Tips For Taking Fabulous Food Photos
When I started this blog a few years back, the photos that accompanied the recipes were… horrible. I mean, really, really bad. Cel phone photos, mostly, which improved marginally when I moved from a BlackBerry to the iPhone 4. I went through a Hipstamatic phase where all the photos were shot with some kind of a filter.
But when Pinterest came on board, and I started to realize the importance of “drool-worthy” photos, I invested in a proper DSLR. After all, we do “eat with our eyes” first. Recently, I’ve been reading books and blogs about how to take better food photos.
Today, I interview Elizabeth Nyland, whose blog, Guilty Kitchen, I’ve been reading avidly since I fortuitously bumped into her and husband, Adrian, at Clive’s in Victoria a few years back. Liz is a profesional chef, blogger, mom of two, hard-core crossfitter (is there any other kind?), Paleo, self-taught food photographer, and, I’m proud to say, has just been offered a cookbook deal. Her cookbook, Cooking With Coconut Oil: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free recipes for Good Living will be published in January, 2014.
I asked her for some tips on how to take beautiful food photos.
What’s the most important thing to consider when taking photos of food for your blog?
The composition of the photo is truly the most telling part of a picture. Besides colour, subject, contrast, the depth of field and other characteristics of photos, the composition is what really draws you in and tells your eye (and brain) where to look. When the main subject is in the center of the photo, there is nowhere else for your eyes to travel. They go straight to the main subject and there is little left to do, which is why most portraits taken at family BBQs by your uncle Bob are kind of boring to look at. Everything is in focus and the only thing to look at is dead in the center. When you take a photo with the main subject using the “rule of thirds”, then the photo truly begins to tell a story, draw your eye in different directions and becomes truly interesting. The rule of thirds is a simple concept, though many people have no idea what it is. If you took a grid (like a Tic Tac Toe grid with nine squares, made up of four intersecting lines) and placed it over the area you wish to photograph, the points at which the four lines would intersect are the best places to have the main focal point. This leaves interesting white space and leads to more creative focus points.
Do you need to own pro equipment? Can you hack it with an iphone and a desk light from Ikea? What equipment do you absolutely need?
Although I am a proponent of smart phones and simple equipment, I’m going to say this: investing a little bit of money can go a long way to making beautiful photos. An inexpensive DSLR with Nikon or Canons most inexpensive 50mm lens (about $150) will be enough for most people starting out. Smart phones and point and shoot cameras cannot achieve the same depth of field that a fast lens can. Without going into complicated detail about lenses, invest in a few simple pieces of glass (lenses) and a good but not amazing camera. For most of my online career, I used a 50mm 1.8 Nikon lens (that cost me $150) and a Nikon D60 (about $500 new). I only recently started acquiring new stuff. Get good witht he simple stuff, read the manual, you’ll go miles.
What are your top tips for styling and layout?
Finding a style that suits your taste is a matter of practice and looking at other peoples photos to inspire you. What draws you in the most? Do you like dark subject matter, black and white,heavy contrast, blown out whites, simple, complicated? There are so many options. Layout is also a matter of fitting the subject matter into your viewfinder and positioning it into creative and interesting ways. Not always possible, but starting with food or still life helps you find that creative edge. Working with people is complicated and involves not only your skill in taking photos quickly, but moving the person or people around to where you need them.
Finally, how do you feel about Photoshop, and do you think it’s required that you photoshop your images before you publish them on your blog?
Photoshop is complicated. Lightroom is a little more simple. Personally, I use Photoshop AND Lightroom, but for most people, a few simple tweaks in any free editing software (I like GIMP. ^RC) would work. Learning (and purchasing) Photoshop is an investment in time and money.
Thanks, Liz! Really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of your cookbook!,
Some additional references:,
- From Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling
- 5 Tips for Taking Better Food Photos When You Travel
- G+ Community: Food Photography