Food photography tips: Ingredients make great photo props. Take a look

You want to share a photo of that great new dish you just prepared, but the composition looks a little ... flat. How can you improve it? Consider adding ingredients to the shot.

In the food photos we shoot here at the Los Angeles Times, we frequently add ingredients from the recipe to liven up the image. Ingredients can lend color as well as weight when you're composing the shot. And when you're looking to explain a dish, ingredients are a no-brainer -- nothing tells the story more quickly than when some of the ingredients are propped alongside.


Check out the photo gallery above for a visual demonstration. The captions give additional details and links to the related story or recipe. I include photos from various Food stories for which ingredients help to make the shot successful. Continue reading below for additional tips.

Explain the dish: Nothing explains a recipe more quickly and easily than ingredients. Whether you're shooting a pie or soup or anything in between, piling some of the ingredients into the shot gives the viewer an immediate sense of what's in the dish.

In the shots above, for example, we illustrate how adding ingredients to the composition helps to immediately identify the flavor of a gazpacho and a covered pie. Or sliding a bottle of dark stout beer next to a bowl of brittle immediately explains the rich mahogany color of the brittle itself.

Add color: When you're thinking about color for your finished dish, consider your ingredients list as a potential color palette. Bright yellow limes, ruby red pomegranate. Fresh herbs -- a bunch of deep green basil or silvery sage -- can work wonders for added color.

Sure, your apple strudel may be the best in the world, but shot alone it's nothing more than a collection of tans and browns. Add a bright red apple (and perhaps a vivid green background) to lend a little color, as we did in one of our shots above.

Help with style and composition: As with color, ingredients can lend a hand with style and composition, adding weight to empty space in a shot, and even helping to train the viewer's eye.

In the blueberry pie shot above, the spaced berries around the pie add an almost geometric pattern to the top of the shot. A handful of strawberries or hazelnuts fill empty space in a few of the shots, and a simple glass of gazpacho doesn't look complete unless it's surrounded by garden-fresh vegetables.

Perfect as props: When you're looking to complete a composition and fill space, a recipe's ingredients should always be a first thought. Because they are used in the dish, they're typically a natural fit in most any shot.

This is part of a series of posts on food photography, sharing some of the tips and tricks we use here at The Times. We've received a number of great questions from readers, which we will answer in upcoming posts.

Questions or suggestions? Food photography challenge? Comment below or email Noelle Carter at