Tips for food photography & “Light”

Before I started blogging, photography never appealed hugely to me, and even once I started this blog, a few quick photographs taken with the iPad to show what the finished bake looked like was enough for me.

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However, I soon got to appreciate the power of effective food photography and so I started to spend more thought over how to present what I have made. I have certainly been inspired by many bloggers and professional photographers – not least of whom is the wonderful Georgia Glynn Smith, the photographer of many a cookery book I own, who I was fortunate to have spent an afternoon with as part of the promotional photos for a set of recipes I had created for a magazine.

Talking to Georgia about photography and seeing her at work was a total joy, and as a result, I went and bought myself a DSLR camera: an entry level one, admittedly, but a much bigger step-up than the iPad! I have given images in this post of my original “style” of photos and examples of my more recent photos that have been taken with a DSLR.

Photography is still not my strength, but I have a better appreciation of the importance of good, natural lighting and the lack of clutter in a shot (see my tips below). I have yet to pluck up the courage to submit to the likes of Tastespotting and Food Gawker, but I am much more confident in taking better photographs of my food.

“Light”

Talking to friends who are serious photographers, it is clear just how far cameras have come – even in recent years. And an exciting email from Light, a new camera technology company, certainly had the “wow” effect on me over their new L16 camera. The full details about the L16 camera can be found here: Light

Shortly after this email, I also had one those chance conversations with a photographer friend about technology, and she was especially interested in the L16.

I am very excited about the L16 – not least its elegance (I love my camera but it is somewhat bulky!), and what I expect will be very simple to use. But the quality of the photographs is crucial and looking at the gallery of what the L16 can do it is hard not to be impressed. Light’s gallery is here: here

My tips for decent food photographs

For a decent photograph – and bear in mind I am very much an amateur when it comes to food photography and am learning all the time – I find the following are essential for me:

(1) Good, natural lighting

I almost always go outside onto the patio for taking photographs, and usually in the morning or early afternoon when the light there is at its best. But avoid taking photos in full sun – this can give quite garish colours in the photograph: a bit of shade is ideal I find.

Some people swear by reflective panels around the food which I absolutely understand, but as I tend to take photos in daylight, I don’t (yet!) have the need for them.

Similarly, I don’t use light diffusers/white sheets over windows: to be honest, if the conditions are not quite right enough for me to take a photograph outside, I will wait until I can go outside – if that means a missed opportunity, or having to re-bake something later when the conditions are right, then I can cope with that.

Mind you, increasing the ISO settings on my camera to about 800 or so can result in pretty decent photograph indoors: the spiced chocolate and orange bundt cake below, for example, was taken late at night with the lights on with this setting.

(2) Never use a flash

The flash simply never works for me with food as you get all sorts of odd shadows everywhere. I have seen some very creative food photography who have used the flash effectively, though, but I am not really into the edgier style of food photography. Yet!

(3) Have less clutter

Less is very much more I think, so rather than clutter the shot with loads of pots, pans, utensils, ingredients (which I have certainly done from time to time!), simply use the food you want to show off as the key focus. A few odds and ends are fine – just be careful not to over-do it.

A few crumbs that have fallen off and the like often looks effective, with possibly one of the ingredients casually present eg) a few coffee beans from a coffee-based dish:

(4) Use simple props

I usually find that my food placed on any of the following works well for me:

  • a flat white plate
  • a simple cake stand
  • left in the tin: great for tray bakes and bread rolls
  • a sheet of greaseproof paper
  • a cooling rack
  • a wooden chopping board
  • a large tile (I have some spare tiles left from when the bathroom was decorated which are perfect to use!)

And try to have a few contrasts colour-wise, without clashes: I love deep red of raspberries and the like on a black base or a white base. And you can’t really go far wrong with black or white!

As a backdrop I either go for one of the walls of the house or have the garden behind: bearing in mind, the camera is focused on the food, so you won’t see much detail behind, but I love that fuzzy backdrop you can get. Not to mention, it can set the scene to some extent:

(5) A mixture of close-up and wider shots

This is a personal preference, but I love having a wider shot of the bakes I am presenting in addition to a few closer shots.

I especially like to take photographs that show the interior such as naturally oozing chocolate, the vibrant colours of the fruit, the crumb shot of the bread or cake, the fine textures on a bread……..

(6) Don’t try too hard for perfection!

Oddly, I find the harder you try to stage a food photograph, not to mention the longer the time you spend, the less impressive it can end up. It is far too easy to spend hours faffing around, tweaking, moving things around, adding extras, taking them away only to end up with so many photographs to then go through, with maybe one or two you actually like.

Whereas sometimes, just placing the food on its plate/slab, taken outside and then going for a quick “snap” can yield great results without any fuss!

My photography “journey”

You can see from the images below my typical “style” of photograph (taken on the iPad) when I started out and the ones taken with my DSLR camera.

I am still very much learning but I am certainly happier with the improvements over time.

And while the focus for me is still the food itself and getting to eat it, rather than spending ages staging things and obsessing somewhat just to get the right photo, I am always on the look out for ways to develop my food photography; my next personal challenge is to get to grips with more effective composition…….

My earlier iPad photographs: extremely limited, but I liked them at the time!!

My later/current photos taken with a DSLR camera:

 

 

 

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Author: Philip

Very much into baking and general cooking.

3 thoughts on “Tips for food photography & “Light””

  1. Hi!
    I too started my food blog with no knowledge of food photography and have been gradually getting better through trial and error.
    My problem often is that I am too keen to eat things before they get cold! Less of a problem when I am baking – but certainly a problem when it is my supper!
    My best pictures have been taken in the garden, but now that Autumn had set in and the clocks have changed that will be more difficult.
    Thanks for the article 🙂
    Kitty

    Like

  2. An informative post! Like you I have been teaching myself photography to better document food for my blog. Your tips are all commonsense, photographing outside, no flash and simple props. In Sydney, Australia, where I live, taking photos early in the morning or late afternoon is really necessary as even in winter here, the light is really bright! Cheers, Inga

    Like

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