our approach to food photos
As much as it flatters me when I get emails asking what my secret to taking pictures is, I rarely have a good response. I don’t think of myself as a real photographer, I never learned accepted techniques and I barely know what half the buttons on the camera do. If you like my photos, you’ll probably agree you can get far without this information (though I suspect you could get further with it).
The majority of food photography advice I have read boils down to two main points: don’t use flash and style the food attractively. Honestly, these days I rarely do either.
While I of course use available light when it is, uh, available, in the evenings, when most food for this blog is cooked, I’m at a loss. Though for a long time I used a combination of available light/long exposures, a tripod and remote switch for evening pictures, I was only satisfied with the results about half the time. Often less.
These days, we’re using the Canon Speedlite 430EX flash, and it is making a world of difference. Sadly, not all flashes are created equally, and this has little in common with the ones that come built-in to cameras. It only shoots of the amount of light it determines you need, and can be angled or filtered in any direction. It’s also not cheap. But it works well enough that I often look at a picture and cannot remember whether I took it at night or in daylight. That is simply amazing to me.
A little food styling can go a long way. I’m not really into props or overly composed food. It’s not a pinafore–its dinner. I think plate smears and lightly rusted spatulas are honest, and I find that warmly appealing, but much of this comes down to personal taste. That said, white plates (as opposed to our sage green ones that seemed such a good idea at the time) that are not too patterned and a little garnish or a fork propped just so can add a lot to a picture. I have a lot of photos that make me cringe because I haven’t even done that.
However–and if you’ve read nothing else in this post, I hope you read this–the only thing that will ever make a difference in the consistent quality of your photos is practice. You can’t learn it from a blog post, a book, a manual, it doesn’t come embedded in pricy prosumer technology*–you simply need to take pictures of every single thing that you see.
Try as best as you can to identify what you like about what is before you, and find ways to make that the very essence of the picture. That’s why photography is an art and not a science–you’re letting your image tell a story about something. Look at the picture–is this what you wanted? How can you make the part that charmed you speak louder? Take it again. And again.
Soon enough, your pictures will really start telling a story and people will ask you how you do it, and you’ll shrug, because who thinks about this stuff?
“Wow, Deb, that’s so cool. So you don’t edit your photos at all?” Ha, ha, HA. Not even close. On the computer, I might crop, white balance, lighten or darken an image, but I do try to keep my edits to a minimum. The better a picture is, the less you have to do. When I find myself editing a lot, I know it’s because I didn’t take a very good picture to begin with and have been forced to compensate.
* “I can’t afford an SLR, does this mean I can’t take good pictures?” No. Wait, let me say that louder: NO! People, $10,000 in photo equipment does not a good photographer or photograph make. Good framing and composition in a photo is as evident in a five year old point-and-shoot as it is in a $2,000 digital SLR. Yes, I did just say that we have a kinda expensive flash that makes a joyous difference in the ease of our evening photographs. We do love our four year old Canon Rebel so much that we think of it as a member of our family. (Sometimes, I even pet it.) But neither can make a bad picture a good one.
The Sum of the Smitten Kitchen’s Photo Equipment: [Updated July 2009]
Better Food Photography Advice, elsewhere:
Lastly, a Question: Alex, the CTO, CFO and Assistant Photographer of Smitten Kitchen wants to know if I were to sell prints of some of our photos, would anyone be interested?
One year ago: Cranberry Sauce, Three Ways
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