If you have just started a blog or if you are taking your first steps in food photography, in this post you will find my top tips to improve your food photography.
I started photographing food in 2012, when I started my food blog. Before that, I didn’t even know food photography was a thing and I had no idea of what was behind the beautiful images I saw on cookbooks and magazines.
When I first started, I used to take pictures with a point-and-shoot camera and my knoledge on photography was almost zero: I used to shoot in Auto mode and “press the button”.
Looking back today, it was pretty obvious that my photos weren’t as beautiful as those of established bloggers.
Day after day I started gathering notions about food photography and I bought a DSLR, but above all I started to put into practice what I discovered with consistency and patience.
In this post I have collected 5 tips to improve your food photography for free, using what you have available.
1 – Find the (right) light
Photographing literally means “writing with light”, so finding the right light is very important. If you are at the beginning of your journey, you most likely don’t have a speedlight or a monolight, then the best light at your disposal (unless you live in an underground bunker) is natural light.
Explore the rooms of your home, even the most unexpected ones, and observe the light entering through the window. Do this at different times of the day and remember that the light changes with the seasons. In the summer the sun is “higher” than in the winter, and this affects the way the light enters the room. Also observe how the color of the light varies during the day and how is affected by the atmospheric conditions.
Take notes on when and where the best light occurs and plan to photograph right at that time.
Now that you’ve found the light, it’s time to shoot! For food photography, a side or back light is preferable. It is better to avoid the front light, because it flattens the subject by removing three-dimensionality.
Unless you are looking for a particular effect, it is best to avoid taking pictures with hard light. If hard light enters the window (it means that the sun’s rays are projected directly onto the subject, creating a sharp contrast between lights and shadows) try using a diffuser. If you don’t have a diffuser on hand, you can soften the light by using a sheer white curtain or a sheet of parchment paper applied directly to the window pane.
2 – Cook (and plate) for the camera
The food that is cooked for a photo is different from what we would bring to the table, even if it is the same recipe. Tricks that make food inedible are often used in advertising campaigns, from hairspray to shoe polish. If you cook for your blog, you can get surprising results with a few small tricks without giving up on eating your well-deserved slice of cake straight from the set.
Make sure you buy fresh and beautiful ingredients: at the grocery store choose seasonal fruits and vegetables carefully, avoiding irregularly shaped or dented pieces. Remember to buy a few more pieces to use in the final shots and keep fresh herbs on hand for garnish.
Try cutting the ingredients in a different way to create interest. If you can, cook the vegetables al dente, so that they remain firm and above all maintain a bright color.
Before plating, think about the angle you’ll use to shoot the dish in order to strategically arrange the most beautiful elements. Planning also helps you speed up the shoot and finish before the lettuce is wilted.
3 – Choose the right props (less is more)
One of the most common mistakes everyone makes when approaching food photography is buying too many props. At first I made this mistake too: it seems almost impossible to say no to half-price colored plates or a napkin with a flamingo pattern. At some point, all bloggers and photographers realize that it’s better to ignore some bargains.
Build your prop collection starting from basic pieces: bowls of different sizes, plates, a couple of set of cutlery. Neutral colors are always a good starting point. By practicing, you’ll understand what you love most to photograph and so it will be easier to collect the perfect pieces that fits your style.
When on set, choose props that fit the story you want to tell: do you want to communicate a romantic feeling? Pick vintage plates and flatware. Are you going for a modern look? Then use white ceramic plates and nordic style cutlery. Remember: there is no right or wrong, but it’s just a matter of the story you want to tell.
I’ll dedicate an entire blog post to props, but here are my recommendations: Small plates are better than larger ones (food will look more inviting). Matte plates are easier to handle than shiny plates due to light reflections. There is no need to buy six identical plates – one or two are enough and you will pair them with the plates you already own.
4 – Learn manual mode
My advice for those approaching food photography is to learn how to shoot in Manual mode as soon as possible. I know that switching from Auto to Manual mode sounds scary, but it’s easier than it seems.
It’s essential to be familiar with basic terminology and to know the exposure triangle: ISO, f-stops and shutter speed will become your best friends. Once you have mastered these concepts, shooting Manual mode will be much easier.
If you want to switch gradually from Auto to Manual you can use these settings: shutter priority mode (TV or S) and aperture priority mode (AV or A). These two modes allow you to have control on a single parameter (respectively, shutter speed and aperture), letting the camera decide the other two.
ìI prefer to have full control over camera settings, but these mode can be useful if you’re just starting out or if you are shooting in conditions where capturing the moment is important and you don’t have time to change settings (e.g. a wedding). Shooting Manual and in RAW you’ll have total control over your images.
5 – Look for inspiration, then shoot!
Today sources of inspiration are everywhere. We are constantly bombarded with images, especially through social networks, and sometimes it is normal to feel overwhelmed. I like to find inspiration through Pinterest (here you can find my boards), where I collect by category images that inspire me. In general, inspiration can come from art, architecture, nature, colors …
Try breaking down the images you like into the features you think make those photos beautiful and make a list. It can be the color palette, the framing, a particular lighting or the subject… Put what you’ve seen into practice: combine the characteristics of the images you like and create your own masterpiece!
I’d love to hear about your food photography journey. Did you have a favourite tip? Which tip will you work on next? Let me know in the comments below.