Food Photography Evolution
Over the past couple of months, I’ve started doing re-dos of old posts. When I first started this blog, it was because I loved to cook and I wanted to share my newfound passion with the world! Especially other college students. However, I had no idea how much thought and effort good food photography really took or any idea how to achieve it. If you look back, in most of my photos the lighting and composition were bizarre- for whatever reason, I did not know how to make photos look good.
Although I’m nowhere near perfect, with lots and lots of practice I’ve improved. I’ve been blogging for almost two years now, and the difference between when I started and now is incredible. A few circumstantial things have changed and allowed for me to produce better photos.
For one, I’m no longer a student. This reason is kind of a lazy copout. When I was a student, I would do a LOT of cooking late at night while procrastinating. This means I’d be taking pictures under my nasty kitchen light, making everything look yellow-green and off. Now, if I cook late at night, I just make sure to save some of what I’m cooking for photography in the morning. Since most of my late night kitchen adventures are usually baked goods, it’s totally doable.
Two, my incredible mom got me a DSLR camera this past Christmas and it has changed my food photography world. There’s no denying it- you’re not doing all you can with food photography until you have one. People will say that you can still take good pictures with a point and shoot. This is true. But they won’t be like anything you’d take with a DSLR camera. Now, I’m shooting with a Nikon D200 and a 50mm f/1.8D lens and life is good.
Now, here’s a few comparisons broken down. This post is mostly for me because I find the comparisons totally fascinating, but I hope you enjoy it, too!
Oy. The top picture is from a banana bread post I wrote just a few months after I began blogging. The bottom picture is from a post for beer berry muffins I wrote three months ago. Let’s count the ways the top picture is horrible.
1. It was taken with a cell phone, so the file size is small and results in a grainy picture once it’s at a viewable size.
2. It was taken under a standard kitchen light bulb, with no natural light at all. This light makes the picture look yellow and the muffins have a green hue. Not appetizing.
3. The composition isn’t horrible, but it certainly isn’t good. It’s at a weird angle and it’s a bit tight.
4. The picture isn’t interesting. The only colors in it are brown and neutral (except for that weird green hue…) and you can kind of see weird stuff in the background.
Overall, it’s an awful, awful picture.
The bottom picture, however, is quite pretty! I want to reach into the screen and grab one of those muffins. Let’s count the ways the bottom picture is lovely.
1. It’s taken with natural light! This is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned over the past couple of years. Always, always, without compromise, shoot in natural light! It makes a world of difference in your photos. Because it was taken in natural light, it’s brighter and the colors are prettier and more vibrant.
2. The composition works. Although it’s a simple photo of just muffins on a plate, you can clearly tell what you’re looking at and see all of it.
3. It’s set up well. Although the plate has floral detail, it’s mostly white, allowing the muffins to stand out and reflect their true coloring.
Both photos are of my Mexican Casserole dish. Yikes. I do not want to eat the mess show in the top picture. Let’s break it down:
1. What the heck is it? I see rice, I see chips, but I have no idea what I’m looking at. The composition is boring and too tight.
2. Again, the lighting! The kitchen light was on, resulting in yellow, nasty-looking food.
3. It’s boring. There’s nothing pretty about this photo. It’s a white bowl with a spoon in it and the corner of a hot pad in the background. Boooo.
4. The picture is somehow warped because of the lens on the point and shoot and the focus is more on the bowl than the food.
However, the bottom picture is pretty!
1. It’s shot in natural light! Natural light! Which is bright, white, crisp, and clear.
2. There’s visual interest created by the pattern of the bowl, the sour cream, and the cilantro. To put it simply, it’s pretty.
3. Although you can’t necessarily tell what it is (can you ever with a casserole?) you can easily pick out components: sour cream, cilantro, chips, cheese, refried beans, corn… It’s safe, it’s appealing.
4. The composition is symmetrical and your eye focuses on the food, not the bowl or other components of the photo.
At this point in my photography evolution, I was very close to where I needed to be. The top picture is of pumpkin snickerdoodles I made last winter, the bottom is of regular snickerdoodles I made for a 5k this spring.
1. Although it is (finally!) shot in natural light, it’s too dark. There are lots of dark shadows, and I like my photos to be bright and clear.
2. I’ve finally created some interest with the gourds, but the composition isn’t quite right. They’re cut out of the picture enough so that it’s a bit difficult to tell what they are, and they could have been used better to create interest and add color.
3. There’s too much plate in the picture. I should have used more cookies to make it look fuller- too much white is boring.
1. White, bright, natural light with fewer shadows!
2. Snickerdoodles are a little boring on their own- brown food just is. To make the photo a little more visually appealing, I used a green, patterned tablecloth. Now I’m not spinning in a world of brown and neutrals.
3. The centerpiece creates additional visual interest without distracting from the focus of the picture.
4. The composition is good- it’s taken far enough away to include all the food.
5. The baking rack is full of cookies, which makes it more fun to look at!
How about you?
1. Are you a food blogger? What have you learned during your time on the interwebs about photography?
2. Are you a photographer? What other advice do you have for food bloggers?
3. What food/photography goals do you have for yourself?
4. What are some creative techniques that you use to make your pictures more interesting?
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this tour through my blogging adventure as much as I have! There’s always so much to be learning about food blogging, be it cooking, photography, or plating. I can’t wait to see where I’m at in yet another year!