When I started this website back in 2009, my blog was mostly a food journal with a few quick recipes thrown in here and there. There was no pressure to take pretty pictures, which was a good thing because photography was actually one of my worst subjects in college. (And it was a requirement for my Illustration degree!)
Over the years, blogging has become more popular and newer blogs have popped up with gorgeous food photography– so the pressure to be a better photographer has definitely increased. After all, we eat with our eyes first! I knew that if I wanted to keep this blog up, I’d have to step-up my photography game so that my healthy recipes would look just as appealing as the mainstream recipes you see on social media.
It’s taken a lot of time for me to figure out what works well in regards to food photography– especially while working another full-time job– so I thought I’d share the equipment and tips that have made my life easier. I’ve been able to narrow it down to just 6 things, and I’ve listed them in the order that I feel they are most important, so you can prioritize as you go. I hope it will help any of you looking to improve your photography skills, too!
1. A good lens. I think the lens you use is more important than the camera body you use, so I’d consider it your top priority when upgrading your food photos. A good lens automatically makes your pictures look SO MUCH BETTER, without changing anything else. Seriously. It can be a night-and-day difference from using a standard point-and-shoot camera or your iPhone. The lens I use most often, for both family pictures and food pictures, is my 50mm lens. (Also called a “nifty fifty” by photographers.)
What I love about this lens is that it creates a “blurry” effect, also called bokeh– keeping a single object in the foreground sharp, while creating a beautiful blurred background. It’s also extra fast at capturing shots, so it’s perfect for trying to catch a child’s soccer game or any other action shot. (Though keep in mind that it has no zoom function, so you have to physically move your body to get the picture your want.) Food typically doesn’t move, so that makes it easy to shoot.
2. A good DSLR camera. The most common two DSLR camera brands are Cannon and Nikon, but I actually prefer Sony because it’s slightly cheaper (as are the lenses) and the quality is just as good, if not better. I bought this Sony A57 model in used condition, and it’s still going strong. If you want to go with another brand, the Canon Rebel is a good starter model that won’t break the bank. I’d personally buy the camera body without a stock lens, so you can save money towards buying a better lens, like the one I mentioned above.
3. Photography surfaces. I always wondered where other bloggers and photographers got such lovely surfaces, and then I discovered Erickson Woodworks. They make beautiful double-sided boards that I use as backgrounds for most of my food photography, so you’ll see their work all over this blog!
4. Indoor lighting. Many photographers will argue that natural lighting is best, and for years I used a sunny window as the light source for my photos. This is a HUGE step in the right direction compared to using your home’s overhead lights, and it’s great if blogging is your full-time job and you have the luxury of taking a picture at any time of the day.
However, if you work another full-time job or are distracted with kids, it can be challenging to catch a “good window” of natural sunlight. My photography game totally changed once I bought these Lowell Ego lights. They are a little bit pricey, but they are totally worth it when you see how much better your photos can get. Photos are much more crisp when you have good light (like the Make Ahead Vegan Lunch Bowl pictured above), and the special bulbs used in the Lowell Ego lights are cool enough to give you a daylight feel.
5. Learn how to shoot in manual mode. I embarrassed to say I’ve owned a DSLR camera for nearly 7 years now, and I only just learned how to shoot in manual mode this year. I didn’t think it would make THAT much of a difference in my photos, so I never made it a priority, but now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. It wasn’t until I attended Lindsay’s Pinch of Yum Photography Workshop this past summer that I mastered shooting in manual mode, and I feel like my photos were noticeably better almost immediately.
If you can’t attend one of Lindsay’s workshops in person, she offers a Tasty Food Photography E-book which can help get you started. (The photo above was taken during the workshop!)
6. Lightroom. Since I work in Photoshop during my day job (illustrating greeting cards), I’ve always been most comfortable using that software to edit my photos, too.
However, I tried Lightroom for the first time during Lindsay’s workshop, and I was amazed at how much faster the editing process can be! Lightroom is MAGIC for photos. Sure, you could probably get the same effect using Photoshop, but it will most definitely not be as easy or as intuitive. (And this is coming from someone who has been working in Photoshop for nearly 16 years!) If you want an easy way to edit and perfect your photos, get Lightroom.
Equipped with the tools above, I feel like I’ve seen a huge improvement in my food photography over the years. Like most things, practice makes you better, and photography is no different! The only way you’ll get better at something is by doing it over and over again, learning as you go.
As you can see from the photos above, my style and skills have definitely improved over the years. That poor lasagna pictured above needs a photo makeover ASAP! (Really, all of my posts prior to 2012 need a little attention… please excuse the mess if you go back that far in the archives.)
I hope this post will help any other budding food photographers and bloggers looking to improve their food photography. Let me know if you have any more questions in the comments below!