Food Photography Tips, Tricks and Styling
Let it be known to the world that I am no professional photographer. I consider myself a beginner (maybe just like you!) with experience, who does tons of research to constantly improve.
My blog, The Crumby Cupcake, is not even a year old yet, and aside from a point-and-shoot camera, I had never used any photography equipment, nor have I taken any classes.
I’ve always loved photography, and I decided about three years ago that I wanted to pick it up as a hobby. When my husband asked what I wanted for Christmas, I told him a nice camera to play around with.
He bought me a Nikon DSLR starter kit. “Get clicking,” he said. No pressure.
I didn’t touch the thing for a year after that Christmas Day. The power to create beautiful images was right there in my home, but I was too intimidated by the bells and whistles to try to wield it. Aperture and ISO…what?
There are plenty of blogs out there with dozens of food photography tips and tricks, and this will likely sound very similar if you’ve come upon any of them. Mainly because, well, that’s where I learned everything I know! But, if you’d like to capture your food like I do, then these are the fundamentals I started with that got me where I am today.
Start With Good Equipment.
My amazingly supportive hubby has purchased every piece of my equipment for me, using my heavily researched Amazon wishlist, of course. The “beginner series” Nikon D5100 is my baby, and my go-to lens is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S Prime Lens; it’s easy to use if you know the bare minimum about how to shoot manual, and requires you to move around to get the shot you want, as it has no auto-focus. But you’re moving around your food anyway!
My secondary lenses are my multipurpose Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Lens and my brand new Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED macro lens, which is huge and intimidating and I’m still learning how to use it, but will be wonderful for the random extreme close up. Finally, I have a Slik tripod, which I really only use for pour shots or human element shots (piping icing on cupcakes, lifting a fork to the lens, etc.), as I like to be free to move around my setup.
The prices can be daunting if you’re looking in to a DSLR versus a point-and-shoot, but buying used or refurbished lenses is just fine when you’re starting out! You don’t have to have the top of the line gear while you’re learning, especially if you only plan on pursuing food or still life photography.
Natural Lighting is Best.
This is a general rule for most photography, but with a special emphasis on food. Using flash with food, or shooting under kitchen lights, casts unnatural haze and color, and chases away desirable shadows and adds ugly highlights. You can at least somewhat control natural light by using diffusers (such as a curtain or collapsible diffuser), or simply by moving your setup further away from your light source. Plus, you can’t beat the cost of natural light!
I usually take my photos in my living room in front of my three large, south-facing, sheer curtain-covered windows (built in diffusers!), but there have been occasions where I’ve taken my food outdoors on to my patio, or in to my west guest bedroom if I’m chasing the sun.
Foam Board is Your Friend.
Honestly. you could have the smallest area possible to photograph in, but as long as you have some sun and a reflector to bounce the light on to the backside of your subject, you’re all set! You could buy professional reflectors, but in my opinion, your best bet even after crossing over the beginner hump is a cheap and easily replaceable standard craft store foam board. I know of plenty of professional food bloggers who use them religiously!
On the flip side, if you want to bring out more shadows, you can use black foam board instead, or angled against a white board, which produces very nice effects.
Be Adventurous With Angles.
Don’t be afraid to move around your work space. I generally will shoot 2-3 different sides of any recipe: from the side, front, and top, and any number of angles, until I’m satisfied with my shots. Move the plate, turn it, enhance the atmosphere of the photo with things you might also find on someone’s dinner table. I try to be creative (I go to Pinterest for inspiration if I’m stuck!), and the best way I’ve been able to describe it is to show the food in a different way than most people would see it. It doesn’t always work out the way I want it to, but that’s the beauty in learning from your mistakes.
Be sure to stop by Sixth Bloom in the coming weeks to read Part II of Food Photography Fundamentals for Beginners, where I’ll cover a little bit of my food styling, favorite camera settings, and the often necessary pain of working with artificial light!
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