One of my big goals for my site this year was to improve the pictures that accompany my food posts. Starting with my Anna Q. Nilsson recipe, I started using more professional techniques and equipment and I wanted to share a few things that I learned along the way.
Quick disclaimer before starting: I am very far from being an expert and I am still new at this. This isn’t a guide for food photographers and there are many skilled food photographers and bloggers who know a ton more than I do. These are just a few things I learned along the way as I pursued my goal of making my food photos somewhat more professional.
Small Things Make a Difference
Stating the absolute obvious here but I was surprised at what a huge difference it makes when I use quirky dishes, cute cupcake liners, extra garnishes, etc. Of course, the trick is not to use props and dishes so loud that they overpower the food.
Holes in My Armory
I tried to buy every basic prop I thought I would need before starting out but some oversights only become obvious once you start photographing. For example, I purchased white, tan, pale yellow and petal pink tablecloths and got some black foamboard that I scraped with chalk for a dark background. But what I didn’t account for was my need for a light, cool-colored background. I just corrected that oversight with blue, teal and lavender tablecloths.
Professional Food Photographers Have Different Needs Than Food Bloggers
As I was reading food photography tips, I realized that the pros had very different goals. They have clients who need the food to look boffo and they use things like sponges and pins to make things perfect.
I feel that food bloggers have more of an obligation to authenticity. The most I will allow would be fake ice cubes in drinks because GOOD LORD, lights are hot. But I think the food in the pictures should look basically like what you actually made.
Of course, some pro tips are still great for amateurs. For example, the advice to keep the broth to a minimum when taking pictures of clear soup is most excellent and keeps soup pictures from looking boring.
Chintzy is Good
A few years back, I went to see a display of Star Wars costumes in person and was struck by how cheap and unimpressive they look in person. The reason for this is film costume designers are constantly working with an eye to what will look great on the screen. They may not look like much in person but they are showstoppers on the screen and that is what matters. (Lillian Gish had a battle with Erté on this point. He was too literal-minded and thought that just because a costume WAS cheap, it would LOOK cheap. Not so.)
I was similarly impressed by how an inexpensive plate and a polyester tablecloth can look pretty spectacular with the right light, props and camera settings. I am still learning to think like a camera but I am enjoying the journey.
Tell a Story
The single best piece of advice I ran across (I don’t remember the source!) is to tell a story with your food. Don’t just take a picture of the plated meal, show the empty plate, the cooking pot, the first bite. It creates a more dynamic look and makes the photography more intimate and inviting.
So, that’s what I’ve learned so far. I hope to keep improving and bringing you more vintage celebrity recipe goodness!
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