7 Tips For Better Burger Photos

7 Tips For Better Burger Photos

by Grover Sanschagrin

It’s burger season. This is the time of year when, after months of inactivity, the air is filled with the smoke and smell created by a chorus of fired-up BBQ grills.

I know that the season is upon us because, last week, I caught myself searching through pictures in PhotoShelter archives, looking for burger porn. I found many, including these incredibly tasty-looking photos of burgers by Paul Williams.


Burger Food Pictures – Burger Photos, Fotos, Images & Photography – Images by Paul Williams


All of these burger photos look so much better than anything I’ve ever been capable of shooting. Usually, my photos of food end up looking like something you’d see on the menu of a really scary restaurant – where the food looks completely unappetizing.

I always thought that taking a great food picture required a studio, huge lights, an army of assistants, fake food, food stylists, and a large budget. Sure, that’s certainly one way, but what about burger shooting for the rest of us?


justin-sullivan-shooting.jpg

Photojournalists Justin Sullivan and Josh Weisberg recently started thehamblogger.com, a blog all about burgers. They review burgers from restaurants (big and small), shoot pictures of the food, and maintain the journalistic sensibilities. The images are nicely shot, and surprisingly, done on location, no expensive lights, no assistants, using real food without a stylist, without a budget.

“I use minimal equipment when shooting a burger review,” Sullivan said. “One camera, one lens (sometimes two) and a light meter. I shoot with a Canon 5D MK-II, a 24-70 f/2.8 (sometimes a 50 f1.4) and use a Minolta light meter.”

He rarely does reviews at night so he doesn’t even carry a flash.

“Everything is shot in RAW and converted to jpeg for the site. I do minimal post-production of my images, minor color and exposure corrections, that’s it,” he said.

His pictures look nice enough, that I began to wonder if he alerts the kitchen ahead of time, giving them a chance to make the food look extra nice for the picture.

“I have done all of my shots of burgers without alerting the kitchen or manager,” he said. “I want the burger to be just how they normally make it, we don’t want it to be styled or made special for us.”

“People do look at me with a weird look on their face when I am taking pictures of my food, but whatever.”

The most important factor, according to Sullivan, is window light. When he shoots a burger he always seeks out the seat closest to the window. If there isn’t a seat near a window, he says he will wait, or come back later.

“For the tight shot of the burger I rely on soft window light, not the harsh direct sun, but nice filtered light coming through a window,” he said. “Window light gives the burger a nice natural look and more often than not it looks like it was lit using strobes with soft boxes.”

I asked Justin to come up with a list of suggestions for shooting better burger photos on the cheap. He came up with seven suggestions.

7 Tips For Better Burger Photos

1. Get Close.
Use a lens that has macro or use extension tubes on your existing lenses so you can focus closer. Most lenses only allow you to focus on something from about a foot or so away, if you’re using a 24 or 35mm lens its going to be pretty loose and you’re going to have a lot of cropping to do. Getting a really close detail shot of a burger, showing its greasy texture, is really cool.

2. Take advantage of window light.
You don’t want harsh direct sunlight, just soft and subtle light. Window light looks great and it eliminates the need to carry a bunch of lighting equipment, which is hard to set up in a restaurant. If you are outside, find some open shade.

3. Use a light meter.
Even though I shoot with a digital camera and I can check the back of the camera, sometimes the screen might not be a good representation of the exposure. Grossly underexposed pictures will look bad and if you overexpose it and blow out the highlights, its all over.

4. Find the focusing “sweet spot.”
Try to find a sweet spot on the focus and let the rest drop out of focus. Shooting with a fast lens wide open will give you this look. Just make sure something is in focus. If you’re using a macro and getting in really close, you might want to shoot at f/4 or 5.6 to get better depth of field.

5. Keep the camera still.
If you’re not comfortable holding a camera and shooting at fairly slow shutter speeds, get yourself a small tabletop tripod. There is NOTHING worse than a crappy out of focus picture of a burger.

6. Use manual focus.
I prefer to manually focus when taking shots of the burger, that way I have more control over what stays in focus and what will drop out of focus. There is nothing worse than using autofocus on a burger when you’re shooting that close and when you get home you realize that the focus ended up on the side of the burger. Then you have to go back, spend some more money on another burger so you can reshoot it.

7. If you use a flash, get it off the camera.
If you absolutely have to use flash, like you’re in some dark bar or restaurant, use an off-camera flash with a diffuser of some sort. If you have two flashes, even better. Be creative with it. If you don’t have off-camera capabilities, bounce the flash. If the walls or ceiling is dark then try bouncing off your hand or a piece of paper/white napkin. Be careful with exposure if you’re bouncing and shooting really close to the burger, I suggest setting the flash on manual exposure instead of TTL, gives you a little more control. 

justin-burger.jpg

Photo by Justin Sullivan, thehamblogger.com

justin-burger2.jpg

Photo by Justin Sullivan, thehamblogger.com

justin-burger3.jpg
Photo by Justin Sullivan, thehamblogger.com

Thanks, Justin. Let’s do lunch soon, OK?

We’re curious – anyone have the perfect burger recipe and a photo to back it up?

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There are 6 comments for this article
  1. monsterphotoiso at 12:14 pm

    These are good tips, As a product photographer, A tripod is a must, and a good a good Marco lens 1:1 RATIO.

  2. 33photo at 11:44 pm

    Why, oh why did you guys post about burgers!! I’m on location so far away from any decent burger, can you believe the stress that causes?! Regarding the tips, I agree with all of them but five should really be USE A TRIPOD. Food photography deserves a good, sturdy tripod. Thanks guys!

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