Good food photography should entice you to eat. It should make you feel as if what you see is exactly what you need in that precise moment; that you have to buy it or go into the kitchen and start cooking. How do you project that feeling onto the viewer?

food photography - mushroomMushrooms. Very simple setup that uses the colour brown and light from one side to set the mood.

1/125 sec at f/1.6, 50mm (EF 50mm f/1.4 USM) (post-processed in Lightroom) ©Ilva Beretta

First and foremost, the food must look tasty. That is where food styling comes in. The food you are shooting must have that mouthwatering touch to it, but that doesn’t mean it has to be perfect. Overly-styled food often has the opposite of the desired effect, because it doesn’t look real and doesn’t trigger the right instincts.

But another important aspect of a good food photo is mood. Just as a restaurant must have the right ambiance, an enticing food shot must have the right mood to it. There are as many moods as there are people in the world, but I will limit myself here to some general pointers on how to achieve the mood you want, and then discuss one of my own photos with an autumn mood and how I achieved it.

food photography - winter vegetable pastaWinter vegetable pasta, a mood created by using darker, muted colours.

1/30 sec at f/2.2, 50mm (EF 50mm f/1.4 USM) (post-processed in Lightroom) ©Ilva Beretta

Decide on the mood

The first thing to do is to decide what kind of mood you want to convey. Once you have decided on that, it is fairly easy to put together the image. A common mood used in food photography is a seasonal mood—spring, summer, autumn and winter all have their own characteristics that, combined with seasonal ingredients or recipes, are really efficient in their purpose to create an appropriate mood to make the viewer identify with what he/she is looking at and hopefully want to cook or buy.

Create a mood board

A mood board is a collection of images, artifacts, pieces of fabric—anything that has something in it that inspires you. It might be a photo with the light falling in a special way, an old postcard that triggers a memory that you want to convey, or a texture you like. There are many ways to create a mood board. You can use sites or apps like Pinterest or Evernote, or you can create pdf files to share with other people. You can also create a hands-on mood board by pinning photos, tear-outs from magazines, pieces of fabric or whatever inspires you on a Styrofoam board.

Select props

Props are, together with light, the best way to convey a mood. Go through what you have and what fits in with your mood board. It is often useful to pick out several dishes, napkins or cloths, and backgrounds so that you can play around with until you find the best setup. Use your mood board for inspiration, but remember to use it as a starting point, not for repeating the same images.

food photography - apple cakeBrown Betty apple cake. 1/5 sec at f/3.5, 50mm (EF 50mm f/1.4 USM) (post-processed in Lightroom) ©Ilva Beretta

This photo has a seasonal, autumnal mood to it. I usually don’t use too many props, but instead depend more on light and colours, as you can see in the photo. I also use seasonal ingredients, in this case apples, to achieve the effect I’m looking for. In this photo I have used a few simple props, darker but still-warm colours, and a recipe with seasonal ingredients. I used an old cupboard door as a background and a plain wooden table as surface. Apart from the white dish, all the other props follow an organic colour scheme. A wooden box, a small cutting board of olive wood, a small knife with a green handle and a rustic, light brown napkin suited the mood I wanted to create and looks good with the red apples I used for mood and form.

food photography - christmas cookiesChristmas Cookies. A few Christmas props and a Scandinavian setting created a less-cluttered Christmas mood.1/250 sec at f/1.4, 50mm (EF 50mm f/1.4 USM) (post-processed in Lightroom) ©Ilva Beretta

food photography - fresh saladThe freshness of salad. The light colours and the light itself create the mood.1/500 sec at f/1.4, 50mm (EF 50mm f/1.4 USM) (post-processed in Lightroom) ©Ilva Beretta

food photography - rustic peasRustic peas—a mood created by using props like copper pots and terracotta tiles.

1/60 sec at f/2.8, 100mm (EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM) (post-processed in LightRoom) ©Ilva Beretta

Here are a few things to consider when you are creating moods:

  • First, think about what kind mood you want to create: is it a seasonal mood or more of a place? A party feeling or a more intimate mood? Or, do you want to concentrate on an ingredient that inspires you?
  • Whatever mood you decide on, your next step is to start thinking about how to achieve it. Think of how you want the light to fall and how much of it you want. Choose backgrounds and props that suit that mood. If you want a darker mood, think darker plates and fabrics. Wood is also a great help for creating atmosphere. Try using only one light source, or if you use more than one, dim them down. If you are going for a lighter mood, use lighter background and props and light from more than one side. Use reflectors and/or white boards for fill light to get that lightness of mood you are looking for.
  • When you are actually shooting the photo, play around with the camera a bit. For a dark mood, for example, underexpose your image to see if that gets you what you are looking for. Also, think about where you want to put the focus and how much of the photo you want to be in focus, along with how the focus may influence the mood of the image. Don’t forget to play around in the postproduction phase as well.
  • Have fun and develop your own style. Don’t imitate, but be inspired by others.

About The Author

Ilva Beretta is a Swedish professional photographer living in Tuscany. As well as creating food and lifestyle photography for leading magazines and food brands, she also teaches workshops on food photography. You can see her work on her website Ilva Beretta Photography (, follow the creative project she works on with food writer Jamie Schler at Plated Stories ( and on Facebook at Ilva Beretta Photography (

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