Why I Love Taking Pictures With My Phone (+ Some Tips/Tricks)

Seafood Display at Whole Foods (photography by Brian Samuels)
Seafood Display at Whole Foods (photography by Brian Samuels)

The first time I brought a camera into a restaurant was over two years ago.  This was before I'd purchased my first smart phone, and I lugged around my hefty camera and lenses wherever I went.  Despite the challenges of carrying a camera everywhere, this was my creative outlet and I loved capturing my favorite restaurants and landmarks.

Ever since I started working professionally as a food photographer, I do like to take a break from my camera from time to time.  Sometimes you just need a little space.  I rarely bring it along when we go out to eat or are traveling anymore.  On a recent trip to Vegas, I only took my camera out once, opting to use my phone to take all my pictures.

As a photographer, there's something very liberating about shooting with a smart phone.  First off, you can be discrete about taking pictures.  It's easier to capture the environment of a restaurant when you're not whipping out a massive lens.  Both patrons and servers get weird when they see a camera pointed at them (and I don't blame them for that... it's a bit intrusive).  A phone, however, can be used to take a picture without anyone noticing.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

I also feel like I've grown tremendously as a photographer because of the amount I shoot with my phone.  I'm constantly finding ways to get creative in an environment when the light may not be ideal.  Or I see a dish and think, "Ok, what are all the ways I can shoot this?" and, to my husband's dismay, I play with every option.   It gets me thinking outside the box and that may be the most important thing for us as artists.

Over the last few months, I've started teaching classes on iPhoneography for folks who are interested in amping up their food photos.  I wanted to share a few points from that class with you today:

1. Remember that taking pictures with your phone is the same as using a DSLR... consider the key elements of photography: subject, composition, and lighting. Some dishes or ingredients aren’t always going to be bright and colorful, but there should be something about what you’re photographing that’s going to be interesting to the viewer.  Use the other elements (composition and lighting) to elevate the subject or create a mood.

2. Action can be the subject.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

3. Texture does a lot to make a smart phone image interesting.  This can be as simple as shooting the dish on a rustic table (think aged wood) or textured background.  I've gone as far as to put my food on the sidewalk, using the bricks as my surface.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

4. Use natural light... and never use the flash! I see it all the time. I'm at a restaurant and someone takes a picture and they light up the room with their phone's flash.  My suggestion, and this goes for all restaurant photography (even with a DSLR), is to only shoot during the day (or during day light).  It's incredibly difficult to take a shot of food with your phone in a dimly lit room.  Even if the dish is beautiful and the composition of the shot is perfect, the picture is going to come out super grainy.

5. Shoot from above.  Because the iPhone doesn't have the same depth of field capabilities as a DSLR, shooting from the side doesn't always work as well as one would like.  The best way to capture a dish (or a whole table of plates) is to get the shot from above.  If you do shoot from the side, keep your shot simple and with minimal props, because everything in the shot will remain in focus.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

6. Taking pictures is fun!  If your friends are joining you at a restaurant, let them in on the experience.  You can even let them be your model.  They'll like that. And then let them eat.  They'll like that more.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

To see some more of my iPhone shots, head on over to Instagram.  And to see my husband's pictures of me taking pictures of food, check out his Tumblr page, Waiting For It: Married to a Food Photographer.

The above pictures were taken at the following places (listed in order of appearance):

Whole Foods (Andover, MA) Barbuto (New York, NY) West Bridge (Cambridge, MA) Four Seas Ice Cream (Centerville, MA) Mei Mei Street Kitchen (Boston, MA) Lyric (Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, MA) Island Creek Oyster Bar (Boston, MA)