"I love the universal emotional connection that food has to us all," says food photographer Sarah Crawford. "Food is inextricably tied to human experience, and through food photography, we can capture that connection. I also love how food photography is so democratic. You can have a tiny apartment with one window and still take as gorgeous a photo of food as someone on a commercial set with two food stylists, a prop stylist, producers, gaffers, and a director." We recently asked Crawford to share six of her Adobe Photoshop Lightroom presets, plus tips on shooting and editing food photos. For more how-to, check out her online Foodtography School.

Tip: Balancing act.

Harsh shadows and strong highlights generally make for less-appetizing food photos. But for your food to pop off the screen, the light needs to be strong enough to produce highlights and shadows on your subject. To achieve that balanced combination of highlights and shadows, try shooting on cloudy days or, if you're shooting in harsh light, use a scrim to soften the light. A good rule of thumb is to be between 1 and 3 feet from your light source.

Before and after applying the Baked at 350 preset.

Before and after applying the Bittersweet Chocolate preset.

Tip: Softer doesn't mean blah.

Even if you like softer-looking images, your photos still need some contrast. That means having at least a little absolute black and a little absolute white.

Before and after applying the Bright Baby preset.

Before and after applying the Dark Roast preset.

Tip: Brighter whites and more chocolatey chocolates.

For a bright and airy look, boost the luminance of your blue and aqua and take their saturation way down. For really rich-looking chocolate, bring the red luminance all the way down, pull the red hue to a slightly cooler hue, and pull down the orange saturation. In Lightroom desktop, these controls are in the Edit module's Color Mixer panel; in Lightroom on your phone and tablet, Color Mix is in the Color panel. In Lightroom Classic, go to the Develop module's HSL panel.

Tip: Find inspiration in others.

The inspiration may come from how someone manipulates light, how they style their food, their use of color, or how their photos make you feel. The food photography out of the Donna Hay kitchen is rustic minimalism at its best. I'm also inspired by Kristin Teig, Monica Jiandani, A Sweet Point of View, The Bojon Gourmet, Bea Lubas, Issy Croker, and Luisa Brimble.

Tip: The best of the basics.

Want to refine image contrast like a pro? Instead of the Contrast slider, go to the Lightroom Classic Develop Tone panel and the Lightroom Light panel and adjust the Whites, Highlights, Shadows, and Blacks sliders. Instead of using Saturation/Vibrance, which can make food photos look overly edited, bump up colors selectively in the Lightroom Classic HSL panel or Lightroom Color Mix panel. And finally, don't forget the Clarity and Dehaze sliders.

Before and after applying the Mood Booster preset.

Before and after applying Over Easy preset.

Tip: More gear isn't necessarily better.

With food photography, you really don’t need much more than a good camera, a lens between 50-85mm lens, and a macro lens.

Installing presets.

Having trouble getting presets into Lightroom? Follow these instructions.

For Lightroom (must have version 1.3 or later):

 

1. Download the preset here.

2. Open Adobe Lightroom on your computer.

3. Select File > Import Profiles and Presets.

4. Select the downloaded preset file and click Import.

5. Open the photo you want to edit and click the Edit toolbar on the right-hand side of Lightroom. Select the Presets button and you’ll find the imported preset.

For Lightroom Classic (must have version 7.3 or later):
 

1. Download the preset here.

2. Unzip the zip file on your computer.

3. Select an image and go to the Develop Module.

4. Click on the + icon in the Preset Panel. Select Import Presets.

5. Navigate to the preset you downloaded in step 1.

6. Click Import.

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