Food Photography 101

How to sell more food through strong foodservice branding

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- As consumer demand for convenient meal solutions continues to grow, an investment in food photography is no longer nice to have for a convenience-store retailer—it’s a requirement. Here’s a look at how a professional food shoot is done, from retail design and site-intelligence firm GSP Retail.


Before the photo shoot, the art director, photographer, food stylist and assistants will plan all aspects of the shoot and ensure that they fully understand the items to be photographed. It’s also important to define how the photos will be used after the shoot, such as in billboards, in-store signs, menus, printed ads or online; that will determine how the food offerings should be photographed. The photographer and team will also need to understand the type of photographic style and mood the retailer envisions.

Once the style direction and end use have been defined, props are gathered for the shoot, including bowls and dishes, background materials, tablecloths, textures and other styling needs.

Art direction

Food images in today’s advertisements are aspirational versions of the product. All of the ingredients are carefully styled in the most flattering way possible. As noted by fast-food giant McDonald’s, “The burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating, and the photo of the burger is optimized for looking delicious.” Styled food images help set consumer expectations for the product.

The shoot

Once the planning, prep and styling is complete, now the magic happens. The photographer will bring the product to life using a few props to tell the story. Good knowledge of the camera and light is imperative. Whether using sunlight, flash or strobe, the goal is to make the food look like the hero. A composition with the right combination of props, food and lighting will provide the visual communication required to get that mouth-watering shot.

The photographer will take numerous captures just to get that one shot right, as well as some tight close-ups with selective focus to draw the viewer’s eye to the element that is most appealing. Various combo meals with sides and beverages should also be shot at this time to take advantage of the styled food on set. Once photographed, the images are retouched if needed.

Food photography is an integral part of your brand and is just as critical for success as product selection and pricing. The right photographic style and mood piques interest in the foodservice offerings. A food photo shoot also provides retailers with a complete set of proprietary professional images that can be used to promote food offerings across multiple mediums for maximum impact. Just remember to define the intention of the end product and follow through with that goal from ideation to the shoot itself.