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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kathy @ vodka and sodaMarch 25, 2014 at 8:17 am
yes to all of this. everything you need to learn about your camera can be done via google!
AshleyMarch 25, 2014 at 8:09 am
Couldn’t have said it better myself! I tried making my own light box after daylight savings since I work 9-5, but I hated it so I try to cram all my recipes in on weekends. Light boxes DON’T WORK!!
Kim @ BusyBodMarch 25, 2014 at 8:05 am
Love how honest this post is. I feel like understanding what goes into the beautiful pictures makes everyone feel better when their pictures aren’t so beautiful. When you’re shooting at night with an iphone, of course they won’t be! I don’t mean that in a feel bad way, I just mean understanding how much effort food bloggers put into their pictures makes it clear that beautiful shots are a product of that effort.
I like to think that someday I will invest in a real camera and photoshop and learn to use both, but the reality is that is years away, if ever! Ah a girl can dream…
Nicole @ FruitnFitnessMarch 25, 2014 at 7:54 am
A nice camera is on my birthday list! I agree with you that people eat with their eyes first, but sadly I currently take horrible pictures. In hoping to work on it this summer once grad school is over and I have a little more free time and daylight hours.
Elise @ 9toFit.comMarch 25, 2014 at 7:11 am
I love this post! lol I love how you said if you work 9-5 “this news sucks for you” haha it’s so true. that’s why when I cook it has to be on the weekends (hence why I’m slacking lately opps)
erin @ The Almond EaterMarch 25, 2014 at 7:02 am
I love this and agree with everything you said, probably because I can hear you saying it via text. Ya the 9-5 is definitely limiting so I’ve been trying to make the most of my weekends. Doesn’t always happen but I usually get at least one good photo shoot in. I agree–nothing compares to natural lighting. I’m still learning and I loooove this guide. You rock.
Heather @ Kiss My BroccoliMarch 25, 2014 at 6:58 am
I totally agree with you on the food props and the flash, but I have to say, albeit with a little shame, that I have NEVER read the owner’s manual to my DSLR…actually, I’m pretty sure I lost it! Ha! Also, I only use iPhoto for my editing and Pic Monkey for my fonts/collages and both seem to serve me pretty well! 😀
Love the tip about the poster board! I actually went out and bought a black foam board after first seeing your egg salad pull back pic and used it for both my beet smoothies and my caramel apple cashew butter recipe photos and I thought they came out GREAT!
[email protected]March 25, 2014 at 6:44 am
Thank you Darling!! Totally love it. And how are we supposed to learn if not with all honesty?
You reminded me to study the guidelines for my camera….after almost a year. Oops.
Kelly @ Kelly Runs for FoodMarch 25, 2014 at 6:31 am
Love this! This is super helpful I think for people just starting out with photography. I’ve accepted the fact that at least right now my blog is not about good photography. I have an iPhone and about 30 seconds to take pictures, so I’m always super jealous of those that are able to take the time to do it right. Your pics are always gorgeous, so thanks for sharing the advice!
meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNiclesMarch 25, 2014 at 6:08 am
This is a terrific post – super informative! I hate photography, never had an interest in it which really makes me a terrible parent since one needs to take photos of their child…Having a blog and hating photography? Not a great match lol.
Ksenija @ With An Open MindMarch 25, 2014 at 5:30 am
I LOVE THIS! Lovie, you are such an inspiration and this guide is hilarious. I made a lot of the experience myself and still learned something (might get myself some poster boards soonish 😉 ). But I also feel like part of point 2 is not completely true, though I think food photography is tons better when you use a DSLR I know some food bloggers who started out with cheaper cams or even their iphone and managed to get pretty pictures plus I do use the automatic setting once in a while – never at home when I shoot recipes, but when I am eating out and am sitting outside it’s the easiest way to take a pretty picture without bothering anyone, or when I am being a tourist and don’t want to switch around manual settings all day. But I definitely never use my flash. It just makes pictures look way to artificial. Thanks for this great read, now I am so excited to get back to my tripod and food props and other lenses *swoon*
Arman @ thebigmansworldMarch 25, 2014 at 5:18 am
Love the brutal honesty here- and it’s so true- you need to be committed to it. Can’t wait to get a personal tutorial.
and lol- legit told spoons earlier I was going to build a light box. Womp womp. No more.