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Stunning Cafe Photography: 10 Tips for Capturing Lifestyle Photos at Your Local Coffee Shop

Tips for capturing stunning lifestyle cafe photos at your local coffee shop.

Café lifestyle photography has seemingly taken over the Instagram scene in recent years, and it continues to grow in popularity. The reason why is pretty simple: it’s downright gorgeous. There’s something magical about a beautiful scene that contains some of the most essential human needs: food, drink, and a relaxing location.

Café lifestyle photography creates a strong emotional response in the viewer, resulting in a sense of wonder and amazement that can be difficult to achieve in other forms of photography. Just take a look at this photo. (view more on my Instagram)

sean dalton cafe lifestyle photography

Cafe photography is also incredibly easy to get into. All it takes is a decent camera (iPhone is fine), and a local coffee shop or café. Not sure where to start? Well my friend, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled 10 tips to capturing stunning lifestyle photos in your local coffee shop or café.

1. Order Beautiful Food/Drinks

delicious food cafe photography

I mean come on. You can’t tell me this doesn’t look good! (all photos by Sean Dalton @seandalt)

Nobody wants to look at ugly food or boring drinks. Order something with a little pizzazz. Interesting subject matter makes your image well… more interesting! Don’t be afraid to order something a little different or out of the norm, as this could pique the interest of your viewer. Plus, delicious looking food is usually pretty delicious!

2. Shoot Near Windows (Natural Light)

natural window light photography

That light though. (@seandalt)

If there is one tip you need to remember from this list, it’s this. Natural light is your most crucial tool for capturing stunning cafe photos. It’s the softest and most beautiful light available, so use it to your advantage.

Try shooting near windows or doors that have a lot of natural night spilling through. Also remember that the darker the interior of the café, the moodier the lighting will be. On the flip side, a white café will reflect light back onto your subject matter, resulting in more even and flat light.

3. Shoot in the Early Morning or Late Afternoon

moody cafe photography by sean dalton

Plus if you’re like me , coffee tastes the best in the early morning or late afternoon. Both ideal times for a pick-me-up! (@seandalt)

Remember that not all-natural light is created equal! If you’re shooting in the middle of the day, you might have to deal with harsh highlights and deep shadows. This is especially the case if you’re shooting outside. By shooting in the late afternoon or early morning, you are catching the sun when it is low in the sky, creating long, soft, moody, and beautiful shadows. This is the ideal time to shoot.

4. Use Props

props for cafe lifestyle photography sean dalton

I’d be lying if I said I actually read the books I use as props for my scenes. (@seandalt)

Props are a crucial tool for helping you execute your theme. They add interest to your scene, and can help shape the emotion you are trying to express. However, props can also be distracting and get in the way. Only use props that enhance the style of the image, and don’t overdue it. If something is out of place and doesn’t fit the mood of the scene, remove it.

5. Work With a Model

Models are great props that can instantly make your images 100x more interesting. If you’re shooting a coffee still-life scene, have your friend sit down and place their hands on the coffee cup. You don’t need to shift the focus of the image to the person. Rather, just have that person serve as a secondary prop that is enhancing the importance of the scene. You can also try using only certain parts of the models body, such as using the models hand to pour something in your scene (like in the image below).

cafe beverage photography by sean dalton

6. Style to Perfection

styling cafe lifestyle photography

Style on point. (@seandalt)

We have established that props are important, but it’s also important to make sure these props are organized in an aesthetic way. When looking at your image, make sure your eye can move easily across the frame. You can do this by balancing your props on different sides of your composition. For example, don’t place everything on one side of the frame, spread your props out so your eye can easily move from one prop to the other without it getting stuck in one corner of your composition. Read next: Why Stylists Are Important

7. Change Your Angle

moody food photography sean dalton

It’s easy to get stuck shooting from one angle. Remember to move around your subject and shoot it from many different angles. Two of the most tested angles are 45 degrees and the flat lay or overhead look.

A 45 degree angle is very flattering for food and still life, as it shows the depth of your food and also allows more of the setting of the café into the image. A flat lay is also great, especially if you are only using a smart phone camera. Flat lays are easy to execute and involve shooting straight down onto your subject matter. Flat lays rely on properly utilizing props, while 45 degree angle shots require less props to master.

8. Use a High Focal Length Lens

cafe photography

Melted perfection. (Shot at 85mm f/1.4 by @seandalt)

If you’re shooting on a camera with interchangeable lenses, try using a high focal length lens (50mm+). Using a high focal length is more flattering for still life, as it compresses the background of your image and gives your subject matter more depth. They also help increase the bokeh (out of focus areas) in your background, something that can make your subject matter stand out a little better, and adding a very interesting aesthetic to your photo.

9. Edit Like a Pro

cafe photography photo editing

It’s like night and day. Edited with the ‘Crisp Modern’ filter by @seandalt.

Editing is hands down one of the most crucial aspects of creating beautiful café lifestyle photos. Why? Because it dictates the tone and overall vibe of the image. It can be tough to get the look you want if you’re not a seasoned editor.

Lightroom Presets are a great way to get the tone you desire. Whether you’re into deep and moody tones, bright and airy colors, or natural and earthy tones, there are presets for everything. Don’t worry, FitlerGrade has you covered. Check out the Sean Dalton Cafe Lightroom Presets, designed specifically for this style of photography. You won’t be disappointed.

10. Experiment (There’s No Right Way to Do It)

At the end of the day, cafe photography is an art form like any other. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques or concepts. You’ll be amazed at some of the ideas you can come up with if you break away from the mold a bit. This is also an important aspect of finding your own unique style, something that can be tough if you only focus on mimicking other photographer’s photos.

If you’re looking to improve your cafe photography skills, the most important thing is that you keep shooting! However, learning from others is also a great way to improve. Sean Dalton has an incredible e-course on café lifestyle photography that teaches you everything you need to know about how to capture stunning café lifestyle photos. It’s also practically free (find out how to get 2 free months of Skillshare here). If you’re trying to take your café lifestyle photography game to the next level, this is a must.

Happy shooting and good luck!

About the Author

sean dalton photographer

Sean Dalton is an American travel, lifestyle, and portrait photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Sean has spent the last few years traveling throughout Asia in search of the best coffee shops, and has used this time to develop his talents as a photographer. Sean also runs a popular photography blog and has created several popular online photography courses including his latest “Going Pro with Portrait Photography: How to Turn your Photography Hobby into a Job”. Also check out Sean’s custom presets on FilterGrade here.


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