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So it was about 4 years ago when I decided to take the big photography plunge and purchase a DSLR. I remember thinking my photographs for this blog were going to improve by 1000%. I mean I had a fancy camera now, how could they be anything but stellar.
Boy. Was. I. Wrong. Dead. Wrong.
Just because I had a fancy camera now in my hands meant nothing if I didn’t know how to use it. And well I’ll be perfectly honest, I had no friggin’ clue. I knew how to turn it on. And after a few minutes, I figured out how to take a photo. There was that Oh Sh*# moment, of what did I get myself into?
Its taken me some long hard years being able to say that I am proud of my food photography (no expert by any means and by no means done learning). If you ever want to improve your food photography (and I’m assuming you do since why the heck are you still reading this?) then you need to know a few things.
So this is just a few photography tips that I have picked up over the years. In no particular order 🙂
Photography is as they say painting with light. Understanding light and how to harness it is key for the best photography. Please note that I didn’t say use natural light. You want to use either natural light (aka place food in front of a large window) or get an artificial light. DO NOT USE YOUR OVERHEAD KITCHEN LIGHTS. And NEVER USE YOUR FLASH. This can make your food look unflattering. Please note Exhibit A, one of my earliest photos on this blog.
YIKES. I mean those muffins were incredible, however that photo doesn’t represent the deliciousness at all. So please do not photograph using your kitchen lights or your camera flash as your light source!
The light should be a flattering light. We all know that unflattering light right in dressing rooms (why oh why do they still use those god awful lights?!) can be like for us- well your food is no different. Find a bright open window or invest in an artificial light meant for food photography and then diffuse it (meaning soften the light). Direct light can be too bright and harsh. Think squinting in the sunlight. Same thing for your food.
Let’s talk a bit more about artificial light. Natural light is fantastic if you can get your hands on it. I prefer using my Lowel Ego artificial light, which some might say I’m crazy for saying that. But here me out. I live in New England (hello winter for half the year it seems) and have a full time job. So the perfect time for me to photograph would be probably 9-11 am (I’m sure my job would understand, insert laughing face emoji here) or maybe around 3 or 4 p.m. Or I could plan my photo shoots on the weekends I suppose. But here’s the deal, I don’t like being held to some strict schedule set by the sun. I want to be able to take my photos whenever I feel like. Like 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. Enter my artificial light. I can use it whenever, it’s consistent (natural lighting can change in an instant which I find super frustrating), and I can have it set up out of the way in my office for my convenient photo taking. If you are new to using artificial lighting here are my 5 tips on using artificial light that you can read here.
The Lowel Ego light can be a bit pricey for some- so another light set up I own which is also super fantastic and only $40 (includes two lights!!) are these Studio Pro Lights.
You can also download for free my Artificial Lighting Set-Up Guide to help you master using your artificial lighting for your food photography!
Whichever you choose- natural or artificial – lighting can make or break your photos. So use the best light possible to you.
2. Use A Reflector
In addition to getting the best light for your photo, that is aided by using a reflector. A reflector is something that will bounce the light back on to your food. The reflector I use all the time? A simple foam board from the local craft store cut down the middle and folded in half. It’s simple and cheap and does the trick. I place it behind the food (opposite the light) so the light bounces back onto my food instead of getting lost.
I like having different sizes of reflectors. I have small reflector that came with my Lowel Ego Light, and I made one out of a foam core board that is about twice that size. I like being able to use more than one if I need it and the different sizes allow me for flexibility depending on what I’m shooting.
Depending on the mood you want to create for your food photography, you could also try using a black board, silver (for cooler tones) or gold (for warmer tones). I have used this collapsible diffuser/reflector kit that gives me all those options in one that can be stored in a pinch.
3. Use A Diffuser
So remember tip #1- lighting can be tricky. A diffuser is something placed in front of the light that softens it. A diffuser can be anything that still allows light through. If you are using natural light, you can try using a sheer curtain or again the collapsible diffuser. For my artificial light I simply use a white t-shirt placed over it. I’m actually working on a a DIY diffuser tutorial for you in the future – so stay tuned for that! A diffuser shouldn’t cost you a fortune!
I actually like using sometimes TWO diffusers- one in front of another if the lighting is still too harsh.
4. Understand Manual Mode
Ugh, I know. I had to say it. I plan on writing some helpful posts on better understanding manual mode for you. How did I learn how to shoot in manual mode? Taking a Photography Class- like one from Craftsy actually helped a TON. Explore Craftsy Photography Classes
Another option- try reading this Tasty Food Photography book from Pinch of Yum. However you learn- read, watch a video, or simply practice, practice, practice- it’s a must! Another great photography book to read is Eat Pretty Things by Trisha Hughes- definitely a must read
5. Use A Tripod
If you want better photos then you are going to need a tripod. Now that being said you don’t need to invest a ton of money in a tripod, but you do need one. This is the tripod I use and it costs less than $30! Of course, this is the one I have my eye on– but either way whether it’s $20 or $200- get a tripod!
Any camera shake from your hands or if you are working in lower light, will show up in your photos. If you want crystal clear photos then use a tripod.
6. Use A Remote Shutter
If you want to step up your food photography game then you want a remote shutter. Just be sure it will connect to your specific type of camera. This little baby plugs into your digital SLR camera and allows you to take a photo while also still giving you freedom while taking the photo to adjust a prop or maybe sprinkle some sugar.
Using the remote shutter will also help reduce any slight camera shake (aka photo blur) that could come from you clicking the button.
7. Layer Your Photos
This tip has come to a little bit more recently and one that I feel is totally changing my photos. When I would look at a photo on Pinterest that I was totally in love with I realized it was because of the layers in the photo.
What is layers when it comes to your photographs? Let me paint you a little picture…
For example let’s say you have a lemon cupcake you want to photograph. You could just put the cupcake on a plate and call it a day. Sure. Doesn’t sound very interesting does it? Now how about you stack two napkins? Already way more interesting. Now how about you peel the cupcake liner back a bit, or add a fork. Think layers my friend.
Layers is simply the number of elements on top of each other. You could use parchment paper, a cooling rack, a flour sack towel- just make sure they are cohesive and help to tell the story of your food. Layers don’t need to be props either. Think a sprinkle of powdered sugar over a pan of brownies, brownies cut into squares- that’s two layers right there. Put a vintage knife on top of the brownies and there you go. Way. More. Interesting. Right?
Now a bit more interesting isn’t it? Aim for 3 layers. Think layers in your photos the next time you shoot and I guarantee your shot becomes way more interesting.
8. Create A Pinterest Board For Inspiration
Aww, Pinterest. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
Not only do you bring me pretty much all my traffic, but you give me photography inspiration all the time. When I need to photograph my new cupcake recipe sometimes I’m stuck in a creativity rut so I head over to pinterest to get some ideas on how to shoot my food.
I also have created a board for dessert photography inspiration. I simply pin any photo that takes my breath away. It’s helped me in also realizing what type of photos I gravitate towards to help me in creating my own brand of food photography. I love food shots that tell a story, have a rustic prop or two, and capture a food scene. If you are looking to grow your food photography skill set, a inspiration pinterest board will do wonders.
9. Do Not Spend A Fortune On Props
Oh man if only I had known this when I started. I used to go out and buy prop after prop with no idea what the heck I was doing. Since in the beginning I had no idea of what kind of photos I wanted to take, I just collected all sorts of what I thought would make a great food props. No cohesiveness to my collecting. Such a waste of money!
First all- stick to either white or neutral plates that won’t steal the show. Pier one has a great selection of white plates.
After creating my Pinterest Inspiration Board I realized the type of props I wanted in my photos. I now am on the look out for vintage rustic food props and utensils. You can find amazing inexpensive food props at flea markets, garage sales, antique stores, and craft stores.
You might even have some amazing props already and you don’t even know it! Use ingredients from the recipe in your food shots! If I am making a coconut bar I might reserve some coconut flakes to sprinkle around them when I take the shot.
Try using some crumbled parchment paper, newspaper, or old books. Look around your house and you might surprise yourself as to what you can already use.
Remember the food is the star here, so make sure your props aren’t stealing the show.
So there you go- 9 tips to better your food photography.
Here is the unspoken 10th tip. PRACTICE. Then practice some more! It truly is the only way you will get better. It won’t happen overnight, but it will start to happen. Just take a look at my photos for proof 🙂 4 years later and I think I’m improved but not without quite a bit of practice!
Were any of these tips particularly useful? Let me know in the comment section!
And let me know, is your biggest food photography struggle? Each Friday, I’ve been creating a new post on food photography (yes I’ve dubbed these now Food Photography Fridays). I’m no expert by any means but it’s a topic that 4 years ago I clearly knew nothing about but it’s a topic that I love learning about and find fascinating. So which topic would you like to see covered?
Previous Food Photography Friday Posts:
And don’t forget to download my FREE Artificial Lighting Set-Up Guide! Let’s rock some better food photos today friends!