Mar 24 2009

6 Tips for Aspiring Food Photographers – with 17 Photographic Examples

Published by myamii at 3:58 pm under Food For Thought, Food Styling, Help, How-To, Information

Recently I received a comment on one of my posts where a fellow blogger expressed her frustration with her food photography – all her pictures look the same – was her complaint.

Upon checking out her blog, I noticed that she has only been blogging for a few months and that her pictures look just like mine did 4 years ago: very one-sided.  I remember back when I first started blogging and taking pictures of my food that I was always so frustrated that my pictures never ever came out the way I had seen them with my eye.  The “simple” explanation is that my eyes are much better lenses than the one on my point-and-shoot camera and that the brain compensates quite a lot – much like the brain of a digital camera.  Except, that, well, a human brain can do much much more…so far.

So, for those of your who are just starting out, planning on starting out, or wishing to advance to the next level, this post will help you.

1. buy a tripod and use it…if you aren’t already.  A big mistake made by myself as well as many food photographers when first starting out is that pictures look like they are over-head pictures – like you are standing above your food to take the picture.  This is fine, but if you want to change it up, a tripod will give you the most versatility and stability.  I can’t say that I always use mine, but I do have to admit that when I don’t use it I often regret it.  The two pictures above are good examples.  The pictures on the top of the ceviche was taken with a tripod and I was able to create the exact look that I wanted.  The picture on the bottom of the Irish stew was taken without a tripod and the focus is on the group of carrots to the very left – leaving the rest of the food out of focus in varying degrees.
2. don’t use a flash & take pictures next to a window.  This is hard/impossible for me to do in the winter because it is always dark…that’s the only time of the year when I use my flash.   I also use a flash that allows me to flash away from what I am taking a picture of.  Otherwise, I remove the flash from my camera, set myself up next to the brightest window in my house before the sunlight is directly coming through – I don’t want the light too be too harsh and cast shadows.  If the sun light is too harsh, you can draw a white sheet, or sheer white curtain in front of the window to soften the light.
3. a camera with a big lenses is a big plus!  For years I used my Minolta point and shoot, but when my son was born back in 2007 we made the switch to a Nikon D-40 DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) – I was very very reluctant to do this because of the huge price jump..I mean, I had a working camera anyways…but it was worth every cent.  The larger lens allowed more light in and gave a more realistic look to my pictures.  Then, last summer I broke the lens on the camera and bought the next larger lens…it was so very painful to pay as much for the new lens as the entire camera had cost,  but, again, it was worth every cent.  The even larger lens allowed even more light in and gave me even better results.  Look in my blog archives and compare:

from March 2005:

from April 2007:

from June 2008:

For an even better example of what my “new” lens (Nikon 18-200mm) can do check out this picture I took after the sun had already set (May 2008):

I ran outside with my equipment and set everything up on my mom’s driveway, with the already set sun to my left and snapped away.  There was still plenty of twilight, and, NO, I did not tweak this photo one bit!

4. get a white board.  A plain 3-D white board (see this post for more details) .  This will help reflect any light back onto the side of the plate that is not directly in front of the window and remove any shadows. This is one of my most important pieces of equipment..and I think I paid $4US for it.  This is also a great food photography tutorial from one of my favorite bloggers, Tartlette.  I have learned a lot from her and made some changes to my set-up after reading this post in December of 2008.

Just to give you an idea of what a picture looks like with and without a white board:

the tweaked version (notice the shadows are harsh and the colors are not true):

in this image I used a white board and required no tweaking:

5. read books on food photography.  This is only something that I started-up last year.  Two books that I can recommend are: Food Styling For Photographers (read more about it here) which will give you lots of tips and tricks.  I only photograph food that is completely edible…since I always photography my meals, it’s important that I be able to eat them after the fact!  But, there are still plenty of helpful tips.  The other book is: Still Life And Special Effects Photography.  It is a really boring book to read, but it really showed me all the different equipment that is used to get different effects. I found the book more for professional photographers that used special lights in a studio, but it’d be good to flip through it in a book store.

6. save your favorite food photography pictures from other sites.  I have a nice little folder saved on my computer where I save any pictures I come across that I think look awesome.  Then, later on when I can’t think of a way to set-up a picture or want to try something different, I look to these photos for inspiration.  It’s fine to copy the food “poses” or styling, but eventually you will be well practiced and you will need less and less help.

These are some of the many blogs that continue to inspire me:
Steamy Kitchen
La Tartine Gourmande
Milk and Cookies

Bellow are some of my favorite pictures that I have looked to for inspiration over the years.  They are all copyrighted under Creative Commons which allows me to share them with you in this post:

via: Flickr/chez pim

via: Flickr/neon.mamacita

via: Flickr/chocolate monster mel

via: Flickr/chocolate monster mel

via: Flickr/jen_maiser

via: Flickr/joshbousel

via: Flickr/joshbousel

You may also find these posts of interest:

What is Creative Commons & How it can Help you – how to get free advertising for your blog

Baked Potato Chowder & Bacon For Food Styling – recipe

Tips on Food Photography (by Tartlette)

Part 1: How to Get More Traffic from Search Engines

Part 2: How to Get More Traffic from Image Search Engines

My 36 Hour Chocolate Chip Cookie Studio

My site was nominated for Best Food Blog!

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “6 Tips for Aspiring Food Photographers – with 17 Photographic Examples”

  1. Lauraon 24 Mar 2009 at 5:32 pm

    THANK YOU so much for posting this! I’ve been incredibly unhappy with the quality of my photos but didn’t know how to improve them. This is a great jumping off point! Once again, I’m wowed by the helpfulness and generosity of the blogosphere. Thanks!

  2. Veronicaon 24 Mar 2009 at 6:08 pm

    hmm, you have very similar kit to me (I have a D50 with the same zoom lens). Evidently my photos aren’t in the same league :) But thanks very much for the tips, they are much appreciated.

    Although I’m in the south of France I live in an old house with smallish windows, so there isn’t as much natural light as you might expect, and definitely not in the evenings, which is when I do most of my cooking. I will definitely make a whiteboard setup like yours, and the extra flash sounds great too.

  3. Rosaon 24 Mar 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks ever so much for the very informative post! I’ll soon have to invest in better lenses…



  4. Happy Cookon 24 Mar 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I have a tripod from my old undigital camera, i think i will try to use it.
    With my camera the flash always go on, i tried to find out to take pics without flash but didn’t find were to turn it off, i think i do have a ol digital camera so till i buy a new one, there will be always have a flash.
    I love all your tutoriols, really handy for someone like me who is also not that good with pics.

  5. Stephanieon 24 Mar 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Great post! I have the same camera as you. I’m still working on learning all the settings but I love it so much!

  6. Hélèneon 24 Mar 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks, I enjoy reading this post.

    Can you tell me what software does Milk and Cookies use for the photo collage?

  7. Bellini Vallion 25 Mar 2009 at 1:35 am

    Excellent tips!!!!!!

  8. Rilsta @ChroniclesofMeon 25 Mar 2009 at 4:03 am

    Thanks so much for posting this and taking the trouble to put it together! Just what I needed! :)

    I tend to always shoot from the same angle and don’t really think much about how best to frame the photo and what to include in the shot as well. I feel like I need to show everything!

    Now for the hard part of trying to put it into practice. I hope that one day my photos can look as great as yours!

    One question, when you mention spend the extra money on a larger lens, did you mean a greater focal range or a larger aperture?

  9. Joan Novaon 25 Mar 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to create this post. It was very informative, especially the link to Creative Commons info. I never quite new what it was and if I should do it.

  10. justeatfoodon 26 Mar 2009 at 1:40 am

    What a fantastic post! Thank you for your years of insight.

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