Food Photography Tips & Tricks
I recently attended a blogging retreat and had a chance to connect with many awesome Canadian bloggers. The one question I was asked over and over again was about my food photography. People wanted to know what I was doing because my photos had improved so much. I tried to explain what I had done without rambling on and on and not sure if I succeeded. Sorry to any bloggers I left dazed and confused! I figured I’d write a post where I could lay everything out more clearly and succinctly. That’s the plan anyways!
There really is no “secret”. I set a personal goal for myself last fall to improve my food photography. I enjoy working with food and recipes are a big part of my blog. I was inspired by something Bjork of Food Blogger Pro said on one of his podcasts. He talked about “1% infinity” which basically means you work on improving something every day, even if it’s just a small amount, and you’ll improve over time at whatever it is you are trying to do.
I followed this advice pretty religiously. I carved out a small chunk of my day to improving my food photography. I read books, watched videos, made recipes to shoot and practice what I learned. I invested some money into purchasing ebooks and courses, but it didn’t cost me too much. Plus, it’s a tax write-off and an investment in myself.
So now you know my thought process behind it all. I’ve been asked to share the HOW. What the heck am I doing here with my food photos? I’m going to give you all the details today.
Pretty much all of my photos are taken in front of my living room window. It’s a big picture window with lots of natural light, in the summer anyways! I have to shoo my cats out of the window so I can set up my working space.
I have a table set up in front of the window. My utility ladder is stored in my front closet for easy access. All my backgrounds and reflectors are in my living room too.
Here’s a peek at the set up.
And some photography tips!
Tip: Shoot in RAW only. You’ll be able to edit your photos so much easier and can fix most issues. You’ll need to use either Lightroom or Photoshop to edit them though. I have the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography membership that includes both programs. It’s $9.99/month and well worth it. I used to use Picmonkey for photo editing, but you can only upload jpg or png files there.
Tip: Use backlighting or sidelighting. Never put the light source behind you when you are shooting. Learning about how light works was key. It all clicked when I watched the Photography course on Food Blogger Pro. I practiced looking at photos to see if I could tell which direction the light was coming from. It made me more comfortable working with it and manipulating it to do what I wanted in my photos.
Here are some examples of the two types of lighting. The one below is sidelighting where the light source is at the side of your subject. Look for the “catchlights” – the shiny spots of light on the cranberries.
This is the set up for photo above illustrating sidelighting. I have my window on the left side and a piece of foam board bouncing the light back onto my subject. I’m standing in front of the cranberries with the window to my left side.
And backlighting! I love backlighting because it’s more dramatic, but I find it a little more challenging to work with. I’m still learning! You can see how the light is coming from the back of the cranberries and the front is darker.
Here is my backlighting set up. I have two reflectors on either side and the window light behind the cranberries. I’m standing in front of the window to take this photo.
Tip: For flat foods, shoot overhead. I stand on my utility ladder I bought at Home Depot and lean down over the table to take my shots.
Side note: can you tell where the light source is here? If you said to the left (sidelighting), you are correct.
Tip: For stacked foods, shoot straight on. This way you can show the height! My burgers were shot straight on. If I shot overhead, you would only see the bun.
Tip: Think of the rule of thirds when you are setting up your shot. If you mess up, don’t worry. You can crop later on in editing to make it work.
Tip: Create a path of movement in your set up to lead the viewers eye through the photo. You can do this with food and/or props. I tried to do that here with the blueberries to lead people from the scrub out to the top of the photo.
Tip: Take a variety of shots. Some close-up, some pulled back and some in between. Experiment with sidelighting and backlighting and see which one looks more flattering.
I asked on my personal Facebook profile what questions people had for me about food photography. Some great questions here!
What type of lighting do you recommend?
I prefer to use natural light whenever possible. However, sometimes the weather and my schedule isn’t the most cooperative. In these cases, I use my Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Light. I purchased mine at B&H Photo for around $105. They ship to Canada with free shipping, but prices are in USD. If you want it, I’d recommend grabbing it if you see it available. It’s often on backorder.
What backgrounds do you use?
I have a bunch of vinyl backgrounds from Swanky Prints on Etsy. I keep them rolled up in a bucket in my office area. I’m looking at getting some real wood backgrounds made because I find you can sometimes see the wood isn’t real with the macro lens. Eventually, I’ll move over to all real wood, but for now the vinyl prints will do.
I store them in a bucket I covered in wrapping paper to try and make it look a little nicer.
I also use foam boards from the craft store. I mainly use black and white ones.
My absolute favourite background is my black slate cheese board from Crate & Barrel. I love its texture. I also have a marble pastry slab from the same store and use that every once in a while. I’d like to get one with a bit more white in it though.
Where do you get your props?
I love antique stores for unique looking dishes and silverware. Old, worn baking sheets are great! The more scuffed up the better. I’ve also purchased fabric swatches in the craft section at Walmart.
Here’s one of the spots where I store my props. It’s from IKEA.
I also have shelves above from IKEA with more props and other stuff.
I recently subscribed to GlobeIn. It’s a monthly subscription box featuring artisan treasures from around the world. I bought it so I could add some unique props to my collection.
My napkins and other linens are in a plastic bin under the table with my printer. They are a bit messy right now!
I save the brown paper that comes in packages as well as tissue paper. They make great props!
Here are some recent prop purchases on Amazon. I mostly order from the American Amazon because it has much better selection than the Canadian one.
- Signature Housewares Sorrento Collection 8-Inch Stoneware Pasta Bowl, Ivory Antiqued Finish
- Eddingtons Italian Olive Wood Honey Dipper
- Dress My Cupcake Disposable Rustic Cutlery 25-Pack Wooden Party Spoons, 6.5-Inch
- FloraCraft Burlap Roll, 18-Inch Wide by 5-Yard Length, Natural
- Dress My Cupcake 100-Pack Vintage Paper Straws, Coral Chevron
- Aunt Martha’s White Flour Sack Dish Towels, Size 28-Inch by 28-Inch, 2-Pack
- 9.25″ White Porcelain Round Pedestal Pie Footed Plate Cake Dessert Stand
What gear do you use?
Some more recent purchases!
- Neewer® 5 in 1 Portable Triangle 32”Inch/80cm Multi Camera Lighting Reflector/Diffuser Kit with Grip and Carrying Case for Photpgraphy(32″ Triangle) – I put this diffuser in front of the window sometimes when the light is too harsh.
- Pro’sKit 900-015 Helping Hands Soldering Aid – Meet “Norman”. He holds my spoons when I’m shooting alone. Isn’t he cute?
- Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable External Hard Drive with Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0 (Silver) STDR2000101 – I store the RAW files on here so they don’t take up valuable real estate on my computer.
- Westcott 20″ 5-in-1 Sunlight reflector kit – Diffusion, Silver, White, Sunlight, Black – If you have a helper, get them to hold this reflector instead of using the foam board.
- MANFROTTO 190XPR03 ALUMINUM TPOD+496RC2 HEAD – I’ve only used this so far for my straight on shots. I’m still trying to adapt to it. Currently, I mainly shoot hand held.
What type of camera do you use?
I purchased a Canon EOS 6D in August 2015. It was pricey, but worth every penny. If you can afford it, I highly recommend a full-frame DSLR.
What lenses do you use?
I use the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens about 95% of the time. It’s awesome for close up shots and does well in lower light situations thanks to the Image Stabilization feature. I use the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens about 5% of the time. I can’t get as close with this one, but it’s great for overhead shots because I can get more of the food in the frame.
What do you use to edit your photos?
Lightroom Creative Cloud. I can’t say enough good things about this program. I have the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and it gives me both Lightroom and Photoshop and keeps them both up-to-date with the current versions. Lightroom allows me to edit RAW files – something that you cannot do in PicMonkey.
For collages and text overlays, I use PicMonkey. I have the premium plan.
What books do you recommend?
- Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (2nd Edition)
- Tasty Food Photography
- The Food Photography Book
- The Ultimate Photography Book for Bloggers
What courses do you recommend?
- The Essential Guide to Lightroom
- Lightroom Essentials: The Develop Module
- DSLR Basics
- Food Blogger Pro: You’ll need to have a membership here to watch these courses. My faves were Natural Lighting for Food Photography, Artificial Lighting for Food Photography, Props for Food Photography, Composition for Food Photography, Styling for Food Photography, Editing in Lightroom.
- KelbyOne: Free for the first 10 days, then $19.99/month after that. I subscribed for one month and binge watched all the Food Photography courses and Lightroom courses. By far, this resource is my favourite. I felt like the Lightroom courses took my editing to a whole new level.
Do you have a portfolio?
Kinda sorta. I made an online one on SmugMug to add to my media kit. I plan to add my favourite photos there so people can view them all with a quick glance. Here are my DIY Beauty Photos and Food Photos portfolios.
Well here we are almost 2,000 words later. Whew! If I missed anything or you have any questions, please let me know.
I’m by no means an “expert”. I’m just someone who loves to share beautiful looking food. I’m continuing on with my goal of 1% infinity.
If food photography is something that interests you and that you enjoy doing, I encourage you to invest in yourself. Make the time for it. Take in as much knowledge as you possibly can and practice, practice, practice!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!
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