Create a Stunning Composition in Under 5 Minutes

Food Photography Composition

I love food photography, but at times, I just want to get the shot and go home! When I’m stuck or just need a quick pickup shot for a menu,  I usually fall back on a few tried-and-true composition principles that will make a killer photo.

The key here is speed.  If you’re a food blogger who needs a great photo in a hurry, here’s how you put it together.

Foreground, Middle, Background

The problem with photography is that it’s a 2D medium in a 3D world.  If you want a strong photo, it’s usually a good idea to build out a scene and give it some depth.  The way to do this is by putting in a foreground, a middle, and a background element.  Here’s an example of this principle:

Food Photography Composition

In the photo above, the avocado toast is in the foreground. the cup is in the middle, and the lemons are part of the background.  I also accentuated depth by layering the surfaces.  The toast is on a plate, the plate is on a towel, and the towel is on a tablecloth.  In real life, nobody would eat like this, but it works for a photo.

The idea of depth is a big deal in many styles of photography.  This picture of the Griffith Park Observatory I made a few years ago follows the same principles.  It works because it’s layered and feels 3 dimensional.

Griffith Park Observatory

Triangles Are Your Friends

Once you look for them, you’ll notice triangles are everywhere.   They’re used in everything from architecture to painting.

In photography composition, triangles enhance the order of various elements and direct the eye towards the main subject.  In the photo below, I relied heavily on triangles to showcase the main element.

Fried Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Chips/bowl

As you can see, there are three triangles:

The same design principle is also at work in the avocado toast photo above.

For the ultimate example of a triangle used in composition, check out the Mona Lisa:

mona lisa photography composition


Keep Things Small

In food photography, the different objects in a scene should be about the same size.  A large dinner plate will kill a scene.  It’s just too big and will throw off the balance of a composition.

When I’m having trouble with a shot, it’s typically because I’m trying to combine something cool (but too big) with something small.

In the scene below, I used a small plate and placed the forks in the background to reduce their relative size.  Food photography composition should be about the food, not the plates and dinnerware.

fudge brownie


Keep it Simple

Lastly, if you want to shoot fast and create powerful images that grab people’s attention, KEEP IT SIMPLE!  If you look at the cover of any food magazine, the images are clean and to the point.

When putting together a composition, get rid of the junk and highlight the main subject.  If you do this, you’ll have beautifully composed photos in no time flat.


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    Your marvelous posts complicate my life more than ever, now interfering with my sleep. I now dream in triangles, clouds and even beautiful women all appear as triangles. You say, “keep it simple,” that’s the problem. Your genius of simplicity that I now understand so clearly, is so brilliant, it now completely complicates my life.

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    I love your remark about keeping it simple. I sometimes hear words of a mentor from the days of my first camera telling me to add a little this , that and some more of this to bring life to the scene. While it can, I think it can also ruin a shot in seconds. I use to get too caught up trying to style a shot that I’d loose focus on the subject. (really…. no pun intended). Thank you for this !

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      You’re welcome! Some of it is style, but I always like to have a “heart” of an image. When things get too busy on the table, the focal point can get lost.

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    I just recently discovered your website and love it. Your posts are really insightful with so many great tips. This post in particular was really helpful. I often aimless point and shoot, but these tips give me a bit of direction for taking more deliberate photos. Thank you!!

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      For the majority of these images, I used a Nikon D90 with a Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 lens. For a few, I used the D90 with a Nikon 60mm 2.8g macro lens. I currently use a Nikon D800 with Tamron 90mm macro lens.

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