Your mother might have told you that, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. What she forgot to add is, “your stunning photos of your cooking would steal a great many more hearts!”
Food is an excellent photography subject. Good food usually looks appetizing and for most types of food, it stays still long enough for you to set up the photo.
Chiq Clicks is happy to bring you Haniela’s top 10 tips on taking better photos of food. Haniela’s an excellent baker and photographer (of course!) and like many of us, found her passion for photography through Flickr.
Whether you’re a foodie warrior out to snap a photo of every meal you take to share on Facebook, or a serious chef/baker wanting to document your creations, Haniela’s simple tips below will turn your nice photos into stunning ones.
1. CAMERA – LENS
With camera you basically have 2 options :
- Point and shoot
It was around Valentine’s day 2008 when I first started taking pictures of food, I made some cookies took the pictures and then I found Flickr and I was hooked. I first started with Sony Cyber Shot 5.Megapixels (SONY DSC-V1) but I have overgrown it really fast and was ready for another adventure…a DSLR.
- DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex camera)
Since 2009 I’ve been using Nikon DSLRs. I’m not going into which is better, Canon or Nikon, as I have only been using Nikon and I have no experience with Canon brand. I started out with Nikon D200 and then I changed to Nikon D300.
Good lens doesn’t have to be expensive, Nikon 50mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.4 are really good choices to start with, they are prime lenses (no zoom) but offer a great sharpness of the image. I know it has no zoom, but with food it really works great, and I’ve used it on some outdoor portraits as well.
I also use Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8, this one sits on my camera on most days. It offers excellent optics and sharpness is great throughout out the range. I just love it.
I also work with Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AF Micro, it is a beauty.
It really comes down to what you are the most comfortable with and what you can afford.
Tripod is a very important part of your gear. Personally I can’t do without a tripod, it is must for me. Tripods are made from variety of materials, from the cheapest: plastic aluminum, basalt, and carbon fiber are the most expensive ones. Depending on your budget and your needs get a tripod that will be able hold your camera.
I’ve tried few brands, I like Manfrotto brand and most days I use the Gitzo, that is an expensive carbon fiber tripod. But if you do nature and wildlife photography where lots of hiking is involved, you better get yourself something that is light. I’ll never forget that 6 hours hike I took with a super heavy tripod on my shoulder which gave me a bruises and blisters. That heavy tripod was sold and replaced with a carbon one and I’ve never looked back.
If you are using point and shoot, you must definitely use a tripod when taking food photos.
3. LIGHT AND LIGHTING
I’ve been using mainly natural light when taking food photos, though I’ve tried studio lights as well. I’m still on a learning curve about these. I would love to try a strobe sometime soon as well.
Usually I try to shoot in the middle of the day or early afternoon. Pay attention to the strength of the light as it changes throughout the day. For example, early afternoon light can deliver a nice bright light but it also can be very strong producing harsh shadows in your photos.
When taking photos indoors I recommend to test the light in your house during different times of the day. The best place is by a large window or opening, with the light coming in diffused by a white curtain, or you can use a white bed sheet. I use a white diffuser.
I also have 2 skylights in my kitchen, so when I need it I have light coming from above.
I actually prefer sunny days over cloudy ones, as with sunny days I get to play more with the light as it has more direction and casts shadows. Of course there are times, when there is just too much light.
I love reflectors, they are vital to food photography and they are so much fun.
I bought a kit of reflectors, with gold, black, 2 white diffusers, silver and a lightly golden one. You can make simply table reflectors by using card stocks from a craft store. Use silver or if you want warm it up a little use a gold one.
In the shot above (donuts in the cage), I used mirrors and aluminium foil pieces placed on the table and ran the mirror from the left through a glass jar.
- Mirror - you have to be careful with it as it gives you a very directional light and can cast weird rectangle shapes, but I still like it as it is great to get the light where you want it.
- Aluminium foil – it has so many uses. You can make little balls with the shiny part up and place them around the table. If in a hurry you could also get a silver windshield protector and use that as a reflector.
Get Inspired. I have a lot of magazines with food photos and I try to understand how each shot was taken, where was the main light, etc. I love Arthur King Flour’s catalogue, it is full of great photos which I try to pick up on the lighting tricks from. Even though they are using all studio lights and I’m doing all natural lighting, I think it applies to both, just the way you get there is a little different.
Example 1: I directed a reflector to run the light just across the top of the white part to make it really shine.
Example 2: A very simple demonstration of how white diffusers works (I have to say even though my cake threw a very harsh shadow it was a pretty impressive one too).
Example 3: We just picked winter squash and before I cooked it I wanted to snap a picture. Well it seems I can’t just go and snap a picture anymore!
Originally I wanted to shoot it on the table, but then my eye spotted the bench and I thought, hmm, that could be interesting and it certainly was. You don’t see what preceded this shot, but the squash collapsed several times before I was finally able to secure each one of them. At the end I was praying so it would stay like that for at least a minute or so, so I could take some pictures. As you see I positioned the smallest ones in the front and I tried to arrange leaves there too so it wouldn’t look so bare.
5. CAMERA SETTINGS
The settings I normally use are:
- ISO – Manualy set to minimum to eliminate noise in pictures.
- EXPOSURE -I preferably shoot Manual or Aperture priority when taking food photos
- APERTURE & Depth of field (DOF) - When I first started taking photos with my point and shoot, I was so desperate to understand how to take pictures with blurred background. I think I read about aperture setting more than about anything else. In short, your aperture settings effect your depth of field (DOF). You probably heard this term someway along the way – it is defined as the portion of a scene that appears acceptably sharp in the image and increasing the DOF increases the sharpness of an image. To increase DOF, you can use a small aperture setting (read more on Aperture from Wikipedia here). With my lenses I have the largest apperture/fstop/ at 1.8 with my 50mm and 17-55 mm, and 2.8 with the macro. I usually play with different aperture settings to achieve the desired effect.
- WHITE BALANCE – Depending of the light, but mostly it is set on daylight or auto.
- EXPOSURE COMPENSATION (EV +/-) – This is a very useful feature on the camera that allows you to adjust the exposure measured by its light meter. It helps you to control the amount of light that enters the lens. I use this feature when light is very bright and there is high contrast in a scene. It is also useful when subjects are back lit where sometimes the camera is fooled by the light behind the subject and as a result the subject appears too dark.
- FOCUS – Manual
- SELF-TIMER – I use self-timer set for 10 seconds. Using a self-timer gives me the freedom of using both of my hands to hold a reflector or a mirror if needed. It also eliminates shaking which will be captured in the photo.
6. PROPS – BACKGROUNDS – STYLING
When using a fabric, I try to keep it simple. Solid colors seems to work the best and then you can add little color with your props or a small napkin. I bought a lot of small fabric pieces to accent my photos at a fabric store, or you can find really nice kitchen towels at a dollar store too. I always look for props.
I don’t really have a preference of what color I like best. Obviously white looks great but when I take photos I usually try different backgrounds until I find one that fits the best for the subject. I’m still growing my fabric collection.
As for the props, Ikea has a wonderful selection of different bowl, jars etc. I love my weekend visits to garage sales. Especially now in the Fall there are so many of them. You can find really unexpected things there. Just keep your eyes open for little things that can add character to your photo. I love how food looks on a white plate but since nothing is set in stone I try different colors as well. Again, look at magazine food shots, or cookbooks. I find styling to be challenging, I learned that less is more.
- Don’t clutter your shot with a lot of different props. Simple napkin, fork or knife will do just fine.
- Test different backgrounds, either solid, or patterned. Scrapbooking papers are great too. Make sure that fabric or paper will cover the area of view
- Experiment with different plates, bowls, silverware, ribbons, etc. Ingredients can be part of the set up as well.
- Use only the best samples you have available to you (perhaps you made 12 cupcakes, so pick only the best of the bunch)
Example 1: Use of a simple prop. Knife bought at a flea market ($2)
Example 2: Flower matching the napkin color adds a nice touch.
Example 3: I used a cut out parchment heart and a ribbon to make it more interesting. Background is satin red fabric. Perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Example 4: I lined the smallest box I could find ( I think it used to be a small jewelery box) with pink tissue paper (Victoria Secret).
Example 5: I had this shot in my head for a while, I planted some grass into a pretty green container and voila, it made a perfect Easter Egg Photo prop.
7. PREPARATION AND MY LITTLE HELPERS
I usually set my table before I have food ready and I test the light so I know what to expect later. I usually iron few backdrops just to have a few choices.
My tools include tweezers, paper towels, cotton swabs, glycerin, vinegar – it does magic on plates, I use it make them really shiny and spotless, spring clamps, painter’s brush to remove crumbs, sometime I use tape to pick up crumbs if I can’t get there with the brush. I use all kind of little helpers.
Example 1 (right): Aluminium foil & glass pebbles – The cookies wouldn’t stand on its own even after trying aluminium foil balls, little tubes, etc. So what I did was I placed few glass pebbles inside of the alluminum foil and made shapes, don’t ask what shapes they were just some shapes, in such fashion so they wouldn’t be showing through when shot at table level, but they would hold the cookie up. I balanced each cookie and this is the photo that came out.
I really wanted Flying Halloween Witches….and I think I got them.
Example 2 (below): Paper towels – I love them, I use them to support cookies on a plate as cookies – they just keep sliding and sliding, it is nearly impossible to place them on the plate without some kind of support.
I used few paper towel pieces in these shots to keep the cookies from sliding into the dish.
Example 3: Parchment paper – I used parchment paper pieces in these Raisin Bread photos. The reason why I decided to use parchment pieces was very simple, I used a fabric background with a very natural feel and since I knew I’d be moving the bread around a lot.
I didn’t want the fabric to get all dirty from the raisins that were all over this delicious bread, they’re very soft and they would definitely dirty the fabric. I cut out rectangle pieces of parchment paper and placed them underneath of the breads. It worked wonderfully.
I photographed this bread for my friend Bread Artisan Maker Rachel from Mangez Brioche, she entered her bread into a Bread Contest, and her bread based on photos and her formula was chosen to go into the final round and she will be attending a bake off in Kansas.
Addition of a simple prop as stalks of dried wheat made it look more interesting.
I was very pleased with how I was able style this shot. I love the DOF here.
8. SHOOTING STYLE
Practice Practice Practice
I like to do a little research, study food photos in magazines and in cook books. Then when I’m ready to shoot I always try different angles, but generally the closer you can get better. Shoot the whole set up from from above, at standing level, at table level and don’t be afraid of exploring and have fun with it. Get closer with a macro lens, or wide lens.
Example 1: Here I shot the whole set up from an angled position from above and the second shot is a close up.
Example 2: Using the same prop, a gorgeous antique scale, two different angles can give you totally different perspectives.
Example 3: From above.
Example 4: Shot at table level.
Example 5: Get Close.
9. ERASING AND FORMATTING MEMORY CARD
I do the both. I shoot a lot and it seems like memory cards need a little boost after they’ve been all filled up. Once you download your pictures to the computer, back them up and then format your memory card in your camera not in the computer.
I didn’t believe it, but I did a little test, I deleted all my images on the memory card and I checked what is the available number of photos I can take, and it was a rather small number so I formatted the card and voila, number jumped up.
Formatting improves the performance of the memory card.
10. FILE FORMAT AND EDITING
I shoot in raw and my online photos are mainly PNG.
I use Capture NX for editing and converting photos and then Corel Paint Shop Pro for adding watermarks, text and such.
The beauty of Raw format is that in the software application you are able to work with the photo like you would in a darkroom, you can still go in and adjust exposure, correct the white balance etc.
I keep my editing to a minimum, usually it involves adjusting the contrast, boost of color and if needed, color control point.
Article originally posted here.