Are you interested in vegetable photography? Then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, you’ll find plenty of tips and tricks for photographing vegetables; if you’re a food photography beginner, you’ll learn how to get started, and if you’re already a food photography enthusiast, you’ll discover easy ways to improve your results.
Now, I’m not a botanist or a chef, so I apologize in advance if my example photos contain food that’s not technically a vegetable. And in photography, the categories are more flexible. (If you think of the most famous vegetable photographs, you’ll probably think of Edward Weston’s Pepper series, and peppers are technically a fruit!)
In any case, feel free to use these techniques with raw produce in general: fruits, vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, etc.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get started.
1. Handpick your produce
If you were taking a professional portrait, you would cast your model, right? Well, the same should be true for vegetable photography – before getting out your camera, you need to carefully pick your “hero” subject.
If you’re photographing for commercial purposes, you might want to look for the shiniest, roundest, most perfect vegetable you can find.
However, if you’re doing a personal project or a still life, you can take some liberties. You don’t need to use the best looking product; instead, aim to find produce that looks interesting. Find a vegetable that complements the props you’re using or that features a noticeable texture, etc.
No matter what individual item you end up using, the point is that you take the time to choose. You should find a market or a store that allows you to pick the produce yourself (don’t order online!). And try to get to the store early in the day so you can have first pick of the produce. Also, avoid peak hours so that you can take your time.
Consider talking to the seller. Explain what you usually look for in products. Once you make friends, they can be of great help and may even give you some insider tips on how to treat the produce.
2. Pay careful attention to composition
The composition is the way you organize the items inside the frame. And the right composition will help the viewer navigate your picture.
There are many guidelines that can help improve vegetable photography compositions, but the most basic tip is to use the rule of thirds, which suggests that you position key elements a third of the way into the frame. And because most cameras and smartphones have a handy rule of thirds grid overlay, it’s an easy way to get started.
There are many other compositional guidelines you can follow, ranging from simple leading lines to more complex triangles and the rule of odds, so make sure you familiarize yourself with these composition tips.
3. Choose the right shutter speed, aperture, and ISO
Your camera settings will determine both the exposure and the final look of your photos. So while getting a correct exposure is important, you also need to consider the impact that each setting will have on your shot.
A fast shutter speed is key when you have a moving element. In the case of vegetable photography, this could be a splash of water or even a hand that’s chopping the produce. Shutter speed is also helpful if you’re shooting handheld; the faster your shutter speed, the more likely you are to eliminate camera shake.
The aperture helps determine the depth of field. Smaller apertures give a deeper depth of field, while larger apertures will give you a nice background blur. Keep in mind that the focal length and the distance between the camera and the subject influence depth of field, as well.
Finally, there’s the ISO. This setting is often overlooked by beginner photographers, but a small ISO value will ensure a smooth image while a high ISO will introduce noise.
4. Change the angle of view
The position of the camera in relation to the subject is very important – it affects the composition, the depth of field, and it helps define what you are communicating with your picture.
There are three common angles used in food photography: down from above, table level, and a 45-degree angle that mimics the way you see food when you’re sitting down to eat. So use these as your starting points (though bear in mind that they are just guidelines, so feel free to move around until you find the perfect viewpoint.)
I advise you to get your main shot the way you initially envisioned it. Then experiment with other angles. You might happen upon a great perspective that you hadn’t considered!
5. Use color to make your photos stand out
Color can be a great way to improve your vegetable photography. The great thing about natural subjects such as vegetables is that they already have colors that work wonderfully together, so use these to your advantage. Find orange carrots with their green leaves or a colorful variety of chili peppers, then arrange them in striking compositions.
That said, you don’t necessarily need to use contrasting colors that make the subject pop – you can also go monochrome to create a mood or to help the viewer focus on shape and texture.
And you can always use the color wheel to discover new color palettes and color palette inspiration. Adobe has a wonderful tool called Adobe Color, and it’s available even if you don’t have a membership. It can even show you color trends and color palettes based on concepts and ideas.
6. Experiment with close-ups
One of the things I enjoy most while shooting vegetables is getting up close and capturing wonderful textures and patterns.
If you’re shooting for commercial purposes, close-ups may be less feasible, but they’re great for personal projects. You don’t need lots of specialized gear, either; a macro lens is a big help, but you can also work with a telephoto or wide-angle lens and focus as close as possible.
Then, you can create your final result with some cropping in post-production. Keep in mind that you will be losing pixels with this process, so use the highest resolution camera that you have available.
7. Use light modifiers (and a tripod)
You can do great vegetable photography with natural light and a handheld camera. However, adding some accessories to your setup can help you achieve better results.
Light modifiers make a big difference whether you use artificial light or natural light. Use diffusers or lightboxes to soften the light and avoid hard shadows. And reflectors can bounce back the light to fill in the shadows, while flags can help you block and direct the light. All of these can be purchased for cheap, or you can DIY them.
A tripod is important when there isn’t lots of light for handholding. Plus, it can help with your compositions and special techniques like focus stacking.
8. Think about lighting direction and contrast
Careful use of lighting will shape your photos the way you want them. In vegetable photography, you’ll often work with natural light, though you can also use artificial light to achieve a specific mood (or when you don’t have enough natural light available).
Either way, there are two main aspects of light you need to consider: its direction and its contrast. In other words, where is the light coming from and how harsh does the light appear?
If you want dark, defined shadows, you need hard light. If you prefer even lighting with diffused shadows, you need soft light.
As far as the lighting direction, backlighting offers many creative choices. Sidelighting helps to highlight texture and add depth. Frontal lights flatten the elements, which is great for flat-lay shots.
Feel free to experiment with different setups. And make sure you study the work of other photographers to determine what you like and how it’s done.
9. Use a complementary (or non-distracting) backdrop
As with any type of photography, the background is just as important as the subject. You should choose a background that complements the subject – or, at the very least, doesn’t distract from it.
You can’t go wrong with neutral, solid backgrounds. However, they can be a bit limiting for your creative vision. Wood backdrops are a nice match for vegetable photography, especially if you’re going for a rustic, just-harvested look. You can also use marbled tabletops or tiles if you want to create a kitchen feel.
The background will help you create the mood. Unfortunately, not everybody has the budget and the space to have a lot of backdrops at home, but you can always use printed sheets or digital backgrounds displayed on your TV or your computer.
10. Style before you shoot
Styling is a big part of food photography, including vegetable photography. Even if you decide to isolate a single vegetable, that’s a styling choice, as is the decision to position it whole, chopped, peeled, etc.
If your vegetables aren’t isolated and you decide to introduce props, these will also require careful consideration. Do you want to present the food in a wicker basket or on a designer plate? Do you want to add cutlery? Do you plan to introduce a human element?
Different stylistic elements will help you to create your chosen ambiance and convey a specific message with your photos.
11. Enhance your vegetable photography with editing
If you want to really take your vegetable images to the next level, I highly recommend you do some editing.
Start by fine-tuning the composition using the Crop tool. Most programs like Photoshop or Lightroom even include some composition overlays to guide you while cropping.
You can adjust the white balance and exposure, if necessary, though I recommend you do the best you can while shooting in-camera to avoid having to fix problems in post-production.
(That said, try to shoot in RAW to maximize the amount of information you have to work with when processing.)
When editing vegetable photography, I recommend keeping it on the realistic side. Of course, you can add your own aesthetic style – by giving the file a vintage look or using warm tones to simulate the golden hour – but make sure you don’t overdo it.
One more tip: If any of your vegetables have a dent or a damaged spot that’s distracting, feel free to fix it with the Clone Stamp or Healing tools.
12. Have fun with levitation (and other special effects)
If you want to spice things up in your vegetable photography, try adding some special effects.
There are different choices that you can make – for example, you can do splash photography or chiaroscuro photography – but today I’d like to talk about levitation photography.
This is really trendy right now and it looks very impressive, but it all comes down to a simple composite. I’ll give you the basic steps, and you can then make your shot as elaborate as you want.
The levitation shot
You’ll need props to hold up the vegetables and arrange them in a pleasing composition. There’s no hard rule about this as you’re going to remove the items in Photoshop later; you can use toothpicks (like I used in the example image above), or you can use threads if you want to hang the food from outside the frame.
If you’re just starting out with levitation photography, try to use a very soft light. That way, you won’t have to deal with toothpick shadows (shadows are usually the hardest part of any composite). A dark background can provide a little extra help.
Once you have all the elements where you want them, position your camera and set the exposure. Make sure you adjust your settings manually as they need to be the same in all the pictures you use for the composite.
Once you capture the first photo, take away the subject and snap a picture of the empty background (remember, the settings and focus should stay the same!). For a simple shot like the one above, you’ll only need two images, but you can always take a picture of each element to achieve a more professional result.
Editing your photo
Start by opening both images as layers in Photoshop. Make sure the image with the subject is on top. Then add a Layer Mask and grab the Brush tool. Using black, paint over the toothpicks or threads that you used to hold up the vegetables.
The mask will hide the props and reveal the empty background from the other layer, creating the levitation effect. If part of the produce is covered by a holding prop, use the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing Brush to subtly remove it.
Vegetable photography tips: final words
Well, there you have it:
12 tips to take your vegetable photos to the next level.
All that’s left to do now is practice – and have fun!
Now over to you:
Which of these tips do you plan to implement in your own vegetable photography? Do you have any vegetable photo tips? Share your thoughts (and photos!) in the comments below!
Vegetable photography FAQs
Photograph them while they’re still fresh! Keep them away from heat while you prepare the scene and maybe spritz some water on them before the shot.
Yes. The same tips and techniques apply for fresh fruits, herbs, tubers, mushrooms, vegetables, and other types of raw produce.
The most common use of the term vegetable photography refers to raw produce – once it’s cooked, it’s normally classified as “food photography.” However, you might run into a client or a photographer who also includes cooked vegetables in the “vegetable photography” category.
Yes, normally vegetable photography refers to a still life composition using raw produce. Although you can also do lifestyle photography shoots with vegetables.
You can use a cooked dish as part of the composition. However, vegetable photography normally has raw produce as the main subject.