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 lens 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.
recipe: cute blueberry hand pies
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.
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!
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.
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 lens 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 lens, the 1.8/50. This is a lens with fixed focal length. If I wish to zoom something, it is me who has to move, not the lens. The advantage of this type of lens 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 lens, 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 lens, 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
#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.
#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?
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.
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.
#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)
So what has helped you? Do you have any further tips you would like to share?