I also warmly open up the comments section for you to add your piece, trained or not, in the hope that together we can totally cover this food photography shiz. Okay?
If you have a food blog, the better the photographs of your food, the more enticing it will be to other people to eat, make or buy the recipe from you. You will receive more comments on your blog, more traffic and more engagement with the people you are trying to reach. If you are going to monetise your blog in any way, this will eventually equate to more financial reward (for all of your hard work).
While I adore clean and fresh photos of food created in a minimalistic setting (like Donna Hay’s – so gorgeous), I am often drawn to creating scenes and photos that feel like home to me. Warm and inviting and with a touch of ‘Nanna’. 😉
My props and styling will represent this part of me and you will have your own style of course, but these tips will still be relevant for you.
#1. The Camera + equipment
I’ve taken pictures on a few different cameras for my blog, and some of the best – believe it or not – have come from my iPhone 5. While investing in an expensive professional camera may add instant clarity and freshness to your food photography, a good picture is as much about the photographer, if not more, than the camera.
I bought a Canon EOS 50D (below pic, top left) about 3 years ago off eBay for $500 second hand. It has been great, although seems to be struggling with focus right now. My iPhone 5 now takes better photos than the 50D now. You can take excellent pictures using a phone camera these days, as long as you can hold your hand still – or better yet – buy a small tripod with a phone holder on it for your food pictures.
Phone photo tip: If you press your finger on screen of your phone on the part of the image you want to see most clearly in the photograph, your phone may blur the background slightly for you similarly to the AV mode on a DSLR. It can also overexpose the food picture itself, so be careful it doesn’t ‘lighten’ your food too much.
I recently invested in a Canon 7D and yes, it’s pretty darn spesh. The camera was just under $1000 and I got a (semi-generic) Tamron lens. The lens is where the mo-nay is at. To buy a Canon lens was over $2000 – the Tamron was less at $1200. While this is certainly a big investment, I have bought these because I will use this camera combination for recording videos for eCourses as well as taking all of my food and blog pictures and of course family pics too. It’s an asset to my business.
It’s also really great to have a tripod at hand that can hold the camera steady. 95% of all of my pics are taken without the tripod, but it is growing on me simply for the ease of being able to take a picture, have a look at it and adjust what I need to in the ‘set’ all without moving the camera out of place. It allows me to take the same angle shot with multiple scenes.
Also handy when one has had too much espresso…
In the pictures below I have taken the same shot with all three cameras and you can see the difference in these. I took all three without adjusting anything on the cameras themselves, simply point and shoot. The Canon 7D photo has a slightly more ‘clear’ image and the built in AV (aperture value) comes into play. This is what makes the background slightly blurry and can be altered to increase or decrease the focus of background objects.
If you want to recipe to these Raw Tahini Chocolate Slices, it is here (you will be taken to The Whole Daily website)
I see some absolutely stunning ceramics about at the moment, little dishes and spoons, plates and boards. I want to take them ALL home but sheesh, the price! You can invest in some of these from local artists or buy online – remembering you really only need one of each thing, not a whole set – or you can do what I do and buy everything from op shops.
You will get especially lucky if you like the ‘white-plate’ look, because there is white ‘everything’ in op shops. Most are open on Saturdays as well, so go in and browse about. They’re great to find old cutlery with patterned handles, large funky utensils and also pieces of fabric you can use as ‘table cloths’ or napkins.
It’s worth keeping your eye open for old chopping boards you can paint an edge around, cups to use as props beside your main dishes, and well washed tea towels or napkins that will give your photos a look like they are really on a table to be eaten.
Much to my husbands chagrin, I also hoard papers, linen and ‘stuff’ that could be used in photographs. I have found that the wrappings from fresh flowers and ribbons or twine from gifts make great props, either to style sweet treats or as an ‘underlay’ or cloth underneath the food.
If you are a beginner and wonder what the best thing to use for your photographs are, start with an all white palate. This means your food will be the hero and you won’t be relying on immaculate styling to make the food stand out as much as your plates and clutter around them. All-white plates and props are also the easiest to come across at a budget cost.
Pick up some fresh white tea towels and launder them once, scrunch up some baking paper and use a white backing board to your photo’s to increase the freshness of your photographs and keep a simple shot.
Plates, boards and cloths look great when they are layered together but not too ‘busy’. Think about how you’re going to set your shot up and set your scene before you make your food.
#3. Lighting is everything.
I could say this 100 times over but seriously, it is. You can pretty much take a picture on any type of camera, and if the lighting is right, you can get a pretty good shot. Natural light is a MUST. Never use your built in flash for food photography (never ever, ever ever). It makes the food take an orange tint and appears less appetising. Food photographs taken in natural light are much more beautiful and have an ease on the eye. Play around with where the light source comes from depending on the dramatics you would like in your shot. I always take my food photos near or right next to a window inside and look for an even light.
A lot of food photographers will use either white or black boards to either reflect light onto the food or to absorb the light from the area. White boards make the scene seem more open and lit up on all sides, a black board will remove some of the light from that side and help to create a more dramatic shot of the food. You can buy light boards at art supplies stores and you may find some foam ones, which are light and easy to move or prop up.
I went to Bunnings and bought about 6 thin MDF boards and have painted them with black, blackboard and white paint and use them for lighting, but mostly as a backdrop.
Weird Hopefully Helpful Tips. Some I do, some I should.
A lot of great food photos have food in them that isn’t cooked all the way.
Do not overcook your greens. They will end up looking grey in your photographs. It’s best to blanche them (put them into boiling water for less than a minute, remove and run under cold water).
Food flops are a given, so it doesn’t matter if only three of your cupcakes turned out looking like stars. Use those in your photographs and gobble the others up quick smart so no-one sees the evidence.
Get a spray bottle of water to ‘freshen’ up your veggie’s, meats or fruit dishes or to add a sheen to the food (this is something I’m yet to try but know l need to do looking at some older pics of mine).
Put less on the plate than you would eat. If I was photographing a savoury lunch or dinner dish I used to overcrowd my plate by putting as much food on it as I would eat It means that the eye fights for focus on the finished image and doesn’t quite know where to look. Place a small amount of each element on the plate and then garnish and photograph. If it means one lettuce leaf or 2 slices of carrot, do that, rather than a pile. Less is more.
It’s good to do a bit of a quick edit to make sure your pictures are presenting as well as you like. The most common edit that improves the look of a photograph is to increase the ‘brightness’ or the exposure, then you may like to add a little clarity to your images as well. If you have taken your pictures in the right light and checked as you were taking them you shouldn’t need to to much more than this.
Try not to overpower your pictures with hue, saturation or contrast. They will take the natural light ‘look and feel’ out of your food pictures and make them (dare I say it) look tacky.
If you are taking pictures on your phone, you can download the free PS Express app (PhotoShop found here) which can brighten your pictures for you right on your phone. If you are new to editing, I recommend taking the exposure or ‘brightness’ to the most dramatic end of the scale and then moving it back to where it feels ‘right’ in your eyes. An over-bright or over exposed picture is not a great thing, and I’ve had a few of them on my site which make me cringe when I look at them now.
Also think about the composition in your shot. Is everything too central? Does it look too much like the food is a sore thumb in the middle of your shot? It may work well to cut the photo off centre. This can look more gentle and may be easier on the eye.
For a lot of the most recent food photos on The Whole Daily, I used a program I downloaded for $120 called VSCO which integrates with my adobe photoshop. It has many filters of old style cameras that I have used in a lot of my shots to give them a somewhat vintage look.
#5. Have fun.
You will improve. Practice, have fun, and if you’re ever in doubt. Less is more!
I’d love to answer any questions for you you may have about food photography, your blog, or my process. Ask away and I’ll do my best to help you out.
When you’ve got your light and your background sorted. You can get a result like this one below.