Tips for Taking Beautiful Food Photos with Your Smart Phone (Part 1)

As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), I’ve always believed that if you want consumers to eat a healthy diet, you have to give them easy and affordable recipes that work, taste great, and look amazing and appetizing.

A healthy version of Beefaroni taken with an iPhone 5s Smart Phone

This is a gorgeous image of our Homemade Healthy Beefaroni made with lean ground beef, mushrooms and red bell pepper, and whole wheat pasta … and served with fresh asparagus and basil. Don’t you want to take a bite? I took this photo with my iPhone 5s and edited using Snapseed. {Keep reading for my top food photography secrets.}

But before I learned how to use my smart phone to take appetizing food photos, here’s what that same recipe looked like:

Homemade Beefaroni / bad food photo example

“No, Mom. You can’t make me eat that!”

With more attention paid to food styling, a better lighting situation, and a few smart phone photography / editing apps, the differences between my “before” and “after” images is quite dramatic. Best of all … IT’S EASY TO ACHIEVE.


#FNCE meeting in Atlanta

Earlier this week, I traveled to Atlanta, GA for the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo—AKA FNCE—featured an array of lectures and workshops including From Drab to Delicious: Food Photography and Styling Tips for Dietitians, which I taught with Regan Jones, RDN and Janet Helm, MS, RDN.

#FNCE workshop: From Drab to Delicious, Food Photography and Styling Tips for Dietitians

My portion of the workshop focused on smart phone food photography. What follows are some of the tips and tricks I shared with the group:

Elements of Appetizing Smart Phone Food Photography:

- Use natural light

- Style recipes using interesting backgrounds and props

- Shoot from Above

- Use the Camera+ app to take your food photos (if you have an iPhone)

- Use the Snapseed app to edit your images

- Add fun graphics (if you so desire) with


Smart phone food photography / Use Natural Light

Things to remember: Avoid the camera flash; shoot in daylight; position the food near a window but avoid harsh light and opt for diffuse, soft light instead; and reflect light back onto the subject using something like a white tri-fold, project board (I purchased mine at Staples for a few dollars.)


Things to remember: Use surfaces with texture such as an old piece of barn board, a rustic table, or an interesting background board. (For tips on making your own, check out our DIY photography background board post.); use props that pop; layer plates, bowls, and linens; use relevant garnishes; and when choosing props, use those that reflect the personality of your recipes and your readers. At Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen, we aim for playful, colorful, and family friendly.

Black Bean Soup photo using smart phone

For this smart phone photo, Janice and I used one of our DIY photography background boards, a yellow plate topped with a white bowl, an inexpensive fabric swatch from Joanne Fabrics, a lime wedge and baked corn chips, and colorful soup toppers: cilantro, shredded cheese, and sour cream. You can find this recipe for Last-Minute Black Bean Soup on our MEAL MAKEOVERS smart phone recipe app.


Roasted Pickled Beets photo using smart phone

Things to remember: Smart phones don’t have the same depth of field as a DSLR camera, so your best shot is from above. Shooting from the side rarely looks as good because everything will be in focus (i.e. you can’t fuzz out the background). Don’t these roasted, pickled beets look deee-lish?!


Camera+ iPhone app for great food photography

If you don’t have an iPhone, you can skip this part of my post. Camera+ is for iPhone only, and I use it instead of my phone’s built-in camera. It allows for touch focus and touch exposure, so you can bring more or less light into the shot depending on the amount of light you’re working with. In other words, if it’s a cloudy day outside and you’re in a low-light situation, the touch exposure feature will help you pull more light into the shot. Once you shoot your image, you can save it to your camera roll. FYI: I do NOT edit on Camera+.


The real magic begins when you edit. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about Snapseed and, my two favorite food photography editing tools.

grain salad photo taken in bad lighting conditions with smart phone

During the workshop, participants were assigned to one of six food stations and asked to style a scene. Here, you see a grain and veggie salad served up in various bowls. The artificial lighting in the convention center room was dreadful, but that didn’t stop me from ultimately getting a great shot. I took this image with my Camera+ app (this was the best I could do given the situation), and then I edited on my phone using the Snapseed app.

Here’s the “after” image!!

grain salad photo fixed and edited using Snapseed app for smart phones

In Part 2 of my Smart Phone photography post, I’ll tell you how I cropped, white balanced, brightened, and sharpened this image. The improvement was amazing and appetizing, and this image would certainly look more appealing in a blog post or shared on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook :)

As food professionals, we need to put our best feet forward, and smart photos can help all of us achieve that goal.

Janet Helm, Regan Jones, Liz Weiss at #FNCE meeting

Just had to give a shout out to my co-presenters: Janet Helm, RDN, winner of this year’s AND Media Excellence Award, and Regan Jones, RDN, co-founder (with Janet) of Healthy Aperture and The Recipe Redux. These women inspire!

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Homemade Focaccia Bread via

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How to Roast Delicata Squash via

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Tortellini Lunchbox Salad via #pasta #lunchbox #vegetarian

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Cha Cha Cha Chia Meatballs via

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Strawberry Chia Pudding via

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South-of-the-Border Tortilla Soup via

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