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5 ways to make food look better in photos

Key take-aways

Food photos posted on the internet are an easy way for consumers to see what restaurants, cafes, bakeries and other eateries have to offer. Business owners can take advantage of the trend for photographing food by using Google My Business's Business Profile, a free business listing and digital shop window that includes information about location, opening times, reviews and – crucially – photos.

Setting a cover photo on your Business Profile on Google means you’re in control of the first image potential customers see when they find your business using Maps or Search. Publishing good-quality photos on your profile can attract new potential customers and easily showcase what's on the menu. Bad photos, however, may make your business appear less than appetising. Learn how to keep food looking its best in online photos.

1. Shoot in natural light

2. Colour and composition

3. Avoid dark shadows

4. Set the scene

5. Be playful

Business Profile on Google

A product from Google My Business that lets you create and manage your Business Profile on Google so that people can see your business when carrying out search and Google Maps. Business Profile on Google is a free business listing that appears in search results.

Sometimes a contrasting colour can lift an image and make it mouthwatering. If your business is an Indian takeaway, then make those photos as spicy as the sauces with a carefully-positioned papadum and a sprinkling of bright green coriander.

1. Shoot in natural light

There's no need to hire professional photographers to snap food photos for your profile. Most smartphones have sophisticated cameras these days, and there are many well-documented methods for capturing the best shot. The most important advice is to shoot in natural light whenever possible.

If your business is a pub, or if your cafe has an outdoor seating area, consider bringing your food outside to have its picture taken and showcase your beer garden or courtyard area at the same time. Alternatively, fling the curtains wide open and do your shoot on a bright day. Daylight helps you avoid overly harsh or orange-tinted colour effects that can occur in photography under electric lighting.
Three factors influence how natural light renders:

  • Time of day: Early morning and sunset are generally the times of day when the light is at its warmest, known by photographers as the "golden hour".
  • Camera direction: Shooting directly into bright sunlight can lead to high contrast, blown out highlights and lens flare. Always take photographs away from the sun.
  • The weather: A grey, cloudy day usually isn't the best time for a food photography shoot. Rain? Forget it. Wait for a bright, clear day with plenty of sunshine.

Try shooting at different times of day. Move the subject in and out of shadow and take things indoors if the sun is too bright. If you're planning a shoot, then keep a close eye on the weather forecast.

2. Colour and composition

According to Think with Google research, there has been a 55% growth in searches for "menus" on Google in the past two years — menu links can now be added directly to your restaurant listing on Google My Business — indicating that consumers want to know what they're getting before they decide where to eat. Food pictures on your Business Profile can influence whether or not potential customers seek out your business, so making what's on the menu look as good as it tastes is paramount.

Cover plates with beautifully presented food, bright colours and contrasting shapes. Shoot directly from above and in close-up to emphasise your chosen composition. Food photography has to make the onlooker want to take a bite.

Sometimes a contrasting colour can lift an image and make it mouthwatering. If your business is an Indian takeaway, then make those photos as spicy as the sauces with a carefully-positioned papadum and a sprinkling of bright green coriander over a red-hot vindaloo. Be objective about how the food looks, however good it may taste. If it could benefit from a splash more colour, then find a way of injecting one.

Don't always place the food in the centre of the frame. A table laid with a cappuccino, a stack of waffles and a berry-strewn bircher bowl, for example, will allow you to crop in and photograph one aspect, leaving the surrounding items in the background.

3. Avoid dark shadows

Harsh light, even natural light, can create too much shadow. Even a perfectly presented meal can look unappealing if dark tones dominate the image. The solution to this is to diffuse the light with a simple reflector — something the light bounces off — to create a softer effect and achieve fewer shadows.

But there's no need to invest in an expensive set of professional photography equipment. Practically anything flat and relatively bright can be used to scatter light. Try a sheet of paper, a bedsheet or a large piece of white cardboard. Move the subject of your image into the shade or find a spot of dappled light (diffused through a tree, perhaps) and see how it comes out. Alternatively, wait for the light to diffuse naturally; either by waiting for cloud cover, or for the sun to rise or set.

Avoiding shadow doesn't mean you can't take a moody image, such as the kind that may be appropriate for the Business Profile of an evening venue, such as a bar or restaurant. Dark colour schemes can provide an effective backdrop and give a great impression of late night eating, with a glass of red wine or beer in shot. Keeping some diffused artificial light falling on the plate of food and the background in low light can also work — and may well entice prospective customers in to check out the ambience.

4. Set the scene

Posting photos to your Business Profile keeps a profile fresh and current and can help to attract new potential customers. In fact, research shows that businesses with photos get 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps.

When taking food photos, always choose the most appropriate staging, set and props. For cafe owners showcasing sourdough bread and homemade jam, perhaps spread out a picnic blanket, hamper and style it with a vintage tea set, silverware and napkins. For a restaurant serving up traditional Moroccan stew, picture it served in an authentic tagine pot, with apricots, herbs and fresh ingredients scattered beside the finished dish.

Find a backdrop that reflects or offsets the colour and style of the meal or your business. For simple, country food, a bucolic setting can be charming. For a business cooking up contemporary haute cuisine, full silver service, high-quality glassware and crockery might feature in the photos.

Objects, such as a fork, condiments, a napkin, may make things appear more human and less staged, and you might decide to have someone in shot interacting with the food. Just be careful to ensure the food is the star of the show and not overshadowed by its surroundings.

5. Be playful

A picture may speak a thousand words, but some of the most successful ones on the internet also tell jokes. A quirky angle or a visual flourish that provokes surprise or a smile is often what makes photography memorable. There might be 1,000 photographs of soufflé dusted with icing sugar available on Google images, so think about how to make your image stand out from the crowd while also remaining on message with your brand.

For example, a patisserie business might include a little chocolate inscribed with its brand name on top of their soufflé for their Business Profile on Google. A fish and chip shop might display its battered cod hanging on the end of a fishing line, plucked from a sea of double-fried chips. A barista might write the initials of their cafe in the foam of a flat white. Whatever your business can boast, there's a way of displaying it in a creative and beguiling way in your photos.

The key to all good photography is experimentation and patience. To achieve the perfect shot, keep trying new things. If the resulting images provoke feelings of hunger, then they're a success.

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