The Gleeful Gourmand: January 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

Behind the scenes of food photography

I've been working on my food photography now for close to three years. I went in to it absolutely kicking and screaming, though I knew in order to have a good blog, and more importantly, a good looking blog, I should have some pictures to break up the text.

"But I'm a writer!" I'd say to anyone I'd talk to about it. "I'm not a photographer! I'm definitely not a food photographer! I'm all about the words!"

"Suck it up. Do it anyway," a very kind, wise, and beautiful friend told me. Only your best friend can be that blunt with you and get away with it.

What she showed me is that with the right camera, and minimal equipment, I could get better at food photography. So after my old point-and-click camera died, I invested in a DSLR, my beloved Canon Rebel T3i. I thought, all my photo woes are over, because now I have the perfect camera!

Not quite. Turns out there's a lot more to food photography than just a great camera. This isn't going to be a blog post tutorial, so don't worry, you're not in for a lesson. Believe me when I say, I am NO expert. But I have improved greatly over the years (if you don't believe me, I challenge you to check out the archives where you can laugh and laugh and laugh at my terrible food photos). But what I am going to do is give you a few tips, and what I've learned.

But before I give you my tips, I thought it would be fun to show you what it looks like "Behind the Scenes." I get some compliments on my photos from time to time, and I always laugh and say, "If only you knew what it looked like outside of that close-up!" To prove my point, here are some photos I recently did for Trolley House, a RVA-based break room vending and catering company.

What the set-up shot looks like - I did this one in our guest bedroom because the light was perfect in there, and I had a side table I could use. The backdrop is a black foam board, propped up by a framed picture. Yes. I'm all sorts of equipment fancy up in here. The light reflector is a white foam board I cut in half and taped with duct tape, which allows me to angle it any way I want:

And here you have a peek into what my kitchen looked like after I was done prepping their food (about 6 items total), because food photography is half about the technical stuff like equipment and light, and half about how you prepped the food to make it look its very best.

Here are a couple of the photos, after they've been edited:

You'd never know I was crouching beside the guest bedroom bed to get these shots, or that I had knocked over the framed picture holding up the backdrop and it shattered. These were freelance work I was doing, but I wish you could see the utter madness that I deal with when I'm shooting normally for this blog. Because I need the light, I often have to shoot the food when my kids are around, and boy-oh-boy, is that fun. Someday soon I'm going to have my husband snap a picture so you can see the complete chaos of 3 kids trying to "help" me with props and photography.

So here are some lessons learned, a few tips if you're just getting started:

1) Invest in a good camera, like a DSLR. Learn how to use the manual settings like ISO and shutter speed, and turn off that flash! Camera flash is the enemy of food.

2) You don't need to invest in a lot of extra equipment - as I mentioned, I use things I found at my local craft stores: foam core board, poster board, etc. For the "wood surfaces" I went on Etsy where I found a pack of vinyl mats with that design. Bonus? They're easy to clean if they get messy.

3) Natural light is food's best friend. You may think that since you have a fancy camera you can take great pictures at dusk or at night. But unless you have a  specific natural light box like this one, you're not going to get the shot. Plan to photograph your food in either mid-morning sun, or late afternoon sun. Plus, the sun is much cheaper.

4) Play with your food! Yes, really! I play around with all the food I photograph, and shoot it from multiple angles, sometimes with props, sometimes not.

5) Practice, practice, practice. I probably take 50 shots of a single dish or food that I'm photographing. It's because I've taken literally thousands of pictures of food that I'm finally able to get the shots I want today.

6) Read up about it! I found two excellent books that really helped me understand technical things like blocking, lighting, the rule of 3s, etc: "Food Photography for Bloggers" by Matt Armendariz (my fave!) and "Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots" by Nicole S. Young. These also helped me gain a better understanding of editing as well. Plus they're gorgeous to look at.

I hope this helps! Most of all, have fun with it. It has truly become a hobby (and now a job!) that I really love and have fun with. When the food you worked so very hard to create comes out looking stunning in the photos, it's so worth it!