When you think of great food photography, the immediate things that come to mind are great colour, creativity, beautiful lighting and ultimately, great images… but in today’s post we’re going to take it back a step, and look and focus on the bedrock of it all – COMPOSITION!
Before we can think about more details about food styling, we’re going to spend some time talking about a few composition techniques and how you can use them in your food photography. It is important to remember that composition techniques are guidelines, NOT rules. They aren’t here to hinder your creativity at all, so you shouldn’t feel like you need to stick to them so rigidly that you feel restricted. Rules are there to be broken when the time is right, but it’s always good to understand the rule you’re breaking, to know if breaking it will actually improve your photo.
There are five composition techniques that I come back to again and again in my food photography, and those are:
- The rule of thirds
- The golden ratio (also known as the “phi grid”)
- Dynamic Symmetry
- The Golden Triangle
- The Golden Spiral
I’ve created a handy rule of thirds print-out grid for you to help you plan your compositions more effectively, so you can go ahead and click the link below to get that.
Learn my Food Photography Composition Secrets
Learn my Composition Secrets
The purpose of these techniques in food photography is to give you the tools you need to achieve the best possible photo. Food photography is a form of still life photography, and these principles will help you develop your style and build confidence in the images you produce.
Using techniques like the rule of thirds and other ratios for your composition is also going to help you create balance in your photos. Knowing how to balance your props, the food and negative space, will allow you to control where the viewer’s eye is drawn to in your photo, and more effectively tell the story you’re trying to tell.
So let’s dive into a few examples of how you can use these techniques to improve your own images.
The Golden Triangle
Let’s start with this image of these dumplings
Straight away, you can see there’s a diagonal layout going on from the bottom left to the top right, so let’s overlay the composition technique I used and break it down a little more.
First off, there’s the direction of the props. You want to try and use the lines and intersections as the key points when you’re using a composition technique, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to lay everything out exactly on the lines – that can easily look way too obvious and just like you’re creating a carbon copy of the composition grid in your photo.
I used the main diagonal line and the intersectional line at the top to place the wooden board parallel to those lines, which creates a bit of a defining shape on the edge of the frame, just making sure I’m taking advantage of this technique in my supporting props. The little wooden spoon/tray is also facing in the direction of that main line to create that movement through the frame.
The main steamer basket is just a little bit off from the bottom intersection, so I’ve tried to mainly use that as my main focal point. The chopsticks are a bit rogue, but this is the whole point too… not every single thing in the frame has to follow a rule, but we can take parts of the technique to give us a full structure.
The top plate is just skimming that line, and I did that to really finish off this diagonal line we have going on.
Ok let’s take a look at another example with a different technique, this time the golden spiral
The Golden Spiral
Composition techniques like the golden spiral are really useful for bringing a bit of flow and order to busy images, and yes, this is a pretty busy image for me with my usual minimal style!
The golden spiral is a really great one for creating a sense of movement through a frame, because of the soft curve it’s a nice way to add some dimension.
First off we have the rolling pin starting off that spiral on a slight diagonal and beginning the overall shape in the frame. The rest of the galettes and the props kind of just follow that line round, with the most interesting point of those plums and the maple syrup bowl in the center of the spiral. With the fork in the bowl, I chose that direction because it kind of imitates the direction of the spiral in the top left, continuing that feeling of movement.
When you’re composing your own images, you don’t need to follow the spiral the whole way around, you can also just use part of it, or use more of the directional elements to create a bit of shape and movement in your image.
Ok let’s look at one more example, before we move onto some tips and tricks for using composition techniques in your own work.
The Phi Grid (Golden Ratio)
The Phi grid is a bit more of an advanced rule of thirds grid, the principles of how it works are exactly the same, but it’s based on the golden ratio, which makes the middle third of the grid a bit thinner.
I really like to use this grid to help me place my “horizons” when I’m shooting straight on images. In this cake, you can kind of see how I’ve used this line to position the line of the backdrop, although the shallow depth of field does make it a little harder to see!
The next thing I did was focus on the left two thirds of the grid to place that main focal point of the cut cake, I also used the top middle line to position the top of the slice, which allows for a nice amount of negative space at the top of the frame. Negative space is a really powerful tool in food photography, because you want your images to have a clear focus, and if they’re too cluttered with props it can make it difficult for the viewer to know where to look.
So not only are these techniques useful for choosing where to place things in the frame, but also where not to!
Planning your Compositions
So once you understand the main principles behind the compositional techniques you use, one of the best ways to start putting them into practise is to start sketching out your photos before you shoot.
When I started sketching out my compositions before I started my photoshoot, I noticed a dramatic improvement in my work. I found myself thinking in a more intentional way about the elements in my photo, resulting in more powerful images that started to get my work noticed.
Sketching out your photos will help you understand your food photography style too because you’ll be actively broadening your horizons and trying out these techniques in a structured way, you’ll explore areas of food photography you probably wouldn’t otherwise, and somewhere along the way, you’ll find your groove.
Sketching your composition before you start does not mean you need to be an artist in any way, or spend hours making a detailed drawing of your photo before you start, mostly when I’m doing this I just do a rough structure of the main shapes and add some notes about lighting and background & prop choices.
I’ve created a printable rule of thirds grid for you which you can download from the link right below, so you can easily get started with planning out your images.
Learn my Food Photography Composition Secrets
Learn my Composition Secrets
I personally shoot tethered in Capture One, and one of my favourite features is the option to add overlays to the live view screen. I’ve created PNG overlays of all of these composition techniques, so whenever I’m shooting I can have the grid on the screen to help assist me while I’m setting up my scene.
All of these overlays are available to download inside Food photography Academy, so if you’re interested in becoming a member for this resource and a bunch of other cool food photography education, then check out the membership!
So there’s a few tips and tricks for you to use composition techniques to improve your food photography. Don’t forget to download your free food photography composition kit, and I’ll see you in the next post.