I am always very flattered when people say their favourite things about the blog is my photography, since I don’t have any training in this field specifically. I do come from a fine arts background however, and I’ve used my understanding of composition, light, and colour to teach myself how to take beautiful photographs.
If you go back to the very beginning of the blog, you’ll see where I began. Ouch. But I leave those images there for readers to see my evolution! I knew very little when I started, and have used each blog post as an opportunity for growth. I really try and challenge myself every time I am photographing a new subject, experiment with the light, colours, backgrounds etc, and maybe even fiddle around with the camera settings, even if I think I know what would look best. Sometimes I surprise myself!
This is all to say that photographing food did not come naturally to me, but was instead a major journey of exploration, trial and error.
My approach and style
Since I never received any professional training, or expected to be a “food photographer”, my approach to the whole thing is quite relaxed. I like ingredients and finished dishes to speak for themselves, so, much like in my cooking, I try to intervene as little as possible. I decide what aspects of the dish I want to bring out and use the composition and light to enhance those elements. I don’t style food too much either – I like seeing what it does naturally and use that to my advantage, instead of manipulating the ingredients to look another way. I want things to look real!
Light is by far the most important aspect of photography, especially when it comes to food. I had a serious light bulb moment (no pun intended) when I turned my entire composition around so that the light was behind it, instead of in front of it. WOW! Such a simple change with incredibly different results. The reason for this is that when a dish is lit from the front, the light hits it evenly creating a real flatness. When light hits a dish from behind (or from the side, for that matter) it creates dimension. You’ll also end up with highlights, which looks super appealing! Shine in food makes it look moist and inviting. I will sometimes drizzle a little extra olive oil on something to capture this effect – the difference is incredible.
I never use anything but natural light in my images. Sometimes I use something to help fill-in shadows (a very fancy piece of white foam core), but other than that, a window is all I need. I find that direct sunlight is tricky to work with, but can deliver nice results. I prefer to shoot indoors as it’s easier to control the conditions, but if I am outdoors, I will try and find an umbrella or something to block direct light on the subject matter (remember: direct light creates flatness. Eew.) Never use the flash when taking food photos, unless you’re going for that editorial, Terry Richardson ugly-pretty thing. Good luck.
As far as composition goes, it is important to think about how the eye naturally moves. In the west, we read from left to right, so that is typically how I set up my images, but taking into consideration that the viewer should be guided in some way around the entire frame. I like to have elements, even if they are out of focus, placed around the composition to lead the viewer’s eye around. Negative space is also of great importance, so there should be a balance between both full and empty areas. In some images, a great deal of negative space is a perfect way of creating emphasis on your subject matter.
Props and Backgrounds
I think one of the easiest ways to change the look of your images is to change the background / backdrop and by using different dishware / utensils / napkins etc. I make my own backgrounds out of reclaimed and recycled wood, and pick up most of my dish props at flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores. Although I like to have a lot of options on hand, I really don’t spend a lot of money on these things, and neither do you!
Camera and Lenses
When I started blogging, I had a point-and-shoot pocket camera that worked just fine for many years. People would often ask me what camera I had, thinking it was a DSLR, because I could achieve looks that most would assume were captured with a decent lens. Fooled ‘em all! But over time I became more interested in the photography aspect of the blog, and at the same time realizing that my audience was growing due to the fact that I was putting more effort into the images I was posting. So I took the leap and invested in a second-hand Canon EOS 500D DSLR. I used the kit lens it came with and really learned how to use it.
A few years later, I upgraded to the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mk II DSLR body, which really separates colors well and has good HD video features. At this time I also purchased two lenses: a 24-70mm f/2.8 USM and a 50mm f/1.2. The 24-70mm lens is a very good all-purpose lens for shooting any kind of action in the kitchen, plus texture shots / landscapes etc. that you can juxtapose against your food pics. The 50mm f/1.2 is a serious macro lens and gives you that very shallow depth of field that makes food look delicious (it also happens to be a very trendy way to photograph food these days). Warning: both of these lenses are expensive, but if you are serious it’s a great investment. You can still go a long way with a lesser-expensive camera and lens if you know how to use them properly, but eventually you’ll probably want to upgrade.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even have a phone that could take photos until 2012. But I wasn’t into social media stuff very much and it didn’t seem relevant to me. Once I did get a phone with a camera however, I was off to the races, especially on Instagram. Not having to be on my computer to post something was a revelation and an easy, fun way to for me to connect with my readers.
Almost all of the tools I use for my DSLR photography apply here. Use only natural light. Style the composition slightly to achieve a good balance of “stuff” vs. negative space to keep the eye moving. Props are good but don’t go overboard.
I use some filters, but mostly play around with the levels, contrast, and temperature. I like using VSCO for filters and the rest I do directly in Instagram because the newer versions allow more control.
Why does all of this matter?
Having the skills to create inspiring images is key to running a food blog for two reasons: One,
the images are the first thing readers notice when they visit a food blog. A beautiful, delicious-looking image makes people want to keep reading and make the recipe! Two, you can apply your photography skills to your Instagram photos, Pinterest galleries, Facebook images and much more.
In other words, if you start your food blog with captivating, original photography and some creative recipe ideas you are off to a good start.