As a food blogger and beginning photographer, I have learned that photographing food in natural light yields the best results. Indirect sunlight, especially in the early morning and late afternoon, makes food look its natural best. However, it is not always convenient to shoot during these times, especially since I work full-time and have to fit my cooking and photography in on the weekends.
I have often wondered about using artificial light to recreate these optimal lighting conditions and thus expand the hours available for me to photograph food. So a couple of weeks ago, I took Studio Light Food Photography, a class geared toward food bloggers and culinary professionals who want to shoot food using tungsten studio lights. The class was taught by photographer Christina Peters and prop stylist Amy Paliwoda from MDR Photography Classes. This is the second class I’ve taken from Christina and Amy and once again they did not disappoint (for a review of the first class, click link: Learning how to photograph food, part 1). Since they often work together on commercial photo shoots, they have a great rapport and have developed an effective teaching partnership that complements each other’s strengths.
The class covered the technical aspects of exposure under tungsten lights, as well as the importance of props and food styling in food photography. Christina covered the technical side discussing f-stop, shutter speed, ISO and white balance and provided an in-depth explanation of how these are applied when using tungsten lighting. Amy showed how props can enhance food photography and shared some of her food styling techniques, all the while demonstrating her great eye for detail and creative flair.
After the lecture, each student got a chance to plan a shot and photograph it under the guidance of our instructors. My in-class photos are the ones of the pound cake shown above. Amy suggested the layer of whip cream in the middle of the slices of cake and helped me with the placement of the napkin and fork. Christina pointed out some slightly overexposed portions areas in my photo and helped me adjust my lighting scheme to overcome them without compromising the overall exposure. I really like how the photos turned out and, hopefully, with the skills I learned from Amy and Christina, I’ll be able to create many more like it at home.
I also got to a chance to ask Christina Peters a few questions about her photography background and for some tips on improving our food photography skills. According to her bio, Christina been taking pictures since she was 8 years old. She moved to California in 1989 to attend Art Center College of Design where she received her BFA in Photography. Some of her recent clients include Bristol Farms Markets, Bumble Bee Tuna, Gelson’s Markets, LIbby’s, McDonald’s, Rubios Grill, Taco Bell, and Tyson Chicken, as well as several design firms, ad agencies, and national magazines.
Here’s what she had to say.
Daisy: How did you get started in photography?
Christina: I got started in photography when I was 8. My dad had a Minolta camera and taught me some basics. Then when I was 12 I started taking photography in school and was constantly trying to improve my photography from that point. I started shooting food about 12 years ago. I have two degrees in photography and when I was done with school I assisted for two years then started shooting on my own. I started with shooting products then I was approached by a small agency to shoot for Bristol Farms from 1994-1999. Then, around 2001, I decided to focus on food 100%.
Daisy: Tell us about your favorite food photo shoot .
Christina: Well, probably my favorite shoot was on a sail boat in Marina Del Rey. It was a gorgeous day and the shot we did had to show the water and the marina in the background. It was very fun.
Daisy: As a successful commercial photographer and instructor, what do you see as the biggest mistake(s) you see bloggers make when photographing food?
Christina. The biggest mistakes I see blogger make are not taking the proper time to work on their shot, using way too wide an angle lens for their food shots, and not using a tripod.
Daisy: Do you have a food that’s particularly tough to photograph? How do you approach the shot? For me, I love to make ice cream, but it is so difficult for me photograph. Any tips?
Christina: Indian food is very challenging as it just doesn’t look pretty to begin with. Pizza is also very hard because in order for it to look appealing the cheese has be hot out of the oven – very hard to do. For ice cream, you have to learn how to work with dry ice. You have to wear gloves as it will burn you. Scoop ice cream and place it on dry ice to freeze to rock solid. Then, you can work with it a little longer. Or make fake ice cream 🙂
Daisy: Do you have any advice on how to get photos accepted on food sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting?
Christina: There aren’t any tricks to those sites – the shots have to be good shots, nicely composed, nice looking food, and proper exposure.
Daisy: Do you have one or two tips or tricks you can share with me and my fellow food bloggers?
Christina: So many bloggers shoot horizontally because that’s what fits into their blogging template. I only shoot horizontal about 10% of the time. Don’t be afraid to crop the plate. Your shot is about your food, not the plate that its on. Get a longer lens, show some depth of field in your shots. Make your food the most important thing in that shot. You tell the view where you want them to look by controlling your focus, have some depth of field in your shot.
Thanks for the words of wisdom, Christina!
Now that I’ve tempted you with the photos of pound cake, here are a few recipes to try:
Red Currant and Poppy Seed Cake
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this is a great post! I’m new (VERY new) to this, so this is very helpful thanks!
Erica, thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you find this post helpful. I visited your blog and you’ve got some great recipes and photos.
Your blog is amazing! And this entry is especially helpful since Cody and I decided we will photograph our many homemade meals in the new apartment. :). Thanks! -Diana
Thank you for sharing generously these tips on food photography. I wish I could make nice food pictures but I always have to do them in a rush. Indeed adding a bit of props like that napkin already creates a visual drama. 🙂
There are so many factors that go into taking good photographs. It’s hard to keep track of everything all at once. Is the light ok? What about the food? Does it look fresh? Is the garnish ok? Am I at the right angle? We just have to keep working at it, and someday it’ll all come together…I hope.
Great post. Thank you for sharing the links. Now I am ready for some pound cake!!!
That pound cake looks delicious! I just made a similar dessert with strawberries–very summery! I just wanted to say I love your site and how accessible it is to amateurs. I’m a huge foodie and very into cooking, and I love to share pictures of my food on facebook, etc. but haven’t a clue how to take a good picture of food. Getting little tips and tricks from your site is awesome!
thank you Daisy for posting, this post is really helpful, I will try my best to improve my food photography skills, you and your amazing blog are truly inspirational 🙂
this is very helpful! Thank you for posting
I also hate the time crunch and limitations of trying to take photos only with natural light… I wish I could take a class like you did, but in the meantime, thanks for sharing a little about what you learned with that interview!
Great post, Daisy! Your photos get more and more beautiful.
Thank you for posting this. Very interesting.
Hi Daisy! I’m always so inspired by your blog and recipes. I definitely struggle with photography myself. Thanks for the helpful tips!