Food Photography: Tips for Newbies

published Jun 21, 2007
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We enjoy taking pictures of our food – it’s a big part of blogging. In fact, many wonderful food photographers have developed around the blogosphere – Heidi Swanson, Clotilde Dusoulier, and Lara Ferroni all have professional photography careers stimulated at least in part through their blogs.

We are not quite so professional here; as you can see I eschew fancy tripods for a stack of old Wine Spectator magazines and a chair! We follow a few photography pointers, however, that are easy, quick, and don’t demand extra equipment.

I use a Canon Powershot G2, and Sara Kate uses a Canon Rebel XT. These tips here can give you some great shots; honestly, the quality of your light is just as important as your camera, especially when shooting for the low-resolution medium of the web. I format my photos and tweak the colors a bit in Photoshop; most food photos need to be super-saturated or else they will look washed out on the web.

1. Use white dishes – Everything looks better on a white dish, and it tends to reflect the light better. I have a whole collection of interesting little dishes that I use occasionally, but they are more challenging to photograph well, and I usually end up again with my favorite white soup plate.

2. Use natural light – The better your light, the better your photos. It’s hard to take good photos of food at night, in dark restaurants, or under artificial light. You have to lower the shutter speed to get enough light, and then they often turn out grainy and blurry, especially without the help of a tripod. The real problem, though, is getting natural color. Our eyes know the proper colors of foods. Bright, but not harsh, natural light is the best way to do this.

If you have a big window in your kitchen or dining room, set up your photos in front of it, with a sheer curtain or light-diffusing shade between the light and the shot to reduce harsh shadows.

3. Set your white balance – In getting good color, your white balance is the best thing you’ve got on your camera. Your white balance is what tells your camera what color is white, and accordingly what all the rest of the colors in the spectrum are as well. Most cameras have a feature where you can choose a pre-set white balance for a variety of environments – sunny, cloudy, fluorescent light – or set your own. I keep a couple of white cards with my camera so I can set the white balance by them when the light changes or I move locations. This is really the only setting I mess with on my camera.

4. Macro setting – There is, however, a macro setting I often turn on when taking food photos. Macro photos are those nice, up-close shots you see nearly everwhere in food photography, with a sharp foreground and with the background blown out or artistically dissolved. If you’re fairly close to the food – within a foot or two, say – this feature should be turned on. You can see some good examples of macro photography in this Macro Flickr group.

To set this and the white balance, refer to your camera manual or the very helpful reviews at Digital Photography Review.

5. Stabilize your camera – This may be the most important tip, especially in low-light situations and restaurants. Any small shake of your camera will result in blurriness, so always balance it on something when taking a photo. We like to balance on a wine glass if we’re in a restaurant, or on the side of the table. At home I stack up magazines to get just the height and perspective I want!

These are just some basic tips; Heidi at 101 Cookbooks also has a helpful set of tips. Lara runs Still Life With… – an entire site dedicated to food photography. It’s beautiful and inspiring. If you’re interested in taking photos of your food also check out the many Flickr groups dedicated to food photography, especially the one associated with Lara’s website.

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