Advertising the Apple iPhone XS Max* / Until some time ago, food photography with a smartphone was not "right" for me. When we ate something photogenic tasty on the way and I didn’t have the DSLR with me, I got annoyed. So I often went on vacation or even in everyday life with my camera in my pocket.
In 2015 this may also have had some justification. In the meantime, however, the smartphones are technically on such a high level that even I nagging photo monk confidently leave the heavy device sometimes at home. I’ve done entire blogposts with smartphone photos, for example the Berlin Food Guide. Or this post. Here are almost all photos taken with the new iPhone XS Max.
And even if you have an older smartphone: there are some tricks to take banger photos even with a not-so-current phone.
I would like to share my best tips for food photos with the smartphone in this article. The saying is as hackneyed as it is true: the best camera is still the one you have with you.
The difference between smartphone and system camera
First, the question arises: what is actually the exact difference between the smartphone and the "real" camera?
Of course, there are very good smartphones and very bad system cameras. But in general, a smartphone does present a few challenges in comparison. For example, it is not as fast, shows more image noise, the resolution is not as great and you are quite fixed in terms of aperture, focal length and exposure time. Often it only has a wide-angle lens and photos from diagonally in front look comically distorted.
But in return you have advantages like greater flexibility. You always have your phone with you, it’s ready to go, you can snap more discreetly and quickly. In the noble restaurant first screw on the 20cm long lens? Phew, unpleasant. But quickly get the smartphone out of your pocket, take a picture and hide it again – no issue. Besides, you don’t have to go to Kieser Training when you’re 30 because you’re always carrying 7 kilos of equipment over your shoulder. And worrying about expensive all-in-one gear while strolling the market in Port Louis is also eliminated.
Food photography with the smartphone – the light
The most important point with smartphone photography, even more important than with system cameras, is the light.
Smartphones reach their limits more quickly in poor lighting conditions. In addition, especially in food photography, you often eat in the evening or at least in closed rooms with artificial light.
Therefore I say to the topic light: Change it, edit it or embrace it.
Change it: Whenever possible, shoot in daylight. This already starts with the choice of the place in the cafe or restaurant. Sit down better again, if at your place only nasty ceiling light comes directly from above or it is completely dark. Maybe there is still a free place outside or near the window or at least a table with softer, indirect light.
If the light comes from the wrong direction despite all efforts and you have hard shadows at the table, a candle as fill light can often remedy the situation.
One thing you should never do: Use the frontal flash. Never. Or at most with a piece of semi-transparent plaster or tape, which you stick over the flash as a diffuser.
Edit it: With artificial light, not only the intensity and the direction can be changed, but also the color or the intensity of the light. Disturb temperature. Often the light in restaurants is much too yellow or too blue. To counteract this, you can manually adjust the white balance on many smartphones. If not or if it still looks stupid, only post-processing helps. How to do this directly on the smartphone, comes later still.
Embrace it: As in all areas of life. What you can’t get to fit, you talk yourself into looking good. And often it is then really not bad. So just accept the dim ambience and find it cozy. Maybe you can even consciously use or strengthen the cozy atmosphere. Mood! (throws confetti)
Here are two examples of rather ugly photos in bad light, which are then, however, quite comfortable. On the right, to be honest, it was only the image processing that took it out. More about this later.
Food photography with the smartphone: Making the best use of background and environment
Especially when you want to take food photos on the road, the environment often doesn’t suit you. Squeaky plastic tables or a bustling background can visually bring down the most beautiful ice cream sundae. Here you have to intervene. Of course, I don’t mean that you have to change the lighting on locationstyle should, but rather aroundthink. Are the tables in the ice cream parlor ugly?? Then the ice cream in front of the wall might already look better:
Advanced photographers, who are not embarrassed by anything, can also consider the floor. The tables in the beach bar are orange, but there are beautiful wooden planks on the floor? Then put your food on it for a moment. Let people talk, look, think. You have your reasons and do not hurt anyone with it. Many are nowadays, where every Gretchen Muller Influencer is, anyway hardened. Keyword #forthegram& You have in all probability at least something on with it. So all good.
This salad bowl, for example, is on the stone floor:
What comes quite well: chairs in the background, a beautiful window, the counter with lights or reflections of bottles. Pretty, controlled environmental context can be very atmospheric.
Well-suited backgrounds for food photography on the go are generally wooden tables, monochrome tables in muted colors or marble slabs. The background should not be too colorful or bumpy, so as not to steal the show from the food.
Food photography with a smartphone: styling options and props on the go
Of course, one is not always on the road with one’s own collection of props in one’s pocket. But there are beautiful accessories out there in the real world too. You just have to see it and use it: Think of a clean napkin, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, oil jugs, sauces, bread, wine glasses, water glasses or tea cups, a newspaper, flowers… Often these are just the right accessories for the picture because they are just logical and natural.
If the cafe or restaurant doesn’t have anything (pretty) to offer, take a look in your pocket. Maybe there are sunglasses in there? Zack, the photo of the espresso on the beach promenade has a little more context.
Or, what most people have with them: their hands. A human touch always comes in handy in photos and is helpful if the image even looks too empty and boring. You can also use people you brought with you. But rather only your own. Strangers you want to use only in extreme emergencies, that even I have not yet dared.
Whereby it would be a different pickup line: "Hello you! Can you hold my ice cream in front of your belly? Even further up! And tuck in your belly please! Do not hold the hand in a funny way! And please turn the cookie to the front!"
As far as the actual food styling is concerned, you are of course at the chef’s mercy to some extent. But what you can always do: turn the most beautiful side to the front. Here and there a little bit topple, basil leaf put differently, tomato to the front. Use the food, so add pepper, oil, herbs or spices over it. A piece of cake can be separated with a fork to show the layers better.
Food photography with your smartphone – finding the best perspective
With many smartphones the perspective from diagonal front often looks distorted and inharmonious. You have only one wide-angle focal length available, the whole bustling background is in focus on the picture.
Also, no real bokeh is possible, so this nice blur in the background – you can’t open an aperture, after all.
Overall, we have virtually the opposite of a 90mm or 100mm macro lens at open aperture, which brings the subject forward nicely and exposes it.
However, there are smartphones that can create this look with the help of a software or a camera. two lenses (portrait mode, dual camera) can fake impressively. Even the "aperture" can be chosen here thanks to an algorithm. More about that later.
If you don’t have this possibility, you better use the flatlay perspective from above, also called bird’s eye view. This reliably compensates for the shortcomings of the lens.
Just make sure that you really shoot strictly from above or parallel to the. parallel to the plane of the tabletop. So half slanted looks like nothing. Cell phone cameras are wide-angle, so you should be able to do this without having to climb on a chair. Portrait mode on flatlays, if available, so better not to use it. That’s how you get the object closer.
Otherwise, the best perspective depends on the dish, as in normal photography. You want to show your best side. So as always, you know this: burgers or pancake stacks are best photographed from the front, pizza or tart from above.
If you’re shooting from an angle and your smartphone is capable of it, use portrait mode.
I took this burger photo for example with the iPhone XS Max in portrait mode and adjusted the "aperture" in the software afterwards. The background is pleasantly blurred, the object is nice and sharp in the foreground. So at first glance, without wanting to print it on a poster… There the 5D can warm up&
Finally, one last tip on perspective for food photography on the go: Calmly always try both, flatlay and from the front. Costs nothing.
Exploit the technical capabilities of the smartphone using the example of the iPhone XS Max
As we’ve already mentioned several times, modern smartphones like the iPhone XS* Max have a whole range of technical possibilities and functions. Do some research about your smartphone. Sometimes they can do more than you think.
First of all, by the way, you should always clean the lens. Sounds stupid, but with a greasy lens, even the best 12 megapixel dual camera system with algorithms for adjustable depth of field as well as optimized image signal processor and sensor won’t help anymore. First things first.
Now for the technical details: The iPhone XS Max is available in gold! Yay&
The dual camera with 2 lenses and true optical zoom
But now really to the possibilities that are relevant for food photography: The iPhone XS Max has a 12-megapixel dual-lens rear camera, an f/1.8 wide angle (28mm) and an f/2.4 Telephoto lens (56mm). So instead of zooming with your fingers (digital zoom, which only leads to worse image quality), rather choose the telephoto lens with its double zoom (optical zoom).
If your smartphone doesn’t have a telephoto lens, just take a step closer to the subject. Don’t do the brace on the display, it just makes the image more pixelated. You could just as well crop the image afterwards, that would be the same.
The portrait mode with aperture selection
This is your choice if you want the photo to look really DSLR like. So sharp in the foreground with nice blur / bokeh in the background. Primarily made for people, but can be used just as well for burgers and waffles.
For this, simply select portrait mode and tap with your finger to focus. The phone is pretty smart and recognizes what is foreground object and should be sharp and what is blurrywurry in the background. Only with the edge of wine glasses it sometimes still has problems&
Now when you go to the picture you made, you can choose the aperture in the edit. Of course not in real, that is calculated by an algorithm. But he does it pretty well. Above you can see the difference between f/2 and f/2.0 and f/10. This can be done quite relaxed in retrospect.
The exposure slider
Besides the aperture you can also set the exposure even before you take the picture. Just tap on the display, as you do when focusing. A small sun appears. If you then move your finger up or down on the display, you can set the exposure. wipes down, the exposure changes. So you don’t have to leave it to an automatism.
Image editing on the smartphone
Finally some short info about image editing on the smartphone. This picture shows how bitterly necessary image processing can sometimes be, even when all the tricks are observed:
Left unedited: Quite a terrible lighting situation, as often encountered in restaurants. So unfortunately typical for food photography with the smartphone. In front is yellow, harsh artificial light from above, in back is blue evening light from outside. Since you can’t just change the entire color temperature from the image, somewhere it will always not fit. The only thing that helps is an image editing app that allows you to selectively edit individual image areas. This is one of the most important criteria for me, which is why I use these two image editing apps:
My favorite. Here you have, in addition to the usual sliders as in the normal Lightroom, a correction brush with which you can selectively edit individual areas of the image. Especially in the matter of white balance, which can be problematic in food photography with the smartphone, this is helpful.
In addition to the temperature, I also like to selectively adjust the exposure with the brush, which is easy to see in the photo above of the oil bottle.
In addition, there is also a repair brush in the mobile version, with which you can stamp away stains and blotches.
The basic version of Lightroom mobile is free. To sync mobile photos with your computer, though, you have to sign up for a paid Creative Cloud subscription.
Snapseed is a free image editing software. It is not quite as elaborate as Lightroom mobile, but can also selectively edit image areas. Snapseed is fast and intuitive to use, so for beginners a good choice.
For minor adjustments like exposure correction, you can also just use the handye’s own editing software.
What do you guys find the most difficult about food photography with your smartphone? Do you have any tips?