How photography sells food is a million dollar question. Literally. The proliferation of food photography on instagram and the popularity of TV shows about cookery signify an interest in food that crosses cultural barriers as easily as it does class.

I've been working with a number  of micro businesses recently and it has given me a real insight into the culture of the start-up and the pitfalls that some fall into.

Although no two food producers are the same, there are broadly two types of producer; those that simply love food and decide to have a go at selling it, and those that have a marketing or media background and love selling. Like the left brain right brain argument, all companies are a mixture of these two types. The ratio is different for each one.

Successful producers combine a large helping of sales and marketing savvy with a product that tastes, smells and looks great. It's surprising how successful it is possible to be with a product that falls short in the quality stakes but excels in the marketing. What is not surprising however is that the reverse scenario does not hold true. You can have the best product in the world but if its invisible, it won't sell.


Think about the mass market for a moment. Guinness, Findus, Colonel Sanders, McDonalds, . These are brands before they are food. Easily identified money trees that pour millions into their grateful shareholder's coffers. Move towards the Independent sector - Innocent, Heck, Oldfields and you see an interesting phenomenon. The way these brands differentiate themselves from the publicly owned behemoths is by asserting a different set of values. Authenticity, Nature, Health. Quality becomes a much more important part of the brand.

If we move even further into the province of the micro company, we see quality asserting itself as the runaway winner when it comes to promotion. Because it has to. Micro companies have very little promotional budgets and so it comes down to a single key message - "our product is better".


How this message is communicated is a vital part of the puzzle. Food and Drink photograph brilliantly. But you need to be able to smell and taste the food through the image. A good food photograph should make you want to run marathons in order to get to the food!

If you are selling food, there are three types of photograph you will want to consider.

  1. Editorial: The food as a serving - on the plate or in the glass
  2. Editorial: Preparing. Ingredients, cooking equipment
  3. Catalogue: The food as a product - branding & packaging

Take Jamie Oliver as an example of how photography sells food. You can see all three types of photograph on the front page of his website. Starting at the top with some 'no agenda' editorial photographs of food in servings. Very tastefully shot, decorative and definitively soft sell. They draw the user into the story.

Further down, we start to see product. The Cook Book, HelloFresh, The Cookery School. Here the photography is subtly different and we see foods a product in the case of HelloFresh and as an ingredient in the Jamie Oliver Cookery School.

Like a relationship, these three types of photograph do the job of introducing and attracting interest, seducing and finally selling. The principles are the same for all products and all websites use them. This is why photography sells food.

Improving your Web Site Photography

Don't try and boil the ocean. One thing about the internet is that mistakes can be erased and most things are forgotten in a week. If you do your own photography, then take a look at our guide to product photography at the bottom of this post.

It contains some real world advice that will help you raise your game.

If you use professional photographers, you could still gain from reading the guide - a good professional photographer will understand the principals I've talked abut here and will collaborate with you to produce the definitive pictures for your brand.

If you don't have a clear idea about how your images should look, try Pinterest. Search for food photographs and start collecting the ones that resonate with you.

Later on you can share this with your photographer and discuss your shoot with some real examples to refer to. Hopefully you will quickly discover how photography sells food!