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A No BS Guide to Food Photography

March 25, 2014

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.

A No BS Guide to Food Photography

 

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

picture

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.

Pinterest-food photography5. 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”.

shot 1

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.

picmonkey vs photoshop

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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  • Reply
    Kristina @ Damn Ten Pounds
    March 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Your pictures are always so beautiful and make anything look appetizing. I wish I had your skills but I have an iphone, a poorly lit kitchen and black dishes. It’s a hot mess photography trifecta up in here 🙂

  • Reply
    Lauren @ Focused To Be Fit
    March 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Such good info! Natural light really is the best, with daylight savings my pictures are so much better. Well, they weren’t great to begin with, but now they’re a little better anyway!

  • Reply
    Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health
    March 25, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    practice, natural lights, and amazing food pictures are the key. i have the exact same camera but dont know much 🙁 since i have 9-5 job it sucks that i have to use poor lights or schedule things on the weekends for decent photos.

  • Reply
    cait @pieceofcait
    March 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    great post and awesome tips! I love your foodie mouth watering pics<3 I am totally interested in buying a GOOD camera in the new few months – so thanks for the tips!

  • Reply
    Kim
    March 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    I suck at all things photo related!! I think that I would love to have a nicer camera but I’m afraid I would never learn to use it correctly.
    And, I know this is totally ridiculous, I’ve never used photoshop and don’t have a clue how to edit photos.
    Pathetic. I’m going to pin this and read it a few times – maybe something will sink in!!!

  • Reply
    Amanda @ .running with spoons.
    March 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Love, love, LOVE. These are great tips, especially for someone who’s just starting out… which is, lets face it, freaking daunting. I remember hating food photography and thinking that I would never improve, but lo and behold, all it takes is a little practice… and a lot of patience 😯 I do think you missed one tip, though. Never, EVER, try and shoot when you’re hungry… Worst possible thing you could do 😆

  • Reply
    Alisha @ Alisha's Appetite
    March 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    You are seriously awesome. I’m always uber impressed when I read any of your posts – you are so talented in so many different ways. Keep being awesome girl.

  • Reply
    GiGi Eats Celebrities
    March 25, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Aw damn. My iPhone just ain’t gunna cut it huh?
    And I totally have photoshop – but it’s like looking at a map in Chinese! I need to take a class.

  • Reply
    [email protected] Apple of My Eye
    March 25, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Great guide! Natural lighting is everything when it comes to food photography. I personally find that the iPhoto that comes with my mac works just fine for editing. Might invest in some fancier editing software in the future, though!

  • Reply
    Deryn @ Running on Real Food
    March 25, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Great post, Davida! I do work 9-5 and it’s a real pain…I try to shoot everything on the weekend or do the late night cooking and early morning photoshoot so I can get some natural light. If you already have a DSLR, all you need is the time and desire to learn! I just got my first submission to FoodGawker a few weeks ago, (yay for Suzanne too!) it only takes a wee bit more effort to take your pics to the next level. I was being lazy and using my lightbox here and there but it’s just not worth it, the pics aren’t great and then the post doesn’t do well either. I’m lucky enough to be able to work in PS and AI, I know they’re intimidating programs for a lot of people, but certainly worth learning. Lightroom is a good option too!

  • Reply
    Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat
    March 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Improving my food photography is something I want and need to work on! Thank you so much for these tips! I know they’ll definitely come in handy!

  • Reply
    Kelly - LEFT SIDE OF THE TABLE
    March 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Davida, love love love the brutal, yet hilarious honesty of food photography. It ain’t pretty at first, that’s for certain! I’ve only had my blog for almost 6 months (YAY!) and to look back and see how much my photography has improved…it’s down right embarrassing some of my first posts! Haha! Truly admire all your tips, they’re great!! Pinned this to look back at. Always room for improvement in this department 🙂

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