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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)


  • August 23, 2013 - 8:08 am

    Jeanette - Great tips – I prefer using my phone to take pictures in the restaurants too. So much easier and less intrusive.ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 8:13 am

    Liz @ The Lemon Bowl - Don’t judge me but…. I don’t own a real camera. :-) Love all of these tips!! I also love the fact that you DO have a camera but choose to use your phone more often than not. Awesome post!ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 8:22 am

    Vanessa - Nice tips =)ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 8:56 am

    Dan from Platter Talk - Terrific and timely post. I’m still a novice food blogger, having started in earnest this past February. For the first few months my DSLR was out of commission and so I relied solely on my iPhone, getting what I think are great results. I continue to use it as a backup and although there are limitations to any camera, I think certain attribute such as what is in essence macro capabilities and even the white balance performance are often times superior to my Nikon D40. Thanks for the tips, I ate this one up!!ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 10:04 am

    jaime @ asweetroad - This was great to read. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by the fact that a cell phone camera just isn’t up to par with a one, two thousand something dollar dslr camera, but the concept of how to shoot a photo is all the same. Seeing your photos was so inspiring, so thank you for the ideas and inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 11:19 am

    Kristen - I always love your photos Brian… thanks for the tips!
    I am dying over Eric’s tumblr! That is FANTASTIC!ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 11:52 am

    Liren - I do agree, shooting with a phone is great practice for the big guns, and sometimes, it amazes me, the quality of the camera phone. I love that I don’t have to lug around the big DSLR all the time, too! Always enjoy your photos, Instagram and otherwise :)ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 12:15 pm

    Sonja - Perfect timing! My only options at the moment are my Iphone and a Nikon point-and-shoot, and I must say that I like my phone more. These tips are great! Especially the one about only taking pictures in day light… It reassured me that I am not the only one who is unable to take a nice picture without flash at night! :)ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 2:05 pm

    Reluctant Entertainer - You are so talented! I would love to someday take great photos like you.ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 3:36 pm

    TidyMom - i totally love the freedom of using my iphone when I’m out and I’ve also used it at home a few times for a blog post instead of grabbing my big girl camera a few times – great when I’m trying to get dinner on the table but I want a shot or two before I serve it!ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 4:11 pm

    SideChef - Amazing tips and beautiful examples of iPhone food photography!ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 8:44 pm

    Denise - Great tips Brian. Maybe you will be teaching one day when I am that way … :) I have to agree with you, I have been using my iPhone camera more and more when traveling. My DSLR is becoming the neglected child.ReplyCancel

  • August 23, 2013 - 10:28 pm

    Averie @ Averie Cooks - This is an awesome post, Brian! Great tips and I never thought about that before, but top-down shots always do turn out very well with my iphone as compared to side/angled shots which can be more iffy with the depth of field.ReplyCancel

  • August 24, 2013 - 1:32 am

    Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. - I love these tips and photos! Lighting is the hardest thing for me to get with my phone in restaurants.ReplyCancel

  • August 24, 2013 - 5:29 am

    Joanne - Love this! I never take my camera around when I go out anymore either…it’s too much of a hassle to bring it and then have to worry about it. That being said, my smart phone skillz could use some sharpening…this post was perfect!ReplyCancel

  • August 24, 2013 - 6:10 am

    Chef Dennis - thanks for sharing your tips for shooting my a smart phone Brian, I just got a Samsung S4 and have started using it to shoot with when I’m out and about, your tips came at a great time!ReplyCancel

  • August 24, 2013 - 5:51 pm

    Arthur in the Garden! - The phones are becomming better than cameras!ReplyCancel

  • August 25, 2013 - 7:16 am

    Currently Crushing On. | How Sweet It Is - […] awesome iPhone photo taking tips. i’m a little […]ReplyCancel

  • August 25, 2013 - 12:11 pm

    Adri - This is my first visit to your site, and I am so glad to have found it. Your work is beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • August 25, 2013 - 6:03 pm

    Archana@FeedingTheFoodie - these tips are spot on. I’m no professional photographer, but I’ve used all those principles in my photography for my blog, and every single pic on my blog was taken on the Iphone! not too shabby …ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 6:22 am

    Carolyn - Great tips, Brian. Unfortunately, I have an Android and the photos just aren’t as good. But my iPad takes some great ones and I am having fun playing with those.ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 6:23 am

    Lora @cakeduchess - Such a great post and all these shots are fantastic. So true how much more discreet it is to take a photo with your phone as opposed to an actual camera while dining out. Those oysters look so good!ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 10:36 am

    Bev @ Bev Cooks - Adore, adore, adore.ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 12:18 pm

    Cory Van Horn - I’ve really started to love using my iPhone for food photos lately. Under the right conditions, the shots are often just as good or better than with my DSLR. Great tips!ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Barbara | Creative Culinary - I don’t have an iPhone but I love my Samsung Galaxy S4 and I’m wondering if you can set your point of focus? Although I typically take very quick shots, nothing really setup like yours, I do like that I can determine that point if I chose to include some bokeh in my snaps.ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 8:25 pm

    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com - Great tips and thanks for sharing, Brian. I love my DSLR but I use my phone very often especially outdoors. Can’t imagine lugging around that huge camera.

    You are so right about shooting from above. Makes it all more appealing on the phone :)ReplyCancel

  • August 26, 2013 - 9:34 pm

    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen - Ha, I love that your hubby has his own blog now too!ReplyCancel

  • August 27, 2013 - 2:28 am

    Deepali Jain - great tips. Though I do not shoot with my phone, I do shoot with P&S. And from my experience in last 2 years, the same tips and tricks apply to shooting with point & shoot as well. I have started doing a re-visiting food photos through the lens series, in which I re-shoot my earlier shot photos with a different setting/ composition but same camera. And my best photos are overhead shots with textured background.ReplyCancel

  • August 27, 2013 - 8:12 pm

    Samantha Tringali Howie - Wonderful article and thanks for the tips!ReplyCancel

  • August 31, 2013 - 9:31 am

    Mary - These are great tips, Brian. LOVE your husband’s site too! Could there be a more perfect name for it?ReplyCancel

  • December 8, 2013 - 11:56 am

    Learning How to Shoot Better iPhone Photos with Brian Samuels and the Oyster Century Club at Mare Oyster Bar | - […] of Brian’s tips but just the ones that resonated with me so check out Brian Samuels post Why I love Taking Pictures with my Phone (+ some Tips/Tricks) for more.  And if you are interested in checking out one of Brian’s food photography […]ReplyCancel

  • December 21, 2013 - 9:02 pm

    Mama's Gotta Bake - This post was very helpful to me. I have been lugging my DSLR around with me to restaurants, and my husband and my friends just roll their eyes. The big camera is very intrusive, and I did not realize that a smartphone took such nice photos. I love the one of the shellfish. I’ll have to remember to shoot from above. Great tips!ReplyCancel

  • December 22, 2013 - 2:44 pm

    Food Photography how-to | Happy Sushi Belly - […] professional photographer on the A Thought for Food blog writes about how freeing it can be to shoot food with a smart phone instead of a  DSLR camera once […]ReplyCancel

  • March 16, 2014 - 7:01 pm

    Buckwheat Scallion Pancakes - […] friend Brian recently did a post with a lot of great tips for iphoneography, and the biggest take away for me was that for food, overhead shots work the best. I’ve tried […]ReplyCancel

  • July 24, 2014 - 11:42 am

    Emily - Hi,

    Your tips are great and your pictures (especially the first 4 or 5)are AWESOME. Would you mind sharing how you get that muted yet crisp look to these photos? Do you use an app or filter to achieve the look? All my pics usually come out so saturated and psychedelic looking, which isn’t the worst but i would like to be able to experiment with something similar to what you posted. Thanks!!

  • August 22, 2014 - 10:14 pm

    WORKSHOP: NEW YORK CITY LIGHTS | Fotopraxis.net - […] Brian Samuels: Food-Fotos mit dem iPhone… geht also auch anscheinend: http://www.athoughtforfood.net/i-love-iphoneography-food-smart-phone/ […]ReplyCancel

  • September 22, 2014 - 5:42 am

    5 Fantastic Food Photography Tips | Catavino | Spanish wine, Portuguese wine and a whole lot more - […] to certain cameras, there are some tried and true vantage points that almost always work. Take a camera phone for example. Taking a shot from directly above the food, or from straight ahead, almost always […]ReplyCancel

  • September 22, 2014 - 6:21 am

    5 Fantastic Food Photography Tips | Travel & Tour - […] to certain cameras, there are some tried and true vantage points that almost always work. Take a camera phone for example. Taking a shot from directly above the food, or from straight ahead, almost always […]ReplyCancel

  • June 1, 2015 - 12:01 am

    Why I Love Taking Pictures With My Phone (+ Some Tips/Tricks): Part 2 » A Thought For Food - […] me to not only develop my photographic style, but it’s given me the chance to hone my skills. Since my last post on smart phone photography, the quality of the cameras has gotten exceedingly better. I never thought I’d get to the […]ReplyCancel

  • September 25, 2015 - 5:58 am

    Satinih - That’s a creative answer to a diicufflt questionReplyCancel

  • January 14, 2016 - 1:16 pm

    Leave The Camera At Home: How to Capture Your Travels With Only Your Phone » A Thought For Food - […] more tips and tricks on taking pictures with your smart phone, check out my other posts here and here. And you can follow along on my food journeys over on […]ReplyCancel

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