5 Tips For Shooting Better Food Photographs With Your iPhone

5 Tips For Shooting Better Food Photographs With Your iPhone


Food photos are one of the most uploaded, Liked and shared types of photos on social media. The better your food shot looks, the more your post will get reactions. In this post, I’ll share with you 5 tips to make your mobile food shots look better.

The shot above is the vegan Spicy Tomato with arugula pizza at Gather restaurant in Berkeley taken on an iPhone 5. I was having lunch with a friend visiting from out of town and of course, I had to take a shot of this gorgeous pie which IMHO is the best vegan pizza in the Bay Area.

To note, this pizza shot was also edited in Photoshop and PicMonkey because I wanted to sell it on Healthy Stock versus just posting it on my Facebook wall to quickly share in the moment.

The 5 tips here are more about composition and utilizing features on the iPhone. I have not included anything about photo editing which is a whole art in itself. In another post, I will share editing tips and what some of my favorite photography editing apps are for food shots to post fast on the go.


Heirloom Tomato Cucumber salad


Before I start, these 5 tips are focused on iPhone food photography because that is what I use and what I am good at. If you use another type of smart phone, you can still learn and apply these tips to whatever device you use.

I am asked often if I use any add-on lenses to the iPhone for my food photography, and the answer is no. Currently, I like the look straight from the iPhone camera itself which gets progressively better with each generation of iPhone. Also, most of my photos are action, in the field shots, and I do not like carrying extra parts around. I try to be as low key, and unnoticed as possible.

I do however reserve the right to change my mind about this {wink}.

My two cents is that if you want a DSLR look then use a DSLR camera. Don’t try and make the iPhone camera something it is not. Instead make the most of what the iPhone camera can do which is pretty amazing for a device that fits in your jeans back pocket…unless you have a Plus size. That thing is pretty but ginormous for my needs.

I am currently using the regular body iPhone 7.

Let’s start with the tips!



The MOST important thing in mobile food photography is lighting. This is true of photography in general but on a mobile phone lighting is everything because you are limited to the hardware and software built in your iPhone.

One thing many people don’t realize is that on your iPhone you can tap on the screen to get different lighting options. The first thing you can do to get a better lit photo is try tapping around your screen.

On the iPhone camera, there is a grid of thirds. If you tap on different places on the screen, the lighting can change. Here in this example of Thai chilis at a farmers market, the white circle represents where I tapped on the screen and what the lighting of the shot looked like. As you can see, there is a difference between the three. (Click on image to get a bigger view.)




Avoid direct sunlight because the light is too harsh on your food photo which even the best of photo editing app filters cannot make look better. Try and shoot food in shaded areas. The shading will help soften the light and not create any shadows on your food. Here is an example.




In this herb garden, there is both direct sun lit areas and shaded areas. In example 1, I shot the basil in the shade and see how nice the photo looks. In example 2, the sun is hitting on the mint directly and the leaves look too hot and harsh.

THE ultimate best lighting for food on an iPhone is natural light outside during the day like sun up to late afternoon when it’s cloudy. So, when the clouds come out rejoice because the clouds act as a natural filter for the harsh sun light.

Shoot in natural light as much as possible. I find the best natural lighting is between sunrise to 10am, and between 5-6:30pm depending on if it’s daylight savings time when the sun goes down earlier. Morning sun and setting sun light tends to be more golden and soft, and makes for a beautiful evenly lit image.



As much as natural light is ideal for mobile food photography, it’s not always possible. Taking food shots in restaurants, your kitchen, at someone else’s house and in stores is all over the place. You get natural lighting, fluorescent lighting, overhead lighting, ambient lighting, and even candle light.

My #1 rule for shooting in dark lighting is DO NOT use the flash. NO FLASH! It makes your food look light-burned and startled like the myriad of over-flashed sushi photos we’ve all seen on Facebook and Twitter.

And now I know you are asking, “But Steph, I want to show everyone the awesome Veggie Roll I ate for dinner so flashed is better than a dark photo where you can’t see anything.” Like this…



I get it! You want to share the incredible sushi roll creation sitting in front you. But still, I humbly suggest just say no to using the flash. Do this instead, and be quick about it because it’s kind of a pretentious foodie photo thing.

Ask one of the people at your table to put their smart phone on high brightness, and have them shine light down on top of your dish like what my friend is doing here.




Do not use the flashlight on the phone either because it’s too bright of light and it’s a more direct beam of light. Taking photos in dark restaurants will always be a problem and will never look as good as natural lit photos. However, shining smart phone light down from the face of a bright phone screen on your dish will give you lighting that is more flattering than using the flash.

On the photo on the right of the Mexican food, notice how the plate in the back gets equal lighting to the enchilada dish in the front versus the front dish getting all the light and the back plate looking dark if you used the flash.

If someone has an iPad or a Plus size iPhone, or any other tablet device to use for a lighting source, that is even better because there is more surface light shining down so your dish looks like this.



See, the photo on the right has a tablet size source of light shining down on the plate of sushi so the lighting is softer and much more flattering than using the flash like in the example above.


For the best restaurant lighting try and go when the sun is still out, and sit at a table away from big windows yet close enough that you are in a well lit area kinda like this.




If you sit right next to a window like the couple in the photo, the sun light will tend to hit direct and harshly on your dish. You get too much light. If it’s after 5:00 pm, not during daylight savings time when it’s already dark at 5pm, the sun light softens up so sitting next to the window can actually be better.



If you get the chance to shoot in a restaurant that has an open kitchen to the dining room with counter seats take it! It’s fun and you have the opportunity to snap some cool action shots. Lighting in open kitchens tends to always be excellent even when it’s night time hours because they like to make the chefs and kitchen look cool.

Open kitchens in restaurants during the day are a cool opportunity to get motion blurs like this one of a sous chef walking.




The counter shots are also great to use with app filters to create moods like this where the photo looks like a memory recollection of a wonderful meal with a friend.





One of the things I look for to help create interestingness and help draw the viewers eye in a certain direction is to look for what I call arrows in the scene. Arrows help make the composition of the photo look more dynamic. Here’s some examples:




At farmers markets, using the edge of the crate or box the food is being stored in makes for a nice arrowhead like what I did with the artichokes shot. My favorite angle is to have the arrowhead hit the bottom of the photo slightly off to the right.

In my eggplant cannelloni, I pointed the cannelloni in alignment with the diagonal corners of the shot. Spoons, scoops and serving utensils make for great arrows like in the red seeds photo.

At first, it will take awhile to remember to see arrows. But once you do, it will go fast and help add a level of interestingness to your food shot.




One of the most common things I see in mobile food photography are shots where the camera is up in the food’s face. The shot is taken so close up that the viewer has no idea what the dish is or what story you are trying to tell with your photo.

Remember, a photo is a story captured in a single image.

In this example, we want to share a yummy plate of food at happy hour. In the super close-up image on the left, you see some Quinoa salad, olives and a piece of bread with a spread and tomatoes on it. But, what is this dish? Is your story to show off ingredients on your plate, or to express an experience like the image on the right which shows a much better story of happy hour because it shows the whole plate and a glass of wine.



I get that you want to show the details of the food but the details won’t make sense to the viewer unless they have some context of how those details are being used. Also, assume that the viewer may not see your text description of the dish. Giving some context to your food gives the viewer an easier way to understand what the dish is so they can enjoy too!

Back the camera up to get an overall shot of the food with some surrounding details like the wine with the plate of food. Also, with a glimpse of the shiny black table the atmosphere of the shot feels more cosmopolitan like you’re in a cool restaurant or lobby bar.

The dish makes more sense and a better story is told when you pull your camera back.




After lighting, probably one of the most important things in taking a good mobile food shot is choosing the angle. The common way most people shoot photos is holding their iPhone straight up and down which is good, but to help make your shots a little more interesting, tilt the iPhone slightly to the left or to the right.

This is totally a personal style thing. I personally love it, but someone told me once that the tilted image made them dizzy.




In my happy hour example, the image on the left was taken with my iPhone pointed straight up and down. It’s nice and something you’d see most people do.

In the image on the right, I tilted my iPhone slightly to the right. See how the guacamole bowl and margarita glass is now tilted slightly compared to the straight version? By slightly tilting the iPhone to the side the photo’s interestingness gets bumped up.

Again, to tilt or not is personal style.

So, what is the best angle to take a mobile food photo – top-down view, side view, or bottom-up view?

Answer. The best angle is the angle that shows off the food in a way that best describes the story you want to tell with your shot.

Remember, a photo is a story captured in a single image.

Angle is really subjective, and it goes back to a personal style thing where your creative eye and storytelling come into play. Let me show you some examples.



In this first example, on the left, is a side shot of the meal where you get an overall view of the green salad with slice of focaccia bread and glass of iced tea.

Included, in the shot is a salt and pepper shaker and other tables to hint that the shot is taken in a restaurant during the day because the light is bright inside the place. The show of the bubbly water and another plate also points that you are eating with another person at your table.

The story of this shot could be, “I’m enjoying a healthy green salad for brunch with a friend.”

On the right, is a top down shot which is my personal favorite angle. This shot only has the salad and iced tea, so it’s solely about the meal.

Because there is no other items in the shot, you cannot tell if this photo was taken in a restaurant, or at home on your kitchen table, or if you are eating alone or with other people. Also, because it’s just the food, you cannot tell if the salad was cooked at home or not. The shot that hints at the restaurant setting obviously means the meal was made by someone else.

The story of this shot could be, “This is the best mixed green salad I’ve ever eaten.”

Now, let’s move onto a sandwich.



Sandwich and burger shots can be a little bit of a challenge because you can take a myriad of interesting angle shots because these meals always come with sides like vegetables, salad, beans fruit, or fries. The top view angle is not the best for sandwich or burger shots because you only can see the bread, and not the inside of the sandwich or burger where all the yummy ingredients can be seen.

I always do an angle shot for sandwiches and burgers. But which side to focus on, now that is where the fun challenge comes in.

In this example, we have a sandwich meal that has a grilled portobello mushroom and goat cheese on focaccia with a side of garlic green beans. So, what could be the story of these shots?

First, there is a view of bar stools and a counter which hints that the meal is being eaten at a restaurant.

The story of the image on the left could be about making healthier choices. Instead of getting French fries or potato chips as a side, this time you got the green beans to get more vegetables and fiber. So, the focus is less about the sandwich but about the fact that you took an action out of your norm to be healthier so the focus of the shot is on the green beans.

The story of the image on the right is all about the sandwich. The green beans can be seen so we know a side dish came with the sandwich, but now the beans are in the back while front and center is the sandwich with a nice view of the layers inside the sandwich.

There are also a few new colors in this picture that were not in the other shot. Now, we see the red of the tomato. You can see the white of the layer of goat cheese, and the brighter green of the romaine lettuce. So the story of this photo is about this awesome portobello mushroom sandwich you got to enjoy.

And there you have it. Four different angles with four different stories.

Each of the photos is good. Again, it goes back to the story you MOST want to tell.




Here is a cool thing. When you have the iPhone camera app open, instead of tapping on the big white circle to take your shot, you can use your iPhone ear buds as a remote shutter. Just press the volume button on your ear buds.

This is really useful for taking crowd shots or high angle view shots by holding your phone up in the air, selfies, and those times when you had way too much caffeine or one too many cocktails and are feeling kind of shaky and have a hard time holding the phone still and pressing the shoot button on the app. Not that it’s happened to me….well okay, it has happened to me. The point is having fun right?!


So, there you have a small sample of 5 tips that should help you take better mobile food photos right away. Enjoy!

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