intro to composition food photography and menus

In our last blog, “Eat with your Eyes – Food Photography and Menu Publishing,” we gave you three ways to take better photos for your menus – even if you’re just using your smartphone. Pay attention to lighting, stage your food, and practice a clean edit. In this blog, we’ll dive into “rules” of composition – the way your subject is positioned in relation to other elements in the photograph. These rules are made to be broken, and sometimes one rule breaks another rule. The purpose of these guidelines is not to restrict your techniques, but to help you get more creative with composition and create eye-catching photographs.

#1: Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is all about finding a place for your subject other than the center of the frame. It tells us that if we draw a 3×3 grid over a photograph, the points of interest should lie on the intersections of the lines. In the photo below, the bowl of oatmeal is on the right two intersections, and even some of the blueberries fall on the left two intersections. In this particular setup, the rule of thirds creates a more interesting composition than if the bowl and the blueberries had been centered. The rule of thirds doesn’t always have to be followed. Sometimes a centered composition is interesting – especially when it’s a symmetrical composition.

#2: Symmetry
Symmetry often breaks the rule of thirds. This compositional rule is useful for drawing attention to the subject by mirroring each side of the photo. This can create a striking composition that draws the eye to the subject in the center.

#3: Leading Lines

Leading lines are created by using objects in the foreground or background to lead your eyes to a point of interest. They “point” to your subject. In this photo, the leading lines are the carrots and they are pointing to the ranch dressing in the center. (This photo is also another example of symmetry!) Leading lines could also be utensils, edges of a cutting board, or even elements in the background.

#4: Angles

Angles are important to think about when photographing your food, because different angles will emphasize different aspects of your dish. In the two photos below, the one on the left shows more details in the food, and the one on the right gives you an idea of the overall place setting. In the first one, you’re able to see the texture of the sauce and the noodles more, and the sprig of basil takes up more room in the frame, so there’s a bigger pop of color. There’s no right or wrong here, but you can see that with different angles, you can draw attention to different details.

Remember – rules are meant to be broken, and the rules of composition are guidelines to help you creatively craft your photographs.

After you’ve perfected your photography skills, there are multitude of ways to use your photos to market your meal programs. Social media and menu publishing are great ways to incorporate visual elements in your marketing. Digital menu boards like SchoolCaféTV are also a great way to market in the cafeteria. These menus are highly visual, so great photographs play an important role.

For more information on digital menu boards, visit our SchoolCaféTV webpage