Ask Culinary Cory: Food Photos

Basil

Your photos always look amazing.  What’s your secret?

Darius T. Williams of Everyday Cookin’ asked me once to share some food photography tips to help him improve the photos on his blog.  Since I believe great food photos is about 80% of the success of a food blog.  I couldn’t wait to include these tips in the Ask Culinary Cory series.

The Camera: Unlike some of the other blogs out there, I actually don’t own an expensive camera.  Since I really want to keep my blog budget under control, I thought it would be best to try to work with something I already own.  My camera is an Olympus FE-340.  It only cost me about $150 on sale at Best Buy.  It has all the settings I need to adjust the photo to exactly the way I want.  The settings I use the most are the built in food setting, macro button and light filter.  The light filter is the most important; it helps reduce the yellow some types of light give off.

Lighting: I NEVER use my flash.  It just washes things out.  I try to take my pictures using as much natural light as possible.  I have a corner in my home office with windows on two sides.  It is the perfect spot to light the food and highlight the colors.  Sometimes, it’s too dark to take pictures in my home office.  So I switched the light bulbs in my kitchen to be energy efficient bulbs that simulate daylight.  With a simple adjustment on my camera, pictures taken in my kitchen are just a great as in the daylight.

Food Styling: I have had the privilege of working with many fine chefs over the years.  In the process, I have learned several valuable tips on how to make food look amazing to the customer.  The biggest thing I do is select recipes that show a lot of color.  And if it’s something that might not have enough color, I add it as a garnish.  You have also noticed I only post one or two pictures per post.  That’s because I would rather focus on getting a couple of really good shots than have a ton of ok cooking photos.  I believe no one really cares about seeing a raw piece of chicken or a messy counter of ingredients.  They just want to see the pretty result of my efforts.

Tripod: When I started taking food pictures, I found my hands shook too much to get a clear photo.  So I invested in a table top tripod from Walmart.  This was the best $12 I have ever spent!  I use it on all of my photos because I get a clear picture every time.

Photoshop: As I mentioned before, I’m a marketer by profession.  This also means I’m trained in graphic design and can use Photoshop pretty well.  I would strongly recommend you invest in learning Photoshop before buying an expensive new camera.  Its amazing how vibrant your colors come out, once you have mastered the software.  You can buy Photoshop Elements at any store that sells software.  It tends to run about $100 bucks.

Why the photo of a basil plant you ask?  It is one of my most favorite herbs and a great example of why I love food photography so much.  I love the richness of the color and the texture of the leaves.  Now the tables are turned.  What are some of your suggestions for brilliant food photos?

Authors Note:  This blog post is part of a series that answers a few basic cooking questions I have received in the past.  Feel free to learn more about the series by checking out Ask Culinary Cory: The Series.  You can also check out the first post called Ask Culinary Cory: Brown Sugar

Comments

  1. says

    Cory,
    I’m so thankful that you mentioned learning Photoshop Elements. I was on my way to buy a $400 (used) Canon DSLR when my only reservation was that I’m not so technically inclined to use it just yet. I think you’ve just saved me a ton of money and frustration by calling to a more practical reality- learn the software first.
    I’m forever grateful!

  2. Josh says

    Great tips. One I’d recommend is finding a lower, “non-natural” angle really helps the artistic value of food photos. When taking a picture, don’t stand above it and shoot it like you are about to eat it. Get down and more intimate with it. I feel it helps in getting a more defined shadow angles and brings out the texture more.

  3. says

    I am not a professional photographer, but as an artist I think of myself as something of a design expert. You gave some of the best tips I have seen on taking indoor still life pics. I don’t have a fancy SLR, either, so I usually do some of the same things that you do. Other things I do that I noticed in your pics is the cropping. It is never very interesting to have the subject smack dab as a spot in the middle of the photo. It makes for a solid photo to have the edges outside of the frame, and even better if the subject hits two different sides of the photo edges.

    Also, the neutral colored cookware helps to make the food look more colorful. I can’t stand opening food magazines and seeing food on bright red, yellow, or blue dishes. The colors outshine the food.

    For some more info, google elements and principles of design. Then use those ideas to translate into your photographic compositions.

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