learning how to photograph food, part 1

photos of Orange Ricotta Pancakes, Chocolate Almond Bark Toffee, and Persimmon Ice Cream

Most of you would surely agree that a key element to a successful food blog is beautiful photography. A gorgeous photo of a mouth-watering stack of pancakes, a plate of chocolate toffee artfully arranged, or generous scoops of ice cream is a sure-fire way to grab a reader’s attention, most likely even before seeing the recipe’s title. Many times it is the photo that propels the reader to click to see the rest of the post.

When I started Daisy’s World in April 2011, I knew very little about photography. I concentrated mainly on the cooking and writing aspects of the blog, and enlisted my husband’s help in the photography. I told him how I wanted the photos to look, and he would read the camera manual, trying to figure out the settings to accomplish my vision. A few months later, I took over the photography, relying primarily on my camera’s automatic settings and the basics I learned from my husband.

Below are some of my early photographs, and as you see, they were plagued with so many issues: the composition was either too tight or just plain bad, the images were dull/unsharp, and either the lighting was too harsh or overexposed, or too low, or underexposed. (Thanks to curators at Foodgawker and Tastespotting, those critical words are burned in my head. They were right, of course. Anybody who’s submitted photos to those sites know what I’m talking about.)

early photos collage

I documented an early photography breakthrough after reading Taylor Mathis’ tutorial, Food Photography Lighting Tips. I started to read other bloggers’ photo tips and tricks, looked more critically at photos and took note of what was visually appealing. I learned much through trial and error to see what worked and what didn’t. Thank goodness for digital cameras, because initially, I took up to 100 photos for each recipe in order to get one or two images that I liked. At the same time, I started to understand the basic principles of food styling, and started to incorporate props in my photos. I was developing my own style, and creating my blog’s visual identity. You can definitely see a great deal of improvement as I practiced and took more photos.

good photos collage

However, my photos were still plagued with lighting and white balance issues. I had learned enough about photography to improve, but now I had reached a plateau. I needed to invest some time in learning more about food photography, beyond what I’ve managed to learn on my own, so I decided to look into taking some classes. It would be a fun way to learn and meet people who had my same interests.

bad photos collage

This past December, I took a photography class geared food bloggers, Natural Light Good Photography Class for Food Bloggers and Culinary Professionals, taught by photographer Christina Peters and prop stylist Amy Paliwoda, of MDR Photography Classes. The class was structured to be informal, and questions were encouraged throughout. Christina gave a quick lecture on the basics of photography and shared her formula for the proper camera settings to use when shooting with natural light.  Amy followed with her “recipe” on how to design the perfect shot and establish the “mood” through the use of props and color. The class concluded with a photo shoot where we were able to use some of the techniques we just learned. Each of us had a chance to work with Amy to come up with a concept for our photo shoot, using food and props she brought for us. Christina helped to figure out the appropriate camera settings and how to achieve the correct lighting.

The class really helped demystify how a camera works and helped me understand the fundamentals of good photography. It clearly explained the different aspects to consider in taking good photographs, from the composition to lighting and adjusting the white balance. I can take what I’ve learned and incorporate it into my food photography and beyond. It’s a gradual process and takes practice, but I can already see improvements in the recent photos I’ve taken, even if they are baby steps.

In May, I am also taking the Studio Light Food Photography class. Working full-time does not allow me to shoot in natural light during the short days of winter so I don’t post as often as I’d like. Learning how to shoot with studio lights will help me take photos at night, and, hopefully will result in my ability to share more recipes and blog posts with all of you.

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25 thoughts on “learning how to photograph food, part 1

  1. Pingback: learning how to photograph food, part 2 « daisy's world

  2. I totally know what you mean. I have taken photography courses (none centered around food) but I am still struggling with my photos. I don’t have as much variety with my pictures because for the most part I specialize in cookies, I dont really know how I can change up the photos so they dont all look the same with different cookies put in. I will have to do some research, thanks for writing this!

  3. I read your post and identified completely with your comments. Over the past five months I have been on such a steep learning curve. Just figuring out how to use WordPress effectively. I’m still struggling with my food photography. To be honest sometimes I find it more than a little overwhelming, Your photos are truly mouth watering and inspiring.Thank you for generous advice and congratulations on a great blog.

  4. Your photos look so fantastic – mouthwatering in fact. I can definitely learn from you with regard to my own blog. I am very new to blogging but as you say – just keep practising.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m still learning about the ins and outs of blogging myself, but I keep at it. It’s nice to see how far I’ve improved over the past 22 months of blogging. Keep at it!

      daisy

  5. Amazing! You are spot on… We are like kids, the minute we see a colourful picture of yummy looking food, we want to flip, read and explore. Today is my first day in the blog world and my head is full of ideas about interesting anecdotes and recipes about 100 years old from a small state in India. I thought it would be more than enough for me to just about get a few people to read and appreciate what i have to offer… But this gets v technical. Ummm, I am not giving up and I surely am going to get my fingers on my SLR and get started…

  6. Great advice. I’ve been exploring photography myself – and I do agree that sometimes trial and error can only take you so far – I think I might look into some classes too!

  7. Food photographing is still something I’m really tryign to learn. Unfortunately, most of my photos are dealt with afterwards haha (i.e. post processing), I wish I knew how to work a prper camera! I still use only a semi-pro, need to save up for a real dslr soon. Your phots do look great and love that yo’re sharing this with us x

  8. Great tips! A good photo is so important… I see many great recipes go unnoticed because they do not have a good picture (or none, at all). Your photos are already wonderful, let’s where you can improve them! Looking forward to tips for taking pics during those dull winter nights…

  9. Thanks for sharing this post. I didn’t even know that’s such classes exist. What a great idea. I have a nice camera that I don’t really know how to use. You have inspired me to look into some classes :) thank you!

  10. Great stuff, Daisy! Good that you had a good camera to hand when you first started – I used my phone! I’m so happy that we’ve both come a long way – we’ve definitely both developed our own styles, though I’d say you definitely have a better technical understanding. I’ve read one book, but the rest is just reading articles about cameras on the net and practising. You do take stunning shots!

    • Frugal, you’re photos are excellent. They beckon your readers to reach for their computer screens.

      I’ve had my starter digital SLR camera for a couple of years, and I really love it. Lately, however, I’ve been hooked on taking photos of all kinds of things on my iphone and sharing them through instagram. Maybe someday, I’ll use an instagram photo for a post.

      daisy

  11. Your photos are great…what you learn in your next class will be icing on the cake. Photo classes geared to food bloggers has to be a wonderful experience. I’ll have to look into seeing if anything is ever offered in my area of New England.

  12. Thanks for your helpful advice. I find the photography element of blogging challenging – and as you say, it is a lot more important than I had considered when I started blogging a few months ago. With small steps, and lot of tips, maybe I’ll even learn to enjoy this steep learning curve! Thanks.

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