If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, then you might know that I’m working hard on stepping up my food photo game in 2015! And when I asked what everyone else was working on this year, the word on the street was that a lot of you are looking to improve your photos and styling too. Which is awesome! Let’s talk shop.
This post is all about the EASY things that have really helped me out over the past year or so. I work on a small budget, low tech system and I don’t think I’m alone there, so I’m sharing the very cheap or free things and the tips that have helped me endlessly! I’d love it if you’d share the things that have helped you the most in the comments. Let’s do this!
- Plan your shots. If this seems like common sense to you, then you’re already ahead of the game. And if it doesn’t, then you should start! Planning out the different shots that you want to achieve before you start shooting is just good common sense. Food is a time-sensitive subject – as soon as the ice cream goes on the plate, you need to get that shot, yesterday! So it really helps to have a solid idea of how you’re going to style and shoot your photos before you begin. Of course, once you’ve got those shots, you’re free to experiment and be spontaneous, but you can do so safe in the knowledge that you’ve got those money-shots already in the bank.
- Keep your ISO low. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re already using a DSLR camera. Which means that you’re probably already aware of things like exposure, aperture and shutter speed. I think of ISO as the forgotten setting, since it seems to be so often overlooked. I use a Canon 550D, which is an ‘entry-level’ DSLR and I never let the ISO get above 400. If you have a better quality camera you could probably go higher, but for me, that’s the cut-off. If your photos are turning out grainy, I bet a too-high ISO is the culprit.
- Invest in a tripod. If you can afford a good quality one, with an arm to go horizontal and all that goodness, then that’s awesome! I’m working with a pretty cheap model myself, which you can get for $60 online. A tripod is a useful tool to buy yourself a little more time. Set that baby up, and then you can work with laying out your shot in a way that you’re happy with. And if your camera has a timer function, you can do pour-shots and hands-in images as well, which are a lot of fun.
- Work with the light you have, not the light you want. This one was a hard lesson for me. As you probably know by now, natural light is the best light for food photography. But there are lots of different kinds of natural light. Here in Queensland we get a clear, blue sky and a hot high sun beaming through the hole in the ozone layer pretty much all year round. That high, harsh light is difficult to work with. Through a lot of trial and error, I’m finally coming to terms with it – I’ve learned to shoot late in the day near an East-facing window, and use a reflector to bounce some light back. Of course, when there is a bright cloudy day, I still jump for joy and put my baking-pants on, but me and the sun are slowly learning to get along.
- Be a critic. I CANNOT recommend this enough. Go and check out what other people are doing, and find your favourites. Who’s images make you want to dive right in, and why is that? Are they richly contrasted? Or soft and shadowy? Which direction is the light coming from? How does it hit the food? What time of day do you think it is? Do you think they bounced or blocked any light? Go and look critically at the work you love to try and learn from it. And hey, you can always drop your heroes an email to ask for some tips, or better yet, a specific question about their photography. I do this ALL. THE. TIME. and nine times out of ten, people are incredibly helpful.
- BONUS TIP! This one is just for funsies, and something I’m still working on myself. But try turning off your auto-focus every now and then, especially in a tight close-up shot. It allows you to really pick up the exact detail that you want to emphasize, and often makes for a killer image.
Just in case you were interested, here are some of my regular sources of photographic inspiration:
- David Loftus! I’ve blathered about how inspiring this gentleman is before. His photography blows my mind and he works with all my food heroes.
- Linda Lomelino – I don’t think it’s allowed to talk about food photography on a blog without mentioning this lady. Her work has such a strong aesthetic, and is undeniably gorgeous. I can’t wait for her book ‘Sweet Food & Photography’ to come out in English.
- Molly Yeh – Molly is a great example of working with the light that you’ve got! Her photos are consistently atmospheric and moody, but not too serious at the same time. Her secret to good photography is in the first paragraph of this post – and it’s so true.
- Joy Wilson – Joy’s photos are totally consistent, totally beautiful and all about the food. If the point of your blog is to teach, then go to Joy for your inspiration. I think her photos are pretty much the best in the biz.
- Jeni’s – OK, so this is an ice cream company and not a person, per se. But everything these guys produce – photos, gifs, videos, books – is consistently amazing, and it inspires the crap out of me. I love it.
- And not to state the obvious here, but Pinterest! Especially my Incredible Food Styling board. That’s where I put everything that I can’t tear my eyes away from.
So – what do you think? Was that helpful? Is there anything else you’d like me to cover? And what are YOUR best food photography tips? Next weekend I’m hoping to share some easy ways to step your food styling game up – so get psyched for that! Happy Saturday!