Photo Tip Friday: 5 Tips for Taking Better Food Photos with a Cell Phone

By Mary Denman
Coffee by Mary Denman Photography

Today's photography tips are going to be about taking better restaurant food pictures with your cell phone camera. 

There's been an explosion of people doing both undercover food reviews for their blogs and more people wanting to do reviews for sites like TripAdvisor. Both of these require photos to do justice to the food and reviews. 

So, let's go over some tips on how to get great restaurant food shots and what to watch out for! 

PHOTO 1: Pizza in Venice, Italy by Mary Denman

PHOTO 1: Life doesn't get much better than pizza in Venice, Italy on the Grand Canal! 

What makes this photo interesting?

The pizza on a plan piece of paper, with a Coke beside it, set off by the incredible architecture of Venice, is what makes it stand out. It's a juxtaposition of simple and ornate. Modern and historical. 

Because the pizza was so close to me and the buildings so far off, I had to decide where to focus my cell phone. I decided to focus on the pizza since it was in the foreground.  

What can we learn from this?

TIP 1: Showcase your food where you eat it, in different surroundings. By showing the buildings of Venice, I captured a feeling that wouldn't come from a photo just of pizza. You can smell the water, hear the splashing, see the color because I showed the surroundings. 

Photo 2: Overhead shot by Mary Denman Photography

PHOTO 2: This is an OVERHEAD shot of a delicious brownie and ice cream. 

Look at the presentation! Yes, it was as good as it looks! 

Why did I take this picture from an overhead perspective?

Because of the drizzling of the chocolate over the entire plate. If I had taken the shot at a lower angle, the drizzle pattern would not have stood out like this! 

Why? Because it was on the plate and it had no height to stand out. 

TIP 2: Use an OVERHEAD perspective to highlight the elements or details that would get lost in a view from the side. 

COLLAGE 1: Vertical shots of food by Mary Denman Photography
COLLAGE 1: In this series of food photos, I want to show you how you take the photo affect the outcome. 

In the first of the 3 shots, you'll notice that it is also an overhead shot. How can you tell? The chocolate, the dots of strawberry puree and the berries at the other end of the plate are clear. I held cell phone high above the dish looking down because the strawberry puree wouldn't have shown up well otherwise. And, since the restaurant and plate were dark, I finally resorted to using a flash to get a clear shot, hence, you can see the white spot on the chocolate. 

In the second shot, I raised my cell phone up enough to get both cupcakes in the shot, but it wasn't completely overhead.

In the third one, I was holding the phone only a little above the dessert. Because there is so much distance between the first pastry and the last one, I chose to focus on the one nearest me. That left the back ones soft, and blurry. But just as delicious! 

TIP 3: Consider whether you want the entire dish in focus or only the foreground of the dish in focus. Then, hold your cell accordingly. Either directly over the dish looking down, or from the side at an angle. 

COLLAGE 2: Watch out for shadows on food by Mary Denman
COLLAGE 2: These pictures show why you need to watch out for shadows across the food! 

As my husband was taking the shot of our food in Warsaw, Poland, I of course, took a picture of him taking the picture. As I did, I noticed the shadow he created by where he held his phone. 

See how well-lit his hands are? That's because the brightest light was on the wall behind us. By leaving his plate right in front, his hand and cell created the shadow. You can see it in the close up as well. 

How do you correct for this? 

TIP 4: Either move your cell phone or the plate of food to avoid unwanted shadows. A simple shift can correct this problem! 

PHOTO 3: Me with a great dessert! 
PHOTO 3: This illustrates a sneaky way to get food shot for reviews! This and the ever present selfie! 

If you're a food reviewer, you may not want to raise suspicions with your waiter that you're critiquing the food and service. 

So, how can you get around this? 

Take a partner in crime with you! 

In PHOTO 3, I was out with my husband for our anniversary. He took a picture of me with our dessert. While this is a good memory shot for us, it might not work as well for a food review. 

However, if you have your friend pose, you can just focus in on the food instead of including them! But it will not appear to be just a friend/food shot! 

Or, if you're alone, you can go the selfie route and again, get way more of the food in the shot and crop yourself out later since your picture with the secret food review would blow your cover! 

TIP 5: Get creative in taking covert food shots for reviews! Taking a friend or a selfie can give you a chance to get those shots!

NOTE: If a restaurant posts that they don't want any photos taken, RESPECT THAT! Yes, I've seen it and as a photographer, I respect that! It's a legal issue. 

For BLOGGERS: As you practice photography, you'll feel more comfortable using your own images for your blog. This is great for a couple of reasons. 

1) Your own photography can help your with the creative side of your blog. Think content! Either your photos can inspire or illustrate your posts. Both are valuable. 

2) Your photography can help you avoid copyright infringements. This is real and can be a huge deal. Just because you see an image on the internet does not make it free! Many an innocent blogger has used images found online and then found themselves in hot water with attorneys and lawsuits. Sad, but very true! By using your own pictures, you can avoid this all together. 
As always, the best way to get better is to PRACTICE. If you practice every night at dinner, with low lights especially, you'll become a better food photographer very quickly. 

Hope these tips help!

Keep on clicking!


TWEETABLE: 5 Tips for Taking Better Food Photos with a Cell Phone (click and tweet!)


 Amanda’s Books and More    Sincerely, Paula clairejustineWeekends Are Fun Linky Party That Friday Blog Hop My Turn For Us 


  1. Some fabulous ideas here Mary, thank you! I like the idea of taking some food shots from overhead. I use Trip Advisor a lot both for it's reviews and as a reviewer. Until now most of my food photos have been rather boring, bog standard shots. Your pizza photo is fantastic and the brownies from on high, wonderful.
    No one seems to bat an eyelid at anyone taking food photos in restaurants here in Australia, but I imagine the chefs will be very happy with you teaching us how to take a better photo of their food! I do struggle with the quality of my night time photos on my phone (hanging out for a phone upgrade!)
    Thank you so much for this post :)
    Have a lovely weekend.
    Wren x

    1. Wren, I'm so glad yo saw this before you leave! I hope this helps your photography! :) I'm going to do a second part for cell phones next week dealing with exactly what you're asking about. How to take better shots that aren't so dark. How cell phones read light is similar to DSLRs but how to deal with it is very different! But easy!

      Have a great day!

  2. Mary, that sounds perfect, I love the word easy! Looking forward to reading thank you :)
    Wren x

  3. I need to hone my skills in this area. The majority of my food reviews over the years have been undercover and don't make the blog, so no photos have been required. Now that I'm bringing some it it to the blog, I still want to maintain undercover because I believe it makes for a more honest review process. This means I need to be quick and accurate with my photos. I'm getting better but it's still a work in progress. Especially with the new camera phone that has more features than I know what to do with. What I'm struggling with is the night time venues with super low lighting. Any tips?

  4. Great tips, Mary. And I love your smiling selfie - makes me smile, too :)