Have you had breakfast yet? No? Let me warn you then, you are about to become very hungry if you aren’t already are. I’m talking about food photography on this month’s Muse University post. If you gave me a choice to shoot anything I wanted I would choose food. Most people love to eat it but I find few people actually ENJOY photographing it. In the past couple of years I have really tried hard to shoot food in all kinds of conditions including restaurants, kitchens, farmers markets and my own table. I cook often so it was a natural marriage of cameras and mixing bowls. Have you ever created something you wanted to photograph every angle of it until you could document it no further? Me too but my creations were always edible. Hundreds of bad shots later I slowly began to take note of what was working. Here are my top 10 tips that have helped me create some delicious looking food shots.

1. Always go with Natural Lighting for the shot. If you can, get right up to a window that faces the same direction as the sun. If the light is too strong use paper towels taped to the glass or hang a translucent piece of white fabric. I use a light weight shower curtain that I hang on the existing rod to filter out direct sunlight.

If its too dark I will add simulated outdoor light and white boards or a gold reflector to help fill in dark areas.

2. Make sure you are using the correct White Balance. This is huge. White balance is essential in not only making your food look appetizing, but it affects contrast and detail. You can use your in camera WB settings or a simple gray card. If you are really particular about getting it right like I am, there are gadgets like the ExpoDisc ($99) for use with your camera’s custom white balance setting. You can read more about the disc and how to use it on my blog the modchik.

The expodisc comes in various sizes, this is the 77mm. I used it to correct the color below.

3. Add Visual Interest. Add tablecloths, place mats, linens, place settings or glasses to give the photo a more realistic and balanced look. Flowers or part of the ingredients in their natural state surrounding the dish look nice. Remember no one likes a lonely bowl of soup. In the photo below I used a circular patterned napkin from Crate and Barrel because they not only look sharp they reemphasize the round shape of the bowl.

Be careful of your backgrounds, I had a bright window in the background, could have diffused the light to avoid the blue spot.

4. Use a clean background you want the focus to remain on the food. If you need to cover the table top try black muslin, you can create some nice curves and shadows with the fabric. Check for remnants at the fabric store avoid shiny or reflective fabrics.

5. Get in CLOSE. From far away this muffin looks like your average baked good. Zoom in on this mouth watering zucchini muffin and you reveal it’s been rolled in crispy toasted coconut.

Zoom in close enough and you also blur out the fact that this muffin sits a top a fancy paper plate.

6. Slice it and dig in. You want the viewer to look at that photo, mouth open, ready for a mouthful. Food looks lifeless when it just sits there untouched. Leave some crumbs around evidence of its irresistible deliciousness.


7. Use f/16 as a starting point. I will admit this is a new tip for me. I recently attended a workshop from the husband/wife team House of Brinson (take a moment to go over and feast your eyes on some of their food photography, amazing, go ahead I’ll wait). One of the first things they suggested, was to shoot at f/16. This way everything will be in focus from crust edge to crust edge. Of course when you are shooting at this small of an opening, the only way you are going to get a crisp shot is with a tripod. Another trick to help still your camera, turn on Mirror Lock. Most cameras will let you do this through the control panel. When you turn on this feature, the mirror will flip up upon the first depressing of the shutter release, then you press the shutter release a second time to actually take the photograph. Doing this gives the camera time to settle after the mirror flips open. Its takes a little while to get used to pressing the shutter twice, but I find it helps me get quiet and settled when shooting. The mirror lock disables in Auto mode on my camera (Canon).

8. Get out the tripod. If you read #7 this needs no further explanation, but here is another tip from the Brinsons, if you need to get an angle with the tripod where the camera is leaning more to one side, you can fill a water bottle full and slip it into a sock and attach to be used as a counter weight. Look for tripods that have hooks already attached for weights. Even in the darkest of light you’ll be able to get your shot.

9. Rack em and stack em. Instead of plating one cookie, give it some visual pizazz by turning your Toll House cookies into the leaning tower of Pisa! Als, add height to the back of the plate, bowl or in this case the rack, this way you are able to see more depth. With such a shallow DOF on the holiday cookies, it is harder to tell. So, if you wanted all the cookies sharp, tilt the back end higher, close down your f-stop to f/16 and get your tripod out (basically tips 7 through 9).

10. Stay away from fried food. Trust me, it’s really hard unless you have some good supporting actors next to it like this rack of ribs. In most cases fried anything by itself ends up looking like a greasy mess, so just make sure its in good company.

I want to leave you with one more thing: these were all very technical tips when it comes to shooting plated food. Next time you find yourself photographing food, think about who is eating that food. How is the food prepared? What is the circumstances surrounding the meal? Is there a special occasion? Try capturing the feeling behind the food, culture or sounds of the meal. There is something magical about being able to create a photo that not only highlights the food, but also tells a story. See if you can find it at your next table.

Lindsey | the modchik