"HOLD ON. DON'T EAT IT YET! Let me take a picture first!"

Sound familiar? I'm that person and I'm sure some of you are too. Like many food-loving people, I've always enjoyed taking pictures of my food because I could keep the memory of all the delicious things I've eaten and share them with friends.

Seven months ago, I became part of the Spoon University team as a photographer and writer and realized that I needed to learn how to master food photography. So I finally bit the bullet and learned how to work a DSLR and take high quality, well-composed photographs to accompany the recipes I post

beer, wine, coffee, tea
Renee Chiu

My friend and photography connoisseur, Amanda, came to visit my school and gave me an impromptu lesson on the basics of photography. From there, I did a lot of online research and experimentation with my camera whenever I had free time to take pictures.

I gradually became more comfortable with using the DSLR after taking more photos for recipes, assuming the role of photographer for family events, and embarking on photo adventures with my friends.

Here are the seven most essential things I've learned over the past few months that will help guide you to taking that perfect photograph.

1. Lighting

popcorn, corn, milk, cereal, sweet, kettle corn, salt
Renee Chiu

Food will instantly look more appetizing if it is taken in perfect lighting. If the light is too intense, it leads to a stark image with harsh shadows. If it is too dark, the image is gloomy and the details of the food are hidden. For me, natural lighting on a cloudy day is perfect: it creates soft shadows while also keeping the photo bright.

The image above is from the first recipe I wrote on how to make honey butter sea salt popcorn (and one of the first pictures I took after learning how to use the DSLR!). In this unedited image, you can see that the lighting makes the subject look clean and bright. The shadows are soft and don't take focus away from the popcorn.

2. Angles

tacos, cilantro, slaw, salsa, avocado
Renee Chiu

I often see food pictures on Instagram that are taken at awkward angles that make good food look very unappetizing. I prefer to take my photos at an overhead angle or at 45 degrees. This makes the most of available light, but still allows for the majority of the plate to be shown. This part is all about experimentation and finding the angle you like the most!

Look through Instagram or food blogs and see what types of angles other people are taking the pictures from. Take inspiration from these people and try to create similar angles with your own dishes. But don't just blatantly copy other people's creative works because das just rude yo!

#SpoonTip: When shooting from overhead, make sure the shadow from your hands and phone are not covering the food.

3. Editing

Renee Chiu

This tip really depends on the image being taken, your personal style, and where the image will be shared. Is it for Instagram? A recipe for your blog? Or just to keep the memory of an amazing meal? Almost every picture out there is edited in some type of way, be it an obvious filter on Instagram, photoshop fails in magazines, or subtle adjustments in color. 

Do you prefer darker images or brighter images? Warmer to cooler colors? Play around with apps on your phone (VSCO is my favorite) and see what you like best. Or, if you want something more professional you can use Photoshop. The picture shown above has just the smallest adjustments in brightness and saturation to give a little bit of life to the image.

#SpoonTip: To make whites stand out, increase exposure to increase brightness and turn down the temperature to give the image a cool blue undertone.

4. Composition

Renee Chiu

The composition of an image can make a subject infinitely more interesting. Do you want to show the entire bowl or plate of food? Or do you only want half of it in the shot? Is the background interesting? Are there any props that can make the food more appetizing? Can you create a story with the surrounding objects?

I've been playing a lot with this idea of composition recently and went to extremes with the image of spicy mala noodles shown above (recipe from one of my favorite Asian blogs, The Woks of Life). Imagine the bowl of noodles with none of the surrounding props or ingredients. Not as interesting, right?

5. Camera

egg, bread, sandwich, english muffin, ham
Renee Chiu

Though smartphones have come a long way and can take amazing photographs, DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) produce a better quality picture with more control over shutter speed, exposure and aperture. You can definitely see a difference between images taken with a DSLR and those taken with a phone.

The image of the avocado English muffin above shows the flexibility and control you get with a DSLR. The photo shows every detail from the creaminess of the avocado to the the crumbs of the English muffin. By changing the aperture, I was able to keep the focus of the muffin in the front and keep the background blurry.

6. Color

vegetable, tomato, salad, pepper, lettuce, onion, parsley, ceviche
Renee Chiu

I enjoy playing with colors often in the photographs I take. However, I do tend to have some type of neutral element in the background so the images don't look too cluttered with color. I do this especially for recipes that I post on Spoon because I like the focus to be on the ingredients that I'm using to create the final dish. 

#SpoonTip: Increasing the saturation just a little can give an image the vibrancy it needs. Make sure not to overdo it though, over-saturation can lead to an image that looks unrealistic and over-manipulated.

7. Action

coffee, cappuccino, milk, espresso, cream, hot chocolate
Renee Chiu

I rarely ever show action in my photos, because it is difficult to do by yourself and so too labor intensive if there is no specific reason to take an action picture. However, showing motion in an image can instantly make a photograph more interesting in contrast to the vast majority of still-life food pictures you see online. 

In the picture above my friend, Ani, used a torch to caramelize the white sugar on top of our rice pudding. In the image you can see the process of the the sugar burning as the flame hits the surface. This creates a story and shows the process of the cooking rather than just a still image of the final product.