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How-To Tuesday – How to take good food photographs


My Sister Stie started a meme two weeks ago on her blog, A Few of My Favorite Things. It’s called How To Tuesday, where you post on your blog on Tuesdays a step by step, sharing how to do something for others to learn.

Today I am going to teach how to take awesome food shots with any camera.

Step 1. Turn off the flash. It focuses its light too harshly, washing out your image, creating ugly contrast between your subject and the usually out of focus background. It also creates nasty shadows and is generally evil. If your a mobile food blogger, please turn off your flash in restaurants. My wife and I were celebrating our seven years anniversary over some lobster and a party two tables away was snapping photos every 2 minutes with full flash on into my eyes all night. It took all my strength not to start a fight.

Nice contrast courtesy lots of natural light and no flash. The black background of the dutch oven provides great in situ contrast.

Step 2. Open the window. Natural light is the way to go. Especially if you have natural light only on one side. The natural shadows of a side lit shot give the shot depth and good contrast. If you don’t have a big kitchen window like I do, get a posterboard and reflect the natural light off the board to your food. Practice angling it to get good contrast without washing out your image.

These Aebleskivers wouldn’t look so yummy if they weren’t lit by huge amounts of natural light.

Step 3. Know your camera. You don’t need the best camera on the market to take nice photos. Lately, I’ve been using my phone’s camera to take the shots. About 5 megapixels is fine for web resolution. When you get into the 10 megapixel cameras on up, it gets pricey. However, you probably aren’t shooting photos for a billboard, so you don’t need the extra resolution. *Hypocrisy Notice* I use a 10x optical zoom, 10 megapixel camera. It’s a Canon SX120IS and it is the best camera I’ve ever had. It’s not a DSLR, so no exchangeable lenses, but it has a lot of manual features that come in handy for specialty shots. I don’t do anything more than put it on auto and shoot most of the time. The optical zoom is key here, which brings me to the next step.

This deep fried turkey pr0n was shot with a 5 megapixel camera phone. Looks good, doesn’t it? It was.

Moving the camera too close to the food when hot results in this. No, its not out of focus, but the lens has been blasted with steam.

Step 4. Fill the frame. Aerial photographs are for Google Earth, not food shots. Fill the frame nearly complete with the plate. We want to see the saucy food pr0n in all its glory. If your camera doesn’t have an optical zoom, move the camera to its closest focal distance that fills the frame. If your camera has a digital zoom, DO NOT USE IT! Digital zoom is a gimmick from the camera manufacturers that solved a problem with software and not actually putting better optics in your camera. That way they can advertise that a camera with no zoom at all has a 10x zoom. This is kinda true, but its super dishonest to the average consumer. If this is the case for you, just move the camera closer and start saving for that new camera.

Zoomed in so close we can see each precious grain of curry spice.

These cucumbers look tasty, and the flowers give the photo perspective.

Look how much more dynamic this shot is. You can actually see the details of the sugar on the edges. Both are good photographs, but this one captures the details better.

Step 5. Make it pretty! Got some fresh parsley? Throw it on the side as a garnish. Use fabric napkins instead of your Disney Cars printed paper towels. Pull out grandma’s china. Wipe drippy sauce bits off the edge of the plate to make it look nice. If your going to put it on your blog, you might as well make it look nice. If your at a barbecue, make it look like your at a barbecue… the goblets wouldn’t fit in here. Instead, put your paper plate on the standard red and white tartan tablecloth. Keep it authentic.

Showing the candles and cloth in the background fill out the shot. The hand makes it human, personal.

Step 6. Don’t take more than 3 shots. You’re hungry, the steaks are getting cold, and your family has started eating. This whole process should take less than a minute. Don’t set up a tripod unless you’re shooting this for a magazine. Get in, get it done, and eat. Don’t take more than 2 shots in a restaurant, and NO FLASH!

Step 7. Process your photographs. I do all my processing in Google’s Picasa. It’s free, simple and powerful. The “histogram” that is generated from your photograph is the key here. This graphs the exposure of the shot, and a perfect exposure spans completely from left to right.

This screenshot shows the histogram prior to processing:

And the after shot:

Notice the gaps. This is because the software has to stretch the available pixels over the complete range of color. If you try to process a really dark photo, it will be very grainy. It’s trying to interpolate the missing pixels, and it does its best.

The tool inside Picasa is called “I’m Feeling Lucky”. It works most of the time. A few other things to change are the contrast, color and fill light if needed. Look at the photo, not the histogram. You’ll know when it looks “right”. If you use Picasa, make sure to hit the save button before uploading or your edits don’t make it to the uploaded image.

These guidelines will help you take nice photos, but remember–they’re only guidelines! Except that one about the flash. Seriously, put some duct tape over that flash bulb! Enjoy, and post up any other tips that you have about photography in the comments!

Bon Appetit! The Outdoors Start at Your Back Porch!

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  1. Great tips! Beautiful photographs. I'm a contributer on This is sure to help my photos. Thanks.

  2. Love the tips. Photography definitely isn't one of my “things” (yet?). I'd love to take a class someday, but in the meantime, it's nice to get some tips. Thanks a lot!

  3. Thanks for playing along!!! I am so happy you did this. And a fabulous post, too. Excellent tips, brotha!

  4. Thank you so much…I found this not only interesting but informative. We do food shots for our website so I can't wait to check out the Picassa. I saw it a few weeks ago, but now that I know what it's about I can't wait to try it. Thanks for posting. 🙂 e

  5. My best tip is learn how to get a custom white balance with your camera. The tints from various light bulbs and even various natural lighting conditions changes what white looks like. Even a good point and shoot camera can offer custom WB settings.

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