2012 – Sun-dried Tomato Basil Pesto Pasta. It is soo good but doesn’t look so appetizing, does it ?
2014 – Much better
As a food blogger, besides having a solid recipe, having good quality photos that beg to be eaten is everything. Even if you have an out-of-this world recipe, if the photos don’t look very appetizing, it won’t take off like you had hoped. Trust me. I’ve been there. Pinterest can be such a cruel, cut-throat world, don’t ya think? And for me, my goal is to make HEALTHY food look delicious and mouth-watering so that more people will try my recipes and get hooked on clean eating. I don’t want to hear any more comments like “that looks too good to be healthy.” The way I see it, it’s “tricking” people but with the best of intentions ;).
I shoot about 98% of my photos with a DSLR, and for those of you who may be on the fence about making such a huge purchase, I know how you feel. It’s not an absolute necessity, but it’s made a world of difference for me personally. And if you really stick with it, it’s an investment in which you’re bound to see a return. You don’t need a super fancy one either. I shoot with a Canon Rebel t3i using a 50mm 1.8 lens – priced at around $125, it is one of the most affordable lenses out there.
The good news is that there are TONS of resources that are readily available at your fingertips. For instance, just Google “food photography for beginners.” You’re well on your way to clicking away with the blinders removed. It might be really overwhelming at first, so take baby steps and try to master one thing at a time. For me, Tasty Food Photography was a tremendous resource!
First things first. You MUST have a good understanding of the basics. This means no more shooting in Auto Mode if you own a DSLR! Familiarize yourself with ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. I won’t get into much detail as there are many wonderfully-written and detailed resources out there. I have a Pinterest board with several helpful links to get you started.
In this post, rather than reiterating what others have already so eloquently explained when it comes to the basics of food photography, I thought I’d instead take a more personal approach and invite you to check out what a typical “shoot” day looks like. I emphasize the word “personal” as I’m not suggesting this is what you MUST follow. Rather, experiment and find a work flow that works for you. This is just to give you an idea ;).
1. Shoot in natural light.
In the beginning, I walked around the whole house with a bowl of fruit and took photos in various spots and at different times throughout the day to answer the questions “When?” and “Where?”
Right now for me, the best time here in Texas is between 11a-1p, when the light is soft and I can shoot right next to THE window that’s designated for photos. I avoid shooting in the early afternoon as the sunlight is way too strong, resulting in blown-out photos. There are ways to work around this, like draping a white sheet over the window or taping vellum to it, but I’d rather not deal with all of that. Keep in mind lighting changes as the seasons do, so you have to adjust accordingly.
So what happens if you can’t shoot during the day? It’s extremely difficult for me to shoot during the prime hours on weekdays so I
made asked my husband to make me a light box following these instructions. While my photos turned out decent considering it was completely dark when I used to shoot (photos below), I still preferred natural lighting.
Now I just wait until the weekend to shoot. Having said that, if you’re not a stickler for a set schedule like me and want to shoot whenever you can, Lindsay at Pinch of Yum wrote a great post on working with artificial light. I may experiment more with it in the future when I have a bit more time on my hands, but for right now, I’m sticking with what works for me.
2. Get my set-up ready in advance.
Keep in mind you’re working with real food. There’s nothing more devastating than seeing your gorgeous creation melt, collapse, change color, or what have you before you’ve had the chance to capture it. Been there. Done that. Not to mention you don’t want to wait forever to eat the food. You want to be ready to shoot right when the dish is done. Thus, I get my set-up all ready to go before I start cooking or in-between cooking.
This means my camera is on the tripod (I almost always use one) and tethered so I can see the image through my computer screen and get instant feedback.
I highly recommend tethering because for me, it really sped up my production time. Additionally, my background is picked, and my props are placed. I may add little extras during the shoot, like a decorative cloth, extra fork, etc. (keep such items nearby), but the majority of the work is already done.
3. I take TONS of photos and constantly move while doing so.
It’s amazing how much of a difference even the slightest change in the shooting angle can make!
Never mind the fact you may look silly doing so. Since my lens doesn’t zoom in or out, it requires me to get into very awkward positions. Just laugh at yourself and continue.
Once you find the optimal time and that perfect location, it’s really easy to fall into the habit of shooting at the same angle or spot in which you are familiar. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, as simply “knowing” the light makes the process that much easier. For about a year, I shot every single one of my pictures with the light coming in from the left..
However, after a while, I wanted to move out of my comfort zone and explore new possibilities. That’s how I discovered my new found love for the way photos look with the light coming from the back.
It creates a moody effect, I think. It is also the reason why I no longer use a white foam board to bounce light as much anymore – I’m in the “embrace the shadows” phase. Of course, this could very well change in the future. The key is to continue to experiment. Click away and move your feet!
4. Adjust props as necessary.
After taking several shots, I will look at the photos through my computer and determine at that point whether or not I want to keep it the way it is or add/take away/move around props. I keep everything within arm’s reach for easy grabbing.
5. Use Lightroom for post-processing.
The goal is always to take quality photos in order to keep editing at a minimum. The majority of the time my photos do receive some sort of treatment…sometimes minor, sometimes not so minor. I just want to make sure they “pop.” I apologize if you don’t use Lightroom, but here’s what I typically do:
adjust white balance —> adjust exposure as desired —> bump up contrast and clarity —-> crop the photo —> brighten colors with a little saturation (making sure not to go overboard as it can start to look fake).
Hope you found this post helpful in some way. My biggest piece of advice to you is to keep practicing! One of the reasons why I continue to be drawn to food photography is because no matter how much I improve, there’s so much more to learn!
Isn’t that the beautiful thing about photography? There’s absolutely no room for stagnancy. It encourages continuous learning, practicing and experimenting.
I used to read tons of resources and follow their suggestions to a T, but over time I’ve come to the realization that no rules are set in stone.What’s most important is that you find your own unique groove and begin to develop your own sense of style. It’s still a work in progress for me ;).