Food Photography Friday: The Mexican Challenge

5 Tips for getting great shots of Mexican food

Yum, it’s Food Photography Friday! Today we’re discussing the challenges in photographing Mexican food and how you can overcome them to get great shots of dishes from the land of the carnitas.

It may look like a hurricane hit your plate, but there’s no denying that Mexican food is delicious. Mexican food’s unique blend of meat, spices, cheese, and sauces forms a perfect storm of flavors, but this melange of ingredients also makes it one of the most difficult types of foods to photograph.

I love Mexican food and have learned some valuable lessons on how to photograph Mexican dishes in a pleasing way. Here are 5 tips to help you take better photos of Mexican food.

5. Find the Right Angle

Shooting a dish from the right angle is extremely important for the often-formless Mexican dishes. The optimal angle– or Angle of Attack— can mean the difference between a drool-worthy shot and one that kills the viewer’s appetite.

For example, the long and narrow shape of a burrito does not photograph well head on.

Burrito Head On

By contrast, turning the burrito at a 45° angle highlights it’s shape and texture brilliantly.

45 Degrees of Burrito

Bonus tip: In addition to a 45 degree angle, shoot slightly from above and pointing downward at the dish for a great perspective.

45 Degrees of Burrito

Alternatively, a burrito’s profile can also work well.

Burrito Profile

This angle of attack also works well for plate-based Mexican dishes, again shooting from slightly above the plate for a more dramatic perspective.

Angle the Plate

4. Focus on the Details

One of the problems with photographing Mexican food is that there is often too much going on at once. The mix of ingredients might be a party in the mouth, but on the plate, it’s pure chaos.

Chaos on the plate

Instead of trying to capture the entire dish in one shot, focus on just one area of the plate at a time so that the viewer can process what they are seeing.

Focusing on Rice Focusing on Beans

3. Put it in a Frame

Without some structure, a Mexican dish tends to just spill out in all directions.

Meat Spilling Out

However, by framing the ingredients with something like a tortilla, you can reign in a mess of meat, rice, and cheese for a much nicer photograph.

Framed by a Burrito

Tortillas are great frames for Mexican food, but also experiment and get creative with other “frames” to bring some structure to the shot.

2. Natural Lighting FTW

Proper lighting is important whenever photographing food, but it is absolutely essential for Mexican dishes. When you have red, white, green, and yellow colors on a single plate, the wrong lighting can make a shot go south of the border in an instant.

Burrito in Bad Lighting

Simply put, natural lighting from the sun yields the best colors. Therefore, find a table by a window with ample natural light streaming in, allowing you to present the dish in the best light possible (literally).

Chimichanga in Natural Light

1. Avoid the Mush

Let’s face it, Mexican food has a lot of small and mushy ingredients. From diced bits of meat and veggies to amorphous refried beans and rice, Mexican food is a minefield of mush.

That’s why this may be the most important tip of all: Avoid the Mush.

Don’t try to work around it or dress it up– just avoid it. Even if you shoot it from the right angle, frame it perfectly, and bathe it in natural light, mush kills any chance of a good photo.

Mush Wins

Even a burrito is not safe from the destructive force of mush in the shot.

Mush destroys all Mush kills

Take the Mexican Challenge

Armed with these 5 tips, you no longer have to fear shooting photos of Mexican food. You can take the Mexican Challenge and win!

Your turn: What other types of food do you find challenging to photograph? Send me a tweet to let me know what food I should tackle next!