The Basics of Food Photography
Successful food blogs employ beautiful photography to hook their readers and draw them in. Anyone who cooks knows that one of the biggest appeals of a cookbook is its eye-catching photographs. The same idea applies to your blog. Capturing your hard work and skill on camera will help you take your site to the next level and keep readers coming back for more.
Photography can be daunting for anybody, and food photography comes with some different angles than other genres. However, it doesn’t have to be a nightmarish, soul crushing journey. If you commit to taking some time to practice and do your homework, you can have photos that pop and help drive your delicious food blog. It won’t hurt, I promise.
Getting Started: Cameras, Cameras, Cameras
It goes without saying that you need a camera to get started. If you aren’t already a photographer, that can be daunting in itself. The good news is that while the camera itself is important, how it is used can be more so. If you’re just getting started, a simple point and click camera will do the job nicely. At some point you may consider upgrading to a higher quality DSLR to take your photography to the next level. There are a few things to consider.
A point and click camera can get you started, and there are a number of successful bloggers out there shooting with these simpler machines. It’s in your best interest to learn its features and settings and get comfortable using them to enhance your photos. These days, small cameras can pack a big punch if you know how to use what you have. Don’t be frightened, you’ll be shooting like a pro in no time.
DSLRs are more expensive, but offer even more versatility in setting and options. They allow for more manual adjustments. They also have a broader range of additional lenses and accessories to use with them. There is almost no reason to go with one of these cameras if you are not going to learn how to use its features and really dive into adjusting your shots. If that kind of commitment is more than you ‘re looking for on top of your cooking and writing, a point and click may be the better way to go.
Once you’ve settled on your camera – play with it. Take tons of photos – even of things other than food – and toy with the settings and options. There’s no way to go wrong here, just consider it getting to know your camera before setting off on a wonderful friendship. Once you and your camera have gotten to know each other better, it’s time to talk about the details.
Investing in a tripod is also probably going to be a good idea. Spend a few dollars to get one that will be easy to set up and last a long time. Tripods are heroes when it comes to longer exposures and steady photographs. And they free up your hands.
Lighting Is The Key
The most important factor in taking good pictures of food is your lighting. No other variable is going to have as large of an impact on your final product as the light source and amount. This key factor in your photographs can also be used as a tool to your advantage. Knowing how to work with light will make your photos look striking and professional.
Light changes with the day, location, and environment of your shots. For instance, in the mornings and evening light tends to be bluer. The ideal light for food pictures is usually bright, midday light. This light is the whitest, and helps present the best shot. If you can take your pictures in natural light (like by an open window), you will be pleased with how the food looks.
Of course, you don’t always have the most ideal environment to shoot in. There are ways to make up for a lack of natural light. You can use white foam board as reflectors to minimize shadows and brighten the shot. Similarly, foil can be used. As you get more serious, you can also go out and purchase specific reflectors and diffusers to capture the best light.
Learning how to use light properly is like learning how to sear meat perfectly. It is a skill that you will return to time and again as you build your experience. Lighting will be your biggest ally in your work as a photographer.
White Balance, ISO, and Exposure
It is important to never use your flash when shooting food photos. The flash on your camera is going to result in unbalanced lighting and a crummy final product. That doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments to deal with your lighting. Your camera has a wealth of tools for this because, again, light is key.
There are three important settings the food blogger should understand on their camera. Mastering these three will unlock your camera’s potential like a ninja, and your photos will thank you for it. Heck, you will thank you for it.
White Balance – This setting allows for your camera to understand and adjust for the light you are shooting in. There are often settings programmed for specific lighting contexts – daylight, incandescent bulbs, etc. Most cameras also have a custom white balance setting. Adjusting this will change the clarity and brightness of your subject.
Exposure – Changing the exposure is another weapon in your arsenal to handle light. The settings for exposure are set as integers on a negative and positive scale. Setting different exposures will change the brightness. Less exposed photos tend to be darker, while a higher exposure yields a brighter picture.
ISO setting – The ISO setting is designed to help your camera deal with light by changing how long the shutter is open for. A higher ISO setting sets your camera to be more sensitive to the light. This can help when you are shooting photos without a flash. There is a trade off to this, as pictures shot at a higher ISO are grainier and of a lower quality.
Texture and Props
Food is fun to photograph because it has texture and life. Your subjects are going to be all shapes and sizes, from pizzas to popsicles and anything else your delicious brain thinks up. Frosting will be fluffy and light, and fresh bread thick and crispy. Let your food shine.
Your tasty dishes aren’t the only venue for texture. Your photos will pop if you make use of texture in your background and setting. Natural wood, scratched counters, and well used baking sheets can provide an interesting background for your shot. Using a place setting made of natural fibers will create a different feel than setting your meal on a folded piece of linen. Playing around with where you are staging your photos will give you a wide range of artistic mobility.
After thinking about texture, and pulling that perfect pie from the oven, it’s time to consider the value of props. Just like a good play has nice scenery and tools to bring to life the acting, props bring your meal to life in photos. Simple white plates, wooden utensils, and mason jars are all good basics to have on hand. Even a unique fork and spoon can create movement and interest in your shot.
Play With Your Food
Setting, texture, and props are all important when designing your photos. However, it is imperative not to forget that the star of the show is your lovely food. You are using these pictures to sell your recipes and hard work to your audience. Let your food speak for itself.
It’s okay to shoot messy food. Part of cooking is making a mess to create something tasty. Capture this with your camera to get real, approachable photos. Plus, some people love that crunchy cupcake overflow. While encouraging candid moments of mess, keep in mind not to overfill your dishes. A well proportioned piece of food is going to be easier to focus on than a feast.
Angles and Action Shots
Shoot your food from different angles. Some dishes lend themselves better to overhead shots – especially flatter foods like pies. Tall stacks of pancakes are going to benefit from being shot from the side. The other key is coming in at an angle, the way food looks naturally to someone as they are about to dive in. Experiment with how you shoot to bring everything to life.
Employing action shots will engage your audience. A shiny fork plunging into a piece of chocolate cake will create movement for the eye and create a photo that calls for action. Your readers will want to have their own forkful of cake. A ladle serving soup will send a warm, inviting message – calling people to enjoy your recipe and feel cared about.
Practice All The Time
The biggest piece of advice is to play around with your shooting. Take more photos than you could ever think you’d need. Change your settings and take more photos. Adjust all the settings on your camera to see what they provide on your final product. Remember, it is one hundred times easier to delete extra photos than recreate the scene if you feel like you missed a shot. The more photos you take, the more comfortable you will get with the basics. Then your mind will be free to imagine up the best compositions and settings you can.
Understand The Value of Editing
There is nothing wrong with editing your pictures once you’ve taken them. Proper post editing will take your great work and make it excellent. It doesn’t need to be overly time consuming or draining either. Unlike every other aspect of food blogging mentioned so far, editing your photos doesn’t need to break the bank – its easily one of the most affordable aspects of the project. Dedicate some time to editing your photos before you post them.
There are a number of affordable programs out there to help you fix your photos once you’ve put them on your computer. This point in the process is where you can further adjust your white balance and brightness, sharpen any images, and crop the frame to create the most appealing picture. It’s another level of creative freedom for you, and you should use it to your advantage.
Now Get Out There
Now that you’ve thought about cameras, or dusted off the one on your shelf, it’s time to get busy. You’ve read about lighting and understand how to use it. You know you’re going to have to toil away learning your camera’s inner most workings. Feel excited! You have the tools to take photos that are good enough for TasteSpotting or Pinterest.
Cook up a delicious meal. Take photos along the way. Take photos of the final dish. Fill your belly with satisfying food and personal achievement. Get blogging.