How to Take the Best Food Shots with Your Camera Phone

Ever wondered how food bloggers take those mouth-watering photos of their food? Have you tried copying their style, but you’ve never gotten that perfect shot yet?

I’m not a food photographer, but my background and experience in photography taught me how to make a subject look interesting and beautiful in pictures. These subjects include food, and just like flowers and other small objects, I love taking macro shots of them.

I have to be honest though, it’s a lot easier when you have a DSLR. And many food photographers are using DSLRs to capture those stunning pictures. To their credit however, one do not simply rely on the camera to do the trick. The end result, I have to say, has a lot to do with talent and skill. Which means, we do not necessarily need an expensive camera to take the best food shot. And the good news is, skills can be learned!

I do take pictures of my food sometimes, and I’m proud to say that the results are almost always attractive and Instagram-worthy. Here are my tips in getting that perfect food shot using only the camera on your phone. I decided to keep it simple and straightforward by summarizing them in to four categories, as follows:

1. Lighting

If there’s ample lighting, make the most out of it. Carefully focus on your preferred portion to avoid taking an over-exposed image. If it’s too bright, tap on the brightest part so that the exposure will correctly auto-adjust.

Fortunately, food shots don’t require a specific lighting condition so shadows are easier to manage. Unlike in portraits where you need to watch for dark spots forming under your model’s eyes, nose, and chin, there’s really nothing on food that you need to protect from shadows. Of course, you do not want the best part of the food to be dark, so shadow-wise, that’s the only thing that you need to check when taking the shot.

Some suggest that we use natural lighting. This is applicable when there’s a pre-planned set up for the shoot, where you can utilize the light coming in through a window, or bring the set outdoors. But if you are simply taking a photo of your food inside a restaurant, you will rely on the lighting available. The good thing is, most restaurants have cozy and warm lighting, and that’s exactly what we need to take beautiful food shots, more often than not.

I do not recommend using a flash! All photos in this post were taken without a flash. Use the brightness control of your camera phone to brighten the subject before capture. The capability of the camera to produce better images in low-light condition lies on its aperture. The aperture is the opening that allows light in while taking pictures. The lower the aperture number, the better.

The #OPPOF5 rear camera has an aperture of F1.8 which is high enough for a camera phone! This is sufficient for a camera to perform brilliantly for brighter and clearer shots in darker settings. As a comparison, a very powerful (and very expensive) SLR lens has an aperture that ranges from F1.0 to F2.4.

This was taken at a low-light condition, shot from above and it worked! At the same time, it gives a crowded table vibe without necessarily showing who’s eating which.

2. Perspective!

This is actually where your creative and artsy side comes in. You literally need to put “look at it from a different perspective” into practice. To find the best angle, think of the following:

Bird’s eye view
Normal view
Worm’s eye view

Yes, you can shoot from above, at normal level, and from below. Keep moving your phone to different levels, and take photos at different angles. Sometimes, an image becomes interesting when it’s taken from a very unusual angle. You can also use this technique to hide any distracting element in the background, or cut something that you do not want to appear in the frame.

Of course, there’s always an exemption. There are instances when you may want to add a background, like this example:

Say you don’t want to tag your location in your social media post, but want to give away a hint of where you’re at, show a little bit of a background in a very subtle way. But remember that this will make your food look smaller, like in the case of my yummy burger. Can you guess where this was taken?

3. Composition

Perspective and composition go hand and hand. As mentioned above, we do not need to include a background or foreground of food shots most of the time. Apply a macro or close up shot treatment in this case. While a wide shot can be corrected by cropping off unwanted parts of the picture later, it would still be best to frame it correctly before taking the photo. Below is an example, the Instagram post is a result of cropping:

Original photo vs Instagram photo. Cropped images won’t look so bad with a high resolution camera.

Note that cropping pixelizes a photo due to the zooming-in, and the process lessens the quality of the image. Your phone camera’s resolution will help in this scenario, and the higher the resolution, the better. The #OPPOF5 for example, has a 20MP front camera and 16MP rear camera which are capable of taking clear, crisp photographs. This will come handy when you need to crop your images later on.

While composing the image, try to add or remove other elements. You can either move your spoon and fork closer or put them away; try both and see which one would look better in pictures. You can include a phone, purse, glasses, or even the ketchup bottle on the side if that makes the composition look better. Give more life to a boring food, and make it look appetizing.
But at the end of the day, it will still depend on what you really want to show. If you want to play safe, aim for close up shots as suggested above. Here are some of my favorites food close-ups, again all taken without flash:


4. Make your food bokehlicious!

This is my favorite part! Bokeh, in laymans term, refers to that blurry background or foreground of an image. In a DSLR, this is a result of having a low F number as an aperture. The lower the F number, the more blurry the background or foreground will be. In your phone camera, however, the bokeh is artificial. Its aperture only functions when taking pictures in darker settings, and it has nothing to do with bokeh. Nonetheless, the images that they are capable of producing are still undeniably impressive.

Bokeh on phones may not work if you’re too close, and moving farther means including other objects in your shot. But that’s why you need bokeh in the first place, to blur out everything else other than your food.

What do you need the bokeh for? To keep the focus on the subject especially when an unavoidable background is too busy. Say you’re eating with your friends and their hands are getting in the way, use bokeh to blur them out instead of asking them to move. It works a lot of time, and this is actually my single, most favorite trick! It never fails to produce a clean, lovely image. Use the bokeh feature on your phone, tap on the part of your food that you want the focus on, and everything else will be blurred.

If you intend to use that “eating alone” caption on your social media post, then maybe show a proof? Of course, you want to still keep the focus on the food, and the right amount of bokeh is the answer!

The #OPPOF5 20MP front camera has a bokeh feature. This can produce awesome selfies as such effect yields a pleasant out-of-focus backdrop, you become the main object of admiration with vivid details and brighter tones. Go ahead and take a selfie with your food, and appreciate that bokeh effect!

So the next time you bring out your camera phone for a food shot, don’t be afraid to experiment on lighting, perspective, composition, and bokeh. There really is no single, sure shot formula because cliché at it sounds – practice makes perfect! Keep practicing until you’ll find what works for you depending on the result that you want to achieve. If all else fails, there’s always a next time so don’t forget to enjoy what’s on your plate! And perhaps, while at it, #CaptureTheRealYou and show everyone how much you’re loving the dining experience instead.

This is me professing my undying love for pizza to the world:

#OPPOF5 #CaptureTheRealYou

A Parent’s Unconditional Love

Sunday mornings are my favorite. It is always silent and calm, and even a noisy and chaotic place like Metro Manila share a few moments of such stillness. Too bad, I couldn’t wake up early on Sundays anymore. My body clock keeps me asleep until noon that when I am ready to get up, the reality that the weekend is about to end starts sinking in. I will then go back to bed in total surrender of the fact that the dreaded Monday is coming.

Waking up to this view.

That Sunday was different. I was at home and I woke up to the pleasant noises associated to the provinces – dogs, chickens, old songs playing from a neighbor’s transistor radio, and the occasional shouting of kids running around the neighboorhood. I reached for my phone to check the time – it was 30 minutes past 10AM. My mom’s text message popped up on my screen. I can’t help but smile while reading it, it’s in Ilocano:

Roughly translates to “Are you awake? Get up and eat. Your father didn’t come to church for he cooked for you, the food is ready.”

It was lovey and bittersweet. I spent the next ten minutes staring at the ceiling, trying not to feel disappointed of myself for oversleeping. I missed joining my parents at the breakfast table. I was returning back to Manila that afternoon, and thinking that I only have a few hours left made me feel bad.

It was a sudden change of emotion in contrast to what I was feeling before I left Manila. That week, I didn’t really wanna take the long, eight-hour journey home. I use to enjoy it during the first five years, but over a decade later, the thought of it alone is already exhausting.

But my father would ask me the same thing when he calls: when are you coming home? I would often make excuses, and I must have ran out of alibis one day that I answered “this weekend”. He got excited and quickly requested me to buy a new stove (of all things) to bring home. I didn’t want to break his heart so I reluctantly packed my bag that Friday, bought a stove, and took the early morning bus bound for the North.

My parents and I.

I went downstairs, and was greeted by the nostalgic smell of home-cooked food. My father was already busy preparing our ulam for lunch. I made my coffee, and munched on the fried fish and egg that he served for breakfast.

A moment that’s so simple but so precious.

It was over ten years ago when I moved to Manila. I would go home at least once every two months, or during especial occasions. And some things never change. My parents still cook for me. When I arrive, I’d leave my shoes and socks outside by the door. My mom would later pick them up and neatly place them on a shoe rack, then bring them out under the sun the next day. In my room, my bed is always carefully made. That distinct smell of freshly laundered, dried in the sun sheets, still gets me.

They would ask me what I want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They make sure that I get enough sleep and rest knowing how long I have travelled.

That day, something dawned at me that I made the decision to visit them more often.

My parents are old, and now that their children have lives of their own and are oceans apart, their joy every time they see us is overflowing. They still look forward to our gathering together in the living room for our customary long talks. They still ask me the same questions – how’s my job, my health, do I experience flooding in my area, is my commute to work safe, when is my next holiday. My answers are always, I’m fine and I’m safe, and I’ll be home when I can. But they never get tired listening to my rather short stories.

Late afternoon conversations, over coffee.

That day, I was suddenly consciously present. I treasured every moment with them knowing that those simple times would make great memories. Indeed, we are too busy growing up that sometimes, we forget that our parents are getting old too. Looking back, life hasn’t also been very easy for us, but we’ve had countless memorable experiences together which are all priceless.

A selfie with (from L-R) my niece, aunt, mom, dad, and nephew.

Leaving is always the saddest part. They still wave and say their goodbyes as they did long time ago when I first left home for high school, when I moved even farther for college, and when I eventually decided to make Manila my second home. They still even ask me if I have enough money for my fare, believe it or not. They still give me the same last minute advices that they’ve been giving me ever since – stay safe, be careful when crossing the streets!

I see it now. In their eyes, I am still their child, and they will never get tired looking after me, guiding and helping me along the way in every way they can.

I see it now.

I see that unconditional love from parents that I am so blessed to experience. I am really glad that I get to recognize that today and not when it’s already too late. It’s true, life’s most beautiful moments could happen even in the most mundane situations. For someone who tends to overthink and over analyze, God sent me home that day and made me perceive above my thinking mind. He made me recognize, understand, and appreciate the simplicity of that which we often find too deep to define: unconditional love.

A faint reminder of our humble beginnings. I was the baby in this photo, and the bahay-kubo behind the bushes at the back is where I was born.

#OPPOF5 #CaptureTheRealYou