These are my top eight food photography tips for bloggers. Here are the most important changes you can make to improve your digital food photography, including my absolute number one lighting tip.
I originally shared these food photography tips on January 14, 2014. I have updated the images and some of the text today.
Today, I want to take a break from seasonal vegetables and weeknight meals to talk directly to my food blogging friends who are reading to share a little bit about food photography and 8 top 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. If you’re not, come back on Friday, I will have a brand new side dish (it’s Best of material!)
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.
Without further ado, here are the top eight tips for food photography for bloggers.
Use Natural Light
The easiest way to improve your photographs is to use natural light. All of my photos, with the exception of a small few, were taken with daylight diffused through a thin white piece of cloth. This includes all but one shot in my cookbook.
When I started blogging, that meant that I had to adjust my schedule so that I could shoot during the day when the light was nice, as opposed to at dinner time.
I know some of you have day jobs, and get home after dark, so this is not possible. So if you can’t use natural light here’s what to do: Use flash, strobe or static lights specifically for photography. I use two of these lights by RPS Studio when I need to. It is important to diffuse your light (more tips about how to diffuse your light here) and aim it from the side and back (more tips about controlling the light here.) Also make sure to set your white balance on your camera (more on that below.)
I took the above shot which appears in my cookbook with the RPS lights. I am not a huge fan of working with these lights, but it is better than shooting with the internal flash on your camera. Don’t ever do that. Please and thank you.
Over the years while I was a food stylist, more often than not the photographer used strobe photography. I have never learned how to use them myself, or invested in the equipment to do so. Frankly, I just don’t have that much space to set it all up since I am shoot in my home office. Honestly, this has been an issue when I have done full day shoots, and the light needs to be consistent, but for the most part, food blogging can be done without artificial lights. Please leave me a comment below if you are currently using strobe for your food blog.
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 all photography in school, but also in part from Aran Goyoaga whom I saw speak at BlogHer Food.
I had a break-through moment when I took a photo workshop with her. 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. More on that here. One way I have found that works for me is to position my shooting surface so that the light is coming from the side, three quarters back light or full back light. If I am shooting overhead- the light ALWAYS comes from the top. I never have the light coming from the same direction as the camera.
Over the years, I have found that sometimes more light is not better. in fact, I always turn off the lights in the room I am working in, and I block any additional light sources.
You can read more about lighting here, and what I like to call the JAWS effect.
Use the Manual Settings on your Camera
I shoot in complete manual mode always. (*The exception is when I am hand holding the camera- and I need a minimum shutter speed. Then I’ll put it on ISO auto mode and select the shutter speed based on the focal length of my lens.)
If you are not ready for putting your camera into complete manual mode, I totally get that. No problem! In that case 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 controlling the aperture is a good choice, is that controlling the depth of field is really important. The food is the star, and sometimes, it is better to let the other details go soft. The aperture (and the lens you are using) will be the ways to control this depth of field and what is in focus.
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.]
Shooting tethered is just attaching your camera directly 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: my recipe plug-in uses a square crop photo 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. There would be a fork cut off at an odd angle or a shape I hadn’t seen.
Advance tip: I also shoot with pre-sets, and this is really helpful to automatically apply them as I am shooting.
Set your white balance- or at least question it
For the most part, digital cameras have really awesome auto white balance. But, particularly in the winter, or very late in the day, 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 above) 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.
My Top 8 Tips For Food Photography
- Use natural light
- Look for the light
- Use the manual settings on your camera
- Use Manual Focus
- Use a Tripod
- Shoot Tethered
- Set your white balance
- Take your photos in RAW
Please make sure to read these other Food Photography Posts I have shared
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?