Top tips for food photography with a mobile phone in natural light


Whether you’re a foodie with a huge passion for cooking, you love devising recipes or you work in (or run) an eatery, the chances are that you enjoy capturing images of your tucker before you or anyone else tucks into it.

Clearly, all the pictures we see every week in advertising, magazines and colour supplements, not to mention recipe books, mean you could be forgiven for thinking that producing similar images was simply not achievable. Yet the reality is that modern smartphones are perfectly capable of taking high-quality photos, not least if you have a few tips from a pro to start you off.

Before you begin, you’ll need to think about the theme, mood or story you want to convey with your photography. It’s also worth studying others’ work and thinking about what you like or don’t like about it. Look for repeating shapes, patterns or colours you enjoy, and be inspired – without, of course, copying directly!

Here are a few further thoughts to get you on track:

  • Find the right light source: Clearly, you’ll want to shoot in the best possible light. And this can often be easier said than done. After all, typically you may be working in the potentially gloomy, or at least artificially lit, surroundings of a restaurant or kitchen. But, if you possibly can, shoot with natural daylight.
  • Look for a good natural source such as a window or a door and position your food as near to it as you can. It’s worth taking the time to get this spot-on, or the end results may not be what you were after, even with the best styling or a dish that looks perfect in real life.  It may be that your bedroom is best!

  • Photograph against a plain background: If you have a plain background, the focus of the final images will remain firmly on your food. It could literally be something as unfussy or simple as a white plate or wooden board.


  • Avoid harsh shadows: Drastic shadows can be an issue in strong sunlight. One thing you need to ensure is that taller items don’t block the shorter ones relative to the light source. (So, for example, if you have a wine bottle and glass, position the former further away from the light so that it doesn’t throw a shadow over the latter.) Equally, you can shoot on a cloudy day, using filtered light, diffusers or reflectors – and make sure there are no unwanted sources of illumination, for example indoors. Finally, the larger the size of a light source, the smaller the resulting shadows will be.

  • The devil is in the detail: Be fussy with seemingly small details. Adjust the presentation until you’re happy with it, and make sure that not the slightest bit of mess/clutter is spoiling the aesthetics. The idea is, after all, to make the food look as appetising as possible. Check for (and remove) any potential distractions in the foreground, middle and background of your proposed shot.


  • The right angle: You’ll need the best possible angle to showcase the food. If it’s a pasta or salad plate, they look good if shot from directly overhead. Layered, taller dishes are best snapped at eye level. Hold your phone completely straight at 90° for an eye-level image and completely flat if you’re shooting from overhead. Equally, a 45° angle can be a good starting point – try several options and see what works best.

  • Experiment with props: The food must always remain centre-stage, but props can help tell your story. Utensils, herbs, napkins and suchlike all add texture, depth and interest to your images. Just remember to keep things simple and don’t overcrowd your pictures.

  • Edit your images: There are various editing apps around, plus some online tutorials to show you how to use them. You can use these apps to adjust the brightness, contrast and colour ‘temperature’ of your photos. Have a slight crop here, remove a few distracting crumbs there until you’re fully satisfied.


  • Use the rule of thirds: This strategy places the subject in the left or right third of a picture, keeping the other two thirds more open to compose a visually appealing shot. So place the food off-centre, using the grid on your phone’s camera to align it.

  • Finally, as with anything else, never stop practising; it’s the only way you’ll become better at food photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment or to have fun.


And if it all seems too much or you’re short of time owing to work or other commitments, you may find it helpful to call in a professional food photographer. I’m based in Fife and shoot food across St Andrews, Edinburgh, Perthshire as well as Fife and indeed Scotland or beyond as needed. Get in touch today to learn more.