Good food and cooking has been a love of mine almost all of my life, but food photography is a passion that has bloomed slowly in the past few years. I’m a creative soul with a drive to share knowledge and teach what I love, and to me, one of the best ways to communicate the essence of a good dish is to let it shine as much as it possibly can through a picture. We live in a digital, visual age, and although I grew up learning how to read a good recipe simply by looking at ingredients, I think what draws people to cook these days is how good the recipe looks on a blog or in a cookbook.
When I graduated culinary school, food photography was not really taught, and I’m not sure if it is now included in the curriculum, but I really think it should be. Food photography can be such a dynamic way to draw people into your blog, your business, your restaurant, or even just show a side of yourself to your friends and followers on social media.
Good food photography skills are like good writing skills, and possibly just as essential for any blogger, cookbook author, or chef. Food photography has a grammar, style, and structure of it’s own, and also tells a story without saying a word. But where do you learn these rules? General photography lessons can only take you so far, and there is a LOT to be said for just trying it out on your own and seeing what works and what doesn’t by personal experience.
I’m so excited because this week I am teaching a local Intro to Food Photography Class at Whole Foods Market in Virginia Beach. However, I got so many comments on my Instagram account from people who were not local to Virginia Beach, expressing regret that they couldn’t make it. So I have decided to do some posts about food photography tips, and these are the first Seven Secrets that I am going to explore in my photography class:
- Simple Food Props
Let me get straight to the main point: in most situations, food looks best on a white plate. Cute designs and colors can be fun, but if your plate is too busy on it’s own, it will definitely be too busy with food on top. See the two pictures up top? Both are of eggs, and both are pretty, but honestly the eggs on the white plate look best. The teal plate that I got from Target is really pretty… but it takes away from the food I was trying to capture.
I shop for simple inexpensive white porcelain plates at Ross, Homegoods and Marshalls, and I usually never spend more than $10 on a plate or platter. Sure, the plates at Athropologie are beautiful, but I’d rather spend my money on quality ingredients and save on the plates. The eye needs white space, and think of your plate, bowl, or platter like the matte in a frame for your picture.
Also, choose a bigger plate than your food so that enough of the white space shows well. See how this big plate frames my Almond Meal Pancakes well?
You might be telling me, “But Katy! A good picture needs color!” and you would be right. For color, you can use fresh herbs, a lime, a pretty tea towel, or my personal favorite, a snazzy vinyl background. Yes, the secret is out folks, I LOVE my vinyl photography backgrounds. My favorite vinyl backdrops are from Swanky Prints.
- Remove One Thing
It can be tempting to put lots of props in a photo, but when you don’t think your shot is perfect (or even when you do,) remove one thing and see if the shot isn’t greatly improved. I originally had a pretty cloth napkin in this shot above from my Go-to Balsamic Vinaigrette, but it was competing too much with the other elements. I took the napkin out, and this is one of my most “liked” photos on instagram.
As far as photography trends go, less is WAY more. Minimalist is the bees knees, and honestly it just doesn’t have to be all that complicated. You know how when you really like a guy, you play it close to the vest so as not to scare him away with too much affection? Photography is like that. You may have tons of adorable props in your collection, and lots of great styling ideas, but don’t use all your tricks in one act.
- Scotch Tape
This one is super simple… but surprisingly awesome. Wonder how some people get those awesome arial shots, but your food keeps moving around? Scotch tape it.
This awesome vintage spoon balanced on this bowl of Eastern European Influenced Tripe and Sausage soup? Yup, I used scotch tape to make it stay.
These eggs? Some of them are made to stay in place with scotch tape.
- Food Doesn’t Have to be HotSauces, gravy, dressings and syrups and such run less when they are cold. True story. Soups? Those definitely don’t have to be piping hot. In fact, if they are too hot, the steam can fog up the shot. My House Rub Wings were definitely not hot when I was photographing them. Plus, you don’t have to shoot the food the same day you make it. Make a great dinner, with enough leftovers to shoot the next day, and you can warm it just enough to make it photograph well.
- Follow Great Photographers on Instagram for Inspiration
Athletes try to play with other athletes that are better than they are, and for a good reason. Surrounding yourself with talent makes you learn and pushes you to be better than you are currently. Find some great photographers, and try to emulate them and learn from their teqniches. Oh, and by the way, don’t limit yourself by only following people who eat the way you do. If you follow a specific diet, of course follow people who isnpire you with their food. But just because you eat gluten free or vegan doesn’t mean you can’t follow people who do eat gluten or who eat meat. I also like to follow professional photographers who are not necessarily food photographers, because you can always learn from different genres.
You can check out this post for ten Instagramers to follow who take great foodie shots. Want to find more? Check out who those people follow, and find some you’d like to emulate.
- Tell a Story
A good photograph is like a good story. It has a main theme, it has movement, it has depth.
You can use fabric to create movement, like in this Instagram shot above of Roasted Winter Veggie Medley where I use a draped, fringed tea towel.
You can use ingredients scattered around to tell the story of the dish, like how I used some of the ingredients from this salad when sharing a Tahini Lime Honey Dressing.
Shadows create depth, so if your photo seems flat, make the room darker by closing the shades some, or pulling a curtain.
- Learn the Techniques of Manual Photography
Like I just mentioned, when I hop on Instagram, the people I love to follow most are the truly talented photographers. I want my feed to be full of beautiful images I can learn from, and to some degree, I think that really started when I started following Trisha, of Eat Your Beets.
I “met” Trisha while working for another blog, but when I saw her instagram profile, I was blown away. Every. Single. Shot. was absolutely stunning. She has a minimalist mindset, and she has mastered the art of natural light. Her blog is also filled with incredible photography, and engaging posts and recipes.
After working with Trisha on a guest blog post project, we became blogger friends. I really see her as my mentor, and she has been so helpful, kind and genuine with her guidance on all thing photography and blog related
She has just released her eBook, Eat Pretty Things, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The wonderful thing about this ebook is that it is a wealth of information that you can start using immediately, no matter your level of photography skills.
Even if you are still taking foodie photos with your phone, Trisha can help you make them the best they can be, and when you are ready you can delve into manual photography. She makes it easy and approachable.
For me personally, I have been shooting in manual mode for about 6 months, so “Eat Pretty Things” was a great refresher course on shooting in manual mode, but from a specific food photography perspective, instead of just a general photography perspective. I also instantly learned things I could apply to my photography, as well as some tips on a better lens specifically for food photography, and a light I can use for night shots when I can’t take advantage of natural light.
What’s great about the lens, is that they make it for a variety of different camera brands, so even though Trisha shoots with a Nikon, I can still buy the same lens she uses, but for my Canon.
So that’s it for my first Seven Secrets to Food Photography! I”ll be scheduling more classes in the Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads Area soon, but I will also be posting more photography posts here for those of you who don’t live in my area.