How to photograph food like a professional – a food photographer’s 7 top tips

Is your soup looking a little sad? Pasta lacking pazzang and panache? Crêpe a bit, well, crap? Fret not. The secrets to magazine-worthy food photography (and food styling) are about to be revealed – by professional food photographer John Holdship every Thursday lunchtime in Borough Market for FREE. Every Thursday in May (4th, 11th, 18th and 25th) between 12:30 and 2pm, Borough Market will host a free cookery class and demonstration, teaching you delicious new recipes and cooking skills, while John Holdship talks you through his best kept food photography secrets. From lighting and lenses to props and colour pallets, you’ll learn the tricks of the trade that take your food from flat to fabulous! He’ll even show you the best way to edit for Instagram.

To learn more about what’s on offer, I popped along to one of his private workshops at the demo kitchen in Borough Market. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Take it upside down

Perhaps my favourite tip of all, if you’re using your phone camera, turn your phone upside down to take a picture as it will allow you to get much closer and get more depth and length in your picture! I’ve tried this since with my Kelly Wearstler gold legs DIY and it makes all he difference! You can always rotate a picture back the other way so it’s not ‘upside down’.

2. Switch the lights off

Always switch the lights off if you have natural daylight. The yellow glare from ceiling lights and table and floor lamps will manipulate the colours in a photo and give objects a yellow shine. Instead, just increase the exposure on the photo after you’ve taken it.

3. Move food to the shadows

Don’t photograph in direct rays of sunlight – when the sun is shining directly onto something (or someone), it creates harsh lines and shadows. So if you’ve got light beaming in through your kitchen window, move the food and photograph it in the shadows.

4. Watch the chef

If you’re photographing food in a restaurant or kitchen, watch how the chef is dishing it up. Sometimes they’ll squat and look at their dish from the side – which means it will look better photographed from the side – or sometimes they’ll arrange the plate looking from above.

5. Hold food in your hands

For a homely, earthy feel, it can work well to photograph a fruit or vegetable in your hand rather than on a surface – for example a bulb of garlic or an aubergine.

6. Editing

In terms of picture editing, iPhoto works fine, and he also recommends Snapseed, Capture One, Adobe Lightroom and Afterlight. He uses Afterlight particularly for Instagram, with the golden crop filter, and also recommends Bright Fire and Guest Filter.

7. Create a diagonal line

When taking a photo, try and create ‘diagonal lines’ to lead you into the photo. For example, laying asparagus diagonally from the bottom left corner to the top right corner, to draw your eye into the whole picture.

Dates for your diary

Borough Market’s free demonstration kitchens are a great resource for any Londoners interested in food. All their events and demos are listed here, and John Holdship’s residency dates below:

Thursday 4 May, 12.30-2pm

Tony Rodd, Masterchef finalist and private chef joins John to pay homage to home grown asparagus with a masterclass in cooking the noble spear in a variety of delicious dishes on well dressed plates.

Key photography techniques:

The use of natural light and reflectors – thinking on your feet and making the most of opportunities as they present themselves – tools to control light

Thursday 11 May 12.30-2pm

Chef Phil Juma, founder of Juma Kitchen joins John to cook his modern interpretations of authentic Iraqi dishes

Key photography techniques:

Choosing the right lens (macro, zoom, wide angle) – focusing on the subject – perspective and its impact

Thursday 18 May 12.30-2pm

Food writer and Borough Market Cookbook host Angela Clutton is in the kitchen with John, revelling in the experience of Market shopping and taking her menu inspiration from the best of the produce on the stalls

Key photography techniques:

Choosing the correct colour pallet for the shot – backgrounds, materials and props – simple table setups

Thursday 25 May 12.30-2pm

Chetna Makan, a finalist in The Great British Bake Off finalist and popular YouTube cookery presenter celebrates her heritage with a menu packed with Indian flavours and techniques

Key photography techniques:

Highlights and shadows – editing for Instagram – tips for editing on the computer and managing workflow