25 Food Photography Tips

Pork and vegetable stir-fry for dinner with rice in Thailand - a Thai staple.

This is the seventh step in the process of creating your food blog business. If you’re following along with us in our step-by-step series, you have already learned about starting a food blog, chosen a domain name, and you’ve just created your food blog with BlueHost hosting and the free blogging software – WordPress. You’ve learned about how to bring traffic to your site and now you’re ready for the seventh step  –

25 Food Photography Tips!

Besides your writing and marketing efforts, the photos and videos you take of your food, preparation, and other things related to your food blog business are of crucial importance. Just to give you an idea how important let me tell you a quick story.

I’ve been a professional photographer for twenty plus years. I’ve shot professional models in New York city, landscapes, wildlife, and I have an eco photo tours business where I take people into the Thailand rainforest to shoot what usually amounts to the best images they’ve ever shot in their lives.

Thai yum woon sen with big shrimp is a spicy Thai favorite.
One of my husband’s favorites – Yum Woon Sen with big shrimp! How many chilis can you eat?

There are two food blog posting sites that we wanted to try to see how much traffic we would get from them. We submitted two posts to each of them and sat back and waited for the good news and visitors to flood Joys Thai Food. Guess what?

There was no traffic. Why not? These places didn’t approve my food photos! I was shocked, and I still don’t know why because they give little to go on when they reject photos. I had to go back and read all their FAQ and also Google to find out other food blogger’s problems with getting their images approved.

So, you probably also have something to learn about food photography, unless you’ve been doing it professionally. Maybe even then.

Some bloggers will tell you how you can take great photos with any camera and not to go buy a good one to start. I won’t tell you that. All I know are Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses, and I wouldn’t tell you to go buy anything else. Start with the best and get one of these two brands.

Thai tom kha gai soup - creamy chicken soup with coconut milk.Personally, I prefer the full-frame Nikon FX cameras. The D610 is an incredible camera, you can pick one up used for around $1100 for the body. If you don’t have any lenses, your first should be a 50 mm F/1.8 or F/1.4 if you can afford it. Food photography is all about the smooth creamy bokeh – the blur of things in the background or foreground that give photos a dreamy quality. A full-frame camera with a lens with a very large F/stop and 9-bladed aperture will give you a very nice effect. The best really. Your photos should be the best you can possibly create, so when possible just spend the money and get the best you can afford.

Now, there is also something to be said for some of the Nikon DX cameras like the D5300 which have the tilty flippy screen that enables you to watch yourself on the screen as you shoot video. This is very helpful and if you’re going to be shooting considerable amounts of video with you in the frame, one of these cameras can help immensely. We have an older Nikon D5100 with the tilt screen, and it works perfectly for video. You can find a used one for about $250 for the body. The body works with nearly all Nikon lenses too. Bonus, right?

Let’s get into it then. Here are:

25 Tips for Amazing Food Blog Photography

1. Buy the best camera and lenses as you can afford. Once you’re ready to make your food blog your main income source, go ahead and buy a Nikon D610 or comparable camera and a nice F/1.4 50mm Nikon lens to get started. The next lens to buy will be a macro 100 mm F/2.8. Canon and Nikon make them. Personally, I use a Tokina 100mm F/2.8 macro lens that is far better built than the Nikon lens, is cheaper, and gives images that are every bit as sharp.

2. Shoot Food Photos Constantly. Always be thinking about shooting photos and/or video of the food you make, or of the restaurants you visit. Even if you don’t plan on creating an article about the food, in the future you will have photos and maybe video to choose from to add to your article. Think about food as a business and always get photos in whatever situation that might come up. Think of food photos as currency or as assets that will help you build your blogging business. That’s exactly what they are!

mod-dang-lahp

3. Ideally Use One Source of Light. You don’t need a full studio setup to shoot food photos beautifully. Usually just one source will be fine, and give you what you need. You know how when you’re outside eating at a barbecue – the corn, burgers, chicken frying, the fruit and juices all look so amazing – bright, and tasty? Natural lighting can be the best lighting for food photography. Either take your dishes outside to a setup table, or use a window in your home. If you want to lighten up the shadow areas, you can use a little off-camera fill flash or a bounce card to throw some light back on the dark areas.

4. If Using Flash – Use a Diffuser. Flash light from the front is very harsh. Try going -1 or -2 on the flash EV to see how it makes your food subject look. Either buy a diffuser or create one of your own. An old trick from the past was to use panty hose across the flash – one or two layers does a great job of it. If you are using light from a window and the sun is shining too brightly try to use a very thin sheet to cover the window and see how nice your light is then!

5. Shoot Many Angles. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to dive back into our old photos to see if we had a vertical shot, or a shot from a certain angle with a certain food. We almost always have the vertical because we do a lot of horizontal and vertical shots. We don’t always have the featured food though and that necessitates another shoot. That is a real time-waster. Think about your photography from the first step. Take shots of individual ingredients, the process of mixing things, cutting it from your backyard garden, etc. Try to get every shot of the food possible because a large bank of food photos on your storage devices is going to make you a very happy food bloggie in the future. Your business depends in large part on the photos you produce. Produce many!

6. Delete Carefully. Make sure, while editing that you don’t delete something you can use. You might see your main subject is out of focus, and quickly hit delete. However, there might have been another area of the image that was in focus that you can use in a future food article.

7. Bracket Depth-of-Field. We already mentioned taking photos of the food from every angle, and both vertical and horizontal shots every time you have an opportunity. Something else you’ll want to do is shoot at the same angle but at a few different F/stops to give you various levels of focus – of depth-of-field. Try wide open, medium aperture to get the subject in focus and some mild blurring in the background, and then one with the entire dish in complete focus – F/16 or so.

8. What if the Main Dish is Mush. Not every meal you create is going to be photographic. This is another good reason to shoot throughout the creation process. Shoot basic ingredients, shoot a portion of the meal – the sauce, the veggies, or something that does look good. You could shoot an image of a member of your family seated at a table with a spoonful of it and an anticipatory smile.

Curry and vegetables, a Southern Thailand favorite food.

9. The Background is Very Important. The best food photos seem to have some blur of the background. Often times you can pick things out in the background. It can add to the image with color, form, or both. Learn to see the background and the entire image in your viewfinder as you take the photo. Arrange the background to add to the style of your images.

10. Perfection is the New ‘Good Enough.’ Food photography is just like product and advertising photography – it must be perfect, or you didn’t get the shot. It might take an hour to get the kitchen setup with all you need to cook, and another twenty minutes to plan the background and light. It can take twenty minutes to completely cover the food from all angles, to bracket the exposure and F/stops.

I worked with Good Housekeeping magazine in New York City in the food department for a short time. I was able to see the elaborate food photography setups, and trust me they were fanatical about everything being absolutely perfect. Strive for the same level of professionalism. Here is a link to their food department. Interesting to me to see they’ve started to make their photographs more natural instead of studio setup. Still, you can see the attention to detail and the amazing photographs. See here.

11. A Perfect Shot Doesn’t Always Mean Perfect Food. Natural looking food is the goal in all cases. Help readers of your food blog picture eating the food in their own home, in their own mouths. Lately it’s almost comical to see how other food bloggers sprinkle food over the plate on the table or counter top. It’s the latest rage. Ha! Don’t do it every time, but feel free to mix it up a bit.

12. Know Your ISO. Be familiar with what ISO your camera is capable of. Read the reviews for the camera you’re using so you know how high you can go up to for the ISO. This is crucial because there will be a time when you’re using low light and you want a bigger depth of field, say with your macro lens, and you need to shoot at F/22 at 1/100th of a second. If you know your camera can still take great photos at ISO 3200, you can probably easily get the shot. If you’re afraid to go past 400 or 800, you might not get the shot. Getting the shot is critical. Know your camera!

Crunchy Thai snake that makes bad breath.13. Shoot on Neutral Setting. Find the neutral balance color – contrast – hue setting on your camera and use it for your food photography. Don’t use Vivid color mode, just neutral is best. Make the changes to color if you need to as you process the images in your computer.

14. Shoot RAW! Use the Raw setting for your food photos for the best quality. Though top of the line Nikon and Canon cameras have JPG algorithms that do a very good job of shrinking the files to manageable size, they take away key information as they do so. If you’re shooting JPG, you’re missing all that info and you never see your food images in all their glory! Shoot raw because light balancing is much better, color adjustments are better, and if needed you can blow up an image to a greater size than you can with JPGs, if you need to crop down to just a fraction of the entire image.

15. Vary the Setting. One mistake that is common among new food bloggers is they tend to put their food on the same table in the same room with the same things in the background, use the same plates, same silverware… same everything. Mix it up a bit. This is the difference between those that are blogging for fun to show their friends, and those that are making a run at a serious food blogging business. Put in the extra effort and give it your best shot.

16. Portions, not Mountains! Use just enough food on the plate, not covering it so it overflows. Use the plate as an element of design in your food photo creations. The plate, frames the food, so use it like that. It serves to break up the image and highlight the food if used correctly. Don’t pile the food to the ends of the plate, keep it within the bounds in most cases. Sure there are times you’ll want to show abundance and overflowing food – maybe berries tumbling out of a tall container onto the table for instance. Think about eating at a great restaurant and how they present their food.

Roy’s restaurants in Hawaii have mouthwatering food and also their presentation is exquisite. They often use large plates and the food in the center, crafted as if by artist’s hands. It’s really amazing, and a must try if you are ever in the islands. Oahu and Maui have Roy’s for sure, but probably Kauai and Big Island Hawaii have them too by now.

17. Present the Food Ready to Eat. Take as many photographs as you want of the preparation, the cooking, but then for the money shot you’ll need to show the food as it is finally ready to be eaten. Don’t present one of the preliminary steps as the final shot – readers of your blog will have a question in their mind – “What does it look like when done?”

18. Steam Please! Microwave scrambled eggs and set them behind the dish you want to show steam arising from. Some use microwaved cotton balls. Steam adds to the dreaminess of your food creations, it adds an extra dimension that can really take your food photography to the next level.

19. Presentation, Presentation, Pres…. There’s a reason why food magazines and great food blogs hire food stylists to work their magic before any photos are taken. They are artists and what you’re creating on your blog is a work of art – a combination of food, setting, background, tone, color, and photography. Spend more time on the presentation – making it perfect for photos – than anything else.

Once you have your camera and you know how to use it, spend your money learning how to style food. We are taking an online course right now about this and it has been a real eye-opener. I think everyone wanting to make money with a food blog to do the same.

20. Sparkling Clean Plates, Pots, Silverware, Surfaces. Cleaning with a wet rag takes away the big dirt, and hopefully doesn’t smear it around. Then, rub with a cotton cloth – an old t-shirt works great to polish most surfaces. Your props should be exceptionally clean, with no excuses!

Tom yum soup with mushrooms - a favorite soup of Thailand21. Props! Once you have your camera, know how to use it, completed a food stylist course or read a book or two, spend your money on the presentation of your food! Plates, pans, cups, tea cups, glasses, silverware, tablecloths, paper liners for trays, candles, maybe another faux countertop or two to break it up. Maybe a wooden picnic table for outside shots – it need not be expensive. Flowers. Fake flowers blur out just like real ones. Wooden plates, bamboo plates, banana leaves, etc. Spend money on things that will directly affect the presentation of food in your photos, and don’t feel bad about it.

Now, all that being said, keep the design of the props you buy- simple. The real focus is the food, not the plate with fancy pattern or scenes. Invest heavily in white plates. Different sizes and styles. Your silverware too – basic stuff, not fit for the Queen of England, you know?

22. Capture the Essence! When you think about the food you’re making, what comes to mind? When I think about Fourth of July meals, I think about chicken and burgers on the grill – browning over charcoal. When I think about ice-cream, I picture a cone and licking it. When I think about Tom Yum soup, I picture it on my spoon on the way up to my mouth and a light mist of steam coming off it. When you plan your photos, think about the essence of the food. What does it bring to mind to most people? Emphasize that, capture that with your photography.

23. Keep Shooting. The shoot isn’t necessarily done when you’ve taken the last photo of your creation. Eat some, and take some more. Make it look natural, like you’ve just eaten a few bites and take some more photos. When visitors at your food blog see your images they try to picture themselves at the scene. Showing half-eaten food puts them there and they struggle to recreate the feeling and tastes in their mouth because you just did. I know it sounds funny, but this is what we do when we look at photos that draw us into the scene.

24.  Photos of Food Cooking in the oven, on the pan, etc. Don’t forget to show the food in the process of cooking, many people stop during this part, but it can add to the flow of the process to show everything.

Helping Hand. Use a household member to act as your hand model to stir a pot, flip a burger, or lift a spoonful of soup for photographs. Add people doing something with the food at least once each session.

Spicy Thai bamboo salad with green beans and cucumber slices.25. White Balance! Probably the most essential ingredient to taking amazing food photos is the light balance setting on your camera. Whatever you do, ensure that you can manually set the white balance. Most decent cameras allow this. It’s crucial. This is just another reason you’ll need to buy a decent camera from the start. White balance affects the way the color of your light source is portrayed in the image. White light is what you usually want, though adding some gold to it can enhance a mood. Learn how to manually set your white balance with whatever camera you have.

And a BONUS – !

26. Sunlight in Your Pocket. When I’m not helping Joy with her Joy’s Thai Food blog, I’m out in the Thailand rainforest shooting wildlife of all sorts. I found that my LED flashlight has the same light balance as sunlight. So, when I find a little Malayan Orchid Mantis like this one, I just turn on my flashlight and hit it with some rays of artificial sunlight to make the photo better than it was using just natural light. Use one to highlight your food photography as well! It works amazingly well. Get one with an adjustable beam – wide to concentrated. I use the Ultra-Fire series of flashlights.

OK, those were 25 of our best food photography tips for budding food bloggers. Take it and run with it! And, don’t forget to check out the other articles in this series (below).

 


 

Want to know Our Favorite Food Photography Book (ebook) you can buy right now and start learning?

Tasty Food Photography ebook by Pinch of Yum, for sale to help you with creating your own amazing food photography.
Tasty Food Photography ebook by Pinch of Yum, to help you with creating your own amazing food photography!

THIS ONE! (click)


10-Part Series: How to Start a Food Blog

  1. Creating Your Food Blog
  2. Choosing Your Domain Name
  3. Your Food Blog Business Hosting
  4. Choosing a Great WordPress theme
  5. The Basics of Food Blogging
  6. Bringing Visitors to Your Food Blog – Traffic
  7. 25 Solid Food Photography Tips
  8. Making Money from Your Food Blog – Monetizing
  9. Creating Food eBooks
  10. Gathering Email Addresses – Leads

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