top of page

Captivating "mood" imagery - creating food photography with right emotion

Have you asked yourself what exactly captivates and visually inspires you in a food image? Ever looked at an image and wondered what exactly makes the image so impactful and why is it creating such a strong emotion in the viewer?

Capturing a mood, sensation and particular feel is what food photographers aim to do. This can be one of the challenging aspects of food photography - to learn to evoke the right kind of emotions, delivering the right kind of message while creating a captivating and visually balanced and aesthetically pleasing scene.

Deliciously Captured - Marianne Haggstrom - Phene SW3

In this blog post I wanted to focus on elements that allow you to create the right kind of mood in your imagery. The elements which deliver the strongest emotional message are Light and Colour but also I want to talk about Background + Props, Composition and the Human Touch.

So let's dive into my tips what to take into account in your next "mood" photography session!


Light is the magic dust that will create a mood in your image, from hard light to soft light to "light + airy" to "dark + moody". What ever light and style you go for - a different feel it will create. Light is, as we all know, the fundamental mood creator. It is important that you start planning your shoot by understanding and investigating your light, deciding how your available light helps you deliver the message you wish to tell.

I want to go through some basic lighting setups and scenarios which will hopefully clarify what messages and moods light produces.

Simple light creates sophistication

I truly believe that allowing your hero to stand out and to create an elegant, fresh and bright look - you could go for the trustworthy soft side light. Shooting your hero close and personal will allow you to capture the highlights and the details, capturing contrast but still keeping the feel inviting and fresh. Side light has a power of created balance sophistication.

Marianne Haggstrom - Deliciously Captured - Eat With Honeywell - Chelwood Partners - Gemma Harvey-Perry - SW11 - Battersea - Fundraiser cookbook
Soft natural side light

Hard Light vs Soft Light

Hard light has a power to create impressive dramatic images with its shadows or it can be a strong storyteller by creating a certain mood in your image. Hard light has a sense of freshness as it gives the impression you are outside in the sun (drink photo on the left). Especially if you incorporate shadows of foliage in your scene - the feel becomes very organic and approachable. Hard light is very energetic but when used carefully and correctly in composition it can deliver a message of serenity and calmness with its shadows. If the shadows in a hard light image are kept darker the mood can change into more intimate and masculine.

Hard Light Cocktail by Marianne Haggstrom - Deliciously Captured
Hard Light Cocktail by Marianne Haggstrom - Deliciously Captured

Soft Light is most popular in food photography as the light gently surrounds your subject and it doesn't create distractions. Soft light creates dreamy, light and airy look.IF you combine your soft light combined with bright scene and delicate props it can create very feminine, romantic scene and it can create a calm feel to an image. Soft light delivers a message of nurture and purity.

Soft Light Cocktail by Marianne Haggstrom - Deliciously Captured
Soft Light Cocktail by Marianne Haggstrom - Deliciously Captured

Image Analysis - same dish, different light

Let's have a look at a good example of hard vs soft light and how they create different feel in your image.

IMAGE 1 - is shot with hard + back light. The image has a very fresh summertime feel to it. Regardless of the freshness of the mood - this light is making the dish feel heavier than the soft light below due to the fact that the shadows are darker, image has more contrast.

Still the dish has a very clean feel to it due to the light and the glow from the drink is not only a directional line it also strengthens the story of summer. As always back light emphasises the texture beautifully with hard light.

IMAGE 2 - is shot with soft + back light which is less distracting than hard light. The light surrounds the whole scene allowing total focus on the dish and as mentioned this light makes the dish feel lighter and healthier than the hard light setup above. Soft back light still emphasises texture but it’s more subtle. The soft light allows equal balance on all the ingredients vs the hard light

Dark + Moody vs Light + Airy

Generally styles of food photography are either described as Dark + Moody or Light + Airy. There are countless variations and/or additions to/from these two main styles, from minimalistic to chiaroscuro, life style inspired to bold and bright... What every your style is be aware of the message you deliver. I wanted to show the impact our selection of backdrops and props make in the mood and feel of the image. Below is the same dish shot with two different moods - dark + moody and bright + airy. The emotion and reaction they have is completely different. Darker and moodier shot emphasises the orange more which translates into comfort, warmth and strong energy. Darker scene is associated with mystery and power and it gives the image depth and richness. The moodier scene makes the dish feel heavier and more fulfilling, richer.

And then we have the opposite - light and airy. The lighter scene creates fresher and more delicate, peaceful and youthful scene. It makes the dish feel lighter, healthier. The lighter surroundings allows the pop of green to shine through which associated with organic and healthy foods but also safety, making the dish trustworthy. The lighter scene brings in purity and the colour is associated with low fat and weight loss foods.


Our imagination is driven and inspired by colour, the harmonies and the mood they deliver. The colours you choose will evoke a different feelings and tell a different story in your image. Your colour combinations has the capability to power your storytelling and strengthen your image, so understanding what colour combinations work and what do not - will be as important as the composition and subject itself.

Cool vs warm

Composing an image with cooler tones in mind will tell a story of calmness, crispiness and elegance. Cool colours have a sense of air in them, freshness that delivers very healthy message in an image. Blue is extremely popular in all branding and corporate identity, i.e banks, due to it honest and dependable associations. Blue is considered to create the feeling of security and order. Green makes image feel organic and natural, earthy and harmonies. It is associated with growth, freshness and restfulness

Capturing images which contain warmer tones delivers totally different message to cooler colours. Warm colours such as yellow, orange and red are very appetising colours. Orange delivers a message of harvest, it is an uplifting colour full of positivity and energy. Yellow has the power to fill an image with hope as well as joy-fullness and creative associations. Yellow is considered the happiest and most optimistic colour. Red’s super power is to bring passion, confidence and adventurousness into a scene.

Main colour harmonies

Colour is such a powerful tool to impact viewers’ mood or thoughts. Certain colour will evoke reaction of passion, anger, motivation while some create calmer, happier or comforting feeling. Colour selection impacts people’s behaviour and how they i.e feel about certain brands. Let’s look at the colour blue - used by insurance companies, banks, doctors and even real estate agencies as it is associated with honesty, reliability and purity. While red and yellow are used by many fast food chains to create a sense of excitement, positivity and happy energy. Green is used by eco-friendly and organic brands as the colour green is associated with all things healthy and natural. In food photography - colour is used to create balance and enhance your image. Your selection will allow your food hero to stand out and as mentioned - tell a stronger visual story.

Have a look at the colour wheel below showing you the cool and warm colours and their meanings. This will help you design a strong image with the appropriate message

as all the colours have their own meanings and feelings associated to them.

To learn more about colour - checkout my Colour Theory in Food Photography e-book here.


Complimentary colour harmonies are two colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. These colours are high in contract and have the most impact and are highly visible.Warm colours make us feel comfort, coziness and foods come as cross as hearty, inviting and happy. Warm colours are very emotional, energetic colours.

Cool colours bring the feel of cleanliness and calm and in food images they deliver the message of freshness and organic. Cool colours bring stability and relaxation into your image.


Analogous colour harmony is any three colours side by side on the colour wheel. This colour harmony is the most calming and well balanced, but it still has a rich feel to an image. The analogous colour harmony allows this busy and little bit messy dish feel clean and organic.

Pop of red brings in energy and passion while the hints of deeper orange gives comforting feel to the image. Green delivers a message of organic and earthy.

Any analogous colour scene will have a very natural feel to it.


Monochromatic colour harmony is considered serene and harmonies impact on the image and visually monochromatic images are very calm, regardless of the action in the shot and the focus is not distracted by other colours.

The single chosen colour will be delivering the message of the overall image. For example green here tells a story of organic, fresh and healthy. Have a look at the colour wheel meaning chart above then you are planning your next monochromatic shoot.

Background + PROPS

Would you go dark on summer image? Or would you go light on masculine whisky shot?

The props and backgrounds you choose will have impact how the image is viewed.

When you start planning your shoot - recognise the key colours. What is your hero colour and then add to that what supports and complements. Think about your overall message and the brief. To keep you image cohesive don’t mix seasons and don’t mix colours that create un-balanced feel. Choose you background that doesn't over power and which adds to your colour story.

These two images have a clear message and clear target audience due to background and props and mood created by the lighting. The first image with the soft back light and the tones of pink adds a romantic and holiday feel to the image, the foliage brings natural and organic feel and the hint of orange brings positive energy.

The second image is much more masculine, richer, intimate than the first one. It has a deep sensation of mystery and the slate adds to this over all dramatic feel.

Here is an example where colour, props and backdrop balances each other beautifully. The dark and moody scene is balanced with the organic and harmonies analogous colours of the dish. Green - Orange - Yellow are very natural, as said organic colour which bring softness to the moody scene. The slate being an organic product goes well with analogous colours as together they create a scene of strength, energy and harmony.

The slate and knife on the bottom of the frame play a significant role in the image by adding richness and masculinity.


The one major aspect that creates flow in your imagery and allows the viewer to read your image according to your plan is composition. Composition is the key to a balanced image. Balance creates calm viewing experience and impact the mood of the viewer.

Food can be attractive from all angles but just like us, it has a best side that shows off the uniqueness and impressive features. That said sometimes even your angle will influence the mood of your image.

Displaying a lot of negative space creates breathing room and balance to an image but depending how you compose your image it may leave your capture feel isolated, excluded, little lonesome. Regardless that the image can still be impressive and compositionally strong is still can lack the help of other supporting actors which will make the scene have more communal feel and togetherness that eating experience should have.

If we have a look at the two images below - same dish, same scene but different composition with the plating. The image one the left is much more conservative, little unapproachable. It doest not have the feel of sharing as the image two has. When you plate cake or a dish and have several plates in your scene if creates a feel of companionship and sharing. It makes the scene feel festive or communal - event of sharing, togetherness, intimate. Plating your dish will invite the viewer into the scene and it will definitely make the audience feel they are part of something.

human touch

Everyone will write about the approachability of the human touch and what it adds to an image. The power of adding the human element or even hands in the scene makes the viewer feel part of it and this gives life to an image. Also this is a fantastic way to guide the eye to your desired focus point and to make image softer and more engaging. We grave for togetherness and by adding this simple element to your capture - you can create a sense of touch and presence.

Creating an image with and without - the human touch - will tell you the difference.

First image has the viewer focusing on the swirls in the soup as that is the natural focus point based in ruled of thirds and the intersections the swirls fall into. The image has a comforting feeling due to the colour harmonies chosen and the textures of the napkins and bread. Its visually warm and homely.

Ok - so let's add the hand that is holding the spoon. You focus is no longer on the swirl in the soup. It's the hand + the leading lines. But also the feelings that human element brings in which is togetherness. Regardless that you can only see one hand your brain thinks there are others due to the fact of the extra bread. The hand in frame allows viewer to imagine that they are sharing a moment with someone, they are not alone, they are supported - which is also the power of colour orange. Orange is an inviting colour - You are not alone!

Knowing how to create mood - the right kind - in your photography will elevate your photography. It has power the draw the viewer in. These compositional elements will strengthen the character of your imagery, they add to the story and they - as always said - tell your story stronger. Design your frame with purpose and know what you wish to tell to the viewer!

I would love to hear your thoughts - reach out to me via email or Instagram. I would like to know what you think and what you struggle with when it comes to your food imagery.

IG Challenge - #DeliciouslyEducated - Show me what you learned!

Happy spring!

Love, Marianne xx

Ps. Download the free ebook containing all the information shared here!

Capture food with mood by Marianne Haggstrom
Download PDF • 62.55MB

22 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page