The golden rules of food photography

Here at HCA, we pride ourselves on creating top quality content for our partners. Whether we’re producing a 100+ page print magazine or a single image, we put the same thought, effort and expertise into every piece of work. This is all down to the experience of our team – from writers and editors to photographers and designers, everyone at the agency knows what it takes to create award-winning content. 

One such guru is HCA Art Director, Sarah Reynolds. Working across the Asda campaign team, she leads the visual direction of campaign work and uses her years of industry experience to ensure every shoot, photograph and layout is both an aesthetic and commercial success. 

It won’t come as a huge surprise to hear a good deal of the content we produce for Asda centres around food, and Sarah is a pro when it comes to leading successful food shoots. We asked her to share her top tips for nailing a food shot, every single time. Whether you’re a seasoned food stylist or photographer creating content, or just a foodie who likes to snap your dinner to share on social media, we think you’ll find her tips useful…

1. All images should tell a story

A composite image of three food shots

When it comes to food, emotion is key. Your main goal should be creating a desire to dig in through storytelling. For example, a pair of hands holding juicy red strawberries as water runs over them shows the humanity and freshness in food prep. It instantly makes you feel as if you can smell the strawberries.

Capturing the actual act of cooking is a great way to tell a story, too. It brings the food to life and captures a quick moment of the action – butter melting over a thick fillet steak in the pan or warm gravy being poured over a plate of veg. Images like this make you feel as if you can smell and taste the food.

Snapping a moment at the table is another way to create a setting and a sense of environment. Shots of food being served or shared and a well propped table can elicit emotions ranging from romance and family bonds to friendship. 

2. Ensure that the hero product is always the hero

No matter how gorgeous the table, restaurant or your dining partner might be, when it comes to an appealing food shot, don’t lose sight of the main event. From a towering cake to a steaming bowl of noodles, focus on letting the food itself pop with lighting and focus – use clear lighting and a sharp focus on the main dish and keep everything else in soft focus. 


A shot of greek food
Here the hero product is lost with too many distracting props. The lighting is flat all over and distracts away from the prawns in the pot.

If you’re creating content you or a brand might use across multiple social, TV, print or outdoor channels like we do here at HCA, you also need to consider crops and composition. What will this look like on a billboard versus an Instagram feed? The same perspective applies to novice photographers, too – how will this look on your Instagram grid compared to your Tik Tok feed?

3. Consider lighting and depth of field 

Two shots of foodDepth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo – consider how objects are placed and where the sharp focus is and play around to see which depth best showcases the food. Shallow depths of field (shown above, left) can really help in highlighting one main product, whereas a longer depth of field (shown above, right) means everything in shot feels close and is all pin sharp. 

Lighting also helps to tell a story – from the season to time of day. Dappled, warm lighting creates a sense of summer while cooler light with harsher shadows evokes winter.

So the next time you're about to snap a photo of food – whether it's for your personal Instagram page or during a professional photoshoot – keep these insider tips in mind and we think you'll be pleased with the finished product. 

Need help with your food content? Get in touch with us at HCA to learn how we can help!

Latest articles