Food Photography for food bloggers
I officially started my food photography journey a bit more than a year ago. That time I launched Taste Is Yours food blog and started to create the first recipes. I wanted to achieve a certain visual level since the beginning and as a complete newbie, I had to learn a lot. When I look back today, I am amazed by myself how much the pictures changed and how much I like them 🙂 And that is my friends the most important. To love what you do 🙂 Yes, it might sound like a cliché but is definitely true.
And now let me talk about lessons I learned during the last 12 months. Also, I will try to explain some tips & tricks which helped me to get where I am today. Hopefully, they will help you in some way.
Food Photography for food bloggers
I shot my first food pictures with an iPhone 5 camera. Sometimes they came out really good and sometimes they were a disaster. But nevertheless, at least I was making them and learned the limits of the camera. And in my opinion, this is a very important point. Once you learn in what your camera sucks, you can start to think about the upgrade. Until then please do not believe anybody who will tell you that you have to get a PRO DSLR camera worth of 2500 EUR immediately. It is a bull***t! (sorry for my language but this is the true 🙂 ). Those cameras are good for sure, just for beginners, they might be too complicated. And the last thing you want is to overthink every single picture you make.
So which camera to get then? An entry price DSLR is totally enough for the first 2-3 years. What I definitely recommend to get is a 50mm lens. It will help you to make good pictures in low light and achieve a “bokeh” effect if needed. I am using a Canon 1300D and can’t complain so far 🙂
This is a very complicated section so I will keep it short and easy as possible. What helped me a lot was experimenting with every single setting option in the camera. Every photo will require a slightly different setup so just follow the “do & fail” strategy. Only by doing you will learn how ISO, shutter speed, aperture and exposure works. What I am trying to do is to keep my settings like this: ISO 100, aperture around F2,5 (angled shots) and F8 (above shots), shutter speed around 1/80. These settings are working good in most of the cases.
At the beginning, I was making most of my pictures in the kitchen near the window. As a backdrop, I used a sheet of white or black paper or just the kitchen table. What I got after a while was a tripod. At home, I use a tripod very rarely as I shoot most of my pics from hand. But in case I am in rush or shoot for a client I use a tripod all the time. It definitely helps me to get sharper pictures.
The next accessories are my very favorite ones. Mostly because I made them by myself 🙂 The first is a reflector. I bought a cork table (40cmx60cm) and placed a sheet of white paper on it. Even though I wanted to buy a reflector set in the store, I actually never did. This one is totally enough. Next on my accessory list are wooden backdrops. They are made from older wooden boards and colored by different colors. Today I shoot the majority of my pictures on them.
Natural vs. artificial light
Hmm. I was not sure if I want to speak about this one but I put it here anyway. To be very gentle I will start with an old proverb “All that glitters is not gold”. Guys, do you really believe that every food photo you see is made in natural light? Even though the photographer says that he/she uses only natural light and has a north facing window?
I don’t. I live in Europe where the seasons and the weather are changing very quickly. And it is almost impossible to shoot good quality pictures when is raining, it is misty or simply dark. I used to make all my pictures on daylight as well, but it was very hard to get consistent results. So I decided to buy an entry “softbox” lights. Thanks to them I can shoot during the whole day or even in the evening.
The composition is another important thing in photography. Composing (or setting up) your pictures according to rules is also one of the hardest ones. You have to plan and design your photos in a way that the eye of the viewer can easily identify the main object and navigate through the photo. What is also important to remember (and learn) is how to use backgrounds, style your props, and play with contrast and colors.
What helped me a lot was to think about the composition before I actually started to cook the dishes. I took out the plates or bowls, placed it on the backdrops and thought about how to set up the food on the plate. The second important thing was to think about what kind of props I will use and under what angle I will shoot the dish. Will it be from the above or from the angle? Making this right, helped me to compose my pictures in a very good and interesting way.
Once you made enough photos you can start to think about your style. Here I talk about the final look of your pictures and the style you like the most. Will your pictures be full of food, or if they will be minimalist? Or if you prefer macro, white, dark, colorful, modern or rustic style? There is no good answer to this. And at the end, it will be you who will decide according to what you like the most. What helped me a lot was again “do & fail”. I have tried to reproduce every single style available around + added a bit of my creativity.
Another good lesson for me was a so-called “A-Z fruit and vegetable challenge”. I have made pictures of all available ingredients in a several ways and styles. After a couple of weeks of shooting and hundreds of pictures later, I saw that my style is very simple one. I like to take photos which are not over composed and the focus is on the main dish. Also, I like to use just a couple of colors and props.
Styling and propping
I talked about my (your) style in the chapter above. Propping and styling is something I learned as a last. At the beginning, I thought that it doesn’t really matter what kind of plate, bowl or cutlery I will use during the shooting. But today I know that it actually matters a lot. I started to collect old cutlery and plates from every place I could. I even took some forks and knives from granny’s kitchen for a rustic look of my pictures 🙂 Once you get to this point you will realize that it is kind of an addiction 🙂
This is definitely my most favorite tool for food photography. Yes, you can find a lot of pictures on google as well but Pinterest offers you a lot of content from real professionals. Also, you can easily sort out the categories and tags you are looking for. Since the beginning, I spend at least an hour daily just scrolling down the feed and looking for food photos. What you can also find there is a lot of free training and tips, which is perfect if you are a starter like myself.
Another great tool for me is Youtube. With hundreds of really good food photography videos, it is the largest video library. You can find their videos about composition, styling, lighting, propping, plating, and cooking. The only annoying thing is that once you start to like some creator you will figure out that the majority of their videos are just short teasers to a paid content. So in case you want to learn more, you will have to buy something from them.
Nevertheless, I still like it as the number of free videos is enough to learn a lot 🙂
I would say that the mother of all social media currently is the Instagram. With millions of food photos and videos, it is also a great tool for finding inspiration. If you want to check out what are the trends, or just to see what are your fellow food photographers doing, Instagram is the best place to be. Besides that Instagram is the fastest tool for feedback. If your pictures are not getting at least some engagement it can be only because of the two following reasons. 1. You do not post frequently enough and at the right times. 2. You and your work are not good enough 🙂
PS: make sure your photos are Instagrammable (meaning, they look awesome on Instagram)
Getting feedback is very important. Especially when you are at the beginning of your food photography journey (or actually any photography). Sometimes just a small hint from a professional photographer can help you to achieve significantly better results. But please, make sure the feedback you get is a very concrete and detailed one. Do not trust anybody who will tell you that he/she likes or dislikes your pictures without explaining you why. OK?
The best tool for me was (and actually still is) the FOODGAWKER. Thanks to submitting my recipes to foodgawker I get feedback on every cover photo I use. So in case, my photo does not go through the approval process I get detailed feedback and I know that I have to change that particular thing in the future.
Hmm, another great part is here. Post editing is a very creative part of a food photographers job. We want our pictures to look very well so we spend a lot of time post editing our work. What I can tell you from my experience is that it is always better to edit your photos. Even just to make small adjustments in contrast or brightness will make your photos look better. Just remember, over-edited pictures can also look awful. So be careful with your settings and changes you make 🙂
I tried several post-editing tools like Lightroom, Mac OS photo editor, or even a Photoshop. But what I am using today is Polar Photo Editor. It is really simple to use, the lite version is for FREE and the full version cost approximately 30 EUR. So in case, you are an Apple owner, and you do not want to spend 150 EUR for another photo editor (yearly) I definitely recommend to use this one.
Practice makes masters
Last but not least I will talk about the basic but very powerful thing. Only by doing you will learn and become a good food photographer. And as the classic proverb says, the practice makes masters. So in case you want to do a food photography as a job make sure you will practice a lot. I shoot pictures almost daily. Sometimes from a dish, I cook, sometimes just from the ingredients I use. But at least I do it. 🙂 For me, it is better to make maximum 10 pictures of one dish and then to move to another one instead of making 100 pictures from the same plate.
BONUS chapter: Emotions
This topic came to my mind only a few minutes before I hit the submit button. But I still decided to include it in the post. And why? Because this is definitely my most favorite one. We as humans are emotional creatures and emotions play a big role in our lives. Therefore it is very important to think about emotions during the photo shooting. You can be the best in technicalities in photography, you can know all the rules by heart, but if you can’ t transfer emotions to your reader you suck. When I am preparing for the shooting I always think about what emotion I want to pass further. Be it a happy Sunday feeling when people eat pancakes together or a miserable feeling on a cold winter day when you just want to stay in bed, and cuddle up.