How to nail your food photography
22 Mar 2017
Beyond leaning over your plate in a restaurant and wielding your iPhone around, have you ever tried to take good pictures of food? It’s really, really hard.
We live in a visual world. So it doesn’t matter how great your idea is, if your pitch doesn’t have great photos to support it, it can ruin your chances of securing investment, or a landlord agreeing to rent you a space for your idea. Photography also helps drive sales and tickets for your pop-up – it’s the first thing journalists will ask for when you get press coverage. In short, good pictures are worth investing in.
One person who makes this all look easy is Issy Crocker. Issy is responsible for the fantastically tasty-looking pictures that illustrate Anna Jones’ popular Guardian Food column. A quick look on the foodie site she founded,, The Curious Pear, will also show you she’s shot some of the biggest names in the food business.
So needless to say, Issy makes taking pictures of food look easy. We caught up with her to find out how she does it.
Can you tell us how you got into food photography?
I studied English at university and to make money I was a club photographer. I always loved taking photos but that was soul destroying! I emailed loads of photographers [to get a job assisting] and didn’t hear back from a single one. So I just had to get started and do it on my own. In hindsight that’s the best thing that could have happened.
What advice would you give someone taking pictures for a pitch?
If you aren’t interested in photography and it’s not something you want to do, I think that comes across. You can easily collaborate with young photographers who want to get into the industry that will work for free - that’s how I did it. And it’s a mistake not to work with those kinds of people when they could help you get much better pictures.
There are so many factors deciding what makes a good picture. What’s the most important one to remember?
Lighting is key. Direct sunshine isn’t great but you don’t want to be in total darkness either - you want something in between. Try and shoot near a window so you get a nice natural light, that’s always good.
How important are backgrounds and props?
Keep it natural and let the food be the hero. Overly propped photos can be distracting. There’s definitely a way for your photo to be more than just some food on a plain background. Use props that have lovely tones and textures but don’t distract from the food.
What’s the best type of surface to shoot on?
You don’t want anything that has much of a shine. I’d never shoot on a varnished table. Marble is always really beautiful, or stone - things that have a natural texture. I love linen as well because it comes in so many colours and shades. It can have personality - you can iron it and have it smooth, or scrunch it up and have it relaxed. Things that aren’t too dominant in colour are good but texture is key.
What are your top tips for styling food?
Keep it natural and don’t photograph it for too long. Food does change as it sits, it dries out quickly. When things are first plated they feel quite natural but it becomes stagnant quickly, so take your pictures as soon as the food’s plated.
Is it possible to take press-worthy shots on an iPhone?
Food shots on an iPhone are pretty much always better overhead because you don’t get that depth of field that you get with a normal camera. iPhones just don’t have that capability, even with an additional iPhone lense. I have heard that you can get nice soft images with it, but I’ve never tried.
What’s your favourite food to shoot?
Anything that’s vegetable-based. Shooting meat is often really beautiful but it’s not as vibrant and fresh. I shoot Anna Jones’ Guardian column, and I love that because it feels fresh and inviting and healthy - and with a lot of flavour.
What’s your favourite shoot you’ve ever worked on?
It was a long time ago but the first person that Meg and I worked with when we started The Curious Pear was Alex from 26 Grains. That was back when she was doing pop-ups and now she has a permanent site in Neal’s Yard. That was amazing because that was the first thing we did and we didn’t really know what we were doing. None of us were really in the industry yet so now we can see how far each of us has come.