You’ve written a fantastic recipe which has been triple, no, quadruple checked. You can’t wait to hit “publish” and share it with the world. But you haven’t taken any photographs! And, as everyone knows, it’s the photographs that can really “sell” your food. What you need is a crash course in snapping those pics. What you need is Food Photography 101.
Top Tips for Food Bloggers
There are a number of things you need to think about as a beginner (far too many to cover in just one post), so I’ve narrowed it down to the five that can make the biggest impact to your readers and the biggest difference to your photographs RIGHT NOW. And I’ve also written a quick course to start you off today.
The Right Camera for the Job
These days, the cameras on modern smart phones are extremely good, and there are plenty of bloggers who start out taking their food photographs on their iPhones. As Instagram has proved, it is possible to create visually stunning, high-quality shots with just the click and upload from a mobile phone.
However, as soon as you can afford it and become serious about your blog, it’s sensible to upgrade to the next level: a DSLR camera. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex.
One of the main reasons for this is that you can fix it to a tripod which gets rid of the dreaded camera shake. You can also start playing around with the settings on a DSLR and alter the shutter speed (the rate at which the shutter opens and closes) and aperture (the amount of light entering the camera). This can be the difference between too-bright photographs and pictures with not enough contrast.
Take a look at this great article on using aperture in photography.
Lighting can make or break a photograph -unfortunately, it’s true. You will always hear food bloggers going on about “natural light” because, of course, it is the best light to show the natural colours of your food.
Using lamps and other artificial lighting around the home can be disastrous because they can impose a yellowy tinge over your work, meaning your whites are no longer white. Yes, there is of course software to deal with this, but it’s much better to be starting with white than creating it on your computer.
The best thing you can do is to get near a big, bright window, but not in direct sunlight. Then, prop up a few large white boards (A3 card wedged with tins works great!) so that the light bounces around and doesn’t cast shadows – it’s called a “bounce card” for this reason! You want a soft, diffused and balanced light. Then, set up your shot and approach it from lots of different angles to ensure that your shadow isn’t in the shot either.
Food bloggers are notorious for setting up their shots wherever they can get the best light – in bathrooms, spare bedrooms and on balconies. Try a few different areas in your home and see what results you get. Remember, it will depend on the time of day and the time of year as well.
Light from the window too bright? Hang a white sheet over the curtain rail to diffuse the light better around the room.
Different kinds of dishes require different camera angles to show them off to full advantage. Before you shoot, think about what element(s) of the food you want to show off and what you want to hide. Would your dish look better in context? Or is there a gooey drip of fudge sauce you want to highlight? Then, consider the following:
Complete dishes/meals are best shot from above, from a height, to show off the different elements of the dish:
Photograph of Taco Salad Bowls from above by rusticfoodiegirl.com
Ice creams, pots and foods with layers AND toppings can do well photographed from 45 degrees so you can see both.
Photograph of Granola Pot from 45 degrees by thefoodbrood.co.uk
Meanwhile, cakes, sandwich stacks and anything that has striking layers are best shot side on, so that you can appreciate those layers. Don’t forget to think about what is behind this kind of shot:
Photograph of Simple Salmon Burgers from the side by rusticfoodiegirl.com
One thing that screams “newbie” is zooming in too close to your food. Often, it helps to take a step back and consider the entire dish and its props as a stage – best viewed in whole, not part.
Take a look at the photography lesson at the bottom to see what I mean.
It’s very rare that a photograph of food is purely of a single plate or bowl of food. Often, the photographer will supplement the main dish with props such as napkins, cutlery or glasses, or a few hints as to the main/hidden ingredients of the dish in the form of chopped raw ingredients (e.g. half a lemon next to a lemon-chicken tray bake), a few scatterings of herbs or a bowl containing a condiment or seasoning for the food.
Example of a well-styled photograph by Lum3n.com via Pexels
Check out your local charity shops for unusual and unique props you could use: serving spoons, chopsticks, plates, napkins, tablecloths and serving bowls. Then, keep a box of props ready at home to grab as the mood takes you.
The other thing you will notice in a good food photograph is the background of the picture – the wood, marble or cloth that the food is pictured against. If you are just starting out, then there is no need to run straight to an expensive kitchen store and buy a marble chopping board or selection of wood blocks, rather visit your local DIY shop and look for wallpapers that have a wood-grain effect or marble pattern. A sample is usually FREE; style the shot beautifully and your audience will never know.
If you want a specific colour for your backdrop, say, your brand colours, why not paint your own?
Of course, the food needs to be picture-worthy to begin with. You need to think about the colours you are putting together; consider “shocking” the food when first cooked (plunging it in cold water) to preserve the vibrancy of colours. You might also like to garnish the dish with a fresh element from inside the recipe – fresh herbs, lemon slices, bread crumbs, nuts and so on.
Example of vibrant colours in food photography by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels
A full bowl of food looks much better than a half-full bowl. If necessary, get a smaller bowl so that you can fill it right to the brim. As long as you don’t use a tiny bowl and then put a regular-sized fork next to it then the perspective won’t be confusing.
Beware of brown food! Stews, casseroles, chilli, sausages and so on, are notoriously difficult to photograph. Think outside the box and bring in some more colour.
Finally, if possible, set up your shooting area before the food is cooked, to prevent it having to sit around for too long and dulling.
A quick spritz with water will usually bring the freshness back to salad leaves and fruits while a drizzle of olive oil will reinvigorate roasted vegetables, but the quicker you can shoot it, the better.
A Quick Photography Lesson
Below is an example of a before and after shot of one of my recipes: Salmon Nicoise Salad. There is no comparison. The first is one of the first photographs I ever shot; the second is a photograph of my recipe taken by a professional photographer for her portfolio.
As you can see, the first picture is totally unedited and unstyled. I snapped it with my phone as my family sat down to eat. While the lighting in the room was ok (it was high summer so there was plenty of natural light flooding in), I didn’t do anything to work with the light so the picture has still come out dull.
Here’s the before shot. Ready?!
Photograph by me. Argh!
Things done wrong:
1. zoomed in too close to the food,
2. didn’t use boards to bounce light around leaving the photograph dark,
3. no attempts to style the photograph with props,
4. no thought to the placement of the food in the dish; dish only half full,
5. used a sub-standard camera,
6. allowed the food to “dull” in the cooking process.
Yikes! Totally unappetising, right?
Here’s the after shot.
Photograph by Kelly Lockett Studio.
Things done right:
1. taken from an angle at a height away from the food,
2. beautiful lighting to bring out the colours of the bowl,
3. a simple fork and edge of the oak table lends a feeling of luxury to the picture,
4. a nice full bowl of food, with plenty of salmon on top,
5. a clear, focused shot with a professional camera,
6. bright, vibrant colours of the greens, reds and oranges.
Now it’s your turn!
So now you’ve passed Food Photography 101, when it’s time to take the very first photographs for your website, you should have an idea of what to do (and what not to do!) before you even start. Plan out the shoot in advance and your photographs will look 1000 times better:
Think about your recipe. Would it be better shot from above, the side, or on an angle?
Where is the best natural light in your house?
What backdrop/props/styling would you like to try? Make sure they are clean!
How could you best display your food in the bowl? Maybe you need to take a bite out of it? Spill a few crumbs? Perhaps get a fork and dig in?
Finally, trust your instincts as a food photographer. If something is not working, take it apart and try again. After all, practise makes perfect!
Now start snapping!
Ready to move on to the next stage? Get your FREE email course “Improve your Food Photography 5-Day Challenge” RIGHT HERE!
Go on, I dare you, share your worst picture in the comments!