food photos. I really, really like slobbering over food photos, but they only serve their purpose when they can get my salivary glands excited. So, here are a few tips on how to get those great photos of your dream boat dish when limited to using your smart phone. All photos in this post were taken with my phone.

Flash: Turn the dang thing off. On my phone, turning the flash off is as easy as tapping the flash icon on my screen and your phone is probably similar. But, why must we turn off the flash? First of all because restaurant etiquette includes not being obnoxious to the other patrons, and lighting up the dining room like a paparazzo falls under the obnoxious category.

Second reason to turn off the flash is because it ruins your photos. Flash photography is usually guilty of causing strange shadows, washing out the subject and casting the background into darkness. When taking pics of your food, it’s best to be up close and personal, and using flash photography point blank only exacerbates all of the evils of flash. So turn it off.

Smart Phone Food Photog 3

Lighting: This is the trickiest part in my book because phone cameras are so limited in bad lighting. Indoor lighting, really is just…the worst. It causes hideous color casts, like yellow or purple. It also increases chance of blurring and let’s not even talk about the graininess.  So, if you are eating out in the evening, you need come to terms with the idea that you shouldn’t try to masquerade as a professional food photog. We post pics of our meal on facebook or Instagram to make our friends and followers drool. So, if your pictures look like something that came out of a butt, you defeat the purpose of posting them in the first place.

So, some things you should do include: eat outdoors under an umbrella (to diffuse the light), or better yet, with cloud cover. And if that isn’t possible or desirable, try snagging a seat by big windows. Your food will be well lit, and that is the most important thing since you aren’t using flash.

Smart Phone Food Photog 2

Framing: We’re talking about food here. You want to show all the things that make your food look yummy, like texture, colors, and arrangement. The right lighting is going to do amazing things for the color, which we covered in the previous two steps.

Depth of field is what will aid the texture. Unfortunately, your smart phone automatically takes away a most of your photo’s natural depth because it desperately tries to keep everything in the frame in focus (vs. having a focused subject and an unfocused foreground and background, like you do with a DSLR).

Smart Phone Food Photog 1

So what do you do? Short of whipping out a table tripod and a five pound piece of machinery, you can frame the photo right. Try taking your photos at table level, but about a fifteen percent angle above the plate. Being so close to the subject, while including such a long distance in the frame, is the best way to get the appearance of depth from your phone camera.

If that doesn’t look right to you, try taking the photo from directly above your plate, like an aerial view, but still close.

Don’t position the frame so that your food is exactly centered. It gives the photo a little more interest if things are just off center.

Those are the big three to remember when you want better results from your phone camera. Another thing to consider is that maybe, just maybe, your food pics would look better sans the 1970’s photo filter. *cough* Instagram *cough* Foods are generally more appealing in their natural colors, also when they are in their first decade.

I'm a technological enthusiast with a completely unrelated degree in English Literature. I've also been known to dabble in photography and DIY furniture refinishing, with occasional stints of fitness sprinkled among all of the above.

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