Food Photography Composition Pt. 1

Blueberry pancakes

I’ve put off writing this post for some time because I still have a lot to learn about composition. But now I feel comfortable enough to talk about the basics of composition. What is that exactly? Trying to put in simple words such a huge concept: it is the placement and arrangement of your food inside the frame of your picture. In other words, it is the way the food will “come together” in the picture.

In the professional world of food photography, food styling and composition are jobs done by two different people, the food stylist and the photographer. In a past post I already talked about the art of making your food look pretty for the camera. But composition, in the other hand, is a job done mostly behind the lens.

There are several rules and guidelines that apply when composing your picture (I will talk about them in future posts), but it is worth mentioning that food photography, like in any other art, will be perceived differently by different people. This is because our experiences, cultures and backgrounds are different thus affecting the way we perceive the world. Most of us have experienced this first hand when submitting pictures to two of the most popular food porn sites on the blog-o-sphere. I’ve heard so many people wonder why one site will accept a picture while the other rejects it and vice-versa.

That is also the reason why composition is so difficult to understand and manipulate for many people (I include myself here). But like in any other aspect of food photography, it takes some time, practice and patience to get a hold of. I didn’t even know the whole meaning of the concept until I read Digital Food Photography by Lou Manna, an excellent book that covers the basic principles of food photography.

Blueberry pancakes

But before I go into details about the mechanics of composition, I want you to look at the first two pictures of these yummy blueberry pancakes (the flying ones) and tell me what you think about the way they are presented within the frame of the picture. Does the picture work for you? Is the subject centered? Does the placement of the pancakes draw your attention to them? Does it convey a sense of movement or stillness? In other words, I’d love to know the way you perceive the subject within the frame.

After that, and if you are game, you can come to the forum and have your pictures commented by other members. Share them with us to know what other people think about their composition. I think that before going into detailed techniques and mechanics it is a good idea to think about how the placement of the food inside the frame can draw attention to the main subject (or drive it away from it).

For now I leave you with this delicious blueberry pancakes (which I made the same way than these mango pancakes only replacing the mango with blueberries). I know mapple syrup and pancakes is a well-established marriage, but I like been disloyal by eating my pancakes with sweetened condensed milk. Trust me on this one, this is something you’ll want to do over and over again.

Blueberry pacakes

This last image is my entry to Click, the monthly event dedicated to food photography. This month’s theme is bi-color and although there are more than two colors, with this picture I was going for dark and light. Hopefully it fits the theme.

Β‘Buen provecho!


  • Thanks for this post Ben! I think you take great photos and love to learn from you!
    I feel the composition of the first photo is better. Only because, to my un-trained and slightly-ignorant eye, it looks like the package is flying toward you (desirable situation when you’re hungry for breakfast!) and this makes you focus on it more. The secod photo the pancake sort of faces its back to you, so it’s not as much of a commanding presence.
    I loooooove condensed milk πŸ™‚

  • Instinctively, I agree with Marta…however, I really love the third shot with the milk! And, I give up…how do you make pancakes fly?

  • Love the first & the last picture. last one is delish.. the first one, love the concept & the art.. how did u do it? or is that a secret?

  • The photos are incredible!
    I like the first photo more……that makes me want more pancakes!
    Thanks, Ben, for sharing the tips and tricks on photographing….I still have so much more to learn!

    Angie’s Recipes

  • Never thought to used condensed milk on pancakes before! They look delicious! πŸ˜€

  • That’s a good book, I have a copy and refer to it often. With the first two photographs, I like the very first one because I get to see more of the subject and I feel that the pancake is being “lifted” to be put on my plate. As a personal preference, I might have like to see fingers or a hand moving it or tongs because it gives the impression of some invisible force moving it πŸ™‚

    Now the last photograph, oh yeah, I WANT THOSE PANCAKES NOW! And served with condensed milk?! Ben I am so making some of those soon. Thanks for all the hard work you put into your posts!

  • It’s not that I don’t appreciate the photography, but you got me completely mesmerized by the condensed milk addition!!! You just buy a can at the grocery store??? uh, must try!

  • You’re a good reference for newbies like us. πŸ™‚

  • The flying pancake totally caught my eye! I was wondering if you were lifting the top pancake in the first photo with an invisible wire ala flying kungfu movies speciall effects! LOL

    Well done! the pictures are absolutely mouth watering.

  • Your photos are beyond amazing. Love them!

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