Carly Diaz, a lifestyle and food photographer, shares her tips for taking better mobile food photography. All photos shot on Moment lenses.

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5 tips for better mobile food photography

There is an abundance of food photography these days, as a quick flip through many Instagram streams will show. And with good reason. We encounter food at least three times a day, and following the trail of food and drink can offer a peek at daily life. From a morning coffee at a neighborhood café, to a shared lunch break with colleagues, to a dinner gathering at home with family.

My fascination with food photography grew out of my years of traveling and living abroad. I encountered new flavors and ingredients as I explored other cultures, but I also sought to replicate the familiar smells and tastes of home in my own kitchen. Food photography is more than simply taking a photo of food. It’s telling a story about people and place, ingredients and seasons, and the passion for the creative process of cooking and making. Like food itself, food photography has the power to evoke memory and bring comfort.

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Light, the magical element at the heart of photography, makes or breaks images of food. Shooting food underscores the incredible potential of natural light and it’s the first thing to consider when preparing to snap a photo of something delicious.

Turn off all artificial lights and place the dish next to a window or other natural light source. Direct sunlight can be harsh on food and cause ingredients to appear oversaturated. Look for light that is soft or use a thin white cloth to block direct light.

Next, consider the angle that will capture the light in the most flattering way and bring the dish to life. Thinly-sliced vegetables or liquids appear to glow when backlit. Noodles and other textured food take a dramatic turn when one side drops into deep shadows. If you’re in a restaurant or other space where you have limited opportunity to manipulate the lighting, request a table by a window. Observe the shadows cast by overhead lights and utilize white napkins to reflect or diffuse light as needed.

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Naturally enhancing a scene requires props to be in place and adjustments to be made before the food arrives. There is an entire profession dedicated to styling food, with an array of curated props that create the mise en scène. But if you’re looking to keep it natural, simply observe what is around you. Where do you want the silverware positioned? Do you want the salt and pepper shaker in the frame? Does an empty wine glass need to be refilled? Consider the angle that you’re shooting from and how that affects the way you position the supporting items. Preparing in advance ensures that you can take the shot before the food becomes cold and quickly get to the main event: eating!

Some images call for a scene to be set, other images can be found in the act of preparation. Documenting stories about food often takes me beyond the food itself. I look to the produce grown in a specific place and season, the hands that pulled unexpected flavors together, and the tools that transformed ingredients. Whether you’re shooting at a restaurant or in your home, sometimes the most compelling image can be found in hands kneading dough, a knife grazing house cured salmon, or a pile of limes waiting to be squeezed.

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Whether you’re gathered around the table sharing a meal with friends or are trying out a new restaurant, food is the centerpiece for a memorable experience. One of the tried and true angles for food photography is straight overhead. Taking an overhead shot of a table with a wide-angle lens showcases the bounty of a gathering. An organized chaos of food, plates, cutlery, drinks, and linens demonstrates the the intimacy of sharing a meal together.

A wide shot can also reveal patterns and movement that take an image beyond a traditional food shot. Forks lined up on an empty plate. The last bits of berries and cream swirled together in a dessert. A hand reaching forward to grab a glass. The abundance of food photography requires a keen eye to find surprising ways to tell a familiar story. Shooting wide also works well to capture the atmosphere of a space. When I photograph in restaurants, I’m often in a small kitchen or busy dining room with lots of people running around. Taking it wide helps capture the action without missing a detail.

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While it can be tempting to let the dishware dictate the way you frame a food photo, plating has been elevated to an art form for good reason. The beauty is in the details and certain dishes beg for a close up.

Chocolate shavings sprinkled on dessert, vibrant fruit and vegetables, or the garnish on a cocktail take on new life with a macro lens. Many of the chefs I have the opportunity to work with are passionate about the quality of the ingredients that they source. When selecting ingredients, they smell, touch, taste, and closely observe each item to assess its condition. Getting up close helps me to convey how meticulous chefs are in their selection, while giving viewers a new way to consider the food.

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The popularity of mobile photography has been bolstered by an incredible array of editing apps that help put the finishing touches on a photo. Filters should be used sparingly, or in the case of apps like VSCO Cam, at 10-30% strength, as they quickly can make food look odd.

Increasing the brightness and sharpness can add depth to an image. Contrast and saturation should be adjusted ever so slightly–they can help emphasize the food, but can also easily go in the wrong direction. Making adjustments to highlights and shadows will help correct any lighting issues. One of my favorite apps, Snapseed, allows adjustments to specific areas, which can help make a drink or dish pop further.

As with all photography, practice makes perfect. We eat at least three times a day, giving plenty of opportunity to explore how to take better photos of food.

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