Welcome back to my Easy Peasy Foodie birthday bonanza! Today I am focusing on photography. Photography has been my biggest learning curve by far this year…running a self-hosted website / developing recipes / writing interesting content / getting to grips with social media – all of these have been easy peasy compared to learning how to take decent images of food!
A year ago, I had absolutely no idea how important photography was to a food blog…I assumed it was ok to just take a quick snap of my dinner (in the dark, with the lights on, using the built in flash) and everything would be ok. Turns out that’s not ok! I learnt pretty quickly that if you want to do well in the food blogging world, photos are hugely important – just as important as the recipe – possibly more so! If the photo doesn’t convince your reader that the recipe is good, no amount of words can make up for that.
I have worked really hard on this area of blogging over the past year and while I would be the first to admit I still have a lot to learn, I have picked up so many useful tips in my first year of blogging, I just had to share them!
But before I do – I’d like to show you just how far I’ve come in the last year.
This is the photograph that accompanied my first ever recipe on Easy Peasy Foodie…
And this is one from a recipe I posted last week…
I think we can all agree – I’ve learnt A LOT in my first year!!
10 things I’ve learnt about food photography from my first year of blogging
1. Buy the best camera you can afford
When I started out I didn’t have a clue how much of a difference the quality of my camera would make. I bought a relatively cheap compact camera and began snapping away. I gradually learnt how to improve my shots, but I also knew that my photos were nowhere near as good as the best food bloggers around. I began to wonder if getting a better camera might really make a difference. So in February this year, I took the plunge and bought a Digital SLR camera and oh my goodness what a difference it made! My photos suddenly looked good – not perfect but so much better than they had been. I certainly can’t say I’m a pro yet, not by a long way, but I feel I’m now at least playing in the same universe!
If you don’t believe me check out these two photos…
The first one was taken with my old compact camera, the second with my new DSLR camera. They were taken in the same place, on the same day, at the same time, by the same person…and what a huge difference!!! And this was my very first day playing around with my DSLR…shooting in jpeg, on auto…no fancy editing… Unbelievable, right?
If you are interested, the camera I bought was a Canon 1200D. I did a huge amount of research and it basically came down to the Canon 1200D or the Nikon D3300 – both good quality, entry level DSLR cameras. I went for the Canon purely because it was a little bit cheaper, but most of the reviews say the Nikon is better. I just decided it probably wasn’t better enough for me to notice the difference just at the moment. I took the advice of the many, many websites I checked for tips and chose to buy the camera body only – without the kit lens (apparently the ‘kit’ lenses that come with the camera are not usually that great) and instead I bought a separate 50 mm fixed lens – which is generally considered to be a good choice for food photography and helps get that gorgeous blurred background effect.
2. Don’t try and take photos in the dark
I learnt this lesson very quickly. Photos taken in the dark, with just your camera flash, are awful. This is what you get…
Eurgh! A real shame, because this tart is actually insanely delicious!
Photos are so much better when taken in good daylight. I am super lucky as our dining room is in a conservatory, is conveniently located right next to the kitchen and also doubles up as my office (and the kids craft area – it’s a seriously multi-functional room!). The light in here is great, but really all you need is a good window.
I know I still have loads more to learn about light though – light is definitely not created equally – morning light is different to evening light, a rainy, cloudy day produces different light to a bright, sunny day…I’m learning all the time!
This is also the first year I have been acutely aware of the seasons and the time change…I started my blog in spring (a year ago, funnily enough!) and so could happily snap away at almost any time of day and get a reasonable shot – most of my photos were taken just before we sat down to dinner at about 6pm, but from about October onwards, suddenly it was dark at 6pm and I could no longer just snap away at our dinner – I ended up eating some very strange lunches! – My favourite week was the one where I photographed about 10 different sprout dishes – I basically just ate sprouts for lunch all week!
3. You don’t have to take photos in your kitchen
Another lesson I learnt pretty quickly is that the kitchen isn’t usually the best place for photography. Unless you happen to have a gorgeous kitchen bathed in light, photos taken in kitchens tend to look pretty rubbish. Kitchens often don’t have good light and the shiny tiles generally look awful in photos – plus kitchens are usually full of clutter and mess which you definitely don’t want in the background of your shot. All of this is most definitely the case in my kitchen!
See what I mean? This Thai Green Curry was lovely, but you’d never believe it from this photograph, would you? It looks awful, the light is terrible and the clutter is very distracting!
For me the best place in the house for light is the conservatory and that is where I take all my photos. It does mean that if I want to take shots mid-way through cooking, I have to pick the pan up and put it in my ‘studio’ (AKA the conservatory) – but it’s so worth it, as the photos are so much better. Though of course I’m hoping that one day I’ll have that gorgeous light-filled kitchen…but for now that remains a dream! (any PRs representing kitchen companies who want to pay for me to have a new kitchen and blog about it, please do step forward…)
Another Thai Green Curry shot – this one was taken in the conservatory with no distracting clutter. It’s not the best shot I’ve ever taken – it’s quite an old shot, taken with my old camera on my old oilcloth background but, it does highlight the difference!
4. Backgrounds, backgrounds, backgrounds
It’s not just about the food that you’re photographing – what is in the background? I’ve already talked about kitchen clutter (as in you DON’T want that in your photo), but the actual background really makes a difference too. For ages I photographed my efforts on our sage green, polka dot, oilcloth tablecloth, which I love, but for many reasons it’s just so not the best background…it’s shiny which doesn’t look great in photos…the spots are distracting and it’s actually quite old and scruffy.
I began to notice all those lovely backgrounds out there – gorgeous distressed wood and pretty tablecloths and realised the polka dot oilcloth had to go (from my photos, that is…it’s still on my table!) I invested in a few cheap tablecloths and tea towels and my photos look so much better!
This one is my favourite tablecloth at the moment…it cost 6 quid from Tesco! I only use it for photos, mind…it gets put away after each photo shoot. The oilcloth is used for eating!
5. If you only have a compact camera overhead is best
I couldn’t afford to buy a decent camera straight off and didn’t want to buy one until I was sure it was an investment worth making (it was, so do get one if you are umming and aahing about it – see point 1!), so I learnt how to get the best out of my little compact camera. I tried doing eye level and ¾ photos, but with a compact they weren’t great. I tried going for close ups, still not great. But consistently I found that overhead was the best angle – the food looked better, the tablecloth didn’t look too shiny and none of my (rather ugly) conservatory showed up in the background.
6. Food styling is just as important as photography
It’s not all about how good a photographer you are…just as important – possibly more so – is how well you display your food. Even the most amazing photographer on the planet, wouldn’t be able to make ugly looking food taste good – check out these pictures for how not to do it!
I mean seriously – no-one is going to want to eat that moussaka, are they? Even I don’t fancy it looking like that, and I know it tastes good!
Another great tasting meal – but I don’t think I’m going to convince anyone with this photo, now am I?
Here’s what I learnt over the past year – food on a plate is often not the most beautiful shot.
It’s often better to show the food in the pan, like this one…
Or in a bowl like this one…
Or a pasta bowl like this one…
Or even on a board…
Actually, this is one of my favourite shots ever – and it was taken with that old compact camera – imagine how good it would look if I used my new one!
7. Remember the fork…
…and the cheese, and the herbs…those little extras in the shot make all the difference. These days I nearly always try and add something extra in my photos…it just seems to balance the shot and make it look more interesting than just a plate of food.
Here the addition of the pitta bread brings the photograph to life…
Bowls of guacamole and cheese add interest to this fajita shot…
And garnishes can make an image more interesting too. Just look at these two photographs…
It’s virtually the same photograph, but the second looks so much better than the first – much more appetising, simply because I took two seconds to plop a dollop of sour cream on top and sprinkle over some parsley! I would always advise taking a shot before garnishing, though – just in case the garnish goes wrong!
And a fork or spoon coming out of the shot looks great too – it’s kind of saying ‘eat me’! Though I do keep forgetting to do that one! But I remembered in this shot…
8. Take lots and lots of photographs…then a couple of extra ones
Oh those early days of photography when I thought it was ok to take 2 or 3 shots and that was enough…I now take closer to 100 of each dish (that may be excessive…I’m not sure, but I usually get a little carried away!). I usually try to take a few shots at every stage of production so I can make a little collage, like this one…
Then a few shots of the dish in the pan…
And several of the final dish with various other things in the shot…
And lastly a few of just the final dish with nothing else in the shot…though, I often think these are the worst ones and don’t use them, but just sometimes they turn out quite well…
It’s also super useful to have a range of different shots and angles, as a photo that looks great in one situation, might not look so good in another – for example when cropped for Facebook/Instagram/Foodgawker etc.
I’m still working on this one, but I learnt pretty quickly that my photos look so much better with a little bit of editing…a little warmth and some brightening, some straightening and sharpening, sometimes a little cropping. There are various packages you can use…the pros all seem to use Lightroom, but for me the price is a little steep for this stage in my blogging career, so I use a combination of Windows Live Photo Gallery (which came free with my computer) and PicMonkey, which is also useful for creating collages and adding text to photgraphs.
I did about 10 seconds editing on this photograph of my Slow Cooked Chilli Beef and look what a difference it made! The edited shot got accepted by Foodgawker, so it shows how worthwhile editing can be!
10. Learn from the pros
One huge tip about photography I have learnt this year is to look at what the pros do – I am completely addicted to foodie magazines…but this year I have taught myself, not just to drool over the recipes, but to actually look at the photos, I mean really look at them – how have they presented the food? What angle have they shot the pic from? What else is in the shot? Where have they positioned the food and other elements? And then I’ve tried to use those ideas in my own photos. From magazine photos I have learnt, for example, that it often looks better to crop out the edge of the bowl/plate rather than place it dead centre – like this…
I’ve learnt to add extras into my shot at an angle like this…
And I’ve learnt to focus on the food in front and blur out the other bits and pieces in the background
And I’ve learnt to add a fork!
Not only have I learnt loads from copying how the magazines do it, I’ve also learnt loads from other bloggers. It’s really worth looking at how other bloggers do it… as they are often working under similar conditions (imperfect lighting, working in a small corner, in a hurry because they have 2 small hungry children desperate for their dinner…) whereas the pros may have much better situations to work in (much less likely to have 2 small hungry kids on a magazine shoot!)
And finally it’s definitely worth getting some advice from books – here are two I can recommend: Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots and Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling
I’ve learnt a lot about photography in my first year blogging, but I know I still have a long way to go – I’m really looking forward to doing a whole lot more learning in Year 2!
So over to you guys…if you have a food blog, what’s the best photography tip you’ve learnt since starting your blog? What would you add to my list?
And if you don’t have a food blog…yet, but think you might like one, come back tomorrow when I’ll be sharing my 10 top tips for wannabe food bloggers!
Missed out on my previous blogging content? Check it out here:
See you tomorrow 🙂
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