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Food photography may seem to be more art than science – after all, it’s about producing a picture that looks good and elicits a specific reaction in the viewer: making them want to eat. However, maximizing that response requires a basic knowledge of the various factors that affect how the viewer sees the picture. 

Some of those factors extend past the world of art and delve deeper into the way the viewer perceives the stimuli of the image. Thankfully, this is something that the people who wear lab coats have put a whole lot of effort into researching. Today we’re going to discuss what they’ve discovered and how it can help you create the best photos of food. 

1. The angle of your shot matters

food top view

©️ OCUS

Let’s start with something basic: shot angles. Every photographer knows how to get the best possible angle for their shot, but what exactly that means in the case of food may not be so clear. 

One researcher at the University of San Diego decided to experiment with two possible angles: a “birds-eye view” from straight overhead and “a three-quarter downward-looking angle (as if you were sitting at the table ready to take a bite of the food)”. 

waffles and pancakes

©Arnaldo Cellani / OCUS Portugal

The finding? While the birds-eye view suggests you have a trendy brand, the three-quarters angle view made the food look tastier to people. What this truly boils down to, is that the angle of the photograph has a psychological effect on the viewer. 

Consider this question when taking your photos: what is your goal? If you want to sell food, a three-quarter angle may be your best choice, but if your goal is to sell the brand then consider a higher angle. When deciding which of the multitude of camera angles your photography should use keeping your marketing goals in mind will only strengthen the overall results.

2. Don’t just include the food

tomatos and naan

©OCUS

Food may be the focus of your photoshoot but you should resist the temptation to remove everything from the environment, at least that’s what researchers have found. One study showed that when a photo shows a person eating unhealthy food, not only will the viewer feel less bad about eating unhealthily, but the food will taste even better. 

So what does this mean for you, the food photographer? When trying to sell food that’s high-calorie like baked goods and desserts, you should try your best to include an image of a person enjoying the food. While this may not always be a feasible option, it can be good to remember this tip.

Having only food in the photos you take does have its purpose, but you should also remember the importance of contextual clues. If seeing a person eating unhealthy food alleviates guilt and improves the taste of the actual food, creating scenes with elements that elicit a positive response will also improve the impact of the photograph that you take. 

asian food top view

© OCUS

When you include elements that elicit positive triggers you can further entice the viewer. Some elements that can evoke a positive response are things like clean spaces, lighting, colors, and even the utensils used to create the food. 

These details make it easier for the viewer to picture themselves in the situation that you’ve created with the photograph. This will help your client to sell more dishes and will help you to become more successful as a food photographer.

Sometimes small changes in the context of an image can change the overall feel of the image. An example of this would be to picture a table, holding a platter with a roast turkey. If the image only had the platter and turkey, it would elicit a different response than the same platter and turkey alongside multiple place settings, a bowl of stuffing, gravy boats, and table decor in the colors associated with the American holiday of Thanksgiving. 

Remember that contextual clues in photography, especially food photography, are just as important as they are in literature or film.

3. Use complementary colors

orange and various plates

© OCUS

Moving on from contextual clues, let us discuss color. You are likely already familiar with the color wheel and how colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel complement each other. For example, colors like red and green or blue and orange are said to be complementary. 

Frequently, in advertising, these colors are used to attract the attention of a viewer. More importantly, according to science, when these colors are placed next to each other they become more intense. If you place a red-colored food item next to a green item, the red appears redder and the green becomes greener.