our-approach-to-food-photos Recipes

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).

poached egg

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.

babka

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.

saffron

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.

rice pudding

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.

peach

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.

caramel

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.

cherry

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?

ricotta pancake

“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.

coals

* “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]

  • We used a Canon EOS Digital Rebel 300D (which is no longer available, the most current camera in the Rebel line is the XSi), a great starter DSLR, exclusively until May 2008, when we upgraded to a Canon 40D (the 50D is the most current one in this line), a mid-level “prosumer” camera. Why Canon? Well, I am sure you don’t have all day! Alex had previously owned a film Rebel, and we liked that we could use lenses almost seamlessly between them. We were also more impressed with the Canon line of lenses — there were just more out there than other brands, at more price points. But, it all comes down to personal taste, and it’s definitely in any budding photographer’s interest to find out if renting any camera they’d like to buy is a possibility before making such a big commitment. New Yorkers: We rent stuff all of the time from Adorama (and no, they’re not paying us to plug their rental department!). They have great weekend (esp. holiday weekend) deals, plus, you can contribute a percentage of any accrued rental fees on an item towards the purchase of it down the road.
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens — I recommend that people skip the kit lens entirely, buy cameras body-only and use this lens instead. It’s sharp, lightweight, great for low-light conditions, seriously inexpensive and a perfect lens to build skills on. It’s our “grab and go” lens. Wait until you see the price — you won’t believe what you can do for so little.
  • Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens — This is my baby, because I love taking detailed close-ups.
  • Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens — This is Alex’s baby, but we mostly use it when we’re on vacation, or you know, places where the view in the “distance” is more than across the street.
  • Canon Remote Switch RS60 E3 — For use with the tripod for long exposure, low light pictures because even the clicking of the shutter button can blur a low-exposure photo. Plus, you can play “kid photographer” with your food … “Gimme a smile, no, a bigger one!” *Click!*
  • Canon 430EX Speedlite Flash (though the 430EX II is an update of this) — Discussed above, this thing is pretty freaking cool for times when you have no choice but to take pictures at night. It’s also fantastic for people pictures — seriously, it makes people look like magazine-ready.
  • The Tamron AF 17-35mm is our starter wide-angle. We like it okay. However, it’s great for scenery and vacation shots, thus it always comes on vacation with us.

Better Food Photography Advice, elsewhere:

egg shells

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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196 comments on our approach to food photos

  1. thanks for taking the time to put that out there, deb. i have a little cannon elph. point and shoot. it is all i have ever used on my blog. yet folks love my pics… crazy! anyway, it’s time to do better… and christmas is coming!

  2. Well, I would be interested in the two of you coming with me to B & H next month when I buy a whole new camera. My Digital Rebel has had enough of this punk rock life. I really want your flash. Anyway? A date?

  3. I say, set up a corner of your site to sell prints. If it doesn’t work out, bag it. I think people would buy them for sure, though

  4. This is one of the most useful posts I’ve read about food photography. I love your photos, they have that natural, not overly-styled quality that is so precious.

  5. I’d say it is your sense of detail that makes your pictures. You just don’t toss together something and slab in on a plate — you look at things. Form there on, photography is all about lighting. Do you have your flash on the camera or on a light stand? If not the latter, I recommend a fantastic website called Strobist http://strobist.blogspot.com/ . It’s the coolest thing to realize one doesn’t have to have an entire tuck load of gear to take great pictures. Just a lot of patience, imagination and time.

  6. Just a suggestion on the print-selling idea: a favorite knitblogger of mine recently opened up an Etsy shop and started selling cards with prints of her photos on them. While I don’t always have a spot on my walls for a new print, I love being able to give people really special cards instead of the usual Hallmark stuff.

  7. I think the prints would work nicely as cards or postcards? Or maybe that’s just a personal bias because I love to take pics and make them into cards. :-)

  8. In answer to Alex’s question; YES! Personally I would like to see a cookbook from the both of you. You have it written already in your blog posts and you certainly have the pictures. Do a lulu.com book. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    As for prints, I would love a calendar with collages of your photos for each month. I know someone who did a calendar like that with Pugs and she sold them for $19.99 each on the internet. I personally purchased three of them. There are so many cool things you and Alex could do wiht your photos.

  9. I’m thinking Smitten Kitchen cookbook, of course with lovely full-color photos. :)

    Seriously, though, your photos are always lovely and inspiring and REAL. There’s a sort of intimacy about them that I just love, like we’re right there with you in your home, chatting at the counter while you put the finishing touches on a dish, or polishing off the bottle of wine while elbow deep in soapsuds post-meal.

  10. Thanks for the tutorial! I’m a point & shoot kinda gal, but I’m trying to get better. I’ve tried it without using the flash, but I’m a regular Dr. Shakeyhands and the results are pretty terrible. I’ll keep practicing!

  11. Aww… thanks guys for all the ideas and support. You’ve totally made my day.

    Christianne and anyone else struggling with the no-flash/available light thing– You might consider a tiny table-top tripod, or one of those bendy ones. They’re inexpensive and easy to use; a great starter tripod and many fold right into camera bags.

  12. You know, I love the calendar idea – you have so many beautiful pictures that aren’t necessarily food related, so space those in with foods from a particular time period/season/month as a collage (like 9 or 12 pictures per month)- I would totally buy that. Definitely include the bowl of cherries picture and the picture of the cut limes on the wooden cutting board with the light blue background – that might be my most favorite pic you’ve taken.

  13. I’m just going to jump in here & second your suggestion for skipping the lens kit & purchasing individual lenses. I’m also going to say that I own the same 50mm lens, I think, and it’s fabulous! Shooting with fixed lenses is much nicer than using the zooms, particularly when shooting food – after all, it’s not like you don’t have the time to change lenses, and the difference in sharpness & in the lens speed make all the difference in the world!

  14. This is a little stalker-y, but I have a post-it note with tags/titles of Smitten Kitchen photos I’d like to hang in my kitchen. So, yes! If cost allows, I would totally take you up on buying prints. I sadly admit that we are not so much rolling in the dough, so most original art is out of reach. I second the autograph suggestion!

  15. There was a place about 20 years ago in the lower level of the Prudential Building in Chicago, right when you came off the train, that had fabulous photos (like yours) that they gave away as a monthly calendar or something, with their daily specials (soups, sandwiches, etc.), as I remember. Of course the calendar parts are long gone, but I still have many of those pictures, which were framed as art in my kitchen back then. So, I’m thinking, maybe a calendar with some of your best shots with accompanying recipes? That, I’d buy.

  16. Fantastic post! Thank you. As for selling photos: personally, I think a few smaller (4×6? 5×7?) brightly colored food photos clumped together in matching frames would look great in a kitchen. My old kitchen had the perfect wall for 3 or 4 in a row and I would have been quite interested in them then. Now, though, that just wouldn’t make sense in this house. But I think there is potential in trying to sell them!

  17. I would definitely purchase copies of your prints, particularly your sweet/chocolate shots. I’m still thinking about that block of Callebaut chocolate you posted recently.

    Your photos are divine and an inspiration for me to start taking photos of my own. Thank you for sharing your techniques and for proving that you don’t need $25,000 equipment and other fancy stuff to take the quality of photos that you’re taking. Talent and passion counts for something. Yay!

  18. DaviMack – Although Deb and Alex have “loaned” the kit zoom lens to me, I have purchased the 50mm 1.8 lens and it IS far superior. Of course the zoom is more convenient at times, but as you noted, changing lenses isn’t all that difficult. :-)

    Deb – The plum and the cherry started my salivation.

  19. Hi! Tell the CFO, CTO and Assistant Photographer, that I have already on occassion looked through your blog for photos to use in my design work. Sadly nothing had quite what I was looking for at the time, but, if there was something on your site that I could purchase, then the answer is a loud yes!

    If you look at the stock photo libraries, and what is available in the food section, you will see that there is a huge market for good food photography. Particularly series that match. Currently I’m searching for a series of shots for a fruit and vegetable retailer and can not get the 5-6 shots that I need.

    So again I say, YES PLEASE!

  20. Would I buy prints? Does water make chocolate seize?

    Keep in mind that you’d want a set of distribution procedures, price scales, and licensing agreements that would cover the gamut from nice dye-sub prints to non-commercial downloads to hi-res commercial stock photography. (Oops — what am I saying? You’re immersed in the tech world, you must already be all over this.)

    As others have mentioned, it would be nice to purchase prints in sets. If you can figure out some way to allow users to create their own custom sets from the full lineup of images, that would be exciting, and probably foster sales.

  21. That’s very nice of you two to share all your tips! I’ve been really struggling with the low light recently and had been wondering about buying some fancy lights but the speedlite flash is probably much more suitable, I just didn’t know it…

    I definitely second your tip of skipping the kit lens and going for the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. It’s so good and not even particularly expensive.

  22. you are an inspiration. The dark evenings depress me and I struggle with photography. The flash is going on my shopping list immediately. I am not even waiting for Christmas. Thanks for the tip – I have been kind of scared about flashes – but since you seem to take photos the same way I do I think I might be able to handle it.

  23. photos for sale – YES!!!! especially if we can custom order from thumbnails. I would love to have some of yours hanging in my kitchen!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. Absolutely! I would love prints but I even more taken with the idea of notecards or postcards (maybe incorporating recipes too).

  25. I recently purchased the Speedlite 430EX too, and it’s making my photos look infinitely better. I used to wonder if/how it was possible to have nice photos on a food blog when natural light is not an option at dinnertime. Thanks for all the great tips and great photos (yes, I want to lick my screen).

  26. great post! i’m not a big fan of flash and rarely use it and the same goes with editing photos. try to stay away from it. thanks for sharing! it’s always fun to see what goes on “behind the scenes”. you’re photos are gorgeous!

  27. Great Post… thanks so much for sharing your insight on food photography. It’s useful to know how other non-professionals approach food styling and food photography as I try to develop some “style” of my own. Also relieved to know that I don’t need to mortgage the house for camera supplies!

    I’d probably be inclined to purchase stunning food photography (yes, yours qualifies) in the form of greeting cards… or a calendar.

  28. What a great post! With daylight savings time and it being dark at dinner time, I am so struggling with evening photos. I’ll have to look into a new flash…sounds like a great Christmas present.

  29. Nice post! And I would definitely buy a print or cards, depending on price.

    Now one more question for you: How did you get your poached eggs perfectly formed like that? Special pan or tool? I am pretty good at the whirlpool method and they usually look decent, but not like that!

  30. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been having major frustration and consternation over my photos. I wrote a whole post about it this morning. I’ve been ready to throw in the towel, but now I’m going to try some of the tips I’ve learned. Thanks!

  31. you two, without question, have the best fblog (food blog) on the web, and i’ve seen plenty. plus, y’all add just the right amount of spoonfuls (TBS.) of love to the mixture, along with a few cupfuls (cups) of adoration and the perfect temperature (350 degrees) for all of us to follow right along. the photos? well, they just add to the ambiance, like candles and low lighting and soft jazz music. bravo.

  32. Hmm, I might have to splurge on that Cannon flash. My camera has this crazy intense flash that completely washes out everything, so I never use it. I just turn up the lights as bright as they go and later tinker with the lighting digitally.

  33. That was a really helpful and informative blog post. Thank you! You two post some of the best food pictures out there in the food blogosphere. Keep up the good work!

  34. I love the idea of creating post cards with your photos on them…sold in sets of 6 or ten using various “themes.” Chocolate, Produce, Etc. I also really love the idea of creating a DIY inexpensive cookbook (thinking maybe $10-15) that showcases your photos and coordinating recipes. It’s a great hostess gift idea for the holidays…or stocking stuffer!

    Or, you could combine the two and have a booklet of tearout postcards…each with a short, but sweet recipe worked into the design. If you need help finding a printer, just let me know!

  35. The last line made me chuckle out loud. My fiance has a NY Islanders blog and participates in their BlogBox and takes ALOT of pictures. As a result of observing his photography equipment expenses, I’ve found myself asking on nearly a weekly basis if he’s going to ever try to sell any pictures. He first says no one would buy them (I disagree), and then laughs and ignores any follow-up questions. I do also use the camera, but am continuously amazed at how much equipment costs. I’m amused at not being the only spouse/significant other who has thought of selling prints, lol.

  36. I think you do a fine job w/ the food photography you present here
    I’ve been a lurker for some time, someone I know has tagged your posts in his del.icio.us and I have been coming back for me tempting tid-bits and such since spying the posts he’s bookmarked

    another good friend worked w/ Tyler Florence, she gave me a copy of his book http://www.amazon.com/Eat-This-Book-Cooking-Flavors/dp/1400052378 and I thought the food photography he included in that book was most XLNT – I believe it was shot at his house and such, nothing too fancy-schmancy in terms of equipment and such…

    MatthewA on Flickr has a great collection of food photography as well if you are ever in need of any inspiration http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewa/sets/135232/
    his online portfolio is quite appealing as well
    http://www.mattarmendariz.com/

  37. Practice, absolutely. All of the above teachniques, but also “Personality” is important.

    When I visit here, I always look at the photography and know instantly that it’s yours, because you inject your own personality into each shot.

  38. I love your photos and would snap up a package of notecards, no question. I think the key to your photos’ charm is that not only are they visually pleasing, they somehow highlight the non-visual, sensual qualitites of the subject food: the viscous yolk of that poached egg dripping down the toast, the pliancy of the roll of uncooked dough, the creaminess of the risotto.

  39. p.s. The best tasting egg I ever cooked/ate was one I poached in whipping cream. Yeah, I know, not something I’d do everyday, but the cream was leftover and I couldn’t throw it out — could I? Also, I bought the eggs at Trader Joe’s. Their eggs taste like the ones I had as a kid, when my mom would buy them at a farm. Yum.

  40. I actually use the whirlpool method as well, but I’m pretty bad at it. I always lose a bit of the white, and the eggs typically sink anyway and I find myself shoveling them off the bottom. Really, I’m that bad at it. Every one in three I get a pretty one, like above, but it’s dumb luck! That said, I have tried every method known to man (I LOVE poached eggs) and the whirlpool really is the easiest and most natural. (As in, no cooked edges from a poacher, ring, etc. which is the exact reason I prefer poached eggs anyway.) Good luck!

  41. Wow, this is really helpful. I’m still learning, but you’re right that practice makes perfect (or at least, much better). I try to get home whlie it’s still light out, but that’s pretty difficult when it’s dark by 4:30 in NYC this winter! But I definitely take a lot of picture on the weekends — which is when I have the most free time to cook, so it works out. I’m going to write down the name of the flash you recommend though — maybe santa will bring it this year? :-)

  42. First of all, it’s lunchtime and I have a loaf of artisan pumpkinseed bread in the kitchen and your runny egg photo just cinched the deal on what to eat.

    Second, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from your photos in terms of the props you use, or the way you “style” the dish . . . for instance, by taking a bite or breaking into it . . . or just showing the empty dish! It’s really made me think. So thank you!

    And . . . if you haven’t already, please stop by http://www.generouspour.com to help me raise money for Share Our Strength towards ending hunger in America. You don’t have to buy anything, pay anything or even do anything — other than download a cool song by Corinne Bailey Rae and pick up some new holiday recipes. Thanks for your support!

  43. If I wasn’t going to grad school full-time I would totally buy some…I bet you could get them into some local stationary shops as well. Your photos are beautiful and I really enjoyed this post. Regarding the problem of cooking at night-is there anyway to get around the flash problem without spending hundreds on a fancy flash? As you can see at my site, since I work fulltime and mostly cook at night, I end up using my on camera flash when I shouldnt. Maybe Ill have to stick to blogging only on weekends when I can get some daylight. Or wait until summer….

  44. Huh. I’m going to have to practice some more with the whirlpool! I also love poached eggs, and make them almost every weekend. My new favorite thing is to eat them on toasted bread rubbed with tomato, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with a little coarse salt (more Spanish inspiration).

  45. Great post, and thanks for all your tips. I like the simple pictures you take of your food that still make them look very, very tantalizing. I’m completley lusting after your flash, now – and Christmas is on the horizon…

  46. Stumbled upon your blog on Serious Eats. I found your post really helpful and love your pictures!! I have lighting problem like you did, especially shooting in the evening, now I have learnt a tip from you! Thank you very much!

  47. I came across your site while site surfing for thanksgiving ideas and gosh am I ever glad I did. The food sounds wonderful and I am inspired to try some new stuff but the photos! A feast for the eyes and some of the best I’ve seen in ages. Brava and bravo.

  48. Amen sister! And thank you for stating it so well. I usually won’t tell people anymore what camera I have, it’s my nature. And yeah, it should be good to go out of the camera, no post production.

    Uh, see if you can’t get a cord for the flash that allows you to move it about the room. I have one for mine, but it ain’t Canon.

    xo, Biggles

    ps – Many of these speedlights can be purchased used for very little amount of money at my favorite used spot, k e h . c o m. I’ve been buying from them for about 10 years now.

  49. I love your site. The food and photography are two passions of mine. I have a Nikon FM1 that I learned how to use at FIT and have one of the arlier versions of the digital Canon Elf as well as an ancient Canon point and shoot. Am looking at a Canon 30D. Do you know anything about it?

  50. Deb, you do indeed have a fantastic site, not just because of the great photography but also your use of words. I use a small Panasonic with 3.2 mega pixels. Most of my pictures are taken during kitchen service at a hefty pace, no time to play. Would you have any advice on how I might be able to improve. Time and flexibility are an issue. The customer can not suffer, but I would like better pictures. Regards John

  51. I’m a novice food blogger and food photographer . . . I’ve been at it a little over a month . . . and a friend found and recommended I check out your site this morning. I’m inspired by your pics and will immediately add you to my bookmarks. My photos have been improving steadily with some reading and a lot of practice. I don’t think I’ve developed a unique “style” yet, but all good things in all good time, right? Cheers!

  52. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! Your pictures are beautiful. I have a loaner point-and-shoot now for my newbie food blog. Perhaps Santa will bring me a digital SLR in 2008. I guess this means I’ll have to stop buying All-Clad for a while …

  53. Being a personal chef, I am in the process of creating my website. I haven’t found any sites on line that sell pics that I would put on my site. I am in awe of yours and would be proud to feature them on my site. You rock!

  54. I would LOVE to buy some of your prints for my kitchen. I’ve been looking for food pictures and NOTHING has really stood out to me more than your amazing pictures!

  55. YES!YES!YES! I would totally LOVE to buy some of your prints. They are fabulous and marvelous and all things good!

  56. A good photographer makes food look delicious even though it may not be the way. By looking at your photos I can almost taste the foods! Brilliant job, both in photographing AND cooking!

  57. Your pictures are what first caught my eye when I first clicked to you site about a week ago. The recipes keep me coming back, but the pictures set it apart. I’ve kind of gotten out of the habit of taking pictures and mostly I just point and shoot even with the good camera. Mixed results of course. Thanks for the article, the inspiration and reminding me to just get out there and take pictures!

  58. I agree, my wife and I have some amazing photos with a very old Canon A60 2.1megapixel point and shoot. My first advice for any aspiring photographer is use the camera you have and read the manual. This is my new favorite food blog!

  59. This is a great post, thank you for taking time to share the details of the equipment you use. I have been looking to upgrade from my little Sony Cyber-Shot and haven’t been able to make a decision. I enjoy the pictures on your blog so much that I trust your recommendations. You naturally have a great eye which is hard to teach, but you did a good job of trying to in your explanation above of how you set up shots. I know that for me, I sometimes just see pictures in the things I am looking at. Thanks again!

  60. It’s quite simple. You take great photos because you have taste. Not just good taste, but just taste. most people do not have taste at all. And the food you cook is beautiful to start. I’m sure the flash helps too! Great post!

  61. Thanks for sharing your tips. You have a great eye when it comes to photographing food. I am really inspired to start taking pictures with my new DSLR.

  62. It’s funny how I came across your blog twice in two days. The first was through foodgawker and your ever popular chocolate peanut butter cake (amazing by the way) and today when I did a search in google for tips on shooting food in the evening. So I’m taking this as a sign I should bookmark your blog and read it more often.

    Back to your post,I was told that you should never use flash on food photography, but I may have to give this a try and hopefully there aren’t too many bright highlights. Thanks again for an incredible blog and for sharing your tips and recipes with us! Cheers!

  63. Deb, I’m commenting here because I have failed twice in trying to email you. Somehow I keep getting the address wrong and my email is returned to me. Anyway, I would love to purchase the following 13 photos if you could upload them whenever you get time (no rush). Thanks for your great site!

    1) yellow, orange and red bell peppers from “Pizza with Red & Yellow Peppers” on 6-18-08 (2nd pic in post). 2) 3 eggplant on a cutting board from “Marinated Eggplant with Capers & Mint” on 8-24-08 (2nd pic in post). 3) sweet cherries in a wooden box from “Sweet Cherry Pie” on 6-22-08 (1st pic in post). 4) grapes from “Ground Hog Day” on 2-2-08 (3rd pic in post). 5) pomegranate seeds from “Confessions of a Cumin Junkie” on 2-26-07 (1st pic in post). 6) pineapple close-up from “Smitten Kitchen Two Point Oh Yeah!” on 7-29-07 (2nd pic in post). 7) single gooseberry on stem from “All Your Questions Are Belong to Us” on 7-2-07 (3rd pic in post). 8) cantaloupe half close-up from “Smitten Kitchen Two Point Oh Yeah!” on 7-29-07 (3rd pic in post). 9) spices in a bowl from “Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges Plus Five Ecteras” on 2-27-08 (4th pic in post). 10) raw sweet potato slices from “Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges Plus Five Ecteras” on 2-27-08 (3rd pic in post). 11) artichoke from “Barley and Corn Salad with Arugula and Haricot Vert” on 5-2-07 (4th pic in post). 12) Brussels sprouts on a cutting board from “Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts in Brown Butter” on 11-14-07 (5th pic in post). 13) veggies in soup pot from “Matzo Ball Soup” on 2-4-08 (3rd pic in post).

    Looking forward to enjoying these photos in my kitchen after my remodel.

  64. This post is so comforting!! I always admire your culinary pictures so much, the way you write about your approach to photography is how it should be :)

  65. I’m a professional commercial photographer with a degree from Brooks Institute and also teach photography courses for B.U.. The high quality photography is what drew me into your site. I just have to tell you how outstanding your photography work is. A real testament to a good eye and using what you know effectively. Well done!

  66. I was wondering… Are the photos of the poached egg, fruit and rice pudding on the fork taken with the standard 50mm f/1.8 or with the Sigma macro 50mm? I’m also interested in getting a macro lens as, like you, i love close up shots, although for now i think i’ll have to suffice with my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and put some money towards a good flash unit. By the way, congrats on the site, both for your beautiful photos, great recipes and relaxed writing style! As a beginner cook myself i’m really going to enjoy learning from this great resource :)

  67. Love your post! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I have added this page in my blogroll. I like your point saying LESS IS MORE!

  68. I am new to the world of food blogging – thus, I am also new to this whole “food photography” thing. Thanks for all the inspiration – your photos are truly amazing!

  69. Wow, I just clicked on one of your links to a page “all about food photography,” and proceeded to see a bunch of pictures that aren’t anywhere near as good as yours, Deb. You have a very special touch.

  70. Hi,

    I found your blog a few weeks ago and I think I am love. Fabulous recipes and gorgeous photography, all delivered with humor and a down-to-earth attitude about cooking. Thanks.

  71. All I can say is, ‘Merci beaucoup’ for all the wonderful tips. I”m a Rebel user and have serious flash envy now. Your site is fabulous. Oh I will be back again and again. I’m doing a little freelance photography work and had a food shoot on Sat. It’s a different way of photographing. I’ll get better and your tips helped.
    V

  72. All that I have to say is, awesome. And thanks for sharing. After reading what you wrote, I feel that I’m going down the same path. I started with a film Rebel about 11 years ago. I have the same 75-300mm lens. I’m considering buying a macro for close ups. Maybe from Santa…

  73. I’m using a P&S as well, a Panasonic Lumix LX3.
    works well under low-lighting.
    though I’ve had problems with composition, harsh lights and such.
    thanks anyway, those tips are useful.
    and I do agree that it’s an ART, not science.
    so I shoot the way I like it, not the way I see how others do it. ;)

  74. Thanks so much for pointing me to this post. I’m using a small Canon G7 (no laughing), and I’ve been amazed at the pictures I get. But I know I need something better. And I’m so thrilled to hear about your fancy flash! I’ve been at a loss for what to do when I have to cook at night, and with winter here, if I cook past 4:30 pm I’m in trouble. I’ve tried an OTT light, but it seems really harsh. This info was awesome–confirmed stuff I already knew, and learned me some new stuff ;) Thanks again!!

  75. Thanks for the great advice. i just bought a Canon Rebel XS, which only comes in a kit. The stock lens is ok, but I find that the shots aren’t as good as they could be. I am about to purchase the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens, which i have read about and is so recommended by you and others, I had to add it to my collection.

    1. Hi Evan — I am no great camera expert (I just play one on the internet) but I’d say the biggest issue with the kit lens is that it is an f3.5-5.6, or a pretty slow lens so if you’re doing a lot of indoor or low-light photography, you’re not going to get a very sharp picture. You’ll quickly see a difference with the 50mm because it is f1.8 — very fast and sharp. You’ll also be able to shoot later into the evening without flash. Fixed lenses (50mm in this case, no zoom) are almost always faster than ones with zoom built in. Enjoy!

  76. hi! thank u for sharing the information about picture equipment . i am very interested in food photography and i simply don’t know where to start can u please give me some advice! should i take some special photography courses if there are any? what should i do please?

    1. Elyasse — The post above is all about how to get started learning photography, namely by getting out there and taking pictures. I think everyone should do a little bit of that, before taking classes.

  77. Hi Deb, I love your photography and appreciate the guide. I bought the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 because of your photos and because of this post, but I’m having some trouble with it. The depth of field is very, very narrow, but I can’t figure out how to widen it. Also, I find that my shots are not clear – should I be using a tripod? Thanks.

    1. Hi Elissa — Sorry you’re having trouble with the lens. I’m not much of a troubleshooter; If you are concerned it’s not working right, do bring it back to where you got it. There are many things that can cause blurriness but yes, a tripod (if it was due to an unsteady hand) will help.

  78. Hi Deb, thanks for commenting back. :) Do you know how to widen the depth of field? When I take a photo with it, maybe a fifth of the shot is in focus rather than the majority of the shot. I was looking through your photos and they are always sharp and in focus, but I can’t figure out how to do that with the sigma!

  79. Hi Deb, Virginia from above sent me your way. I am just starting to become involved in food photography and found this post insightful. Your blog has been inspiring for me to become more creative with food styling. Thank you. I have the Canon 400D, 50mm f1.8 and a cheap Vivitar flash on a stand and umbrella using cheap radio frequency remote flash triggers.

  80. It makes me all warm inside that you’re a Canon Girl. =)

    I’ve heard wonderful things about the Canon 100mm Macro lens, if you’re looking to expand the collection!

  81. Deb, are you freakin’ kidding me? Of course I will buy prints…the impossible questions is which one? I love most of them. Do I focus on breakfast, lunch, dinner…or appetizer, salad, entree and dessert….or all sweets…or the components of…or the finished item…? Its impossible to answer. I must have them all!!! now the challenge is limited wall space in the kitchen…okay…maybe a revolving gallery of food art. There ya go! Keep posting and please expand your offerings on smitten kitchen prints! Gracias

  82. Deb I have appreciated your honesty here. I especially like that you don’t edit your photos (much). Or use fluff as props for your pictures. Thanks for being genuine and taking the snootiness out of food blogs. Such a breath of fresh air.

  83. Thanks for sharing the secrets to your delicious photos! Helpful and down-to-earth advice. The splurge flash is a great idea-very frustrating never being able to take pictures of dinner.

  84. Deb- I notice that your newer photos (read: the ones from your new apartment) are a little darker than your older ones. Is this due to any change in your style/approach to taking food photos, or is it just due to the darker countertops (and maybe lighting) in your new apartment? Also, when shooting your food photos, do you use the macro lens or the 50mm lens? Finally (I promise I’ll stop soon!), do you shoot full manual, aperture priority, shutter speed priority, or automatic on your camera? I would really appreciate your advice!

    1. Stephanie — Change in lighting, mostly because my kitchen post-April 2009 is very dim. But also, I kind of like it better. Mostly 50mm these days. I shoot shutter speed priority but that’s this week. I keep jumping around. One day I’ll learn what all of those buttons do. I need to update this post, clearly.

  85. Thanks for your response. On your comment addressing all the questions about your new camera on the chocolate doughnut holes post, you mentioned that you were working on updating this post- thank you! Meanwhile, I have another question. Even though you say your kitchen is dim, your photos are always wonderfully lit. I’m dabbling in food photography, in the hopes of starting a blog, and when I bake (I don’t really cook!), it is mostly in the evening when natural light is nonexistent. I’ve learned the hard way that artificial lights give an unsightly yellow tinge to food, which is so hard to edit out and fix the white balance on pictures. Also, the flash built into my camera is not very good. How do you handle lighting in your kitchen, especially because it is dim? I also run into this lack-of-natural light problem when it rains- which is very frequently in the summer! Right now, I usually just turn off all the lights and raise my ISO, lower my aperture, and hope for the best, but this doesn’t often work. The high ISO gives me grainy photos and the shutter speed is so slow that my photos come out blurred (I don’t own a tripod). What is your solution to this problem? I know some food bloggers use artificial lights (like the Lowel EGO Digital Imaging, Tabletop Fluorescent Light) and some (like you, I think) use an external flash attachment. What do you recommend? Thanks!

    1. Hi Stephanie — My kitchen is dim but not horribly so: there’s a full-sized window at the end, and the counter runs right into the window (it’s off to the left). I just use that window for light, it is enough. The background, however, is dark.

  86. Deb,

    I’ve been a (relatively) longtime reader. Your blog, along with 101cookbooks, has encouraged me to get in the kitchen and learn how to cook. I just discovered this post and I am so happy I did! I’ve recently gotten into food blogging (painful photos if you check it out), so I really appreciate the simplicity in this post.

    I can’t wait to buy some of your pictures! I want to hang some pictures of food items I love and yours are beautiful, especially your mushroom shots – yum-o! I have some requests, if I may, for some photos. First, I saw your beautiful cherry pics and I was wondering if you had any Rainier cherry shots? Second, I love the egg carton photo above, but I was wondering if you had any of either a full carton of whole eggs or a full carton of empty shells? Finally, do you have any pictures of cream? I don’t care in what form; I love me some cream be it in the carton, in a measuring cup, pouring into a bowl, etc. I realize that I could probably purchase these photos elsewhere, but I love your blog and I’d love to support you.

    Thank you so much for (hopefully) considering these shots.

    1. Hi — Glad you’re enjoying the site. Check out the prints shop, hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for there. If you don’t, shoot me an email at thesmitten/gmail.com and if the photo is available, we can add it for you. Thanks.

  87. Found this post via the FoodBlogSearch, a great post. I’ve seen quite a few food blogs and they all seem to include great photography. This blog is no exception!

    It still surprises me how yourself and other food bloggers seem to have no particular tricks in mind when taking snaps, although your camera rig seems pretty good so that probably helps.

    Keep the good pics and content coming!
    John.

  88. Deb,
    Thank you so much for the valuable information! I am celebrating a birthday this month and hope to get the Canon 430EX Speedlite Flash. I read this post over a year ago and bookmarked it… so glad I did! Thank you for your generosity in sharing your knowledge; it reminds me of my favorite quote to ‘be the change you want the world to be’. I think you and your husband exemplify this concept – do you have kids to pass this on to? I hope so! All the best, kathy

  89. Wow, these pictures are amazing. I’m getting hungry just looking at them.
    You really capture the natural colour of the food which is very eye-catching.
    I think selling prints would be a great idea!

  90. Thanks for all the great info. Your gorgeous photos really go a long way in telling just how much care and love you put into your food. I don’t think people realize just how special your photos are. I am SOOOO horrified by the new direction Bon Appetit has taken with their photos and food styling. Everything looks like its something out of a scary Halloween or retro 70s shoot. OUCH. Every time my magazine comes, I have to convince myself not to cancel it. I hope you can give them some advise and point them back in the right direction

  91. Your food and photos are absolutely lovely! Thanks for sharing your valuable knowledge and encouragement to those of us who are not as talented with a camera. My blog will be a lot better when I get a handle on the camera thing!

  92. Wonderful article – I love your photographs! I’m just 7 months into my blog and working with a very basic Canon Power Shot – but, it does have a 10X zoom that I’ve learned to use and love. After reading about your equipment, I may start building and adding on (gradually, once my kid’s college tuition is paid up).

    Great writing style too!

  93. This was a _great_ read. Very informative for a fellow food blogger trying to decide upon the appropriate external flash for my XSi. We, too, are forced to shoot in low light >75% of the time.

    I will be picking through the other links you’ve provided at the end of the post for the rest of the day. Hopefully we will be writing a similar post someday and can link to yours. A wonderful resource, perfectly written, honest and informative!
    -Bill

  94. Thanks for writing this up. I’ve been drooling over your photos for months now, and I just love how you shoot. I’m a student photographer at RIT in Rochester NY, and I’m most interested in food photography. Its a dream of mine to have a bakery and a studio to shoot cookies and cakes! Your blog has been very helpful for me, especially this post. I’ve learned a lot from you.

    -Lisa

  95. Hey Deb,

    I have been a huge fan of your photos and your food! One question – I noticed on your flickr site that you have since upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark II, and I am contemplating a similar upgrade (from Canon 50D to the 5Dii) and was wondering in terms of (1) a macro lens and (2) a ‘multipurpose’ lens, what you use with your 5D. Do you still use the Sigma 50mm macro, or did you switch to an 85 or 100mm (since the 5D now has no crop)?

    1. First, an apology to anyone above who has photo questions unanswered. I am very VERY overdue to update this post, but am up to my eyeballs in toddler and a cookbook manuscript and it keeps getting pushed back. Suffice it to say, this information is out of date (well, not the approach, but the equipment, not that I really think it matters if you hone your craft on a point-and-shoot or very basic DSLR, and yes, I still think it’s silly that people think they need a very expensive camera to take decent photos).

      I have been shooting with the 5D Mark II for a few months. I got it because I really need a full-frame camera for the cookbook, I otherwise would still be happily shooting with the 40D, which I had yet to tire of. I’ve been shooting with a 50mm almost exclusively for the last 2 years, about half the time with the 1.8 and the other half with the 1.2. I only use the macro occasionally, not because I don’t like it but because it was just a shift in tastes for me, where I’m less interested in close-ups.

      I’m in the market for a new wide-angle (our “starter” wide angle has been good to us, but it was purchased as a “starter” so that we had permission to upgrade it when we felt it was time; I ease slowly into investments), mostly for travel. It’s going to be a long time before I have a kitchen that has any wide angles to take in!

  96. Deb, I am renting this wide angle for a vacation of ours, Tokina 11-16mm f/ 2.8 every review I have read says its an amazing lens for its price point approx. $599, rent it and play with it and see if you like it too!

  97. Hi. Thank you so much for the tips. I have been practicing for some time now with my Rebel XT1i and also the speedlite 430 EX flash. Can you please advise me what camera setting to use with the macro lens 50mm f/1.8. i have all three and cannot get a good combination. my macro lens is not focusing when i am close and when i use the external flash it looks horrable and NOT well lit!!!
    i am using AV mode setting aperture to f 4.5 or 5.0 and sometimes P mode where it sets aperture on its own.
    Looking back at one your good shots using the 50mm lens and external flash, what settings were you using?
    Thanks!

    1. You just have to play around with it until you get the photos you’re looking for. The room, the light source, the object you’re photographing, the look you want… they’re all variables that would be different for me.

  98. Every photo is so WOW.I love to scroll it up-n-down so many times.Very Nice.
    Absolutely delicious! I just moved to a new and discovered a local fresh food market so popped in a picked up a your ingredients. Such a fresh, light and easy meal!

  99. nice photos! i have the 5D Mark II as well. which picture style do you use? did you make any adjustments to the default contrast and saturation? i also notice that you are deliberately under-exposing your photos… do you then brighten them up on the computer to bring out the colors? really admire your tasty cooking as well as photos!

    1. I make adjustments to contrast and saturation, although not in these photos here. (They’re contrasted from the flash I used back then.) I deliberately underexpose. You can’t recover blow-out digital spots but it’s fairly easy to lighten photos.

  100. I drool over your photos…some photos I come back to over and over. So I have just purchased an insanely large house and need some artwork for the dine-in portion of my kitchen, I am thinking 3 or 4 in a larger size. One picture I know I have to have is the poached egg on toast above. I have been perusing your photos for purchase site slowly and trying to decide a few others. I was wondering though if it would be feasible to have them printed on canvas? Thanks so much and can’t wait for the book!!!

  101. Hi there, I stumled upon your lovely blog and I’m really impressed.
    I love all of your recipes and food photos and I’m so happy to have found you.

    Thnaks so much for the tips about food photography…just a Q. How do you manage to make the background of your photos to be blurry, I love that, and I’d be so grateful if you’d be so kind enough to tell me how you do it. Is it a function in the MENU of the camera or it’s a matter of lenses…and which kind of lenses for taking a blurry (bokeh) background.

    Thank so much for your time.

    Look forward to your replying,
    All the best,

    Betty

    P.S. I’m buying my first DSLR this week and I wouldn’t want to spend my money without having the desirable result. I need so desperately this info. Loving your blog/recipes and art food photos so much!!

    1. betty — You’ll find that the blurring/sharpening is easy with DSLRs, it’s one of the big things they do differently than point-and-shoots. By controlling the aperture, you control how much is in focus.

  102. Thank you so much for the tips. I can cook with my eyes closed but I have so much to learn about photography. I do have a Canon but I don’t have that macro lens you mentioned. I will be sure to look into that. Keep up the amazing work. :)

    Sugar

  103. Love your site. And as a brand new blogger, I appreciate the photography tips. One little question. I love the action shots–pouring, stirring, lifting the fork. Do you have a way to shoot them and provide the action yourself or do you need someone else to do the pouring, stirring or lifting while you shoot?

  104. Oh..okay. Just found the link for prints: nevermind me :) although the ones you have now are stunning, some pastry shots would be lovely too! (your cake and cookie pictures are always mouthwatering.)

  105. Hi — just found you blog via Saveur (congratulations). And my initial response to it was “This must be somebody who worked for Gourmet or Saveur or Bon Appettit or one of the other big epicure magazines — the photography is too good they must be having a professional do it. Congratulations!! And thanks.

  106. Hi Deb, I’ve been reading you for years now and can’t get enough! I’m doing the research looking to upgrade from my old canon powershot that has traveled around the world with me, to something better–something I can use to shoot food, so I’ve been reading the photography stuff on all my favorite food blogs. But, I have a little one on the way, so I’m wondering what opinions/preferences/insights you might have on the proper camera! There must be equipment out there that will make shooting still-life up-close food and busy little boys a breeze! Maybe soon you will have a chance to update this post—there must be many more of us out there with similar interests!

    1. I don’t think that there’s a such thing as a proper camera. I (still) think that the creative process goes on completely outside the machine. That said, there’s a big jump in the quality from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR camera, but as for which one you start with, I think it’s completely up to your preference. Still, I know people who shoot amazing, amazing photos on their food blogs with point-and-shoots and even with just iPhone cameras! So, there’s no need to get caught up on spending a lot of money on a camera, just getting the most from the one you’ve got.

  107. Dear Deb,

    You are officially my hero. I have been enjoying your blog for a long time and have always appreciated your photography, so when I started my own blog (a 365 blog focusing on making things every day) I came to you to see if you have any tips on taking photos. And I found THIS post! How amazing! I’ve been dabbling in photography for a while because I have an Etsy shop, but I always take those photos in the daytime when I have great natural light. Now with my new blog, I need to learn how to photograph at night, which has been such a challenge. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all this information. It’s very difficult to find information like what you provided here, especially the equipment details, so I really appreciate this!

    Sincerely,
    Jeanne

  108. Oh my god, I own almost all of this stuff! How did this happen? I’m looking to start my own cooking blog soon. It’s truly my passion and my photos have disappointed me for a long time. I finally bought a used canon rebel, and it turns out that my Dad has some of the same lenses AND the speedlite flash. This is so exciting! Also, your photos have long been an inspiration to me and your style is amazing. I need to learn some stuff about taking pictures…I feel like I have a very creative eye, but now that I’ve gotten the camera I’ve dreamed about…I’m not so certain how to use it.

  109. Hi Deb, thanks for all the info. I only have a point and shoot. I cannot hold a DSLR (wrist injuries). Am I right that only DSLR’s would produce good quality food pictures? Are their any P&S you could recommend?

    Thanks!

    1. I don’t think that are DSLR is a prerequisite to taking good food photos at all. It does some of the leg work for you, but it cannot make an average photographer a good one. I don’t, however, have any experience shopping for p&s, or none since I bought one 7 years ago. Sorry I cannot be more help.

  110. This is so helpful!! My pictures have definitely been improving but I’m light (no pun intended!) years away from adequate lighting and styling. This will definitely help me move forward.

  111. Love your post and honesty. I have been a commercial food stylist for many many years working with top food photographers in Chicago and abroad. In the past few years I stepped behind the lens doing editorial and lifestyle images. You are so right on all counts about how to get good at photography. Take many pictures. Live and breath it and really analyze your shots as an art director would. You need to have a sense of style of your own.
    Equipment does not make the photographer. Even though we all want the best.
    I learned on the Nikon D40x and took some great shots with it!

  112. Thanks for this post. I have been turning the idea of a food blog over in my head the the last 6 weeks and was close to deciding against it for a variety of reasons, all of which boil down to money – money for hosting the site, for ingredients, and most importantly, for camera equipment. I don’t even have a cell phone camera.

    Which brings me back to the “thank you” portion of this overly long comment. I didn’t know you could rent camera equipment. And looking through your site has helped me to understand that there isn’t necessarily a “right way” to take pictures or run a food blog. So… thanks.

  113. Hi Deb,

    Thanks for this post! One of the most helpful tip I’ve ever received… not even exaggerating. I tell everyone now and I bought the exact same lens for our 7D. It makes a world of difference.

  114. Six years later this post is still very relevant. Thank you for making sure it’s still around for people like me to find when visiting your site and poking around through old posts!

  115. Love your photos, love your food! Would love to purchase one of your prints (Bubbles) but it seems to only be available in small sizes. Any way to order bigger prints??

    1. Thank you. If it’s only available small, it’s because the original photo was shot very tiny (we might even be speaking of a phone photo, if it’s the one I’m thinking of) so there’s no bigger original available — and quality would be compromised significantly if enlarged. I always upload the biggest size I have. Sorry I cannot be more helpful.

  116. I’m with you on how composing your photos could make a huge difference. It’s not about how expensive or fancy your camera is. You could take amazing pictures with even an iPhone! and no one will be able to tell! It’s all about composition and making the food look irresistable! Love all the tips!

  117. I am writing a piece on you for my Social Media class presentation at PSU in Portland, OR; my conclusion on why you are not only a successful food blogger and lovely person seems due to your candid and thoughtful nature as well as your ability to personally connect with your readers.

    I can’t wait to tell my class about you and why they should follow your blog for a cozy read – quite a talent to fill one’s senses with delicious photography and recipe directions that make you salivate.

    This post as well as the information you provide in your FAQ about Food Blogs and how to start out was concise and inspiring to someone like myself. I have been hesitate to post to you due to the flood of comments you must receive, but after reading this I couldn’t leave without doing so. Thank you for sharing Deb, been an avid reader since you wrote about my childhood favorite – Zuni’s Roast Chicken, SF (2008).

  118. The most recent pictures of the avocado salad cups were so dazzling that I had to wend my way to this post on your approach. The beguiling simplicity of your methods and your results is both reassuring and maddening to those of us who have the patience of a Mayfly, and you continue to raise the bar.

  119. I am fashionably late to this post, but I have followed your blog for years. Your romescu potatoes recipe is my go-to and I made your apple cake on a few occasions and it’s always been a hit!

    As a now-new-blogger who basically just learned how to turn on my camera, I appreciate you taking the time to write this. Thank you!

  120. Its an inspirational post for the amateurs. Most of the food bloggers use Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens then what’s so special about Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens? Can’t we make close-ups with the former?

  121. cherie — Well, first, this is a bit outdated as I haven’t used a macro lens in years. But, macros are optimized for close-ups in ways that 50mms are not. From 2009 to today, I’ve pretty much used a 50mm 1.2 exclusively.

  122. Thank you for this write-up – I echo all the above compliments on your photos. What tripod(s) do you use?

  123. Caps — Thanks. I do not use a tripod. I mentioned that I did for a bit, but switched for a while to a speedlight flash instead, and after that, I started shooting during the day in a kitchen way too tiny for a tripod. So, these days I use a quick lens (50mm/1.2) and natural light.

    1. Lauren — Nope, not in years. It’s great for nighttime photography — we bring it to parties and for family photos at holidays — but I’ve been working full-time on this site since 2008, so can easily shoot during the day, and only use natural light. Sorry this is a bit out of date!