Food & Light: Photography Tips from Diane Cu

Meet Diane Cu.

She’s half of the White on Rice Couple team.

She’s a blogger, food stylist, and professional photographer, in conjunction with her husband, Todd Porter, who makes up the other half of White on Rice Couple.

If you’re not familiar with her work

It would be in your best interest to get familiar with her work, their work, because it’s phenomenal.

That image on the screen? One.Shot.

She styled the peapods in just a couple minutes and clicked her camera once. 

I take 20 minutes to food style, she takes 1.

I take 20 pics, she takes 1.  

Must be nice.  <—No, it just means she has practiced, practiced, practiced along with having natural gifts!

The salad?

A whopping 2 frames to get her money shot.

Shooting teathered, i.e. the image from the camera appears on a screen in real time, is cool!  I could theoretically shoot teathered in my house.  May help me take less frames of images that look nearly identical.  But I haven’t tried that yet.  And probably won’t.  A bit much for household photography.

These notes from Diane’s lecture at Food & Light are worth their weight in gold.

Story, Mood, & Feel

Your message, voice, what you want to say

Your eyes are your best lens; your heart is your shutter

Don’t pick up your camera until you know what you want to say and convey.  Create pictures in your sleep, in other times of your day so that when you do pick up your camera, you have your story, mood, and feel ready.

Focus on:

The hero/beauty


Texture, i.e. Napa Cabbage on a plate as a bed for chicken wings; can be thick, thin, Julienned, etc.


Lines & Symmetry (both horizontal & vertical)

Movement/motion; we see in 3D with our eyes but photos are 2D.  Challenge is to bring out the 3D qualities.  i.e. For something like a cherry stem, use a curved one, not a straight one, because the curved will add movement.



Choose the Best Possible Subjects

Highlight individual ingredients:  Choose your star

Smaller scale

Less is More – Don’t prop hoard the food shot

Simple.Less is more. Monochromatic.

Styling tips:

Huge wood panels at Home Depot for $20.  Can cut them down and paint them as needed for backdrops to go under food.

Cheese boards that are wood, $3 each, from a cheese store.  Paint them.

Tiles from Home Depot as backdrops

Book Cloth (like linen but it doesn’t wrinkle, comes in big rolls and sheets.  Can get it at art supply store, or Papyrus).  Gives both texture and an add color without having to use linens, i.e. iron or have the linen be too small

Men’s handkerchiefs

Cocktail napkins.  Smaller size, cheaper, than regular linen napkins.

With linens don’t have it be perfect, have some of the fabric raised because it creates movement

Parchment paper on top of dishes, will give texture and movement

Add some height to the food, i.e. stacking it

When adding accessories & props to the shot, i.e. small bowls or other dishes in the frame, cut it off, keep on the corner.  Or it will detract from the main ingredient/image.  Focus on the main dish in frame; accompaniments secondary.  The more you add, the more it detracts from the main element.

Always work with your light.  Think light, texture, shape.  Rotate ingredients/items so the light hits them optimally.

Be Bold.  Color.

Don’t be afraid of color

Always change your angle.  And move around.

When you’re styling and placing, place it closer than you would normally do because you lens sees things wider apart than your eye

Style for all perspectives, overhead, 3/4, straight ahead so when you’re moving around & changing your angle the food is styled

Asymmetrical is beautiful.  Don’t have to be symmetrical and balanced.

Impressionist paintings as inspiration (not fine art)

Work with positive and negative space

Don’t need 5 huge stems of basil, 3 pretty leaves is all you need

Tiles from Home Depot as backdrop behind the food; not just for underneath the food

Pick the best food & Cut things up

Start Simple: Easier to add to the frame rather than take it away

Water in the background can add texture and height

Take 3 or 4 pictures and then stop shooting from that angle.  Nurture a shot but don’t obsess.

If it’s not working in 3 or 4 frames, then change something, i.e. angle, perspective, or something within the frame.  Don’t be afraid to walk away and change things.

When shooting top down, you can use a lower aperture number, i.e. use a 4.0 rather than 5.6, compared with shooting straight ahead or 3/4

Practice, practice, practice

Don’t compare yourself to others

And with that, we started shooting and practicing!

Here are another couple cupcake pictures of mine

The actual food itself, i.e. storebought cupcakes, are just so-so to look at.

It was my job to style them, plate them, compose a scene and a shot

And attempt to make these storeboughts look like gems.

My other cupcake pictures are here

And check out this post if you missed Jen and Matt’s Photography Tips.

For those of you who said they were helpful, I’m glad!


1. Have you ever watched someone in action doing something and you think to yourself, this person is just truly gifted in this particular endeavor or pursuit?

And isn’t it just magical to watch someone do something that they truly excel at!

They have found their calling, their path.  And to see watch it is beautiful!

Diane is to food styling and photography what Tiger Woods is to golf, or what Michael Jordan was to basketball or what a wonderful pianist can bring out of a Beethoven piece or what a talented makeup artist can do with the blank canvas of the human face.  Enhancing and bringing out the natural beauty.

2. What do you feel like you’re good at?  What comes naturally to you?

For me, I am a natural sales person.  I can talk.  I can sell snow to Eskimos and have the ability to persuade, convince, and win over.  I can make a friend with a stranger, and sell them something.  It runs in the family on one side.  My uncle is the same way.

Photography?  Cooking?  Recipe development?  Blogging?  <– Some of those things come more naturally than others to me.

With varying results.  <–Ahem. 

P.S. Reminder about the Healthy Cookie & Brownie Giveaway

73 comments on “Food & Light: Photography Tips from Diane Cu”

  1. after all these months of my search, this has been by far the best summary, tips, and short quick notes on internet in one page for food photography, at least for beginners.
    checking out your other posts now.

  2. Pingback: {Photography} Food & Light: Photography Tips from Diane Cu

  3. Thank you for sharing this blog post! Such a great read and tips for food photography!

  4. Pingback: Photography Tips from Professional Photographers | tiffanylanehandmade

  5. I was at one of Diane’s workshops where she shot a harmburger & chips. It was one of the coolest workshops and I learned so much. It wasn’t even hands-on, so I can’t imagine how cool it would be to take an interactive workshop. Awesome post!

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  7. Pingback: Photographers Connection | Chew on This: Food Photography 101

  8. This is great, thanks so much for the tips. I’m always looking to improve my photog.

  9. Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Pingback: Food Photography Tips | Creative Cards and Photography by L. Thiessen

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