A Food Photographer's Tips For Taking Great Food Photos [Interview]

Food has always been a source of inspiration for Sarah Crowder; as she puts it, “Food is my muse.”

Formerly an organic vegetable farmer, her professional relationship with food now focuses on photography and recipe development. Sarah created the Sarah E. Crowder Studio to share with food entrepreneurs and small food businesses her expertise to help them build their brands. The types of food businesses she works with include:

  • Food producers and distributors 
  • Restaurants, caterers, and meal delivery services
  • Cookbook authors and bloggers

We’ve all seen through social channels like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook how much a photo can inspire consumers to interact with a brand. High quality product photos are also a must in digital commerce, with 67% of consumers indicating that product image quality is “very important” in the buying decision process. And even if a photo is of professional quality, thought has to be put into the message conveyed by the photo in order to inspire the desired emotional reaction from the consumer. 

Whether it’s a website photo, a social post, or promotional material, Sarah has some words of wisdom to share on how to capture an audience through photo.

Interview by Mike Zabar who works on brand partnerships and community development at Treatmo.

What makes a great food photo that sells product? Could you share a couple of tips on how to create a great photo?

Sarah: The single most important factor in food photography is lighting, so make sure you have enough light to take a crisp image and that the light flatters your product. If you're DIYing your images, I usually recommend using natural light because it's abundant, free, and complements most subjects. The simplest setup has light coming in on one side of your product (lighting from the front or back which is trickier to do well), with a piece of foam board (you can use the Elmer's brand, easily found in a store's school supply section) on the other side of the product to fill out the light and soften the shadows.

Tip: Sarah recommends natural lighting. Shown here Purinton Maple in natural light / Treatmo studio for marketplace product photography. 

Tip: Sarah recommends natural lighting. Shown here Purinton Maple in natural light / Treatmo studio for marketplace product photography. 

Technical aspects of photography aside, the most engaging photos tell a story or dig into a deeper message, either about the product itself or the person using it. To create an abundance of these images usually takes more planning, which is a step of the content creation process business owners often neglect. As a simple way to start, I recommend creating a secret Pinterest board for your brand where you can begin collecting inspiration images. Anytime you stumble upon a picture that speaks visually or conceptually to your brand or your brand's target market, save it to the board for reference before your next photo shoot. It's not enough to have beautiful images of your product. How do those visuals engage your audience. 

Why are great images key to sales online?

Sarah: In contrast to selling in a brick and mortar store, where customers can see and touch the product in person, online images are all a virtual customer has to interact with when deciding whether or not to buy. Beautiful photography can make your product look as good as (or even better than!) it does in person to help you make the sale. Regardless of whether you're selling online or in physical stores, keep in mind that people enjoy looking up and keeping in touch with brands online, so your visual presence there affects virtual and in-person customers.

A marketing professional will be able to give you more insight into the numbers and how high-quality images help sell products. My experiences with this are anecdotal, when my clients telling me how their social media engagement improves or how they see sales rise after working with me. But what is more remarkable from my point of view is the mindset shift I see in business owners who upgrade their photos. The legitimacy that comes with beautiful website photos and compelling social media images doesn't just look good, it feels good, too.

How do you work with businesses? 

Sarah: I work with food brands either in full or half day photo shoots or as part of a recurring content creation package. The one-off shoots are usually for a launch or rebrand, while the longer term packages combine those with ongoing content needs. I typically work with small or mid-size businesses, and I wouldn't have it any other way. As a small business owner myself, I can relate to the unique challenges they face, particularly with respect to budget and time constraints. 

Food is my muse.
— Sarah E. Crowder

What do you love about what you do?

Sarah: Working with me is still an investment, but I love getting innovative in how we can make gorgeous, compelling content without an unlimited prop budget or a full week to shoot. In fact, I think these restraints sometimes produce even more creative work than having boundless resources.

More information about Sarah and her business can be found on her website.

Treatmo mobile commerce platform makes shopping and selling natural and local food easier with your phone. Download on iTunes. If you're interested in opening a store, contact us here.

by Michael Zabar, brand partnerships and community development at Treatmo