The most necessary skill for anyone who wants to be a successful food blogger is the ability to make food look delicious! You need to convince your reader to get off their computer and cook your recipe tonight! The best way to do that: beautiful food photos. I’m not going to lie– creating the perfect food photo is as difficult as it is necessary. Lucky for you, I started out with zero photography knowledge, but a passion for learning as much as possible. The 3 tips I’ll share with you are ones that can be implented straightaway, so you can take better looking food photos by tomorrow!
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The top food bloggers and magazine editors make creating mouthwatering food photos look effortless! But, the truth is– it’s hard! It takes a lot of work to create that perfect-looking plate of food that convinces your reader that YOUR recipe is what’s missing from his/her life. There’s lighting, props, angles, lenses, and don’t even get me started on the editing process. One single beautiful photo can take hours of work.
When I started my first food blog, A Bite of Inspiration, back in 2016, my food photography was a mess (read about more about A Bite of Inspiration here). I’m not even kidding– it was horrible. I lived in a tiny basement apartment with almost no natural light and I kept my camera on constant auto mode because I didn’t know what else to do with it. And guess what? My inexperience showed. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the first food photos I’d ever taken below.
Not great right? The lighting, the coloring, the saturation– it was all wrong and my blog was suffering because of it. I knew I had to do something and FAST! My recipes were delicious and I needed my photos to reflect that. I started doing research and brainstorming ideas to make sure my next post had better photos than my last. I picked 3 of the easiest, most actionable steps, and guess what! My photos improved drastically in just one day!
Here are the photos I took the day after doing the 3 steps. Huge improvement right?
It would take months of practice for me to improve to the point where I am now, but these 3 easy steps gave me a huge jump start! Seeing how much I could improve in just one day gave me the drive to keep working toward better photos. This is where my photography is today. I’m now getting my food photos accepted to magazines, submission sites, and other publications. Pretty good for someone who’d never picked up a camera before 2 years ago right?
This post gives you the actionable steps you need to improve your food photography in just one day, so your next recipe post can look better than your last one. If you follow these steps exactly, I guarantee you that you will see a difference (and your readers will too!)
I need to point out though that this is a short term solution. Your photos WILL look better from just the 3 steps below, but if you want to continue to improve and grow, you have to be willing to practice and keep learning. These steps will give you a huge head start and advantage, but it will only take so you far. At the end of this post, I list out some tips for improving your food photography in the long term, so you can keep getting better! Let’s keep the food photography world beautiful. 😉
P.S. Although these tips are mainly about photographing food, they can applied to any kind of photography!
1. Photograph in Natural Light
This was the single, biggest game changer for me. Unless you have light boxes or some other form of photography light that you can control, natural light is your best option. As I mentioned above, I lived in a basement apartment with almost no natural light when I first started my blog and my photos were terrible. They had a yellow tinge and tons of unattractive shadow.
So, I started taking my food photos at my parents house (thanks mom and dad!) It made all the difference. I started photographing by a large picture window in the house and the pictures looked completely different than in my dark, artificially lit apartment.
The most important and simplest step you can take to improve RIGHT NOW is to move by a window or glass door. Some photographers even set up outside. Just get away from that icky, yellow light from your desk lamp and do it now! I promise, you’ll see the difference.
2. Take your Camera Off Auto
So, if you’ve been photographing on auto mode this whole time, this step will terrify you. I totally understand– it terrified me too! But, it makes a huge difference in the quality of the photos. Yes, your camera is smart, but you’re smarter! You can do it. Show it who’s boss.
Here are a few simple guidelines for taking your DSLR off Auto mode:
- ISO, shutter speed, and aperture make up what’s called the “exposure triangle”. These are the settings you control in manual modes (explained below). ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. Shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is open. Aperture (calibrated in f/stops) is the opening of the lens diaphragm through which light passes (think of it as the “hole” inside your lens). These three settings affect the brightness of your photo. The goal is to balance them out to get the perfect exposure.
- There are three manual shooting modes:
- Manual: This is what I generally use. With manual mode, you control all 3 exposure settings: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
- Aperture priority: With this setting, you control ISO and aperture. The camera will select the shutter speed.
- Shutter priority: With shutter priority, you choose ISO and shutter speed. Your camera selects the aperture.
- When you increase ISO, it allows you to capture more light without slowing down shutter speed or opening up aperture. These three settings need to balance out to give you the correct exposure. I learned this as “zeroing out the meter”. Even in manual modes, your camera still guides you to the correct exposure. If you point your camera at your subject and press the shoot button halfway, you’ll see a meter in your viewfinder. You’ll usually see -2 and -1 on the left and +1 and +2 on the right with a marker in the middle. Your goal is generally to have your exposure lined up with the middle marker.
- Here are the general rules:
- Aperture: lower numbers let in more light and give the background more blur (i.e. f/1.2 would be super bright with complete background blur)
- Shutter Speed: slower speeds let in more light (i.e. 1/2 sec would be super bright and the subject would be blurred)
- ISO: lower numbers are darker because the sensitivity is low (i.e. ISO 25600 is super high and the photo would be pixilated)
These are a few basics to get your started, but there’s a lot to learn when taking pictures from a manual mode that goes beyond the scope of this post. There are whole articles and books on this subject. Do your research and practice! Keep testing out different settings until you find what works for you. Also, keep in mind that there is variability between cameras and you should always consult your user manual before making changes. P.S. Would you like me to write a more detailed post about manual modes? Comment below and let me know!
Here are a few good articles about manual modes, if you want further details:
- Getting Off Auto- Manual, Aperture, and Shutter Priority modes explained
- Perfect Exposure Every Time: A Guide to Metering in the Viewfinder
- Get Out of Auto: How to Use Your Camera’s Shooting Modes for Better Photos
Note: If you don’t have a DSLR yet and you’re serious about food photography, consider investing in one. I use the Canon Rebel and I’m obsessed. It’s easy to use and takes gorgeous photos. Plus, I’ve had it since 2013, so it’s super durable.
3. Read the Tasty Food Photography eBook.
The last, but super important step, is the Tasty Food Photography eBook. by Lindsay Ostrom of Pinch of Yum food blog. Pinch of Yum is an extremely popular food blog with stunning food photos. This book changed my life!
This book is 63 pages of pure, practical goodness. Literally everything you need to know about food photography can be found in this book. I read it in about 2 hours and, right away, I saw a difference in my photography. This book has everything! Lindsay goes step-by-step through the manual basics (translation: more tips for getting your camera off auto mode). She also offers amazing tips on lighting, props, and composition. She even has video tutorials for Lightroom and Photoshop included (these Adobe programs are must-have editing tools for serious photographers!) And yes, she offers tips for taking food photos on your cell phone if you don’t have a DSLR. If you want to improve your food photos in one day, this book is an absolute must! It’s helped me in so many ways and I still consult it regularly even today. The Tasty Food Photography eBook was one of the first and the best investments I made as a blogger. Make it yours too! 🙂
Tips for Improving Your Food Photography in the Long Term
If you’ve followed the three steps outlined above, you’ve likely seen a huge improvement in your food photography! Congrats! Now it’s time to take the next step! Here are some of my best additional tips for improving your food photography in the coming weeks, months, and years:
- Practice, practice, practice! This might not sound super exciting, but if you really want to improve, it’s your best option. I took over a 100 photos a day for months until my photos looked the way I wanted them to. And, I’m still practicing today. There’s always room for improvement and the most successful photographers realize that.
- Invest in the right equipment. A good photographer needs good equipment. If you’re serious about food photography, you’ll need to make some investments. My two favorite DSLR lenses for food photography are the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Standard & Medium Fixed Telephoto Lens . The tripod I own is this one here. I purchased lenses about 6 months after starting food photography. These lenses are necessary for close up, detailed pictures of food. I bought the tripod about 8 months after I started. A tripod is necessary to photograph at certain shutter speeds (if you hand hold your camera at a speed longer than the reciprocal of your lens focal length, you’ll get shake). All these tools improved my photography drastically and allowed me to create different kinds of photos that I couldn’t before.
- Learn Photoshop and/or Lightroom. Learning to properly edit your photos is as important as learning to take them. I personally use Photoshop, although lots of photographers prefer Lightroom. Both programs are from Adobe– check them out here!
They are crucial for serious photographers of any kind. The Photography Plan
starts at just $9.99 a month and includes Lightroom, Photoshop, and 20 GB of cloud storage. This is the plan I personally use and it’s a great deal! Adobe also offers awesome discounts for students and teachers.
- Take classes. Another great way to improve your photography is to take classes. A lot of photography studios, community colleges, and schools offer inexpensive classes for learning photography. I took several classes at a nearby photography school, including DSLR Basics, Photoshop for Photographers, and a Food Photography workshop. These classes taught me the skills I needed to be a successful photographer.
- Don’t give up! Photography can be frustrating. Some people have a natural knack for it– I am not one of those people. I struggled daily and I still struggle sometimes. But, when I look at how much my photos and blog traffic have improved, it makes it all worthwhile. I’m not the best food photographer in the world and I never will be, but the important part is that I take photos that are appealing to me and the audience I want to reach.
Good luck! I’m so proud of you for taking these steps to become the best food photographer you can be! I know you can do it. 🙂 Have questions? What other photography related posts would you like to see on the blog? Comment below! I’m here to help.