How to Take Better Pics: Food Photography Tips from a Newbie Food Photographer

Hi I’m Amy and I’m a newbie food photographer — if we can even call me that.

Until I started blogging, I honestly did not give food photography a second thought. I loved looking at pictures of food but little did I know how much work went into making those photos look beautiful. Well then I started taking pictures of my food. Oh gosh. What a headache. The food didn’t look good, it was too zoomed in, it was too dark, too bright, too busy.

How could I improve my pictures? What did I need to do? Camera, tripod, staging area, lighting, dishes, napkins, placemats, props, angles, texture, editing? That’s a lot of things to think about when I just want to eat the food before it gets cold.

Here’s a little secret: practice may not make perfect but it certainly makes improvement.

As I was going through some of my older recipes I realized something: my photos have actually gotten better!

Example…

Fruit & Oat Muffin Tin Delights (June 7, 2013)

Oat Fruit Muffin Tin good

PB & J Baked Oatmeal Cups (January 30, 2014)

PBJOatmealCups1

I’ve learned a lot and I’m happy with my improvement – p.s. I’m in no way looking for praise or validation, just trying to help a blogger out :)

And guess what? You don’t need an expensive camera, fine china or to be a computer whiz. I photograph with my iPhone 5, buy dishes from the dollar store and don’t have Photoshop. As of right now, this works for me. I thought it might be helpful to share what I have learned over my months of frustration, I mean joy, of taking pictures of inanimate, yummy objects.

1. Lighting is everything. 

Seriously. Natural lighting is your best friend. I had no idea how important this was but I am telling you it is EVERYTHING. Good lighting makes a picture. Bad lighting can ruin even the most delicious looking plate. Find a spot (see tip #2) in your house/apartment where natural light streams in. I photograph all of my recipe pictures by the windows in my kitchen between 12pm and 1:30pm (the optimal brightness time). So if I make a recipe on Wednesday night that means I might have to wait until Saturday to take the pictures then only post it on Monday. Patience –> See tip #6

Food Prep Jan 19, 2014

2. Make a photography station.

Yup do it. I know my parents loveeee my little spot that I’ve created in our kitchen… thanks guys… but having a spot to shoot all your pictures with a good surface, background and natural lighting is really helpful. I keep my plates, napkins, cutting boards etc. nearby so I can photograph accordingly. I use a small white table from Ikea and a three panel project board from Staples. That’s all. –> See tip #3

Photography station

3. Keep it simple. 

This works for me. I used to use all different colored plates, placemats, napkins, you name it. I think this is great if you have the tools (camera, tripod) to make this work. The iPhone can’t focus or zoom like other cameras so having lots of props doesn’t really turn out well. I have since resorted to basics: white plates, white background. The food is ultimately the focus not the pretty placemats. Edited to add: I have since found success with simple food props. 

Chicken fingers1

4. Try, try, re-make and try again. 

The first way I set-up a plate/bowl/photo-shoot does not always work once I start snapping the pics. I often need to switch up how I arrange things until it looks good. A lot of times I also re-make recipes to make them prettier. Time consuming? Yes. But I love to see the finished product that I am then proud of. Patience –> See tip #6

5. Edit.

Pictures need to be edited, almost always. I use PicMonkey, which is free (unless you choose to upgrade) but the free version does the trick. You can do so many things to a picture but I mainly adjust the brightness, shadows and exposure. I also add text and sometimes images. Have fun with it!

Baked Cranberry Oatmeal6

6. Patience is a virtue.

Yes it is kind of annoying to wait until the morning to photograph a recipe when I just want to do it right then and there. Yes it is kind of annoying to re-make a recipe just to make it prettier. Yes it is kind of annoying to touch and re-touch all of the components on the plate. But (to me) it is worth it. I rarely spend more than 10 minutes on a “shoot”: I set up and then take anywhere between 10 and 25 pictures. A little bit of patience with yourself, your surroundings and the food goes a long way in creating a piece you are proud of.

Black Bean Veggie Burgers5

7. Don’t let comparison steal your joy. 

Finally, this is supposed to be fun. I used to compare my pictures to other bloggers’ pictures all.the.time. What good did that do? Spoiler alert: none! Your photos should be just that: yours. Make them the best you can make them. Spoiler alert #2: They will never be perfect.

Comparison Steal Your Joy

My latest project is re-taking recipe photos. I’ve started to go through some of my older recipes to do just this. Like, my egg & banana pancake.

Before: 

Coconut Banana Pancake2

After:

Coconut Banana Pancake-update

Food photography certainly takes time and a whole lot of patience but in the end it is very rewarding.

Questions of the day…

Bloggers: Do you work hard on taking recipe photos or is it not your thing? Do you have any other food photography tips? 

Readers: What is appealing to you in food photos?

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36 thoughts on “How to Take Better Pics: Food Photography Tips from a Newbie Food Photographer

  1. Great tips girl!! I totally agree with all of them – and I need to edit my pics more. Usually, I just upload them as they are – oh patience.
    I figured that it looks delicious if I cut my food (like muffins, pancakes) and the inside/consistency is visible. That makes one want to take a bit right away :-)
    Besides that, I love your pics. So clean and simple – perfect.

  2. Ahh I’m trying to work on this on a weekly basis, but the lighting (or lack thereof) is making it difficult! I basically rely on the weekends to get all of my photos (well, food photos). But YES to not needing to spend a ton of money. My photography station looks a lot like yours haha and it works!

  3. Love all your tips! I need to go make myself a photo station using cardboard like you! I also want to rephotograph some of my old recipes too!

    Such a great post and your photos have definitely improved! I loved your pb cups ones!

  4. Luckily (?) for me, I’m not good enough at recipes to have to worry about recipe photos very often. However, food photography for other purposes (ig, WIAW, etc) has been such a struggle. I know you aren’t fishing for praise, but while I always thought your photography was great, I have definitely noticed an huge improvement lately! And while it may be simple, I LOVE the white on white. Your pictures always look so crisp and it makes me want to steal food off your plate. ;) I think the first thing I need to do is man up and make a photography station. I was trying to hold out until we move (when I have big plans for a workout/yoga photo area too!), but I need something for now. Thaaank you for sharing these!

  5. Very good tips. I do not worry about my food pics too much because I rarely share a recipe, it’s usually just a random photo of my dinner. I always wondered how bloggers made their pics look so perfect, and I can see they are prob following your steps- especially that photography station! That’s genius!

  6. I was just talking to my husband about this the other day! Great post. Thank you for sharing these tips. And your photos do look great, I am totally impressed with your progress and can’t believe you do that with an iPhone!

  7. Ahhh I needed this post! Such a great post! I could not agree more with your opening paragraphs! I was exactly the same, and I still learn more every day! This is going to be so helpful! Thank you Amy :)

  8. I needed this! Thank you for this post…after seeing you and Davida’s posts on food photography I’m pretty convinced I need some sort of photography station set up in my kitchen….the background of the table isn’t really the best. Thanks again!

  9. I’m soooo not a photographer, so I just do the best I can! I have an iPhone 4 (not even the S, I know…) and have maybe 60 seconds to get pics in so I can eat and get out to work. Natural light rarely happens this time of year because it’s dark when I’m eating breakfast and dark when I’m eating dinner haha. Gotta give major props to the iphone though, I totally want the 5 now!

  10. I need to set up a photo station…what a great idea.. I use my kitchen table mostly because it gets tons of natural lighting! great tips though, thanks I can always use them

  11. These are some great tips Amy! I’ve definitely been trying to improve my photography skills over the past few months. I think they’ve gotten better since I first started blogging. I also got some pointer from a friend who’s a photographers, so that’s really helped too.

  12. Great tips, and I love your photos! I’d say I’m somewhere in between – I’ve started trying to improve my photos a bit and caring a bit more, BUT the idea of waiting 5 days to photograph something just to get natural light kind of makes my head spin. This is the perfect post because I was going to email you this anyway – last night I was looking for some photos of omelets to use for a guest post I was working on, and obviously there are many millions of photos of omelets, but no matter what search terms I used, your photos seemed to pop up in search results so frequently!! I tell you this for 2 reasons: 1) you must be doing something with SEO/ photo labeling/ something that’s over my head, and 2) your clean, simple, white plate/ white background style is WORKING because I absolutely knew which photos were yours before even clicking on them. I didn’t end up using your photo because I was actually looking for something with a lot of grease :).

  13. This is such a great post! I’ve always loved your food photos (seriously your instagram…ahh) so your tips are super appreciated! Living in Seattle, it’s REALLY tough to get good lighting. During winter we don’t really we the sun, so natural light isn’t even an option. I wish it were though! When I visit California I always take a ton of food pictures to stock up! Also, your white backgrounds are totally on point, keeps the focus on the food!

    xo

  14. I don’t share many food pictures because I pretty much suck at it!!! Usually, I try to take a picture right before we sit down to dinner as a family – teenage boys aren’t that into waiting while I get a good shot – maybe I could fix a plate and take the picture after we eat.

  15. so glad to hear I am not alone in using my iPhone & such great tips ESPECIALLY #6! I have yet to make a photo station but think it will be something on the horizon!

  16. I LOVE that you actually showed your backdrop. I never really think about what goes into getting those nicely lit pretty food pics, except that I know my photos never end up looking like that! I love them, and it makes me want to make more of an effort to create quality shots.

  17. I love your tips! I am also a newbie. I love the idea of keeping it simple! I sometimes buy pretty plates and napkins when they go on sale but the idea of keeping food the focus is great. I will definitely be making one of those photography stations!

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