Some of you reading this can skip right on over this post, because you have already ARRIVED. You don’t need food photography tips! You’ve got your snazzy DSLR and know how to change the settings. You are an expert at using Photoshop or even PicMonkey to adjust sizes and add text. Your photos are superfly and Pinterest ready. Go give yourself a high five and go buy yourself a latte. (And take a sweet photo for your blog while you’re at it.)
The rest of you may be where I was last year or even a few months ago. You’re doing your best with what you have, but maybe you feel like your photos stand out in the blog world—and not in a good way. Here are a few simple tips that can help kick your photos up a notch, even if you’re using basic equipment. You can take steps now and work on your craft as you go! Most of these relate to food photos, but hopefully some of theses principles may translate to other areas as well.
Turn Off the Flash.
This has become my new mantra, and it wasn’t that long ago that I used flash all the time. I didn’t realize how much it washed out my photos with too much light, taking away some of the points of interest in the photo. Also? The sight of flash is a clear distinction between the professional photographers and you. So turn it off. In the top photo, you can see a clear case of flash v. no flash. The flash creates a high contrast between the background while washing out the foreground and almost making it glow in a way that doesn’t make it look appetizing somehow. What to do if you can’t use the flash? Check out the next tip.
Use natural light.
Without a flash, and especially if you don’t have a special lens that lets in more light, you must use outside light. Sunlight is great, but if you have too much direct sun, you’ll have crazy shadows or struggle with the light. I spoke with my friend (and fellow foodie) Jenna recently about how hard this can be when the photo light doesn’t match well with times for cooking dinner. This will be a big challenge especially in the coming months as we move into winter. Check out the differences in these two photos for my favorite pumpkin chocolate chip cupcake recipe. Which one looks more appetizing? Which one looks more professional?
If you struggle to find enough light, get creative. Plan baking at a different time. Take down the blinds and open the windows. Take the shades off your lamps and place a few of them just out of sight. Not natural, but better than a flash. Try moving your food to another room that has better light. With the right things in the background, no one will ever know I staged a pot roast on my bed. Follow the light! The second WAS taken with my Nikon DSLR, so that helps the quality for sure and makes finding the light much easier.
Try a new angle.
This is one of my favorite shots I took in the past few months. I never would have thought to take a photo directly above, but it really showcased this focaccia bread and was something interesting. Try shooting from above or from the side to see what best showcases the food. Always think about what makes the food look like something you want to eat. I want that focaccia NOW. The colors from above are so rich, vibrant, and fresh. More than you would notice from the side. You never know, so try something new and surprising.
Use staging and props.
I tend to use simple things that I already have around the house. Clearing off the counters in my kitchen does wonders as a start. I’ve started a small collection of plates and platters that I can use for photos (and for entertaining later). I definitely don’t want a bunch of junk around the house, so I don’t buy things I won’t also use in another way. Hang something in the background, move a plant, bring out a napkin, place mat, or piece of fabric. Try things out to see what works in your shot. Maybe you want a fork or spoon—maybe not. Add a glass of milk to the back of the shot, or stack a few cookies on top of one another. Stick a straw in your drink or a knife next to your bread. You might be surprised at what turns out to be your favorite shot.
My bowl of soup looked really boring until I dressed it up a bit. Did I serve it with a whole lime on the plate? Nope. I also moved that cactus over to give something interesting (and southwestern) in the background. I’m not a great stylist, but this is leaps and bounds ahead of a simple bowl of soup. (Don’t look too closely in that photo or you might see the container for the succulent I killed.)
Take approximately 10,000 photos.
Really. Sometimes I take 200 photos of a cookie. Why not? We’re in the digital age and they can all be deleted. So many times I thought I had the perfect photo only to find that I hadn’t quite gotten the right angle or the focus in the place I wanted it. And of course, if I made something good, I ate it. Then I have to stick with something I don’t like, or re-make the recipe another time. Take more photos than you can possibly use. Deleting them later is easy. Re-taking the shots? Not so much.
Figure out how to best utilize your camera.
Even if you can’t afford a DSLR (I bought an entry-level Nikon for around $500 with an extra lens), your normal camera has settings you can use and even phones can take great photos. I learned that my iPhone can do really well, especially if I use my finger to tap the screen and choose a point of focus. I’d never thought of doing that, but it can make a real difference and add depth to the shot. I love how that trick turned out in the condensation on this glass. Pretty nice detail for just a phone. You can also buy all kinds of goodies and lenses for your smart phones like fish-eye or wide-angle lenses. If this is your primary camera, consider getting a new toy to beef it up.
Over time, invest in your craft.
If you plan to blog food, photography is a tool you need to be improving. You want your photos to stand up against those of other food bloggers, or at least not stand out in a bad way. Your recipe can be fantastic, but without a great photo, you may not have readers pinning or trying what you make. I found that the 35mm f/1.8 lens is fabulous for food (and baby feet). It picks up light so much better than the lens I was using before and enables me to get right into the food’s face. BAM. Right in that bread’s face.
Is this whole post making anyone else hungry? This last tip will make you even hungrier.
Stalk blogs with great photography.
I love the consistent quality and unique twists in photos that the girls from A Beautiful Mess share. Rachel Matthews from A Southern Fairytale is a real pro and has a Mouthwatering Mondays linkup that would be great for finding new blogs. Check out the styling of the shots, the staging, the angles. Don’t be discouraged if your photos don’t compare (yet). Be inspired instead to do the best with what you have!
I hope these tips help you with your photography! What sites do you stalk for inspiration? What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to taking photos? Have any food photography tips to share?