How to take tasty food photos

Staged food—we’ve all seen the posts on the internet, claiming that mashed potatoes are your go-to ice cream substitutes and, when milk photographs are needed, it’s PVA glue and white emulsion that are most commonly reached for. With this in mind, caught up with freelance photographer Johnnie Pakington to sort the fact from the fiction and to get his advice on taking the perfect food photos.

“Staged food is such an eighties thing to do,” says Johnnie, “Always use the actual dish.” When it comes to getting a tantalising shot of some fresh sausages, sugar dusted cake or delicately drizzled salad, Johnnie knows his stuff. He says that most of the staged, substituted shots that paper the internet are most likely illegal under modern trading standard laws, and are unlikely to make the food look as good as the real thing, “You have to make it look appealing, so keep it as natural as possible.”

For a wide shot, Johnnie recommends setting the scene and arranging your table/worktop before the food is prepared, framing and lighting the shot, then adding the food fresh from the kitchen for the ‘just served’ look.

“With food, tight shots work best”, he explains, “Try to get so close, you can’t even see the plate”. Johnnie advises that getting nice and close to the food shows all the little details which make something tasty. By getting the shot nice and tight, there is little to distract the eye from the food on the plate and much more focus on the delectable details which make the dish so appetising.

When working with some of the restaurants and stores that have hired his services, Johnnie is always given the same request: “Make it look as good as it tastes” he laughs, “You’ve got to look at the picture and want to eat it”. He recommends real day light for food photographs, a huge part of keeping it natural looking and what most modern retailers and foodies are looking for in their images — after all — in the age of Instagram, we’re all much more familiar with real, wholesome-looking food than the staged images from times of old.

So are there actually any freaky food photography tricks still being used today?

“A spritz of glycerine or dusting of olive oil to make [food] look fresher” Johnnie says, but when it comes to getting the job done, he prefers real, fresh food, a close shot and a natural feel.  Sounds good to us!

You can find more of Johnnie’s work on his website, Johnnie Pakington Photography and some of his stunning food photography at Kipferl Austrian restaurant and

Are you a food photographer or fancy yourself as one? Leave a comment below and share all your tips with others.


Alex Wilkie
22 Oct 2013 11:55
i may have to give this a go
Helen Keron
22 Oct 2013 16:02
Hi, this was actually really useful, as we cook and sell high quality frozen food in takeaway portions and we are always trying to get photos that 'look as nice as they taste' for our Facebook page. Thanks for the tips! Helen
04 Jan 2016 09:01
funny how things have moved on since the 80s with food photography, much prefer it now!

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