“Food is our common ground, a universal experience” – James Beard

Dark Moody Food Photography - A cup of cappuccino

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton

The Trends

Food fads, as well as food photography, follows trends. I am not quite sure why this is but I assume it would be for various reasons, one being that food is a commodity with commercial value. Therefore the industry would spend vast amounts of money on marketing and stimulating trends in order to benefit from consumers’ willingness to follow these trends and spend money in the process. It is also true that social media does its fair share to add fuel to the fire while food blogs have an almost cult like following; what ever the reason might be, I am grateful.

Dark Moody Food Photography - A few beautiful red Italian tomatoes set on on a round piece of wood

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton

Food has Never been this Beautiful

Current food trends have the majority of us eating organic, homegrown, healthy, fresh foods. With the addition of various micro-greens, seeds, fresh herbs, sustainable seafood, exotic fruits, beautifully fabricated cuts of meat and fancy flavours such as ginger and lavender.

Dark Moody Food Photography - Fresh blueberries in a black bowl

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton

Food Styling is Keeping it Real

Fresh, organic, natural, healthy, and real are all words that come to mind when thinking of the current styling trend. It is all about making the food look as fresh and natural as possible – and that includes making a mess… fillings that ooze deliciousness, crumbs and a drip of jam or a drop of cream all remains part of the picture. The “farm-to-plate” trend adds a certain rustic charm. Unwashed raw ingredients feature in the pictures. Dishes are simple, with plenty of raw and bright garnish… It is all about colour and texture. Breads are broken, not cut into slices and old kitchen utensils, such as used baking trays, cooling racks and mismatched crockery get a much deserved chance to relive their former glory.

Dark Moody Food Photography - Cinabons styled with spices en cinnamon sticks

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton

It is all so Beautiful – Keep the Photography Simple

The current trend is not only easy from a lighting and photography perspective, but the dark and moodiness adds a fine art feel to the images. Bottom line: Food has never been this beautiful!

Dark Moody Food Photography - Fresh bowl of strawberries

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton

Soft Natural Light

The lighting set-up is simple with a large window as the light source. Turn the set-up in such a way that the light falls from the side and slightly from behind on the subject. The light can be further diffused by sticking a sheet op tracing paper on the windowpane.

The light falling on the food and the background will be further controlled with a reflector of sorts (I love using silver cake or cupcake boards – they come in all sizes) and a few pieces of black board as flags (I use cori-board).

If you are framing the picture from a lower angle, concentrate on the adding light by reflecting light to the front (darker side) of the dish. Place the important pieces of food on the side of the set-up that will be getting the most light from the window.

Use the flags to block off light from the background. (remember you want that dark and moody feel)

If you are going overhead make sure all the points of interest are visible from above and is sufficiently lit.

Dark Moody Food Photography - Maryna gives us a behind the scenes look at how you can style food

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton


Start building your set-up with the main subject. Once the framing and lighting is perfect, add the background details.

Remember your image is all about storytelling. Ensure that focus and composition lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject. Although rules are meant to be broken, the rule of thirds and in particular the use of power points can help with this. Tight crops and all the other design elements such a lead-in lines and the use of negative space will add to a strong composition.

Placing a plate off-centre in the composition will add impact, as we are used to see our plates right in front of us when we sit down for a meal.

Dark Moody Food Photography - Healthy home made crunchies stacked on top of one another

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton

Tips and Tricks

Just about anything can serve as a surface to work on for dark and moody food photography. I have used laminate floorboards, textured tiles, a board made from old pallets, and metal table and paper. If you are shooting at a low angle you would need a backdrop. For this I have used everything from an old baking tray, a rusted sheet of corrugated iron to the window blinds. There are no rules!

Dark Moody Food Photography - Delicious dar chocolate stacked on a round wooden block with dark fresh cherries, coffee beans and cocoa

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton


  • You want neutral tones in the background with slashes of colour (typically the main subject) or add a sprinkling of herbs or cut spring onions to lift a dish or a sprinkle to icing sugar or cocoa to a cake or cupcake.
  • The directional light from the set-up explained above will enhance textures. Make sure to use this to the full – style with baskets, wooden boards, crumpled paper and cloths with texture.
  • Contextual contrast can add an interesting twist. Use old with new, textured with smooth etc.
  • Photograph beautiful food. Make sure raw or fresh items are crisp and blemish free.
  • Think about shapes too when you style, for instance add cucumber ribbons instead of rounds.
  • Small changes in the props or background can make a big difference to the image and the story told.

Eat your models after you have photographed them….
beautiful food usually tastes great! Enjoy!

Dark Moody Food Photography - Two different styled setups

Photo Credit – Maryna Cotton