Looking for the best books on food photography, then you are in the right place! Food photography was once a genre reserved for a few skilled professionals, but now it’s one of the biggest areas of imaging. Instagram is a huge driver of that, but it goes beyond sharing the mouthwatering moments you’re personally experiencing.
The roots social media has established don’t only motivate sharing your own meals, but compel every food creator – from food blogger to Michelin-starred chef, traveling hot-dog stand to established retailer – to get the best images of their meals before potential customers.
So, food porn is an essential part of any photographer’s skillset. No question there. What you might not know is that reading about some of the long-established techniques that pros use to make soggy, cold fast-food burgers look juicy and appetizing under studio lights can be compelling and even a little stomach-churning.
How do you simulate melting cheese? What’s the best way to make fruit shine? How do you perfectly position steam? Some photographers use glue for milk. Others aim to grab truly authentic images with a phone and natural lighting. The different books on food photography below will take you down different paths – find the perfect pages to take you to new #foodphotography success with the books we’ve chosen.
The best books on food photography in 2020
A complete take on the subject, and one which has endured into a newer paperback edition as well as appeared on awards shortlists, the food stylist’s handbook is great because it considers the moving image as well as photography, making it useful for broadcasters, vloggers and IGTV creators as well. The meat of the book is, of course, styling tips from the expert authors, but the 320-pages also allows space for tips on finding clients. In theory, at least, you’ll be armed to reach the career heights the author herself has; she works with US TV show Iron Chef and the author of diet book Skinny Bitch.
From a publisher with a real understanding of photographer’s needs, it’s no surprise that this book offers the reader a complete journey, from a grounding in manual exposure to food styling, with a solid emphasis on camera skills, from technical to composition, rather than the later. Those more accomplished with camera techniques might feel that they are already beyond this point, but even where core skills are covered, it is all from the perspective of the food photographer so isn’t wasted words. The book also includes so handy hacks, and some projects you can follow to master salads, soups, mains, deserts & drinks (though be prepared to put some salt in your beer if you want it to look good on camera!)
A book which oozes style with every page, this is a mainstream book which has garner attention in the Sunday Times. The author is stylist for topper chefs including Michel Roux, and is produced to the same design and print standard that you’d expect from the recipe books themselves. Even the equipment photos are gorgeous. That journey-like approach is sure to please foodies and makes every shot inspiring. It is also a preparation book, so includes some recipes for you to follow and a nice balance of the author’s own stories, and her attention to detail shines through.
With a reasonable heft, this will rest nicely on the coffee table of advertisers or gourmands alike, providing a rich compilation of the best in contemporary food photography. It does not limit itself to the mere practical marketing or the technicalities of tweaking “tweezer food”, nor is every image a instagram-ready plate. Instead your mind will gorge on more artistic imagery with taken to reach a wider cross-section of markets. The richly printed pages are packed with photographers who have captured striking and thoughtful representations of the food we eat. (Do also look up Story on a Plate from the same publisher).
While most of the practical books concentrate on achieving the look you see around you, Susan Bright has long worked as a curator of photography, with exhibitions in the Tate in London and Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. As such she doesn’t shy away from placing food photography in the political, commercial, creative and regional context of its era. Including excellent reproductions of Roger Fenton, Edward Weston, Laura Letinsky and Martin Parr imagery (amongst many others), the tome is no simple dissertation either, but a joy to absorb.
This book is in its second edition, which is not only proof of popularity (the publishers must have been happy with sales) but also means that the author has taken the opportunity to respond to feedback, adding more on social media and reigning in some of the most basic photography tips. The result is a book which concentrates its space on what an enthusiast photographer turning food photographer needs to know, and makes it easy to follow with numerous diagrams. A sizeable post-production and a separate section of behind-the-scenes examples complete a thorough overview.
If you’re looking for a different stand on food photography, look no further than the Fortnum & Mason Food & Drinks book of 2019. Freeman has sold literally millions of photographic instructional books, but this is an example of him working, with Tea expert Timothy d’Offay, to document the ingredient’s journey, from cultivation to culture. A read is worthwhile in its own right, but might prove to be the spark which sets you off on a new self-assignment.
This book is actually 10 years old, which only means you won’t find an extensive section on social media. In terms of a book aimed squarely at photographers, there can be no complaints. In terms of techniques, the author's list of clients includes McDonalds, Sara Lee & Baskin Robbins, and it’s fair to say their products are still very much in vogue, so rather than worry about the publication date, take advantage of the illustrations, step-by-step photos, supply lists and tips on choosing real food or photographer-friendly equivalents. Definitely more for the aspiring pros than instagrammers who will only be shooting their latest restaurant orders.
Though not specifically a food book, author Leela Cyd’s other books (including Food with Friends: The Art of Hanging Out) and online profile make clear she has the credentials to help anyone trying to present their daily bread, special fare or anything else via social media’s most popular visual forum. This book’s leans to food and food preparation thanks to the author’s obvious enthusiasm, but its real message is just how much can be achieved with your phone’s camera.
In a genre that so often focuses on adding supplemental light to create great shots, this book focuses on delivering delicious images using nothing but natural light. It's not the longest volume, at 72 pages, but Australia-based Fran Flynn is a degree-qualified graphic designer and commercial photographer with over 25 years experience – so the information here is creative, concise and gets you quick results.
No promises here, as this book has not yet hit the shops… but food photographer for the New York Times, Andrew Scrivani, has announced pre-orders for his entry into this market, due in November 2019. The previews promise extensive career-building advice as well as an emphasis on telling a story with one or more images. If you’re a fan, you could always pre-order now!