It’s obvious that over the past year my food photography has improved immensely. This occurred for two reasons: 1) I am obsessed with food porn and could stare at it all day and 2) People eat with their eyes so there’s no point in me writing a food blog if my recipes don’t look appetizing. So I made it my mission to seriously improve my photography skills.
I am not the first and I certainly won’t be the last to write a post on this topic. But today I wanted to give it to you straight. I get that not everyone wants to improve their food photography, and that’s totally cool. But if you do want to get serious about it, here’s my No BS guide on how to start.
1. You have to WANT to improve. This means accepting that you will end up spending a lot of time and money. That’s just the reality of it.
2. Invest in a good camera and learn how to use it. Some bloggers will tell you that you don’t need one and can make it work with your phone or digital camera. I think they’re lying. I bought a DSLR two years ago and rarely touched it until I started the blog. Even then it intimidated me so most of my first recipes were shot with my iPhone. When I finally picked up my SLR I was only shooting on landscape mode because the manual setting overwhelmed me. Eventually I sat down with my camera manual and googled everything I could on aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Once I came to understand how my camera worked I started practicing a TON. Eventually I figured out which aperture and ISO worked best in different lights.
Don’t ever shoot on auto mode or anything with a flash. There’s no point in using an SLR if you do.
Here is the camera gear I use:
Canon Rebel T3i | Canon 50 mm lens f/1.8 lens | Manfrotto Tripod
3. Always ALWAYS shoot in natural light. Find a window and set up shop. If you’re working 9:00-5:00 this news sucks for you, but there are ways around it if you are seriously dedicated. When I was working at the hospital this meant cooking and shooting 3 recipes in one weekend or cooking the night before and early morning photo shoots before work the next day. I know some of you have asked how I do it now. Well my job is super lenient so midday photo shoots are an option. Don’t bother with those fake artificial lights that allow you to take “natural” pictures at night. There ain’t no competition for the sun.
4. Start stalking. My friends used to joke how I majored in “foodgawker” because I spent the majority of my college years perusing foodgawker instead of paying attention to lectures. Years of Foodgawker, Tastespotting, and Healthy Aperture browsing have totally paid off. I’ve also created a “Food Photography” inspiration board on Pinterest. Watch for the angles other food photographers are shooting at and the food props they use. Look for text placement, garnishes and backgrounds. Eventually you will absorb these things and develop your own eye.
5. Buy some descent food props. You don’t need to go crazy or spend a ton but have some staples. I recommend a black slate board, white bowls, pretty spoons or forks, colourful ramekins and a small collection of dishtowels and napkins. I buy most of mine at the dollar store, Home Sense (Home Goods in the US) and my mother’s basement. If you’re in Toronto go to Tap Phong in Chinatown and try not to spend your life savings. I should add that you shouldn’t go crazy with food props either, let the food speak for itself.
6. Don’t bother with a lightbox. I’ve seen about a million bloggers do tutorials on how to make your own, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend it. For the first few months I used one but eventually I found it very limiting and my pictures became kind of stale. Even cheaper (and easier!) just buy two pieces of white poster board and two pieces of black poster board. Place one on the bottom and prop one up behind. Set it up so that your window is at the food’s side (rather than behind or in front-though more skilled photographers know how to shoot as these angles) and on the other side of the food use something white to act as your “bounce”.
7. Take more pictures than you could possibly imagine. I take at least 30-50 pictures (and sometimes more) for each recipe. It usually takes me a while to get into the groove and I rarely use my first 10 pictures. Odds are that if you take enough pictures a couple will turn out well.
8. Get Photoshop or some editing software. 90% of food bloggers use some form of editing software. I would NOT recommend picMonkey. Some bloggers use it with some success (maybe they’re buying the upgrade?) but in my experience nothing compares to Photoshop (Illustrator is great too!). It allows me to play with the lighting and saturation to make the food look as accurate as it does in person. More than anything it gives me an array of fonts that PicMonkey does not offer. It’s also incredibly beneficial when creating graphics and workouts.
9. You’re going to suck at first and you will still have sucky days. This is pretty self-explanatory. You will suck for a while but with practice you will get better. I still have photo shoots I hate and recipes I haven’t posted because I need re-shoot them. Accepting that not every picture will turn out well is part of the process. But you will 100% get better with practice. None of the above matters if you don’t start putting it to use. So pick up those cameras and start clicking!
Sorry for the information overload and possibly bursting your food blogger bubble. I always promised to keep it real!
Do you enjoy photography? Have I missed any tips? Am I being too harsh?
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JohnJune 26, 2017 at 6:47 pm
Excellent post and very informative! I have to admit that I have been using a lightbox kit but after reading your post will consider your suggestions for sure. Thanks!!!
AlyssaJune 12, 2017 at 3:42 am
Decoration for the egg picture looks so awesome! One of my friends gets a brilliant idea for his food blog after reading the entirety of the post. I love your technique. Thank you so much for this kind of sharing!
GsApril 15, 2017 at 7:01 am
Hi..how do u use the poster boards? These r just paper sheets without a firm board to stick .how did u make a board with them?Please reply asap.
McKenzieMarch 28, 2017 at 5:50 pm
WOW! Great post, and I think your photos are turning out wonderful. Thanks for sharing!
GsMarch 22, 2017 at 3:36 pm
Hi..could u please tell me what’s thé size of thé black & white poster boards that uve used in thé picture.thé black size seems just perfect & I was interested in buying for my photography. Please please reply asap.
GsMarch 22, 2017 at 4:16 pm
Also please tell me what do u use as a bounce? I really need to know.ur little help with be worth it.
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FrancescaApril 3, 2014 at 8:17 am
Thanks for the tips! My photography needs serious work. Time to retire the iPhone and maybe quit my day job to get some natural light 😉
Heather @ Run Like a G!March 30, 2014 at 5:22 pm
This was a great post! Definitely different and I liked that. I also liked how honest you were about it! It takes practice!