4 different composition guides for better food photography

30 Nov 2020 by Meero Team

© Meero

Sharing your new lockdown-inspired homemade banana bread, setting up your TikTok channel, launching a professional food blog, or even shooting for a client, there are a million reasons to improve your food photography hero shots, or flat lays, (that’s what we call 90° photos taken looking down at the table). 

One of the surest ways to improve your shots? Focus on the composition. 

You’ve definitely heard about the rule of thirds, but that’s definitely not your only choice when it comes to creating beautiful compositions. We’ve selected four different composition techniques to highlight and demonstrate. Just click on the technique you’d like to learn more about to jump to that section.  

This article focuses on composition, but if you’re interested in how to improve your overall food and beverage photography, be sure to check out this tutorial

Before diving into the compositions, be sure to set up your workspace nearby a natural light source, and be sure that you’ll be able to get up and over your workspace to shoot at a 90° angle. There’s nothing worse than setting up a perfect composition and then realizing you can’t get up high enough to capture the scene because you set it up on the tall breakfast bar. 


1. Rule of Thirds

2. Diagonal 

3. Golden Triangles

4. Compound Curve


Use the Rule-of-Thirds to decide where to place your main elements

The tried and true rule-of-thirds is the most common composition, and every photographer has it in their metaphorical toolbox. When it comes to food photography, the idea is to place your principal objects on the intersections where our eyes are naturally drawn. We’ve broken it down into 4 steps.   

Step 1: Turn on the grid in your camera settings and position the important large elements at the cross-sections where the lines meet. These are the anchors of your composition. 

Step 2: Place complementary accessories and props around your subject. This is part of the storytelling about what has gone into the recipe. Don’t be afraid to position things outside the frame and embrace the negative space!

Step 3: Go through and add layers and textures around your subjects, being sure to pay attention to corresponding colors to make your composition pop! Be careful not to overcrowd the space however, you need room for the eye to travel. 

Step 4: Take your picture! Don’t hesitate to readjust the accessories and props if necessary, to make an evenly balanced image.


Use leading lines and diagonals to guide your viewer

Diagonal line composition

Photos shot at 1/80, f/8 with an ISO of 500 with a tripod © Meero

Leaving the realm of the comfortable ⅔ grid, we can use diagonals to create a dynamic sense of movement. The diagonal lines cut across the frame, leading the eyes from one corner to the other.  Here’s how to achieve the look:

Step 1: Imagine splitting your frame with a digital line, start by placing your main dish along a diagonal line across your frame like in the image above. 

Step 2: Place your props above or below to establish a leading line that will draw the eye from the edge of the photo to your main dish.

Step 3: Add colors and layers to make your dish pop. Silverware, spatulas, and even crumbs can all help to establish a long leading line. In the photo above, we used chocolate to elongate the principal image, and greens to create parallel lines.  

Step 4: Take your shot! Examine the result on your screen and see how you can improve it.


Use Triangles to Draw Attention

Photos shot at 1/80, f/8 with an ISO of 500 with a tripod © Meero

Building on the diagonal split in the last example, we’re taking a look at the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle composition takes the diagonal split and divides perpendicularly, creating four triangles. The idea is to draw attention to the intersections of the triangles and create a visually rich flat lay. Similar to the other compositions, you’ll want to start with your primary subject. 

Step 1: Divide your frame diagonally and draw two perpendicular lines to create triangles. Place your main subject where the lines meet (this will draw the eye to the focal points).

Step 2: Add props along your triangles but don’t fill up all the space. You can play around with layers and objects to give your composition some color and texture.

Step 4: Snap! As before, be sure to take a look on the camera how it’s looking and adjust your accessories as you see fit! 


Mimic the waves to create a natural flow (Compound Curve - S line) 

S curve photo composition

Photos shot at 1/80, f/8 with an ISO of 500 with a tripod © Meero

Another great technique to try out is to follow the curve of a wave to create an image that flows naturally. With this technique, you can fit quite a lot into a photo without it feeling overly stuffy or crowded (within reason). You may recognize this as simply staggering your elements to create balance, whatever image helps you get the desired results. Let’s dive in!

Step 1: Start off by imagining an S curve in your frame. You want your principal subjects to be on the peaks of the ‘s’ or ‘wave’ formation. Then slowly build your way out towards the edges. 

Step 2: Add objects, layers, and textures along the S shape to add dimension and fill your frame. You don’t want your principal dishes cut off, but you can leave your accessories and props half-way out of frame. 

Step 3: Be creative, and don’t hesitate to play around with your curve (you can also try out a C curve or a spiral!)

Step 4: Start shooting! Readjust the props if you feel the balance is off once you’ve checked the photo on your camera. You want to balance objects, colors, and textures. 


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