13 Tips To Take Better Food Photos With Your Smart Phone

by - March 20, 2014

I had the opportunity to attend Matt Armendariz's seminar on 'How to make delicious food photos with your smart phone'  and another seminar on 'Instagram | Love it or Hate it, it is making an impact on photography' at Gulf Photo Plus this month.

For me food photography is purely a hobby and my photos are no where near the standard I want them to be. However, since few of my blogger friends asked me whether I could share what I learnt from these two seminars, I felt it would be nice to share some of the ideas that were discussed and few other things I learnt from my personal experience. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have already read few of these tips, but I felt it would be better to have them all in one place. 

So, here we go. 

1. Natural Light. Use as much natural light as possible when it comes to phone food photography (or any kind of photography for that matter). If you have to shoot in harsh light, keep a wax paper or something similar next to your window to diffuse the light.

2. Know your tool well. No matter what phone you are using, play around with different settings. Smart phones may not do well when it comes to zooming, but they are pretty cool at exposure, white balance etc. 

3. Lighting on a budget. We are all apprehensive when spending big bucks for a hobby. Until you are sure about investing in lighting accessories, you can use a poster board or foam core board as reflectors. Matt also suggested using desk lamp for indoor lighting. But no overhead lights please. 

4. Tripod. 
Just like DSLR, smart phone photos also do well with a tripod. If you do not have one of those cool gadgets, then use anything steady to keep your phone on. If you have a shaky hand like I do, you could also use your phone's headset to click the picture.

5. Think outside the box. You are in Barcelona. You are having authentic Spanish Paella for the very first time. You want to capture the moment. But it’s dinner time and the lighting is poor. What do you do? Foodieandfabulous suggested to use your partner’s phone’s light instead of your own phone camera flash. I wish I had thought of that when I shot the above photo.

6. That also reminds me, avoid using Flash.  

7. Props. One of the audience member asked for ideas on props. We can use whatever we have at hand and start adding to our collection slowly. Paper, especially scrapbooking paper, are easy to store and inexpensive. Can you believe that even after running a scrapbook supply store for almost two years, I never ever thought of it?!

Kitchen towels, dupattas, scraps of fabrics can all make good props. You can find great variety of fabrics at Meena Bazaar in Bur Dubai or Naif Souq. And who can forget Ikea and Daiso? An Instagram friend suggested, “poster board is good when you need more surface coverage and can act as a sweep for the backdrop too if you prop it up.” Thank you @rainydaybites.

8. It is okay to edit. During both the seminars, photographers agreed that it is okay and normal to edit photos. VSCO cam and Snapseed are among popular photo editing apps. I’am also loving PicMonkey on desktop.

9. Make it work. When I started trying my hand at food photography, I was intimidated by the different styles of photography out there. I saw many photographs with white backgrounds and I would question myself whether I could pull off a photo like that. All my furniture are brown in colour. I hardly have any white surface at home. I tried getting a white board but ended up getting a black one from an old cupboard. Then I told myself, ‘you know what, let’s shoot on black or brown’. If you follow my Instagram feed, you would see that most of my photos are shot either on chairs in my living room or that black board. What I'am trying to say is, use what you have and make it work for you.

10. Practice hard and help yourself find your style. Like any craft, food photography, whether with phone or a digital camera, requires a lot of practice. Take shots from different angles, at different places, on different props, at different times. This will not only help you figure out the best time and place to photograph at work or home, it will also help you find your style.

11. Hit archives of people you love. I love going through older posts of Instagramers I admire. It shows me how they have evolved as photographers or storytellers. It gives me hope that, with practice and patience, someday I could reach their level. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? 

12. Let go. 
Let go of your inhibitions and worries. Sharing your work in public can be intimidating to say the least. This post has been in drafts for over a week as I wasn't sure whether my photos and thoughts were worth sharing. I got to take risks though. I won't know how good or poor my work is until I hear some criticisms. 

13. Use social media for it's strengths. 
With magazine like photos clogging up our news feed every minute of ever day, it is not surprising that a lot of us feel overwhelmed and pressured. Remind yourself to use social media for it's strengths. Use what you see as an inspiration rather than as a competition. Look at what others are doing well and try to incorporate those ideas in your work. 

I have been pinning Food Photography ideas to my Pinterest board. Some of them link to very informational posts and some are just images that I really liked (they are all DSLR images though).

Hope these pointers help you in some way. I would love to hear your suggestions and honest opinions about the photos and tips I have shared here. 

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  1. Use what you see as an inspiration rather than as a competition - the best line in the post and one which I agree with the most. I missed Matt's seminar due to family commitments, thanks for compiling these tips. It's very informative :)

    1. That's my favourite line as well. Thank you Saloni!

  2. Those are some lovely tips! I've read somewhere about draping a dupatta on a light bulb or in front of a window for a 'softer' effect.

    1. Yes, dupatta, napkin, wax paper etc have similar effect.

  3. Thank you so much Neelu. so nice of you to share the ideas.

  4. Thank you, I always usee my smartphone to click photographs as I don't hav laptop of DSLR Camera...these tips are really going to help me :)

  5. This looks so yummy and lovely tips and awww I must say your photos are amazing especially the one I saw on facebook about a desert

  6. Bookmarking. Thank you for sharing tips from the class/seminar you took.

  7. These tips are very helpful, especially for a new blogger like myself. Your last point was the stand out line for me. Sometimes it does get hard on yourself to "start from the bottom" while you follow incredible food photographers, stylists & bloggers and let you think you can't be as talented. Your tips, pictures & words have given me a boost of motivation - thank you!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Mina. I'am happy I could be of some help. :)

  8. These are some really helpful tips. Thanks for sharing. I've always admired your Instagram pics.. You always tempt me with all the yum food pics you post even though most of them are non vegetarian. :-)

  9. Great round up Neelu - I really enjoyed the Matt session about using your smart phone for photography.

  10. I took my own sweet time to come and read your post... :) Thank you for all the tips... For me my main concern is light since most of my clicks are night, and now I am looking at options where I can control that particular part sufficiently without burning my pocket, InShaAllah... :) Love reading through your posts...


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