I don’t have a recipe here today because I am sharing this healthy Turkey Picadillo Chili with Quinoa recipe over at Alyssa’s blog The Queen of Quinoa. To get the recipe make sure that you head over there. When you get back I’ll be right here, and I am ready to talk a little bit about food photography and share some tips that may help you. If you are a food blogger, just getting started, or just want to improve your food photography skills, hopefully you’ll find something here that will be helpful for you.
A few of my blogging buddies were having a discussion about how far we’ve come as photographers since we started blogging. We have had a good time laughing at ourselves, looking back into the archives to see how far we’ve come. We have also made some pretty amazing images over the years. I even started a pinterest board so that we can all pin some of our more proud photography moments. This discussion has gotten me thinking about the fact that I have a lot to share, and it may be helpful for people who are getting started in blogging or for people who have been blogging for a while who may want to pick up a new trick or two. I am not claiming to be an expert or a professional even. But I have learned a lot over the years and it would make me so happy to think that I had helped someone out there in the ten minutes it takes to read this blog post, as opposed to the four years of food blogging it has taken me to learn this all by trial and lots and lots of error.
The way I see it, there is always something to learn. I look back on my old work and I cringe. And at the time I thought it was pretty darned good. In a few years, I know that when I look back on the photographs I am taking today and think they suck. But that is how it goes. So below you’ll find my tips for ways to improve your digital photography. I want to say this all with the giant disclaimer that I again I am not a professional photographer. I did study photography in school and I do get paid for my photography sometimes when I am lucky. But I also happen to be a food stylist and I work with actual professional photographers and compared to them I don’t know shit. So you can listen to me or not. I won’t be offended. Or just go get my chili recipe. That would make me really happy.Use Natural Light
Use Natural Light
The easiest way to improve your photographs is to use natural light. The above shot was taken with daylight diffused through a thin white piece of cloth. If you can’t use natural light, diffuse it, aim it from the side and back, and set your white balance on your camera (more on that below.) I use two of these lights by RPS Studio when I need to. I took the below shot with them. I am not crazy about it. But it is better than shooting with the internal flash on your camera. Don’t ever do that. Please and thank you.
Look for the light
If you do nothing else I recommend here, the one thing I would say is that lighting is more important than food styling. And this is coming from a food stylist. I learned that light is important in school but also in part from Aran Goyoaga whom I saw speak at BlogHer Food. I also took a photo workshop with her. I also see this on the job all the time when I work with real deal amazing photographers. The light is muy importante. Aran said, “Hold your hand out and look at the quality of the light. Hold the light in your hand.” If you’ve ever looked at any photographs by Maria Robledo you know that light can transform even the most humble of subjects. A few ways to improve your lighting is to diffuse the light from your window with a thin scrim or piece of white fabric. One way I have found that works for me is to position my shooting surface so that the light is coming from the side or three quarters back light. Below is an image of my set-up.
It isn’t glamorous. And yes it is my bedroom. But all I know is that as soon as I started taking photos of food in the light coming from the windows on the second floor of our house, my photography got a million times better. This is the first shot I took upstairs, and this was taken a few weeks earlier. Much better no? The light is prettier in my bedroom, and I can control it more with the curtains. I have found that sometimes more light is not better.
Take your camera out of idiot mode
I shoot in complete manual mode all the time. If you are not ready for that, I totally get that. In that case take a baby step and try shooting in AV mode. Which means aperture priority. That way the shutter speed will be chosen for you by the camera’s light meter, based on the aperture you choose and the available light. The reason this would be a good choice, is that controlling the depth of field is really important. The aperture (and the lens you are using) will be the ways to control the depth of field. If you want the background to be blurry, you just choose a wide-open aperture (a small number.) If you want more of the scene to be in focus, stop it down (close the aperture/ choose a higher number.) I could write an entire post about this subject, so this will have to suffice for now.
Use Manual Focus
Taking your camera out of idiot mode also means manually focusing on your subject. Depending on your camera, this may be a setting on your lens. Or it could be on the camera body. The reason you would want to do this is that the camera automatically wants to focus on the center of the viewfinder, unless you tell it otherwise. And often the main subject isn’t in the center of the photograph for composition reasons. Therefore it is better to take matters into your own hands and focus the camera on what you think is the most important part of the frame.
Use a tripod
That way you can really set up the shot and have low light situations, with a long shutter speed. You’ll also need a cable release so your camera doesn’t shake when you hit the shutter button. This will give you so much more flexibility. [Especially late in the day when there isn’t much light left.]
Particularly at this time of year, the light can be very blue, since the sun is so low on the horizon. A camera can get confused. To set your white balance, basically all you have to do is take a picture of a white card in the light you are shooting, then tell the camera that image of the card is true white. Again it is a simple setting [usually something like “WB.”] The camera will then adjust the other shots moving forward. You can also do this on the computer if you are shooting tethered (see below) or you can adjust it in post. Doing it this way will take away the guess work if it is new to you.
Take your photos in RAW
I know this sounds scary to a lot of you, and it did to me too, but really all it will change about the way you take the picture is changing a simple setting on your camera. But once you do that you will have much more data for your photographs. That way if one of your images needs to be reproduced in print, like if you get a cookbook deal (sweet!) you’ll have higher quality data files and images. You will also have much more fine control of the images once you start manipulating it digitally in post production. Just pull out your camera manual to see how to do this on your camera, it is a simple setting.
Shooting tethered is just attaching your camera to your computer, and skipping the disk in your camera all-together. Again I know this sounds really scary, but all it takes is two mouse clicks. Before I started doing this on my own, I knew about it from being a food stylist. All professional photographers shoot tethered. And there is a reason why. I use Lightroom to do it, but a lot of the professional photographers I have worked with use Capture One. You will also need a cord probably like this one so that you can be further than a few feet from your computer. The reason you would want to shoot tethered is that it takes away all of the guess work. You can REALLY see if your image is in sharp focus. You can crop right then and there. And you can adjust the images as you go to see if you need to change the styling, composition, exposure, light or props. I’ll give you a quick example of why that would be important: Back when Foodgawker was a big deal, I used to be very concerned about getting a square crop of each one of my recipes. Before I had started to shoot tethered I had a hard time figuring out my composition. I would look at the little tiny screen on the back of the camera and try to block it out into a square. I would have no clue if it would all work out. Often times I was disappointed once I finally got the images onto the computer. Now I use it more for considering where I am going to save space for text.
Now if you’re hungry for some chili after all that photography talk, please head over to catch my guest post today on Alyssa’s blog.
Please leave me a comment below, and let me know the biggest thing you’ve learned about photography. I am always looking to improve, so help me out, what would be another tip to share? What did I miss?
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