Sunday, October 7, 2012

Simple & Easy Food Photography: What I do

One of my first photos from when
my hobby began--the cake I made for
my daughter's 4th birthday--not great, not awful

Peanut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Shepherd's Pie
Maple Cannellini Bean Salad

Most of you know that one of my favorite hobbies is cooking and then photographing the finished product.  I love photography in general, but food doesn't move (unlike my girls).    By no means do I consider myself  an expert on this, but I do get asked every now and then how my photos turn out the way they do. In this post I'd like to share some simple things I do to try and get the best food shot.

First, the camera.  I purchased a used Canon Rebel xt off of eBay a couple of years ago.  As my hobby progressed, I knew I wanted a more "substantial" camera, and got a good deal on this one.  It came with the standard 18-55mm lens that I use for most pictures--it takes good photos of nature, food, and still life shots.  My most recent purchase was a 50mm lens, pictured on the right.  It is good for portraits and close-ups of food.  My favorite setting for this type of photography is the active setting--the icon that looks like a running man on the dial.  I go against the grain here, but you can never know when you'll have to go quickly between taking a photo of your daughter playing soccer and a plate of spaghetti.  Also, I never use the flash because I feel like it washes out the photo and makes everything too bright.  But that's just me.

This photo was taken using my iPhone 4S--great picture capability as well! 
I use it when I want to be more inconspicuous, like in restaurants. 
If you ever go out to eat with me, chances are, I will take a picture of my dinner. 
And maybe yours.
Don't be discouraged if you don't have a top of the line camera.  Many phones take excellent photos once you learn how to tweak the settings.  Do a little research online to find the tips that relate to your specific phone and you'll be improving in no time!

Next, lighting is key.  There are some sophisticated and great ideas out there for ways to set up lighting for food, but I prefer to keep it simple.  While I shoot all over the house depending on my mood, my favorite, most dependable lighting spot is this corner of my dining room table.  It's right next to the window, and it can't be beat for the photography I like to do.  Plus, I like the background the wood gives.

Please ignore the sad landscaping outside of the window.  My hydrangea is ready for Fall.
Here are two identical photos with different backgrounds.  I ended up choosing the second one because I liked the richness of the wood under the plate.

PB&J Pancakes on a White Dishtowel
PB&J Pancakes on Dining Room Table

Regarding backgrounds, it's fun to be creative.  There is a lot you can do to change up the background, and give a whole new feel to your food photos.  I like to match the food to the feel of the photo (if that makes sense).  For example, here is a pecan pie I recently made:

Pecan pies remind me of picnics, and this one made its way to a family reunion.  A nice chippy picnic table is what I needed for this particular photo.  What?  I don't have a nice chippy picnic table?

Here's a secret for you:

< < < This is real chippy wood.

And this is scrapbook paper!  Can you tell the difference?  Neither will those who view your photos......the orange is what I plan on using for some Halloween and Fall backdrops.  The neat thing is, scrapbook paper comes in many different colors and styles, and it's super-affordable.  You don't have to spend lots of money to get the shot you're hoping for.  The white chippy paper set me back 59 cents.

Last, plating your food is HUGE.  If what you've prepared is plated well, it makes those viewing your photos want to eat it and try the recipe in their own home.  If you can get someone's mouth watering over a photo, you've done a great job!

Here is part of my plating stash:

Stacked in the cabinet
A variety of plates
(which includes our everyday dishes)

Small plates and cups--great for plating little
portions, soups, dips, and casseroles for
good close-up photos
Pretty dish towels for added color

I like to find plating dishes at Goodwill, TJMaxx, and on clearance.  Even one $2 dish can make an impact in a photo, you don't have to spend an exhorbitant amount.  My all-time favorite plates/saucers came from Goodwill.  They are pristine white, which really makes the food pop:

A dishtowel makes this "homey"

The white plate enhances the color of the food

Honey Butter on one of the Goodwill plates
Always save room for dessert!

One final note--I do use Picasa free editing software to crop and slightly tweak my photos.  Sometimes the lighting isn't exactly right, other times I feel like it needs a subtle boost to enhance the color.  NEVER do I try to make food look overly bright or colorful, you can tell when a photo is overprocessed to the point of looking unnatural.  If you start with a picture that's in focus, has decent lighting, and has been plated well there isn't a lot you have to do to it.  It takes practice over time to develop the eye for what constitutes a nice food photo.  Sometimes, it takes 10 pictures to get the shot you're looking for.  I'm not perfect by any measure, but I do love when someone tells me they're drooling because of a picture they've seen.  And then, when they eat it and are happy I know I've met my goal!

It's so much fun, and through my voluntary position as a Brand Ambassador with, I feel like I've had the opportunity to develop a hobby that I love while feeding friends and family food they like to eat and view.  I hope some of these tips have given you the encouragement to try food photography for yourself.  But don't be surprised if you get some weird looks along the way when people realize that you take pictures of food.........


  1. I also use Picasa! So easy and FREE!

  2. Great pictures! (as always!) XOXO

  3. Thanks for the tip! You make it look easy.

  4. Great tips Jennifer! The scrapbook paper is genius!


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