Great photos are at the heart of any successful food blog. If you feature a picture that oozes so much deliciousness it makes your readers drool, they’re much more likely to try that recipe (and come back to your blog!) than if you show them a washed-out, unappetizing shot. I’ll go over some very basic information in this post, but I really encourage you to check out the resources at the bottom of the page – I have learned SO MUCH from them. For now, I’ll share a bit about my photography process.
1. The Importance of Light
To make your pictures drool-worthy, nothing is more important than an understanding of light. If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of lighting a photo, here are the things you must remember:
1. Shoot in natural light whenever you can.
2. Never ever use your built-in camera flash. NEVER EVER EVER. If you need to artificially light a shot, use external flashes, diffusers, and bounces to spread the light out and soften it up. (Some of the books I list at the end of this post go into artificial lighting in detail – read them! They’re super helpful).
3. Use bounces (white paper or foam core that will reflect light back onto the subject) and diffusers (I put a frame filled with waxed paper in front of the window to soften the light and distribute it more evenly over the subject) to reduce harsh shadows. The resources I list at the bottom of this post are full of great tips on how to make these lighting tools work for you.
2. My Setup
This is what my photography setup generally looks like:
I’ll switch the setup around depending on what I’m shooting, and if I want to light the subject from behind I’ll shift the foam core I use as a bounce and the tripod around to accommodate the change in lighting choice. I also use a very small depth of field (generally around an f/2.5 or f/2.8) when I shoot, so that only a small piece of a dish is in focus.
3. My Equipment
I shoot with a Canon EOS Rebel T3i. It’s a pretty standard starter DSLR camera, and I’ve had it a little over a year now. Before that, I had been using a tiny point-and-shoot that I’d had since I was 14. Needless to say, it was time for an upgrade. And I am SO HAPPY that I picked this camera! It’s been great.
Anything before January 2013 was shot with a Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Anything shot AFTER January 2013 was shot with my super-duper-awesome Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Lens- a Christmas gift from my parents. The macro lens has been GREAT for food photos, mainly because of its image clarity and shallow depth-of-field capabilities. When I’m not shooting food, I also use (and love!) a Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 Telephoto Zoom Lens.
I also HIGHLY recommend investing in UV filters for each camera lens you have. They protect the lens from harsh light but, more importantly (at least for me) they act as a shield against dust, grit, or anything else that might harm the lens.
4. My Best Tips
Here are the most important things I’ve learned since I started taking food photographs.
Photograph food while it’s fresh. Wilted herbs and old sauce do not a pretty picture make.
Use natural light. ALWAYS.
Change up the angles! Don’t always photograph looking at food straight down, or straight on from the side. Move around a lot to showcase the food from a bunch of dynamic and interesting viewpoints.
GARNISH. A plain bowl of soup is boring. But a bowl of soup with chopped parsley and bacon bits sprinkled on top is much more interesting. Plus, adding fresh herbs to a finished product will ensure you have a pop of color in your final photo. I recommend garnishing a dish with ingredients you used in its preparation.
Don’t be afraid of your tripod. It’s a miracle worker in low light conditions when you have to use a low shutter speed and want to avoid camera shake. It takes a few extra moments to get it all set up, but the results are worth it.
Keep your ISO settings low. A higher ISO setting lets more light into the camera, which results in a brighter photo, but you sacrifice image clarity. If you are shooting in low light, use a tripod and a low shutter speed. Cranking the ISO should be the last resort.
Add texture to the background. A glass of water behind the dish in focus, a plate-full of an ingredient from the recipe in the background, a hunk of bread in a soup shot, or a pile of fresh herbs off to the side will add texture and depth to any photograph. Even if your “props” aren’t in focus, the color and texture they lend to a finished photo make the picture much more interesting. I like to add pieces that vary in height so the photo isn’t flat.
It’s okay to edit. At first, I was really reluctant to make any digital adjustments to my images in Photoshop. But sometimes, correcting the white balance or evening out a shadow you didn’t notice at first can make a huge difference. I still don’t make any drastic changes to my pictures, but I like having the option to brighten them up and fix the balance if I need to.
As promised, here is a list of the books and web pages that I’ve found most helpful as I work to improve my own food photography.
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling (this was the first book I ever read on food photography, and it was a GREAT introduction)
Disclaimer: If you purchase anything from Amazon via these links, I will receive a small commission.