Simple Food Photography Tips for Bloggers

Let’s be honest. It isn’t the ingredient, temperature, or method of cooking that draws you to click on a fabulous dessert or entrée! It’s the photo!

The ultimate goal of a blog is to gain readership. A surefire way to lose readers, no matter how great your recipe, is presenting them with unappetizing photos. With the introduction of Pinterest and other similarly styled sites, you don’t stand a chance without a respectable photo to refer traffic. According to Mashable, Food is the fastest-growing category (sitting at #4 behind Home, Crafts, and Fashion) on Pinterest, which is a site that relies on 100% VISUAL user-generated content.

You don’t have to have a million dollar lighting set-up, a super expensive camera, or a degree in photography to improve your shots. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way by studying photography that inspires me and taking loads of bad photos. I’m still learning as I go.

Lighting

Natural light, hands down, is the best light to use with food. What happens if you work full time or have a great dinner to share and have to capture your meal after the sun goes down? The “no fail” solution is the Lowel Ego tabletop light. This lighting kit is a piece of cake to set up (about one minute), lightweight, easy to move around, and is affordable at $143. It includes bulbs, the lamp, and a bounce reflector board that is far sturdier than the piece of foam board that I used to use. You can literally take food photos at night that appear to be taken near a window in full daylight.


The Lowel Ego ready for a shot of a cinnamon bun.


The result.


These macarons were also taken using the Lowel Ego.

Pre-prep

Some food is beautiful before you cook it, particularly produce. Be sure to capture your ingredients in their purest form, if appropriate. Just make sure your food on display doesn’t have any brown spots or other imperfections that will degrade your photo.


The beautiful color of these blueberries and strawberries are front and center with bright natural light and a shallow depth of field.

Prep

A culinary creation does not go from an idea to a pretty plate, so document how it really happens. There are many steps between that can add to the visual interest of your blog post! Food prep shots can be important to show your reader how to execute a complicated step, which can be far more effective than explaining it in words. The in-between steps also help you craft a story, rather than just posting a recipe.


“Spread the topping sporadically and roll the crepe tightly” is far more clearly shown in a photo.

A few photos of prep are simply fun, a nice aesthetic addition, and can help the recipe feel doable.


Though cutting parsley certainly doesn’t need a visual, the unique writing on the cutting board made a worthy shot that conveys a mood.

Garnish!

What if your food is all white? Or all brown? Or just looks a wee bit muddy or lackluster? Be creative and garnish to add some color and break up large areas of solid color. Examples of adding garnish could be adding a lemon to the top of a lemon cake, snipped basil on a bowl of alfredo, or ripe berries on the plate of a piece of chocolate cake.


This Bourbon hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream is incredibly tasty, but looks a little blah.


Adding chocolate shavings gave dimension to that big white blob of whipped cream.


Even though spinach is green, this final product is dull.


A red pepper and some parsley add some color to an otherwise neutral photo.


Spinach Dip

Angle

Most of us have a bad habit of wanting to always shoot something at the angle we see it. Change your view and change up your composition! A unique angle can make a dull photo more captivating.


Peach Bourbon Jam


Pickles

Depth of Field

Aperture is a critical tool to master no matter what you are shooting. In fact, I usually put my camera in Aperture mode when photographing food. If you want to focus on one specific thing while softening the rest of the objects in the frame, you’ll want to use a low F-stop. If you want everything in the frame to be sharp, use a high F-stop.


f/11


Let’s say my recipe in this case is for the lemon whipped cream. I’d want to highlight the cream as the focal point, as shown in this picture. In this case, I used f/2. If I went lower (the lens I used goes down to f/1.4), the cake and compote behind would be too soft. Overall message: a shallow DOF can help tell the story on the plate, but do use a very shallow DOF with caution.

Boosting Color

There is no shame in bumping up the color to add a subtle pop using your software of choice. You can simply increase the saturation, but that doesn’t always work well because it increases the saturation of everything. I find the best tool to be the HSL sliders in Lightroom. Keep in mind, you don’t want the final result to look unrealistic, but you want to make it appear as it does when you view it with your eyes. Jackie DiBenedetto created a super video on color editing in Lightroom that will help you.


This berry compote over pound cake with lemon whipped cream didn’t draw my eyes to the deep berry color as it did in real life.


With a slight adjustment, the berry color looks more vibrant.

Include People

The most fun part of creating food is sharing it with people, so include them in your story when you can.

A Few Last Tips

  • Grab a shot of food on the table if you can, even if it is partially consumed (as long as it still looks good). Food is real and people digging right in is a good thing!
  • A pretty placemat, dish, or surface can make a good photo great.
  • Don’t get hung up on perfection. Food isn’t perfect, lighting isn’t always perfect, and sometimes the only equipment you may have is a cell phone camera. Just go for it.


This display of asparagus was beautiful and had to be captured, even though it was partially consumed.


This is a shot of blueberry lemon cake from an iPhone and anything but perfect (grainy, blown out, visible curtain seam, red wall visible), but I liked the feeling of it.

Just keep trying and whatever you do, do not put your camera in auto mode. Your pictures won’t be what you want them to be and you won’t learn. I recommend checking out some online food photography classes. The more you improve, the better your blog posts will be.

What are your favorite food blogs? Share them with us in the comments section below!

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    • Rather a useful guide. I would add that when you don't have lights with you, which would be 99% of the time if you are taking a picture while eating in a restaurant, improvise. Find the best light you can and use napkins, tissues or whatever you  can find as reflectors.

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    • I really enjoyed your tips for shooting food because they are explanatory without losing objectivity. I agree with you about the amount of light on the object to maintain the natural colors that can be revived with a minimal retouching (Lightroom, Photoshop and others). I have another important tip: Never shoot food hungry. Hungry people lose emotional control when they're in front of a nice and appetizing plate of food. In Brazil, we have many blogs of food photography. I like http://www.blogsdeculinaria.com/. It is in the Portuguese language of Brazil. With a little bit of goodwill and a good online dictionary you can use the information posted. Best regards. Roldao.
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