Ask the Expert: 7 Top Food Photography Tips

Look at the clarity and details of this artichoke; you feel as if you want to pick it up and cook it to perfection

 

See how the blurred background draws the attention to the cupcake in the front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post

By Katherine Martinelli, a Food and Travel Writer and Photographers.

When Georgette of Chocolate and Figs invited me to do a guest post on the importance of good food photography on food blogs, I wasn’t just honored, I was blown away! I’ve been an admirer of Chocolate and Figs for some time now and can’t get enough of Georgette’s wonderful photography and recipes.

I don’t have to tell you how important good food photography is these days on food blogs. We eat first with our eyes, and it’s much harder to get excited about a recipe if an unappetizing photo accompanies it. I know many bloggers complain that they don’t have the time or resources to accomplish beautiful food photographs, but I’m here to tell you that you can. Take a look at my porfolio

Over the summer I took a food photography class at the International Center of Photography in New York.  One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned is how much you can do with minimal equipment. Yes, professional food photographers have expensive cameras, a selection of lenses, tons of lighting, and food and prop stylists at their fingertips. And it’s really easy to get caught up in wanting the most and the best. But the truth is you don’t need all of that! Here are a few basic tips that I hope will help anyone, from novice to pro.

Tip 1. Know Your Camera – This may seem obvious, but it’s maybe the most import tip I can give you (aside from lots of practice). Whether you have a point and shoot or a deluxe digital SLR, chances are you aren’t aware of all the capabilities of your camera. I found the manual that came with my camera (a Nikon D3000) to be useless. I recommend buying a book on your camera – you’d be surprised how many models have one. I have the Nikon D3000 Digital Field Guide, butDavid Busch’s guides and the “For Dummies” series are also excellent. Read it and see what your camera can really do.

Tip 2. Use a Tripod – If you don’t currently use a tripod when photographing food you will immediately notice sharper photos once you start. Yes, they can be annoying to set up and it may seem like there is enough light to shoot handheld, but it’s worth the extra three seconds it takes to pull out the tripod. And they don’t need to be a big investment. There are plenty out there for under $20, like this one.

Tip 3. Lighting – Everyone will tell you that daylight is preferable. If you are lucky enough to shoot during the day in a place with plenty of windows, you’re in luck. Don’t shoot directly in the sunlight as that will wash out the photos. Instead, manipulate the natural light with a few simple items like a white card to bounce light and a black card (plain black cardboard propped up works) to help block light (for example to help you get rid of pesky reflections).

But not everyone has great light in their house. Furthermore, as food bloggers many of us are shooting our dinner when it’s already dark out. Some folks create their own white boxes out of cardboard and a desk light, which can work wonders. I invested in a small tabletop light called a Lowell Ego Light that runs about $100. It can sit right on the table or attach to one of those cheapo tripods. It supplies a nice soft, daylight-like light and makes it possible to take great food shots any time of day. We used this when I worked at a professional food magazine.

Tip 4. The place of the lighting source. I guess you did not think about the importance of placing your light source strategically. Light is the one that will enhance the texture and shape of the food you are photographing. Will it be your window or a special lamp the source of your lighting, it makes a huge difference where is it coming from. I realize that you cannot move your window, but you can place your settings advantageously. Best photographs are achieved with lights that are coming from three directions: From the right, from the left and behind the item you are photographing. In other words, light at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock controls the light and the back light “scrapes” the surface of the food for enhanced texture and shape.  Another important point: do not place the light too high from the food.

As you can see I use most of the place I was given here to discuss lighting, because light is everything in food or any other photography. I recommend that if you plan purchase only one book about photography, purchase the one that 80% of it is about lighting.

Tip 5. Food Styling and Props – This is probably where I get caught up most of the time. I was trained to just take photos of the food without a lot of stuff in the background, but I’ve found that a little bit of something else often makes for a more interesting shot. At the same time, you don’t want an explosion of props. Keep it simple. While stylists have tons of cool props on hand the food blogger really just needs a few that you can mix and match, and they are probably things you already have: a dish towel or two, a few different plates and bowls, kitchen utensils, a placemat. Other household items like candles and glasses can make their way in, but my favorite is to use herbs, or fruits or vegetables that are in the dish itself. White is always a safe choice for your serving dish. Play around with a few different set-ups. I’m not going to get deep into aperture, but if you want those items in the back to be a little fuzzy for a nice depth of field then use a lower f-stop.

Tip 6. Post-Production – This refers to the editing process. Most photos, even from professionals, require a bit of touching up and you don’t need to take a class in Photoshop to do the same. I use a free program called PhotoScape that, while not on the professional level of Photoshop is a) free and b) suits my needs. There are plenty of other great tools out there. Some of them have an auto-fix option, which can be a good start. Play around with the different options like white balance, contrast, and color temperature and see what results you get.

Tip 7. Practice and Observe – Honestly more than anything else – more than fancy equipment and quirky props – nothing beats practicing and observing. Sure it’s stressful to take photos while you’re trying to get dinner on the table. So try setting aside some time when you can just focus on the photography. It doesn’t have to be a finished dish; try photographing a bowl of fruit, a flower, anything. Play with the set-up, props, composition, light, and settings on your camera. The more you practice the better you will get, and the faster too so that even dinner shots will be great. Also start noticing food photography elsewhere in blogs and magazines – what do you like and not like? What works well? What styles do you notice? Try to think about this and incorporate it into your own photography. (For a list of some inspiring professional food photographers and some other tips check out my post here.)

I hope this brief overview has helped! What’s the most valuable photography lesson you’ve learned? Let us know in the comments section!

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for having me guest post!! I’m honored :-)

  2. Great guest post! And great photographical tips! :)

  3. I am sure that I speak for everyone that visits here and reads the report: Thank you Katherine for a great report.

  4. Thank you for your post … great tip on buying a book on your camera … my camera is just a D80, but the manual that came with it is not always that helpful … I am excited to go to a Food Photography workshop in December … I love taking pictures of edible food with few props … I feel that my greatest enemy is time … yes … there is food to put on the table and conversations to be had … rarely I have time to attempt any lighting arrangements …

    • Everybody can relate to lack of time. Perhaps you should prepare something that it is only consumed the next day? The other thing (and that is what I do), have a place where you do your photography setup all the time, so you are saving a lot of time by not needing spending time on the setup.

      Third thing, you could ask Katherine, at: katherinemartinelli.com, how she handles time.

      • J, I totally relate. And Georgette, I totally agree with everything you said! As you suggested I have a place where my tripod, light, etc is set up all of the time so it makes snapping a few photos quicker and more hassle free. Another friend of mine who is a great photographer suggested putting aside a plate of whatever dish and saving it for the next day when maybe you do have time. She sometimes seran wraps an entire plate for the next day.

  5. Love this post! Such helpful tips I plan to use. Thanks you….

  6. Katherine – Thanks for the great photography tips! Georgette – thanks for putting such great information on your site.

  7. THANK YOU!!! This is super information put in terms I can understand…slowly my photos are improving, but they could be so much better. Your hints are invaluable, Katherine! Thanks, Georgette, for the wonderful guest post~

    • Thanks for your comments Liz. I totally agree; when Katherine writes something she makes sure that it is clearly written and as detailed as the space alllows. Katherine also invites you to ask questions and she makes every effort to find the answers, in the event she may not know the answer.

  8. Hello Georgette! Thank you for Katherine’s wonderful guest post. This was VERY informative and I need to think about my own photography again. Katherine, this post has a lot of useful info. Thank you!!

    • I am delighted that you enjoyed the post. I am not surprised, however, because Katherine puts her heart and mind into effective writing. Photography is her forte.

  9. Great post! I’ve found photography to be the most challenging – but enjoyable – part of blogging.

    Really good info regarding lighting. Without great light you can’t have great photographs. I know everyone talks about how desirable or necessary natural light is – and it can be – but it really is impractical for many of us. I get great natural light only through certain windows in my house during a couple of hours only, and then only during part of the year. So relying on natural light only just isn’t going to work for me. So that means using artificial light. To me, I’d rather spend money on lights than on a fancy camera. I’ve heard great things about the Lowell Ego lights, and they may be an affordable option for many. I’m nerdy enough that I wanted to learn how to use flash, so I went that route. But if money is a concern – and is is for most – you could even use a desk lamp until you can afford something more versatile. In that case adjusting your white balance in post-production is particularly important. The big deal, though, is to get a light source that is predictable and repeatable.

    I also particularly enjoyed the tip to “practice and observe”. I’m thinking about how to take food photos all the time now! And often take quicky pictures of things I never plan to use on my blog, just to experiment with certain lighting techniques or camera angles. Food photography is always a challenge, but I agree the more you do it the more comfortable you become with the basics.

  10. This was such good information, thank you.

    • Katherine and I are delighted that you found this post informative. We will try to continue to provide worthwhile reads to our community. In fact, we would like to invite you to submit requests about any issues/topics you would like to learn more.

  11. Great tips!!! It’s true….food photos are so important!!! Especially for blogs!

    • Thanks for visiting Joann. That is the reason I asked Katherine to write this expert report. We will continue to publish “expert” reports. You are welcome to send us a request; in what area(s) in your business you would like to have more information? Or, you may want to enhance your knowledge in personal issues?

  12. Great post and tips. I can relate to many of them. I spent a good hour last weekend getting one good shot of a stack of cookies ;)

    • Thanks for your comments and visit of course. Please keep coming back for more useful information. There are some interesting things you do. I just gave a quick look to your site, but I am going back to get a better understanding. You could also send us questions about things that are of interest to you.

  13. What an awesome post, thank u :)

    • Heidi, thanks for visiting and thanks for entering the giveaway. Please subscribe to our newsletter; that will inform you about giveaways and gives you many useful information aside from the blog, and it is all FREE.

  14. This is a great post and very helpful :-)

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