Your food tastes incredible and it looks incredible in person. But your website photos just aren’t communicating it to potential customers. Let’s fix that. Let’s take high-quality product photos at home.
We’ve teamed up with Mandy Gleason, founder of Replica Surfaces and photography educator, to show you some mind-blowing ways to transform your photos and sky-rocket your sales. Mandy is an expert in how to style product photos and food photography using your iPhone. Castiron isn’t sponsored by Replica, by the way, we just adore their Surfaces, their Community, and how they teach. Plus, their Surfaces and teaching actually work. Real Replica customers have doubled their sales after using Replica Surfaces and Mandy’s photography tips.
What you need:
- Two backdrops. We always reach for Replica Surfaces. Keep reading for a backdrop size guide
- Something to hold them in an L-shape. We use Replica Stands or our Replica Studio
- A camera. This can be a phone or DSLR camera. The newer the phone, the better the results
- Natural sunlight from a window
- Your food!
- Ingredients you use to make your food
- A couple props. This article will give you lots of ideas!
Step 1: Set Up Your Backdrops
Attach your backdrops to create an L-shape that looks like a wall and countertop. If you use Replica Surfaces, you can use either Replica Stands or the Replica Studio. If you use other backdrops, connect them however you normally connect them.
A set up using Replica Stands (the little green things in the corner). The The window is on the right side in this example. Don’t worry, your windows don’t need to be this big. 😉
A set up using the Replica Studio. You definitely don’t need a Studio to take great photos, but we love rolling it wherever the natural light is best…even if it’s in your bathroom. Plus, it’s height-adjustable and the platform swivels so you can easily try different light directions.
Step 2: Find the Best Light
Let’s talk about lighting for product photography at home. The two questions Mandy gets asked most often are how to get good lighting for pictures and what is the best lighting for product photography. The truth is you don’t need complicated artificial lights to take incredible photos for your Castiron website. Let’s keep it simple (and cost-free) by using natural light.
First, we need to find the best time of day to shoot. This is because natural light changes throughout the day. It also depends on the season, weather, and the direction your window faces. The best time is different for everyone.
To find your best time(s) to shoot, put your food in the center of your Surface setup. We’ll pretend these photos feature your food! Take the same photo every hour during the times you’re available to shoot. For example, if you’re able to take photos from 9 am to 1 pm, take one photo at 9 am, one at 10 am, one at 11 am, one at noon, and one at 1 pm.
Put your photos side by side and decide which shadows you like best. Look at the shadows and the color of your photo. The best time is when the white areas of the photo look closest to true white (rather than blue or yellow) and when you like how the shadows look. Some people like subtle shadows, some people like dramatic ones.
Important: turn off your camera flash and turn off any lights in your home. The only light should come from the window.
Step 3: Style Your Food
Make your photos look more interesting and delicious by decorating them with ingredients from your food and with other “props.” In food photography, this is called “styling.” Styling is essential for taking quality food photos. It’s also what makes product pictures look professional. Plus, seeing the ingredients in a photo helps your customers think about how good your food tastes before they order.
In this photo, the butternut squash helps customers think about how warm and comforting the soup will be.
Important: make sure you only style with ingredients that are in your food. Otherwise your customers will be confused.
There are many ways to style a food scene. It depends on the type of food and the angle you’re planning to shoot from.
Before we show you our favorite styling tips, we want to show you our favorite angles so that we’re all speaking the same language.
There are three main angles in food photography: flat lay (overhead), 45 degree angle, and eye level.
To choose, think about where the detail is located on your food: the top, the side, or both.
For food with most of the detail on top, flat lay is a great angle. It means you hold your camera directly above your food. Your customers only see the top of your food. Examples are soup, cookies, or anything in a bowl.
For food with detail on the top and side, 45 degree angle photos work well. To take a 45 degree angle photo, hold your camera so it’s angled downward. Your customers see the top and side of your food at the same time. Examples are pies, cake slices, and cupcakes.
For food with most of the detail on the side, eye level is the best angle. This means your camera is at the same level as your food. Your customers see the side of your food and don’t see much of the top.
Examples are uncut cakes and food on plates. This pasta photo is an example of an eye level angle.
If you aren’t sure which angle(s) are best for your food, we recommend shooting each menu item from all three angles so you can choose the one(s) that makes your food look best. You can always show more than one.
Specific Styling Tips
Now for the fun part! These are our favorite tips for styling product photos. As you read, think “would this work for my food?” If you aren’t sure, try it!
Ingredients as Props
Idea 1: Place ingredients in a diagonal line from the back left corner to the front right corner
Idea 2: Use whole vegetables or cut them in half. Both can look really good and add texture to your photo
Idea 3: Drop small ingredients like seeds, nuts, or herbs onto your Surface
Idea 4: Add something green. Green adds freshness to your photo. Try leaves from a flower bouquet or something clipped from your backyard. Tuck it under the vegetable in the back corner
TIP: if your fruits or vegetables are rolling, slice the bottom so that the bottom is flat. No one will ever know!
Splashes happen. But no one needs to see them. For food in dishes or on plates, wipe the edges with a damp paper towel before shooting.
The Power of Sprinkling
Crumbling your food or sprinkling an ingredient around your scene adds visual interest and gives the feeling that someone is eating (and enjoying) your food.
The difference a sprinkle makes. Notice the cookie crumbs in the photo on the right.
Another example of sprinkling. Here, we sprinkled pecans, which are an ingredient in these cookies.
Layering Goes a Long Way
Layering creates eye-catching photos without distracting from your food.
Here, we layered a styling towel and a cooling rack under some (but not all) of the cookies. This technique works just as well for other foods like cupcakes, brownies, or macarons. If you want to try styling towels, Replica offers them in multiple colors.
If you want to photograph a plate of food, place the plate on top of the cooling rack. It’s ok that you would never stack a plate, cooling rack, and towel in real life. In photography, it doesn’t have to make sense to look great!
From Flat to Full of Depth
If you photograph “flat” food like cookies, you may think flat lay is your only angle. Not anymore! Take your photos from flat lay to eye level by propping them upright. Two methods that we love using are pictured here.
Stack and lean multiple flat foods on top of each other. Lean one against the stack so your audience can see all the details.
Prop flat foods up by placing an object behind them. For this photo, we actually used a wooden drink coaster! The added benefit of the eye level angle is that your food can “live” in a scene that feels like home. This isn’t a real window, by the way. It’s a prior Limited Release Replica Surface called Winter View. Replica currently offers a spring window Surface called Lush View.
Set Your Scene... Without Cleaning Anything
Speaking of creating a scene that feels like home, try a Surface that looks just like a real kitchen.
Here, we created tons of kitchen content by swapping different Surfaces. You won’t find kitchen backdrops anywhere else, by the way. Replica pioneered Surfaces that look like tidy interior rooms.
From left to right, these are called Kitchenscape (available now), Bright Kitchen (available now), and Florence (coming April 2023). Shhh… Castiron subscribers are the first to see Florence. Not even Replica VIPs know about this one yet.
Stack It Sky High
Create vertical height and make food look majestic by stacking it.
Here we used the Replica Studio, a small serving board, and some cinnamon sticks to add texture. Notice how we took a bite out the donut to make it look like the photographer (you) couldn’t keep their hands off. Food that looks a little messy and disheveled is always most delectable!
For hard-to-stack baked treats, use wooden toothpicks or skewers to hold your stack together. After stacking three items, insert a skewer down the middle then slide a fourth item on top to hide it all. You can even create asymmetric, leaning stacks using this magic trick.
Want to give small food items extra height? Raise them up with a “riser.” A riser is any flat-topped object placed under your food. Here, we used a little table we found on Etsy. You could also use a wooden block or a small box covered with a styling towel.
Step 4: Shoot It
Keep it simple. If you don’t have a DSLR, don’t worry one bit. The phone in your hand is the only camera you need to convert website viewers into customers.
For the most professional phone photos, use “Portrait Mode.” Portrait Mode comes on all newer camera phones and makes your photos look like you used a professional DSLR camera.
On Android phones, Portrait Mode may be called something different (the name is always changing) but it works the same way. If you aren’t sure how to use this mode on your phone, we recommend finding a YouTube video about how to use it on your make and model of phone.
Portrait mode works by adding a “blurred” look to the background. The blur makes your food stand out and makes your photo look professional.
If you have a newer iPhone model (iPhone 12 and up), you can even change the level of blur after you take the photo! Here’s how:
Try these tips and we promise your photos will be instantly better. There’s a good chance you’ll start seeing more sales too. You deserve them!
Want to try Replica Surfaces for your business? Because Replica loves how much Castiron helps small business owners, they’re giving Castiron subscribers 20% off with code CASTIRON20. It expires Monday, March 21, 2023 at 11:59 PM PT. If you’re reading this after that date, sign up for emails and texts from Replica. They may be offering a sign up discount.
Want more content creation how-tos? Replica has released 40+ YouTube videos on topics ranging from styling to lighting to editing. This is our favorite video to start with. If you enjoy Mandy’s teaching style and would rather learn from a guided course, consider enrolling in her Photo Formula Course. Mandy will help you create your own photoshoot “recipe” through her engaging lessons, gorgeous full-color workbook, and trying new techniques yourself. Once you have your recipe, apply it to every photoshoot going forward.
Bonus: Choosing the Right Size Surface for Product Photography
For most food photos, a 23 x 23 inch square backdrop is perfect. This size gives you lots of space to style while remaining easy to store and transport. This size is also perfect for photos posted to social media. All of the photos in this article were taken using this size.
There are 3 exceptions: when your food scene is extra-wide or extra-tall, or you want to create Castiron website banners.
The most common example of extra-tall foods are tiered cakes, like this one. Examples of extra-wide scenes are expansive countertop or dinner party scenes. Website banners need to be in landscape orientation. Depending on the size of your food, this can sometimes be challenging with a square backdrop.
The solution for all three exceptions? Extra-large Surfaces…which Replica just launched last month. Replica XL Surfaces are 12 inches wider than their Classic size.
So, how do you choose a backdrop that’s the perfect size? It all depends on the size of your food and how you’ll be using the photos. A good rule of thumb is the “16 inch” rule: if your food item is less than 16 inches wide and less than 16 inches tall, a 23 x 23 inch Classic size backdrop is perfect. If it’s larger than 16 inches, or you want to create a lot of website banners, opt for XL size.
If you have any questions on sizing (or anything else), Replica Customer Care Specialists would love to help you. Email email@example.com to get in touch.