Finding time to do food photography

Finding time to do food photography. Find a formula that works for you!


So something I’ve heard a lot lately is how can I quickly shoot the food that has also been prepared for our meal? I mean it’ll get cold before you even get it to the table, and even then, the photos might not have turned out because you tried your best to get it onto the table while it was still warm! 

Short answer: don’t. Try to shoot something that can be given away, or reheated for another time. That said, some of us want to photograph the food we’re preparing daily. This can be done. It requires some thought, and good preparation. Below I’ve written my thoughts on the subject; from how you can approach the shoot, how to be prepared, and how to do it without everything being in the way when it comes time to eat dinner with your family.

Photo: Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

"I struggle with finding time to shoot the meals, my family and I are going to be eating that evening"

Find your compositions

Use a composition you’ve planned out that is uncomplicated and can be used often. Possibly create two or three. Don’t expect a full editorial, more like a few good images. Remember, one good story, is better than a long not so good story!

Take for example the photo below. If you use grids to guide you, you can place your background surface on your workspace (maybe your table is your background). Then style your scene using ‘dummy’ items in the place of the food.

Here an excellent example from Eugenia of compositions you could use when photographing your meals.

Take test shots before you start cooking!

Have your foamboards, diffuser and tethering set up ready! Get your scene ready using dummy items, combined with the real deal! Decide on your composition, lens choice, styling, settings and how the light needs to be manipulated. Keep in mind that the light will move, but by playing with it beforehand, you’ll know how you want it for the shot, and can make adjustments when shooting without it taking up too much of your time.

Speed things up!

Still using the example above, you can have the fabric, flowers, book pages (or newspaper), and the smaller bowls ready for shooting. This example is pie, but imagine it was a fajita wrap with shrimp, lime, and a gorgeous salsa and some tortilla chips. You could place a few tortillas on the plates, and place some grapes or something on them, this way you can get some test shots in before you start cooking. Later, you simply replace the dummy food (the grapes) with the real thing (the shrimp). Don’t rush it! Place each individual item onto the wrap, the prettiest of course! If you take the test shot with limes, not yet sliced, you’ll be able to test the placement before hand. Then when you’re food is ready, or just before, slice those lovely limes and place them back where you liked them in the test shots.

Here Brooke Lark (Unsplash) uses the rule of odds.

Salsa can be out of the cooling for quite some time before it goes bad, and you’ll just need small amounts for a shot like this. You could also have that ready for your shot. Same for a few tortilla chips, a small amount can be taken out and surely they won’t go stale to quickly. If you are making them yourself, use a dummy item for the test shot, simply replace when your homemade tortilla chips are ready to eat. Sprinkle some herbs over them, and don’t be afraid to get some on your surface.

But the scene needs to be moved asap so we can use the kitchen and dining table?!

See the notes below for shooting in the kitchen.

“I shoot in the kitchen where I also need to work, and where my family needs to enter"

Use a trolley when shooting in a space where the set-up can’t be left (e.g. a kitchen, dining space). This way you can roll it out of the way and bring the food to the table and eat. Clean up the set-up later.

Use dummy items when setting up your scene before you cook (or why it’s in the oven) (see above more more on this). For example if you’re eating tacos and want to shoot a flat lay of the tacos, place your plates, and the wraps and use something else as the filling why you’re setting things up and testing the light. Later you can then simply add the prepared food and the rest is already ‘set up’.

Is there a window or door in your home that has good light at the time you’ll be able to shoot? With a trolley you can set up by that window and later, roll it out of view. Example by a balcony door, a window in the hallway. Where is the light?! 

More composition ideas to repeat when shooting with a time constraint

Cooking without waste?

Tips from the group I’m working with at the moment (in a workshop) were so good! Freeze your food, rewarm it. Or share it with ‘the office, work floor’. For me, I can share it with the neighbors in the building or Ivo can bring it to work with him on days he goes to the office!

that's all for now. Less talk, more photo making 😉

So it’s time for me to test, learn, and test again. I hope you found this post useful. I’ve learned a bunch by writing this up! 

Take care, and drop a comment if you have questions, or write to me at

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