Mary ToombsBy Mary Toombs
Graphic Designer, Direct Marketing

Among my favorite images to see and share from my travels is anything food-related. I can recapture travel memories through photos of the memorable meals I had while exploring away from home.

Through trial and plenty of error, I’ve learned a few techniques that result in images of food that I am proud to post on social media or share with friends and family. Here are 15 food photography tips for the next time you go to shoot and share your delectable meal on vacation.

Wipe the lens, then take a breath.

When traveling, mobile phones are often kept in a pocket or tucked in a purse or deep in a backpack. This fact leaves little doubt the lens is probably dusty. Take a moment to gently clean the lens with a cloth napkin or a microfiber lens cloth.

When your food is served take a moment to observe the scene. Is it appropriate to pull out your phone in the setting? If so, then…

food photography: taking photo above plate of potato wedges
The above-the-plate angle is a popular one for food photography

Make the most of natural light.

If you are attempting to capture a delectable meal at a restaurant, request or choose a patio or window-side table during daylight hours. When the sun is low, ask for a well-lit part of the establishment. Abundant natural light exposes any subject’s natural color and texture and allows the phone’s camera to take more sharply focused images.

Avoid the flash.

The shock of light can be obtrusive to fellow guests, and it can create unflattering shadows that distract from the beauty of your subject. Sometimes you might feel the need to try, so in dimly lit situations, when appropriate, ask your travel companion to shine their phone’s flashlight on the subject to illuminate the scene. If the lighting is too dim, you might opt against any shots at all. Low light tends to result in under-exposed, slightly grainy or too-dark images.

Partly sunny is not half bad.

All is not lost if the sun is not lighting up your plates of Spanish tapas or crispy Filipino lumpia. You don’t need bright sun or even direct light to produce a beautiful food shot. Cloudy skies – it’s still light outside but the sun is covered – can provide a more even light with softer shadows. Candlelight can also create drama. Best of all: being seated about an hour before sunset will enable you to capture your meal during that golden hour of remaining sunlight.

food photography: close up of sushi roll
Move in close and let the food fill the frame for an appetizing image

Get above it all.

The most common angle to shoot food is the bird’s-eye view. Hold your phone above the subject, tap the screen to ensure sharp focus, check the symmetry, and shoot. If the lighting is good and your image is in focus, you’ve got a near-professional image.

Try creative angles.

With that success, give other angles a go. Do you want to capture the layers of color, texture and expert knife cuts of sushi when in Tokyo? Or the golden texture of crackled skin of fried chicken in the American South? Then move in. Still shooting from above but a good bit closer to the subject, fill slightly over half of the camera’s frame with your beautifully composed plate (the table or napkin/utensils could fill the remaining space).

Is that amazing Saigon banh mi sandwich you’re about to devour stacked so tall that you need to share its height with the world? Shoot it straight on. Lower your phone’s aim to be eye-to-eye with the creation.

Feeling even more daring? Capture images from the left or right of the food or go lower to make it appear as if that towering construction of good eats is a mountain you’re about to summit.

Experiment with compositions.

Hold your exquisite French éclair or succulent New England lobster roll up in the air and take the shot as if it’s floating in front of the city’s skyline. If the horizon is obvious in the camera frame, make sure it is level. Notice if a sign or light post appears to be poking out of your tasty treat, though. If needed, turn slightly and recompose the shot.

Another way to add some dynamism to your composition is to rotate the dish the food is on (do not rotate the phone or camera) so part of the dish is out of frame. The diagonal lines and shapes that result can make a dull composition much more interesting.

food photography: cooked artichoke halves with dip
A beautifully composed shot of a local specialty is a great travel souvenir

Keep it real.

It’s tempting to apply filters or settings to food photography images. But when food is the subject and you want to show a bit of native culture of the place you’re visiting, err on the side of natural and simple. People like to see edible-looking food–as if we could dive right into the photo and gobble it up.

Capture local specialties.

Perhaps those tasty finds from a street cart or a renowned historic market. The piles of colorful spices in a Moroccan souk. A hot churro in Mexico. Or a fresh Brazilian pastel or sweet tapioca pancake. The colors and textures of edibles on display are perfect for a tighter shot.

Zoom and crop.

There’s almost no such thing as too close when it comes to food photography. Focus on the tiniest details for a more interesting shot. Fill the frame entirely with the food. After the fact, you can guide the eyes of your viewers if you crop out anything that’s not necessary to the image. You may get a few interesting shots from one original picture!

Capture people with the food.

Great food photography can be more about the eating experience. For example, you can capture the hard-worked hands of the seasoned Manhattan butcher who built your Reuben. Or a chef crafting a fine Chinese dumpling. Or your travel companion as they interact with the food with their hands or utensils.

food photography: bag of shrimp with bread
Your latest market find or street food could make a wonderful, memorable photo

Keep food photography simple.

Unclutter the shot by removing distracting elements (like any splatter on the side of the plate or bowl). If there’s too much happening on your plate, concentrate on capturing one element.

Mind your background.

Add elements – like a beer bottle with a label in another language – that help capture your travel experience or that contribute interest to the shot.

Get inspiration.

Visit sites like, Flickr or Instagram to learn from drool-worthy food photography. Although they’re not food specific, the winners of Virtuoso’s annual travel photography contests will also provide some motivation. And check out this Virtuoso Luxury Traveler post for more travel photography tips.

Interested in opportunities to flex your food photography muscle on vacation? From Vietnam to Italy to Cuba, Virtuoso partners offer many journeys designed for shutterbugs and foodies. To book your next trip, browse listings of Virtuoso expert travel advisors here.

One comment

  1. Excellent tips listed here. Being a traveler and a foodie, these tips will be extremely useful on my journeys. I love the suggestion: “Try Creative Angles”. This is how to get those dreamy shots that continually get shared on instagram. Thanks so much for posting.

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