How do I take professional food photos

Food photography with the smartphone: better food photos on the go

Advertising for the Apple iPhone XS Max * / Until some time ago, food photography with the smartphone was not “right” for me. If we ate something delicious on the way and I didn't have the DSLR with me, I was annoyed. So, on vacation or even in everyday life, I went out quite often with the fat girl in my pocket.

In 2015, that may have had a certain justification. Meanwhile, the smartphones are technically at such a high level that even I, a nagging photo monk, confidently leave the heavy device at home. I've already made entire blog posts with smartphone photos, for example the Berlin Food Guide. Or this post. Almost all of the photos were taken with the new iPhone XS Max here.
And even if you have an older smartphone: There are a few tricks you can use to take great photos with a not-so-up-to-date cell phone.

I would like to share my best tips for taking food photos with the smartphone in this article. The saying is as worn out as it is true: the best camera is still the one you have with you.

The difference between a smartphone and a system camera

First, the question arises: What is the exact difference between the smartphone and the “right” camera?

Of course there are very good smartphones and very bad system cameras. But in general, a smartphone poses a few challenges in comparison. For example, it is not as bright, shows more image noise, the resolution is not that great and you are quite fixed in terms of aperture, focal length and exposure time. Often it only has a wide-angled lens and photos from angled in front look strangely distorted.

But you also have advantages such as greater flexibility. You always have your mobile phone with you, it is ready to use immediately, you can snap photos more discreetly and faster. First unscrew the 20cm long lens in a classy restaurant? Phew, uncomfortable. But quickly take the smartphone out of your pocket, snap it and hide it again - no problem. In addition, you don't have to go to Kieser training at the age of 30 because you always carry 7 kilos of equipment over your shoulder. And there is no need to worry about the expensive complete equipment while you are strolling around the market in Port Louis.

Food photography with the smartphone - the light

The most important point in smartphone photography, even more important than with system cameras, is light.

Smartphones reach their limits faster in poor lighting conditions. In addition, especially in food photography, you often go out to eat in the evening or at least in closed rooms with artificial light.
That's why I say on the subject of light: Change it, edit it or embrace it.

Change it: Whenever possible, photographed in daylight. It starts with the choice of seat in the café or restaurant. Better to sit down again if your place is just nasty ceiling light coming from above or if it is completely dark. Perhaps there is still a space outside or near the window or at least a table with softer, indirect light.
If, despite all efforts, the light comes from the wrong direction and you have hard shadows at the table, a candle as a fill light can often help.
However, there is one thing you should never do: use the front flash. Never. Or at most with a piece of semi-transparent plaster or tape that you stick over the flash as a diffuser.

Edit it: With artificial light, in addition to the intensity and direction, the color or temperature can also interfere. The light in restaurants is often too yellow or too blue. To counteract this, you can set the white balance manually on many smartphones. If not, or if it still looks stupid, only post-processing helps. How to do this directly on the smartphone will come later.

Embrace it: As in all areas of life. What you don't get made to fit, you talk to yourself nicely. And often it's really not bad. So just accept the dim ambience and find it cozy. Perhaps you can even consciously use or reinforce the cozy atmosphere. Mood! (throws confetti)

Here are two examples of rather ugly photos in bad light, but which are then quite cozy. To be honest, it just tore out the image editing on the right. As I said, more on that later.

Food photography with the smartphone: making optimal use of the background and surroundings

Especially when you want to take food photos on the go, the environment often doesn't suit you at all. Squeaky colored plastic tables or a bustling background can visually bring down the most beautiful sundae. Here you have to intervene. Of course, I don't mean that you are on sitestyle should, but rather aroundthink. Are the tables in the ice cream parlor ugly? Then the ice in front of the wall might look better:

Advanced users who are no longer embarrassed can also consider the floor. The tables in the beach bar are orange, but there are beautiful wooden planks on the floor? Then put your food on it for a moment. Let people talk, look, think. You have your reasons and do not hurt anyone with it. Nowadays, when every Gretchen Müller is an influencer, many are hardened anyway. Keyword #forthegram 😉 In all likelihood you have at least something with you. So it's all good.
This salad bowl, for example, is on the stone floor:

What works out well: chairs in the background, a beautiful window, the counter with lights or reflections from bottles. Nice, controlled environmental context can be very atmospheric.

Suitable surfaces for food photography on the go are generally wooden tables, monochrome tables in muted colors or marble tops. The underground shouldn't be too colorful or restless so as not to steal the show from the food.

Food photography with the smartphone: styling options and props on the go

Of course, you don't always have your own props collection in your pocket. But there are beautiful accessories out there in the real world too. You just have to see and use them: think of a clean napkin, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, oil jugs, sauces, bread, wine glasses, water glasses or tea cups, a newspaper, flowers ... Often these are exactly the right accessories for the picture, because they are just logical and natural.

If the café or restaurant has nothing (pretty) to offer, take a look in your pocket. Maybe there are sunglasses in there? Zack, the photo of the espresso on the beach promenade has a little more context.

Or what most of them have with them: their hands. A human touch is always good on photos and is helpful if the picture seems too empty and boring. You can also use people you have brought with you. But better just your own. You only want to use strangers in extreme emergencies, even I haven't dared to do that.
Although it would be a different pick-up: “Hello you! Can you hold my ice cream in front of your stomach? Even further up! And please pull in your stomach! Don't hold your hand so weird! And please turn the biscuit forward! "

As far as the specific food styling is concerned, you are of course at the mercy of the cook. But what you can always do: turn the most beautiful page forward. Tuck a little here and there, lay down the basil leaf differently, move the tomato forward. Use the food, so pour pepper, oil, herbs or spices over it. A piece of cake can be cut off with a fork to better show the layers.

Food photography with the smartphone - find the best perspective

With many smartphones, the perspective from angled in front often looks distorted and inharmonious. You only have a single wide-angle focal length available, the whole bustling background is in focus with the picture.
In addition, no real bokeh is possible, i.e. this beautiful blurring in the background - you can't open an aperture.
All in all, we have the opposite of a 90mm or 100mm macro lens with an open aperture, which brings the object nicely forward and exposes it.

However, there are smartphones that can impressively fake this look with the help of software or two lenses (portrait mode, dual camera). Even the "aperture" can be selected here thanks to an algorithm. More on that later.

If you don't have this option, you prefer to use the flatlay perspective from above, also known as a bird's eye view. This reliably compensates for the shortcomings in the lens.
Just make sure to take photos strictly from above or parallel to the plane of the table top. Half angled looks like nothing. Cell phone cameras are wide-angled, so you should be able to do that without having to climb onto a chair. The portrait mode for flatlays, if available, so it is better not to use it. This brings the object closer.

Otherwise, as with normal photography, the best perspective also depends on the dish. You want to show the good side. So, as always, you know it: It's best to photograph burgers or pancakes from the front, pizza or tarts from above.
If you take pictures from the front and your smartphone is powerful, use the portrait mode.

I took this burger photo, for example, with the iPhone XS Max in portrait mode and subsequently adjusted the "aperture" in the software. The background is pleasantly blurred, the object nicely sharp in the foreground. At first glance, without wanting to print it on a poster ... The 5D can dress warmly 😉

Finally, one last tip on the perspective of food photography on the go: Always try both, flatlay and from the front. Doesn't cost anything.

Exploit the technical possibilities of the smartphone using the example of the iPhone XS Max

As has already been mentioned several times, modern smartphones such as the iPhone XS * Max have a whole range of technical options and functions. Do some research on your smartphone. Sometimes they can do more than you think.

First of all, you should always clean the lens. Sounds stupid, but with a greasy lens, even the greatest 12 megapixel dual camera system with algorithms for adjustable depth of field and optimized image signal processor and sensor doesn't help. First things first.

So now to the technical details: The iPhone XS Max is available in gold! Yay 😁

The dual camera with 2 lenses and real optical zoom

But now really to the possibilities that are relevant for food photography: The iPhone XS Max has a 12 megapixel dual rear camera with two lenses, an f / 1.8 wide angle (28mm) and an f / 2.4 telephoto lens (56mm). So instead of zooming with your fingers (digital zoom, which only leads to poorer image quality), it is better to choose the telephoto lens with its double zoom (optical zoom).
If your smartphone doesn't have a telephoto lens, just take a step closer to the object. Don't pull the clamp on the display, it just makes the picture more pixelated. You might as well crop the picture afterwards, that would be the same.

The portrait mode with aperture selection

This is your choice if you want the photo to look really like DSLR. So sharp in the foreground with nice blur / bokeh in the background. Primarily made for people, but can also be used for burgers and waffles.
Simply select portrait mode and tap your finger to focus. The cell phone is pretty smart and recognizes what is the foreground object and should be sharp and what is blurrywurry in the background. Sometimes it only has problems with the rim of wine glasses 😉

If you now go to the picture you have taken, you can choose the aperture in the editing process. Of course not in real life, an algorithm calculates that. But he does it pretty well. Above you can see the difference between f / 2.0 and f / 10. That can be done very relaxed afterwards.

The exposure slider

In addition to the aperture, you can also set the exposure before you take the picture. To do this, simply tap on the display, just like when focusing. A little sun appears. If you then swipe your finger up or down on the display, the exposure changes. So you don't have to leave that to any automatism.

Image processing on the smartphone

Finally, a few brief information about image processing on the smartphone. This picture shows how badly necessary image processing can sometimes be, even if all the tricks are followed:

Left unprocessed: A very terrible lighting situation, as one often encounters in restaurants. So unfortunately typical for food photography with the smartphone. In front there is yellow, hard artificial light from above, behind blue evening light from outside. You can't just change the entire color temperature of the picture, it will always not fit somewhere. The only thing that can help is an image editing app, with which you can selectively edit individual image areas. This is one of the most important criteria for me, which is why I use these two image editing apps:

Lightroom mobile

My favorite. In addition to the usual controls, as in the normal Lightroom, you have a correction brush with which you can selectively edit individual image areas. This is particularly helpful when it comes to white balance, which can be problematic in food photography with a smartphone.

In addition to the temperature, I also like to selectively adjust the exposure with the brush, which can be seen in the photo above on the oil bottle.

The mobile version also has a repair brush that can be used to stamp away stains and blobs.

The basic version of Lightroom mobile is free. In order to synchronize mobile phone photos with the computer, however, you have to take out a paid Creative Cloud subscription.


Snapseed is free image editing software. It is not quite as elaborate as Lightroom mobile, but it can also selectively edit image areas. Snapseed is quick and intuitive to use, making it a good choice for beginners.

For minor adjustments, such as exposure compensation, you can simply use the phone's own editing software.

What is the greatest difficulty for you in food photography with the smartphone? Do you have any tips in store?

Blogging, food photography, photography, photo tips, iPhone, smartphone