10 Beginners’ Tips for Food Photography

I have been taking pictures for about a year now and my passion for food photography is just beginning. I am definitely not a professional, but I love my camera, which is a Sony Nex7, this is not a DSLR, but a mirrorless camera. Mirrorless cameras are cheaper, easier to handle and perfect for me. So far I have bought one more lense and a tripod, that’s about it. I have often been asked whether I have some tips for beginners of food photography. As stated, I am not an expert, but I would like to present to you some practical tips, which really helped me during my journey. These are my down-to-earth tips. Let’s see:

#1 Take pictures and then take some more

It is so easy to get lost in tutorials and Youtube videos. But if you want to improve your photography, you actually have to take lots and lots of pictures. Period. You will only get better over time and if you practice regularly. Try to set a realistic goal. I, for example, set the goal to take pictures of at least one recipe every Saturday. The idea is that I take pictures of which I can use five for my blog. Sometimes I feel that the pictures will turn out beautifully. This was the case with the blueberry hand pies you see below. It was so much fun taking them! On the other hand, taking pictures of the apple roses cake was a pain. I took four times more pictures than for the pie until I was finally satisfied. Sometimes you may lose your mojo. I most certainly do. But the trick is to stick with it and just continue. You will not be perfect, but praticing regularly is key. On average I take pictures for half an hour. I don’t know why, but usually I get tired after that. If I had set the goal to take pictures for two hours, I probably would have given up. Be realistic setting your goals and then take pictures regularly.

Blueberry Hand Piespeed shutter: 1/100, ISO: 400, aperture: f4.5

recipe: cute blueberry hand pies

Apple Roses Cakeshutter speed: 1/10, ISO: 400, aperture: f5.0

recipe: cake with apple roses

#2 Only take pictures in natural light

Do you seriously believe that your food will look delicious with strong shades in artificial light? I sometimes wonder why so many food bloggers complain about the restrictions of taking pictures in natural light. I live in the north of Germany, in Hamburg, and believe me, I feel like half of the year I can’t take pictures due to bad lightening. But natural light is key for food to look great. For that reason check out the light in your apartment. Take pictures in every room close to the windows including your bathroom. Check which room offers the best light and in which room your food looks great. You will be amazed as to what difference you see. I now only take pictures either on our balcony or in our bathroom. Our bathroom has a frosted glass window, which creates a very soft light. The light is super important, you need to know which rooms serves you and your food best. Once you have found the room with the best light, take pictures of your food regularly right there. You will soon know when and how your foods looks great.

monster cookieshutter speed: 1/125, ISO: 400, aperture: f3.2, shot on our balcony in warm evening light

recipe: monster cookies

#3 Take pictures in manual mode only

Yes, I know. I am soooooo slow when I shoot in manual mode. I wish I were faster. But I promised myself never to use automatic again. If you really want to master your camera, you need to know exactly what it is doing. Therefore you have to shoot in manual mode. I know it is a pain, but it is so worth it.

We do have a big advantage as food bloggers: food is very patient. I can easily move my cakes and cookies and don’t have to worry that they may look different or that suddenly change expression. You can move your cake for a hundered time and you can quickly change the colors of the background. Use that to your advantage!

Schokoladenküchlein mit flüssigem Kernshutter speed: 1/100, ISO: 400, aperture: f3.5, heart rate of Jenny: 220 as the lava doesn’t stay lava for long

recipe: molten lava cake

#4 Focus on one parameter when you shoot

Shooting in manual mode can be overwhelming. For that reason I found it helpful to only change one parameter at a time and see what it actually did. If I change aperture what does this actually mean? If the number is low, this means that a lot of light can enter, if I close it and the number gets higher, less light can enter. Just change aperture and see how that changes your picture. Believe me, you will learn in five minutes what you tried to understand in theoretical tutorials. Keep in mind that only one parameter should be changed. Once you understand what this one parameter does, you can start also changing others. Little by little you will be able to master your camera and to actually decide how and what you want to capture in the picture.

Chocolate Cupcakeshutter speed: 1/60 ISO: 200, aperture: f7.1

The aperture was closed a lot, considering that you can see so much bokeh (blurred background). This has to do with the fact that the pictures was taken in summer around noon. If I hadn’t closed aperture, it would have been overexposed. Keep in mind that this is a close-up of the cupcakes. If I had opened the aperture more, too much would have been blurred and very little sharp and in focus.

recipe: the best chocolate cupcakes

#5 Buy the standard lense 1.8/50 and learn to use it

For about a year all pictures you see on my blog have been shot with my favorite lense, the 1.8/50. This is a lense with fixed focal length. If I wish to zoom something, it is me who has to move, not the lense. The advantage of this type of lense is that it usually is much more sensitive to light. So if you have really bad conditions, the camera will still take beautiful pictures. I also like the fact that the camera “sees” the same way we do with our eyes in the sense that the distance is similar to the objects. For that reason I find it intuitive to use and handle. Since it is the standard lense, regardless of the brand of camera, it is relatively cheap. I bought mine for EUR 200 and don’t regret having spent that money. I am currently considering buying a macro lense, but I highly recommend buying this one and actually learning how to use it. Below are two pictures shot with the 1.8/50.

Left: shutter speed: 1/160, ISO: 1600, aperture: f2.2, right: shutter speed: 1/60, ISO: 400,  aperture: f3.2

recipe: whisky chocolate cake with caramel

#6 Follow blogs, people on Instagram or magazines who you really like the pictures of and imitate them

It may sound profane, but imitate pictures you like. The picture you see below is based on a picture by my favorite blogger Sally. In my opinion imitating is a powerful tool to get better quickly. I do follow blogs because I love their photography. One of them is this one. You can also check out Pinterest for pictures. If you are currently shooting a recipe, quickly do some research on Pinterest. Let’s assume you want to take a picture of the recipe below. I would either look for “meringue” or, to be more exact, “Pavlova”. Check two to three pictures you really like and then just imitate them. Check composition, not only the food-props, but which angle to take. You will quickly realize that there are certain compositions that work for a cake, but they won’t work for a cookie or a cupcake. Soon you will have a repertoire and will get faster and also better.

pavlova with lemon curdshutter speed: 1/100, ISO: 200, aperture: f3.5

recipe: meringue nest with lemon curd and whipping cream

#7 The food itself is what should look mouth-watering

I know that this depends on style, but especially at the beginning it is crucial to focus on making the food itself look mouth-watering. Many make the mistake and focus on food-props and the background. But if your food doesn’t look good without it, it will not look that much better with all the additions. I am not talking about something simple such as using a spoon or a kitchen towel. But I sometimes have the feeling that some bloggers believe that if they just use a lot of deocration, it will somehow make the food look better. Look at the picture below, other than the food you only see a white plate, white background and a tablecloth. That’s not that much, but don’t you just want to grab a piece and bite into this deliciousness?

torta de fiambreshutter speed: 1/50, ISO: 400, aperture: f 5.6

recipe: Uruguayan pizza

#8 Buy chipboards and glue on foil or similar

Don’t spend too much money on backgrounds. Chipboards are easy to come by. Try to go for a size of 60x60cm or even 80x80cm. You can glue on foil, wallpaper or even tiles. Below picture was taken with a black cardboard box that was glued on a chipboard. Costs: EUR 5.

Black Forest Cakeshutter speed: 1/10, ISO: 400, apeture: f6.3

recipe: classic black forest cake

#9 Use old clothes as food-props

Go through your closet and check what you can use as food-props. Old jeans, shirts or something with wool (ugly Christmas sweaters), kitchen towels, etc. all come in handy when you wish to add a little touch to your picture. Below picture was taken with blue bed sheets as the background. Costs: EUR 0.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Raspberry Curd and Chocolate Ganacheshutter speed: 1/25, ISO: 200, aperture: f2.8

recipe: chocolate layer cake with raspberry curd

#10 Take pictures of the same recipe after a few months

You have the feeling you are not getting better? Your pictures still don’t capture what you wish to capture? Then I have a tip for you. Bake/cook a recipe you took pictures of a while ago and retake fresh pictures. Do you see any difference? I found it very encouraging to see that I had indeed improved. It really is encouraging and it motivated me to continue taking photos. The same recipe, once shot in May 2017 (top), once in March 2018 (bottom)

recipe: my favorite chocolate chip cookies

So what has helped you? Do you have any further tips you would like to share?

Photo by Daniel Cuervo

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Steffi
    Thursday April 12th, 2018 at 02:51 PM

    Ein ganz toller wertvoller Artikel! Insbesondere den Tipp, nur einen Parameter zu verstellen, um die Kamera zu verstehen, ist super. Auch die Fotos sind echt appetitlich. Meine Foodfotos sind bisher immer Marmeladenglasfotos. Ich liebe es, Marmelade zu kochen.

    • Reply
      Jenny
      Thursday April 12th, 2018 at 02:59 PM

      Hihi, du bist ja lustig! Ich bin technisch immer noch am Anfang, aber erst einmal einen Parameter zu verstellen hat mir sehr geholfen.

  • Reply
    Isabella
    Thursday April 12th, 2018 at 04:13 PM

    Das sind aber tolle Tipps! Ich fotografiere selbst noch nicht so lange, mir macht es aber total Spaß und ich lerne bei jedem Mal etwas dazu. Seit neuestem fotografiere ich nur noch manuell. Hatte erst etwas Bedanken, weil es sich immer so kompliziert angehört hat, aber es ist teilweise echt intuitiv. Dein 10. Punkt ist übrigens eine sehr gute Idee, dass werde ich tatsächlich mal probieren 🙂

    • Reply
      Jenny
      Thursday April 12th, 2018 at 04:23 PM

      Danke, Isabella! Ich finde es wichtig, dass man dran bleibt! Es gibt immer zu lernen, aber mir macht es auch total Spaß! Freut mich und bleib dran!

  • Reply
    Melissa
    Thursday April 12th, 2018 at 11:14 PM

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing! I have just recently learned to use the manual mode on my camera. And yes, practice, practice and practice. I have a 50mm lens that stopped working (AF mode is stuck), I think it’s time to get it repaired. 🙂

    • Reply
      Jenny
      Thursday April 12th, 2018 at 11:18 PM

      Hey Melissa, happy to hear you are excited about food photography. I really love my lense, it does take great pics. Yeah, probably you should get it repaired!

  • Reply
    Sabrina
    Friday April 13th, 2018 at 02:38 PM

    Liebe Jenny,
    das ist ein sehr schöner Artikel von einem Anfänger für Anfänger.
    Wenn man schon ein Weilchen dabei ist (>3 Jahre Food Fotografie, > 8 Jahre Fotografie allgemein) dann sind manche Dinge so selbstverständlich geworden, dass man sich gar keine Gedanken mehr darüber macht.
    Punkt Nummer 4 zum Beispiel ist gold wert. Mit Ruhe und Geduld erstmal die Grundfunktionen des eigenen Equipments kennenlernen. Ganz wichtig 🙂

    Auch die Objektivempfehlung kann ich nur unterstützen. Das perfekte Anfänger Objektiv, das dank der offenen Blende und des schönen Bokehs richtig Lust aufs Fotografieren macht. (Ich habe zwei solche Exemplare schon auf dem Gewissen^^)

    Punkt 1 und 10 sind auch ganz entscheidend. Ganz viel üben und ausprobieren UND sich seinen Fortschritt immer wieder vor Augen führen.

    Ich finde deine Fotos übrigens sehr schön und hätte nicht gedacht, dass du erst seit einem Jahr richtig dabei bist 🙂 Bin sehr gespannt, was da noch so kommen wird.

    Bis dahin liebe Grüße,
    Sabrina

    • Reply
      Jenny
      Friday April 13th, 2018 at 02:51 PM

      Liebe Sabrina, danke für deine ausführliche Antwort und netten Worte! Ich bin auf jeden Fall mit Begeisterung dabei und war selbst erstaunt wie viel ich mir schon mitgenommen habe. Grüße, Jenny

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