A good photographer knows when something should be photographed. They see it. That’s what Daniel Krieger says. The celebrated food photographer — who has shot nearly 100 assignments for The New York Times, alongside his work for Food & Wine and Bon Appétit — is well practiced in the art of food photography, including social media’s shot à la mode: the top-down photo.

“That’s a technique that I think Instagram started — and it’s because of the iPhone,” Krieger said, who maintains that every camera and lens has a sweet spot. For the iPhone, it’s top-down photos. When everything in frame is perfectly symmetrical, the light is even, and the color temperature is perfect — that’s when the iPhone’s camera really excels. The problem is that that’s the iPhone’s only sweet spot, said Krieger. “In the right circumstances, the phone, the iPhone in particular, takes beautiful pictures, but you really have to use it properly.”

For years, even Krieger used an iPhone to populate his Instagram feed, which now has over 150,000 followers. But like other professional photographers who inspire him — Alice Gao, Cindy Loughridge, Michael O’Neal and Sam Horine — Krieger has since switched to a DSLR in an effort to diversify his portfolio beyond the status quo. According to him, great food photography goes beyond the top-down photo. Here’s how to get there.

Techniques to Master

How to Better Your Approach

Find the right light. “Light is one of the key factors between a good photograph and a great photograph,” Krieger said. Things to consider: Is there not enough light? Is there too much light? Is the light a weird color? Though artificial lights can help even things out, Krieger doesn’t recommend them. “I understand that you can recreate pretty nice light using artificial lights, but it’s complicated and it’s cumbersome,” he said. “I try to shoot my food during daytime hours, using natural light, and usually that’s near a window.”

Composition is key. “The people who usually have the biggest audiences [on Instagram] are heavy on the macro, but I don’t really like doing that,” Krieger said. “I feel like if you’re doing too much macro photography, you’re getting too close in, then you’re losing the ability to compose. I like composing with objects outside of the food, using the table and more of the landscape.” Arranging images to create new patterns, lines and depth are all things you can experiment with, Krieger added. Take images from different perspectives, angles and distances to find what looks right. Pay attention to everything that’s in the frame, and think about how they all blend in with each other. That’ll lead to better composition.

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Editing is the last line of defense. Krieger uses several different editing apps and software. His go-to is Priime. “It’s a pretty robust editing software program, and their idea to separate themselves was to develop these filters specifically with professional photographers.” Krieger has developed three filters with them, which anybody can buy. He also uses Adobe Lightroom, with which he said “you can do fairly heavy editing without going into Photoshop,” and TouchRetouch, which is useful for removing unwanted utensils or stains from the photo altogether. “Images should be enhanced by upping the contrast, structure, sharpening, saturation and warmth,” Krieger said. “I tend to like my images warmer than cooler with food and portraits. Getting the right light in your original image is important; there’s only so much editing one can or should do.”

Practice. “One thing I often say is to take more photos.” Try different angles, work with negative space, and really give yourself time to get something that you like. In the food photography, time is a variable. You want the food to be hot (if necessary) and you’ll probably have to deal with many moving pieces, including other customers and the wait staff, so the perfect shot might be difficult to capture. But take a lot of photos, and care about the photos you’re taking. Afterward you can view, rotate and edit the photos. “I guess my pet peeve is when people don’t give a shit and just don’t care about improving their photos.”

What’s in the Camera Bag

Krieger’s Go-To Camera System
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Cameras
Nikon D4 Digital SLR (body) by Nikon $2,650+
500CM Medium Format by Hasselblad (for fun) Learn More

Lenses
50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Nikon F by Sigma $949
AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G by Nikon $1,597
AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G by Nikon $1,697
AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G by Nikon $1,997
AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G by Nikon $1,897
AF-S Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G by Nikon $597

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