15 Essential Food Photography Tips from Andrew Scrivani: Part 1

June 10, 2011

“Never feel like education is over. You'll constantly evolve and grow as a photographer. You can always learn, always improve and develop your own style.” - Andrew Scrivani

New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani came to Seattle to lead two four-hour long workshops. The events were organized and hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant herself, Myra Kohn. Going in with only a camera, some basic light manipulation tools, and a fuzzy understanding of what makes food pictures evocative, I left the workshop confident and ready to take better photographs. Scrivani is one of those people with a passion for what they do that is palpable. It's inspiring. It's genuine.

Here are just 15 of the valuable tips he taught me:


1. Look for something interesting and beautiful in each food you photograph. Find interesting shapes in negative space. Find the imperfections- the nooks, the crannies, the cracks- in a food, and let those characteristics shine. Highlight shapes.

2. Use black cards to take the light away. It's not always about adding light, it's sometimes about taking light away. Shadows add depth and character.

dry soda

3. Find the light source. Explore back-lighting. Add luminescence with thin slices of lemon, crystals of salt. Angle your camera shot by the way light hits the food.


4. Tell a story with your scene. If you're photographing a glass of wine at a restaurant, stand it next to the bottle, cork in front, with a waiter in the background.

whipped cream

5. Never use flash. It can overexpose your photo and make the colors too harsh.

6. Shoot in raw image format. You have more control over how you can edit the photo. Especially in color temperature.

7. Filter direct sunlight using a thin white sheet to avoid harsh exposure.

8. Decide whether something is a food image or a graphic image. Not every photograph has to be literal- explore photographing your process in a more suggestive, creative way.

pouring soda into a glass

9. Sketch the picture you want to make before you shoot. It's the same way filmmakers create story boards before filming a scene.

10. Monochromatic foods can be difficult to photograph. Create contrast and emphasize shapes using contrasting colors. Make food stand out by pairing it with matte black or white.

blue gum balls

11. Find inspiration in everything. How you respond to art at a museum will influence how you approach your own photography.

12. Depth of field isn't just about aperture. It's also about creating spaces that will lead the eye down the image. Using props can create the depth without changing your camera aperture.

mini cupcakes

13. What is the image about? Is it about lightness? Springtime? Think about how you can draw the viewer through the image from the front to the back. Achieve this with propping.

14. Propping gives the viewer a sense that this food has life. It isn't just a still life; it's set out on a table, waiting to be eaten.

15. With food photography, everyday is different. Some days you'll get your shot in 8 minutes, some days you won't get it for 2 hours. Embrace that.


About Andrew Scrivani:

Andrew Scrivani is a New York based freelance photographer, food stylist, writer and blogger.  He has been photographing for the New York Times Dining Section since 2002 as well as the Recipes for Health column by Martha Rose Shulman on The New York Times on the Web Fitness and Nutrition section since 2009.  Andrew has recently completed the photography for Melissa Clark’s new book “Cook This Now” and will be one of the featured photographers for the newly launched GILT Taste. You can read his columns on Food & Photography at The New York Times Diner's Journal and his own personal blog, Making Sunday Sauce. Andrew’s most recent work has also been seen in books by Martha Rose Shulman and Melissa Clark, magazines like Newsweek and Edible Manhattan, and in major adverting campaigns by Red Lobster and Sargento Cheese.

View Scrivani's portfolio here: http://andrewscrivani.com/

Follow Andrew Scrivani on Twitter @AndrewScrivani



Karlyn Oyama's picture

Great tips, Andie! #2 is really interesting as I usually don't think to take away light. BTW, gorgeous photos, too; looks like the workshop was a wonderful learning experience for you.

Andie Mitchell's picture

Thanks Karlyn!

My Elite Grocer's picture

I enjoyed reading this blog. Just what I needed to improve as a food photography newbie. Thanks for sharing!

Food GPS's picture

Thanks for sharing Andrew Scrivani's food photography tips. Good advice, though most often, my photographs are taken in restaurants, and it's impossible to do things like sketch beforehand, or plan too well, in that setting.

Riss's picture

Love all of these tips, Andie! And your pictures all look lovely... and delicious! Those cupcakes made my heart skip a beat. =)

Tiff's picture

Thanks for the tips! Now if only I had a better camera!

Sheri's picture

I'm inspired! But first I need to read my camera's manual - ugh!

Gina's picture

I LOVE these tips, thank you for posting!

Operation Gastronomia's picture

Great post with some hot tips. Will embrace and keep trying! -Heather

Roz's picture

What a great post; I learned so much and really appreciate it!