How To Style A Kitchen Table For A Photoshoot

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How to Photograph Food Professionally

Even before the launch of, I was obsessed with food photography. As a foodie, I won’t say that I’m not guilty of taking the occasional shot of a beautifully plated dish and popping it up on Instagram.

I’ve also had the privilege to work with pros who know how to photograph food professionally during my days as a marketing consultant, and during our first product photoshoot for I’m not a pro (yet!) but having learnt on the job whilst working with the experts in the field, I have picked up some tips along the way.

With a few of these simple tips and tricks, anyone can style a kitchen table perfectly for a photoshoot, and make anything you cook or serve look instantly Insta-worthy.

Three Essential Things to Consider

Three things are very important when it comes to styling your kitchen table for a photoshoot; purpose, lighting and layout.

1) Purpose

You need to consider the purpose of the look, as well as the audience you are trying to reach. What is the focus of the picture? What are you trying to ‘sell’? It may be the food, the dishes, the room, or the whole dining experience. It helps to have this at the front of your mind while styling.

If the food is your focus, the dishes should be more muted or contrasting to make the ingredients stand out, such as plain white or black tableware. If the dishes are your focus, use less food, and again contrast to showcase the dishes instead.

Image courtesy of The Devil Wears Salad

2) Lighting

Another priority when learning how to photograph food professionally is lighting. You don’t need professional equipment to make these images turn out amazing – you can still very much DIY a good lighting set up and take incredible quality images just with your mobile phone.

Natural light from the sun is best, but if you have to use artificial light, the cleanest looking images will come from purchasing a special overhead light, and using white reflectors (such as a white lightbox) around outside the frame of the shot. Kitchen lights can be good for warmth and ambience but are usually very bad for photography.

If you’re using professional lighting, remember that they do warm up the room very quickly. If you’re shooting food that are temperament such as cheeses, be sure to know exactly where you want them positioned before you commence your shoot. Place them on the table just before you begin shooting to avoid a meltdown from happening in front of your camera lens.

For more lighting tips, see here

About Page Tabletop setting
Shot by Daniela Kempe Photography

3) Layout

Your layout of items is important, and just as important is the space in between and around them. You don’t want the images to look cluttered, crowded or messy, so in this sense, less is always more.

If you are new to staging and styling, a good place to start is with the rule of thirds, which involves breaking your image into 9 separate sections of the image. This helps for staging and also to ensure that the viewer’s eye lands where you want it to.

If you want to be able to photograph food professionally and learn more about the rule of thirds in photography, this article is a great help:

Simple Tips for the Perfect Kitchen Table Photo Shoot

Once you’ve got these three basic rules in mind, set your imagination and creativity free and have a play with your items. Here are some good tips to help:

Playing With Layers

Layering your items is a good idea, but can also be taken too far, so be a little conservative as well. Plates tend to look better on placemats and/or a tablecloth than directly on the table. Also layering bowls onto plates or smaller plates onto larger ones can look great.

Mix and Match Wisely

Be aware of your colour, style and pattern combinations. The best and cleanest look is to use all matching tableware sets and glassware. An eclectic, bohemian look with mismatched pieces can also look incredible, but is far more difficult to pull off unless you have the natural flair for this style.

Experiment With Imperfection

Setting up the table ready for serving looks lovely, but another cool idea is having a stack of your plates, glassware and cutlery casually plonked in the middle of the table, as though ready for an imminent feast about to happen.

Don’t forget the essentials and the little touches that make a kitchen table really look just right. You need to include cutlery and serving utensils, or the set up seems to appear strange. Proper fabric napkins are also a must have, as are a few condiments such as a quirky salt and pepper set, olive oil pourer (or maple syrup if it’s a breakfast shoot!), and one or two pretty dishes of relish.

Some fun and unique touches are also a cool idea, such as candles, plants or flowers, or one-off items you’ve picked up from the market or secondhand store

Main homepage cover image of empty colourful tableware with vintage cutlery

Play With Contrast and Textures

Contrast is another essential consideration when styling and framing photo shoots. Think about using lighter food on darker dishes, or vice versa, and again contrast the dishes with the colour of the placemats, tablecloth or table itself.

Use paper again as an interesting contrast, either between the food and the dishes or underneath the tableware itself. Look for solid print or interestingly patterned paper such as you find in scrapbooking suppliers.

Plating Up - Less is More

If you are using food in the shot, remember you want it to look delicious, but not over the top. A good rule of thumb is to use less food than you would normally serve, and utilise the colour of the plate to frame the food you are showing off. Minimalist food tends to look more appealing. 

Sometimes food looks better in its raw form, and often dishes look better half empty rather than full (think of a lasagne or pie for example – you want to see inside!). Misting fruit and vegetables also makes the ingredients look dewy and fresh.

The great thing about food is that the beauty is already inherent in its natural colour and shapes. Throw in some in season citrus fruit, some on the vine tomatoes or sprigs of fresh lush herbs and you have raised any table to the next level.

Spring detox beetroot soup with mint, chia, flax and pumpkin seeds in blue ceramic bowl over grey concrete background, top view. Dieting, clean eating, weight loss, vegan, vegetarian food concept

Experiment with Angles and Placements

Take lots of photos throughout the whole cooking or staging set up, as the finished product may not actually provide the best look. When learning how to photograph food professionally, it is better to photograph the process because you just might find a hidden gem. Try out many different layouts and angles and take a number of images of the process as it happens – you might be surprised by which shots end up giving the greatest impact and effect!

Final Thoughts

As with any sort of styling, it helps to collect some ideas. Have a browse through Pinterest and save some of your favourite settings, or look for ideas in food and home magazines. Or you could take some inspiration from the stunning photos on our website!

Ali plating up strawberry slice for shoot
This is me! Plating up some strawberry gummy slices for our last product shoot. 🙂

With Happy Food Vibes,

Ali signature with profile photo

Follow us on social to get those creative juices flowing the next time you’re looking to set your tabletop or for that next DIY food photography session.

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