Last weekend I attended the Food Blog South conference in Birmingham, Alabama. It had been the second time for me and it is always fun to talk to a like-minded blogger. This year’s speakers had been interesting, funny and helpful and I came home with pages full of scribbled notes. While I was unpacking my bags, I thought I should write them down into a readable format. And when I thought you might be interested in the best tips for photographing food for your blog? One of the things I had been looking forward to, had been the food styling and photography sessions with Helene Dujardin (Tartelette, a senior photographer at Oxmoor House, author of Plate To Pixel, Digital Food Photography & Styling) and Tami Hardeman (Running With Tweezers, an experienced and professional food stylist). Although I tried to take as many notes as possible, I had to fill in some gaps. But don’t worry and bear with me. Here we go the best tips for photographing food:
- It doesn’t matter if you are going to rob a bank or if you want to shoot some food pictures, it all starts with a good plan. Think ahead! What story do you want to tell? The country style bread you are baking would look even more rustic if baked free-form. Slices beautifully wrapped for a picnic in the park or on a wooden cutting board with cheese and hot tea?
- Consider taking notes while writing the recipe. This will help you to remember to save some strawberries for decoration before you pop them all into your mouth. If you are using fresh herbs, save some for later (for sprinkling over the dish or to style the table).
- It doesn’t have to be all plated dishes. If your food looks good while cooking, have your camera ready and take a picture. Maybe take a pic of your ingredients before you are combining everything in a food processor. Obviously, there is no going back after this point.
- Frankie Says Relax, seriously you shouldn’t stress it. There are days I shoot 30 pictures and don’t like one of those. But after taking a coffee break and maybe eating one of the muffins I am photographing right now, suddenly I get my mojo back.
- I am guilty of shooting in 3 to 5 f/stop range for a nice blurry background and in M mode. I feel like a control freak… Helene Dujardin suggested trying a much higher f/stop also aperture mode is totally fine for most of the day to day shooting. In her professional life, she would go for at least 10 and for pictures for your food blog she would recommend f/stops between 4.5 and 8 to make sure you capture all the details. After taking the picture step back and analyze: is everything blurry that has to be this way and can you see everything else what you wanna show?
- You have read the following in every how to photography article so far, please just finally do it: read the manual. You camera came with one for a reason and it’s the easiest way to learn how to manipulate your camera so that it does what you want.
- Light, light, light…I read somewhere, taking pictures is like painting with light. And there is also some talking about the quality of light. As it all comes down to the ‘right’ light, learn to identify your light.
- Is it cold or warm light? Auto white balance (AWB) does a good job, but it might me necessary to adjust at some point, there are different manual White Balance settings, such as Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, and Tungsten. If you have read your manual, you know how…
- From which direction is your light coming? Is your food highlighted without showing harsh shadows? I use a collapsible reflector with a white (to fill the shadows) and a golden surface (for a warm tone or to pretend there is a ray of light on my pancakes in the morning). White cardboards are cheaper and can be cut to the right size. Also, I use black cardboards to block light or to subtract light. Helene Dujardin makes a hole in the cardboard to let light through, so you can highlight your food on the plate but keep everything around moody/darker.
- I always use natural light. A white curtain (no patterns) diffuses bright light. Consider stepping outside for shooting, if it is too dark inside on a cloudy day. But avoid bright, harsh light.
- When it comes to food styling I am more lucky than well versed. Tami was full of great tips and ideas and I wish I had been able to write every word she said. I especially liked the example of the Chinese Soup because I am so guilty of that and it’s so damn obvious: just because it is Chinese it doesn’t have to come in one of this deep bowl. You’ll end up with a picture of a broth with unknown ingredients at the bottom. Use a (rather flat) soup plate if you want to show what’s actually in the soup and use a deeper bowl for puréed soups with a smooth top.
- Another one I am guilty off: finding my reflection on shiny surfaces like spoons. Treat the specular props with dull spray, which you can find in home improvement stores.
- Don’t use your favorite prop, just because it’s your favorite. It kind of has to fit into the story you want to tell. For example, your grandma’s antique silver spoon is a nice one but doesn’t fit in the contemporary feeling you want to achieve.
- Don’t bring a knife to a pudding fight. And if you have a cooked egg, there shouldn’t be a fork and three spoons either, stay realistic for once.
- Tami also recommended plating your dish right there you take your pictures to avoid any mess on the plate caused by walking around with it. She doesn’t ladle the soup into the bowl, she pours it carefully to keep the rim clean.
- I read about all kinds of tricks and equipment to make your food good looking. And the question is how far do I want to go with this? Does it help you in any way, if I paint my broccoli with green food coloring just because it went pale during cooking? Nope because your broccoli is most likely looking the same and you might ask yourself what went wrong with my recipe. Also, I don’t waste food, I eat what I shoot. No fake whipped cream made of shaving cream on my cake. But I do consider brushing a little bit of vegetable oil on food that looks dry, especially if I shoot food that I cooked the previous day.
- Before you start to plate your food think about what style you want to achieve, country, fine dining, finger food…? What story do you want to tell?
best tips for photographing food
Let’s start with the actual photo shooting, shall we?
Where are we? The surface had been picked, two bowls had been placed on top escorted by two matching spoons. Tami filled the bowls with just a little bit of soup, so Helen can check the light and get her camera ready. If you would take a picture of vanilla ice cream you would use a dummy like white paper (brown paper if it’s chocolate). And bring the real ice cream in the last minute to avoid taking pictures of a melting mess. With this soup, it’s kind of the same, although it’s puréed, solids are floating down and the surface might look yuck or get a skin.
After the first test pictures had been taken, bowls had been pushed around, more props had been added like glasses and a tiny bowl with salt and pepper. If you have several glasses or bottles with liquids in your picture make sure they are not all on the same level, it just looks weird. Helen said layering multi textures like different napkins are usually a good idea. If you take a tabletop picture, style your food and pops this way, so keep looking from above on the scene.
Tami filled the bowls with more soup and topped it with smoked salmon and sprinkled with some fennel greens (she had saved the fennel while she had been making the soup).
Finally, the pictures had been taken, are we done? The best one had been picked, it’s called the hero. Don’t forget to make one from further away, just to be safe, you can crop it later on if you like (doesn’t work the other way round).
If you are pleased with your pictures, start to mess things up, just for fun. Put the spoon into the bowl and make it look like you just tasted it. Or bite into the muffin, crumble the cookie and smear around the sauce. Food can look even better if it looks like someone snacked on it, but you should still be able to identify what it is and not guess what it had been. A dirty spoon brings movement into the picture, can show emotions and completes your story.
Thanks for reading! I hope my best tips for photographing food might help you and you can apply some tricks to your routine. If you like to add something or share your tricks please feel free to write a comment.