While I’m not a professional food photographer, my photos have improved with practice (lots and lots of it). Here are the best tips and tricks I can offer about food photography and equipment.
Tips for taking great food photos
It’s all about the light! My best tip for beginners is to become aware of the intensity of the light and how it hits the food, and learn to adjust accordingly. Furthermore,
- Take photos under natural light. Do not use your built-in flash. Ever!
- Move around to find the best light source. Don’t feel confined to taking photos in your kitchen.
- Minimize clutter. When it comes to styling, if that spoon/napkin/busy background doesn’t add to the photo, it detracts from the photo. Focus on what is most important but don’t zoom in so much that viewers can’t tell what the food is.
- Adjust the white balance when necessary. When you’re editing your photos, if your plate of food looks very blue, yellow, magenta or green, use your white balance tools to fix it! Colors come alive when the white balance is set properly.
Cameras for food photography
You don’t necessarily need a fancy camera to take appealing food photos. You can probably get by with a point-and-shoot camera if you know how to use it well (consult the user manual, use the macro setting and practice!). When you are ready to have full control over your exposure and focal length, save up for a digital SLR. It’s an investment, truly!
I use my trusty five-year-old Nikon D80 camera. The Nikon D7000 seems to be the modern-day equivalent. If you can’t decide between Nikon or Canon cameras, know that the differences between the two are pretty minimal. Comparable models will produce photos of comparable quality. I’d suggest going to a local photography store to try them out in person—if one brand’s cameras seem more user-friendly and feel more comfortable in your hand, go for that one. Once you’ve bought your camera body, you’re ready to buy lens(es) that suit your needs and fit on your camera.
Lenses for food photography
The lens you use for food photos will have more of an impact than the dSLR itself, so you may want to buy the camera body and lens separately. I prefer to use compact fixed lenses (fixed means that the lenses do not zoom in or out, so I have to physically move myself closer or farther away from the subject). I love fixed lenses because they are inexpensive, small and lightweight.
I switch between two fixes lenses for food photography: my old Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens and my new Nikon 35mm f1.8. I generally prefer the 35mm because it produces sharper photos and is easier to use for overhead photos of food on my table. My food photos prior to July 2012 were taken with the 50mm lens and most photos since have been taken with my 35mm lens.
Other photography equipment
Reflectors and Diffusers: I mostly use cheap white foam boards to bounce light back onto the plate and reduce shadows. You can also bring out more shadows by using a black foam board. This inexpensive round reflector comes in handy when I want to cast a golden or silver tone to the food. It also doubles as a diffuser. Sometimes I hang sheer white fabric over the window to soften the lighting source, too.
Tripods: A good tripod is also nice to have. I generally prefer to hold my camera by hand, but tripods do provide stability and, as a result, allow for longer shutter speeds and sharper photos. Speaking from experience, if you are in the market for a tripod, do not make the mistake of buying the cheapest tripod available. It will be rickety and difficult (if not impossible) to use.
Recommended photography software
I use Adobe Lightroom to organize and edit my digital photos. I don’t know what I would do without it! I prefer it to Photoshop because it helps me keep my files organized and easy to find, and provides exceptional control over exposure adjustments. It is also significantly less expensive than Photoshop. An alternative to Lightroom for Mac users would be Apple’s Aperture program, which is basically a pro version of iPhoto and offers similar RAW photo editing capabilities to Lightroom. You can download free trials of each to see which you prefer.
Recommended photography books
Understanding Exposure by Brian Peterson: Start by studying the fundamentals of photography. This is my favorite book on the subject.
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin of Tartelette: The best food photography book I’ve found so far. She covers exposure basics before diving into food photo composition, lighting and so forth.
Pinch of Yum Tasty Food Photography eBook: A great 48-page eBook about food photography (with videos!) by food blogger Lindsey of Pinch of Yum. She provides technical camera setting advice, composition tips, lighting tips, props and setup details, and photo editing and workflow tips. Helpful videos included show how to edit photos in Lightroom and Photoshop (how to adjust exposure, contrast, white balance, etc.). Click here to purchase and download the Pinch of Yum Tasty Food Photography eBook for $19.
Where to buy food photo props
In general, my favorite shops for food photo props and useful cooking tools are Crate and Barrel, West Elm, CB2, Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, Anthropologie, Target and Amazon. Etsy and eBay are treasure troves for unique, handmade or vintage food photo props. Thrift stores and my parents’ kitchen have yielded some of my favorite finds, too.
Speaking of food props, I’ve made the mistake of going prop shopping without giving enough thought to what I wanted my style to be, so I suggest thinking that through before hitting the stores. If you’re not sure what your photography style is yet, look to your wardrobe, décor and Pinterest boards for clues. Are you drawn to bright and colorful patterns, or clean lines and muted tones? Shop accordingly.
Online food photography resources
- Principles of Photography series by White on Rice Couple
- Language of Photography Series by Gourmande in the Kitchen
- Food Photography and Styling by 6 Bittersweets
- 15 Essential Food Photography Tips from Andrew Scrivani
- Food Photography Creative Process from V.K.Rees
- Photographing Food with Penny De Los Santos by National Geographic
- Food Photography Tips from Wrightfood
- Food Photography Tips by Bella Eats
- Smitten Kitchen’s Approach to Food Photos
- Food Photography Tips by Heidi Swanson
- Food photography resources by Jenn Cuisine
- Editing Food Photos in Lightroom by Wrightfood
- Food photography technique posts by Wrightfood
- Food photography tips from Food & Wine
- Interviews with Food Photographers at Great Food Photos
- Guide to Food Photography Gear by Lara Ferroni
- Current Food Photography Styles and Trends: A Case Study by Stephanie Shih
- $15 Food Photography Lighting Set-up by Taylor Mathis
- How to Garnish Foods on How Stuff Works
- Todd Coleman’s Food Photography Tips
- Tasty Food Photography by Pinch of Yum: ebook, comes with great videos about photo editing.
- Andrew Scrivani’s Food Photography Workshop offered by creativeLIVE. The New York Times’ food photographer teaches and demonstrates food photography in an excellent three-day video course that you can watch at your own pace. Also offered: a workshop by Penny de los Santos, who shoots for Saveur Magazine. Each workshop costs $149.
Please leave them in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them. Also, check out my other resources on food blogging:
- Top 20 Tips for Food Blogging
- How to Start a Food Blog (includes food blog design and web hosting tips)
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