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Food Photography Tips for the Novice


I know about very little about photography, so I’ve learned to adapt to what works. Live and learn, right? Photography is one of the few things I do on a daily basis, thanks to this food blog…and I’ve learned to love it and have developed a great appreciation and respect for photography. I’ve approved along the way, too!

My food photos are generally taken when I have very little time. I fully realize that this is not conducive for getting “the best” shot, but it’s what works for my busy, real life schedule. By the time I’m home from work and have worked out and prepared dinner…I’m ready to eat! And I want my food to be hot! I rarely shoot my meals after I’ve finished eating or as leftovers because I try to give a true depiction of “this is what I put on my plate for dinner”. Baked goods and desserts are more forgiving with timing and “staging” a pretty picture, but entrees are usually photographed just before being consumed.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve found to be true and what works.

What works:

1. It’s not about the camera. DSLR’s are great, but it’s practice that makes good photos. Don’t be tricked into thinking the camera is the ticket to great pictures, it’s truly who’s behind the lens. That said, I shoot with a basic Nikon D3000 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. This $650 in equipment is worth every penny…if you use it. I have had my camera for over 2 years and I use it every day. Literally. The lens was an upgrade about a year ago (~$150).

2. Lighting is important HOWEVER artificial lighting is invaluable. If you are anything like me and take pictures at 8pm in the Midwest many months out of the year, you can’t rely on the sun. My Lowel EGO light with a simple white board to bounce light is a life-saver. I prefer natural light, but you also have to learn how to use it. When I first got my DSLR and read “natural light, natural light!” all over the web, I immediately traveled outdoors with my food at the brightest time of day. This created very harsh lighting and poor images. The best time to shoot depends on your location, time of year, etc. but I personally find sunrise and sunset to be perfect if you’re going to be outdoors without anything blocking the sun. I have found better success being near a window, or better yet, a sliding glass door. Personally, I prefer my light source to come from either side with some bounced light, if needed. Many photographers prefer back-lighting (shooting into the light source). You should do what you like best!

3. Move around your scene. This is probably second to lighting. I made the mistake for so long of putting down my plate and shooting standing still, from one spot. *yawn* I now set-up my photos so that I can move around at least 3 sides of the image and create much different images and capture various lighting. More often than not, I set up my photo on the floor. I often use wooden boards or a large wood cutting board (LOVE that thing) to arrange my food and props on. I can then move around the scene, get down at eye-level (usually on my belly), or stand up and shoot straight down (I do not use a tripod — I find them very cumbersome, but I do anchor my arm/elbow on my side, the ground, or something stable to avoid blurred images). Moving around enables me to get a variety of images without really changing anything about the scene. It keeps things interesting to look at and varies the photos of the same set-up.

4. Food for props. Yes, I own some cute “blog stuff”, but not much – mostly scrap fabric that I picked up for a few cents. I tend to use things like herbs and other fresh ingredients I have on hand for props. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but my every day dishes are white and I most commonly shoot on those. I choose these because I eat what I shoot, plus shooting on a white surface can allow you to set your white balance (see: editing).

5. A quick edit job. Editing will not make a bad image good, but it can make a good image even better…maybe even great. I use Pic Monkey (free) to edit in. I generally do a few things, in this order: crop and/or straighten, set white balance, brighten, highlight, sharpen (if needed). I sometimes play with shadows or other features, but I try to keep my images a fine-tuned version of what I shoot. Editing may sound difficult, but it’s not…just practice on a few images and see what works for you! I’m not savvy enough for Lightroom or GIMP, so I use the free, beginner stuff and I find that it meets my needs just fine.

Back to the regularly scheduled eats tomorrow, but I hope these tips were helpful to someone! 🙂

Be well,

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  1. K Lynn
    August 2, 2012 / 6:14 am

    Are you saying I should stay away from sending picture texts ?? I swear my food looks and tastes (well…most of them time…) better than it looks on those cheesy photos!

  2. August 2, 2012 / 7:34 am

    Thanks for writing this out! I always neglect to think of props when I’m photographing my meals and just recently bought new colored plates since I thought people may get bored of my white. I thought it looks clean and left the food in the focus – ty for confirming!

  3. August 2, 2012 / 7:58 am

    I just started my blog yesterday and such perfect timing with the post! I absolutely love the way you take pictures. I remember you had a post earlier about how you take pictures and Lily being nearby. When I took a few pictures, I thought of you and did the same haha. Unfortunately, my camera is terrible, but I’m learning! Thanks for the tips!

  4. August 2, 2012 / 8:15 am

    Definitely helpful! I hate the stress of trying to get pics in during daylight (which doesn’t exist in the winter!), so the artifical light recommendation is great ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. August 2, 2012 / 8:56 am

    Loved reading your tips, Nicole! Obviously what you do is working because I see your pics on Foodgawker all the time! ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. August 2, 2012 / 9:48 am

    Your hair looks great in the first photo!

  7. August 2, 2012 / 9:53 am

    iPhoto on Macs is super simple and easy to use but can make photos look 10 times better with something as simple as clicking “auto adjust”. I use Photoshop for certain things, but iPhoto is great for just quickly running each photo through since I’m usually way too busy to spend the time in Photoshop. I believe it comes standard on all Macs, too.

  8. August 2, 2012 / 10:11 am

    I agree with Branny! Love your hair and come on show off that pretty smile of yours next time!! Great write up!

  9. August 2, 2012 / 1:00 pm

    You take beautiful pictures. Lately, the only pictures I’ve been taking at all have been with my iPhone. It’s not quite the same. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. August 2, 2012 / 2:18 pm

    These tips definitely were helpful! I too love your hair in the picture.

  11. August 2, 2012 / 8:46 pm

    I love posts like these.

  12. Heather
    August 2, 2012 / 9:44 pm

    You’re pics are so great. Thanks for the tips:) Also, your outfit & jewelry are super cute!!!!

  13. August 2, 2012 / 10:21 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful tips. I take photos of both my cooking and cross stitch, and know I can do better. a lot of the time I’m just rushing and not taking the time to move my stuff to an area with better lighting.

  14. Karen
    August 3, 2012 / 3:21 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I love Pic Monkey – what a great find!

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