And finally, I present to you the last installment in this “Tips for the Beginner Food Photographer” series. I hope you’ve been enjoying this series. If you have any comments, questions, or feedback, please let me know below in the comments!
8. Use Photo Editing to Highlight Good Photos
My first rule of photo editing is to edit only good photos that I really like. Why? Because even the best editing can’t make a bad photograph look good.
Having done food photography for a year now, I have a huge cache of food photos that I have never used on Instagram or my blog and never will. I know, it seems like a waste of time and money to have prepared a dish, styled it and photographed it, and then to never use it. But not all of my food photos are great or even good, particularly the ones taken during my first six months. So I don’t waste time editing them to try to make them look better. I’ve accepted the fact that they’re going to Photo Hell, an imaginary place where rejected photos go to die.
With that said, when you do have a good photo that you like, edit it smartly. First, analyze your photo before editing it because you don’t want to edit it just for the sake of editing. Think about (1) what you’re trying to achieve with the editing process and (2) what look/vibe/feel you are going for in this photo. Do you want to bring out the greens in your salad, add brightness to the image, or create a dramatic look?
Second, stay away from Instagram filters as a general rule, as their filters are typically too strong and unrealistic for food photography. Instead, focus on making less obvious but more fundamental edits to your photos by playing around with contrast, saturation, exposure, white balance, shadows, and highlights. For instance, if you are shooting on a cloudy overcast day, your image may end up with a bluish hue. Use a white balance editor to correct for this and add more warmth to your photo. Or, if you underexposed your image, add more shadows to fill in those dark spots and increase the exposure a bit. And, always start out slowly with a gradual increase or decrease and see how it looks before continuing to edit. There’s nothing worse than an oversaturated, uber-HD photo of food.
If not Instagram, then what app should you use to edit photos? I highly recommend VSCO Cam. VSCO has some incredibly beautiful and unique filters that work great for food photography, particularly if you’re going for a moody or faded feel in your photos. I rarely, if ever, use VSCO filters at their highest strength because it looks artificial to me, but you can adjust the filter levels and even use multiple filters to create the exact look you’re going for.
9. Invest Your Time in Photography Classes and Tutorials
If you are serious about improving your photography, I highly recommend enrolling in photography classes, reading tutorials, and watching educational videos. Since in-person photography lessons can be exorbitantly expensive (I have yet to take one), all of my recommendations are online-based.
In this information-sharing, cloud-computing, crowd-sourcing economy (I’m not sure all of those adjectives make sense), it’s unbelievably easy to find photography resources online, many of them for free. I’ve listed some recommendations below. All of them are based on my own opinion or the opinions of highly-trusted friends.
An online learning platform, Skillshare offers hundreds of short photography classes for free. There isn’t a huge number of classes specific to food photography, but you can learn lots of fundamentals of photography that apply to food photography. You can also pay for a premium account to get access to more classes.
On CreativeLive, you can watch live classes on creative topics (great descriptive name, right?). If you watch an online class while it’s streaming live, it’s typically free. If you’re taking a multi-class course and watching it at your own pace, however, you will need to fork up some cheddar. There are always sales going on and once you purchase one course, you will forever be inundated with discount offers.
The Great Courses
The Great Courses offers college-level video courses developed by the Teaching Company. They don’t have any food photography-specific courses, but they have a really great Fundamentals of Photography class and it’s perpetually on sale. Disclaimer: I didn’t get through the whole course, but I did enjoy the videos I finished.
Blogger Tutorials and E-books
Many popular food bloggers have online tutorials and e-books about food photography. I haven’t reviewed all of these, but these are all bloggers whose content and photography I admire: White on Rice Couple, Pinch of Yum, Gourmande in the Kitchen, and Minimalist Baker’s Food Photography School. Food Photography Blog is also an amazing resource, offering tips ranging from camera settings and photography equipment to food styling and lighting.
10. Practice, Patience and Planning
Okay, so this last tip is comprised of three separate tips, but I wanted to get an even number of 10 tips. Plus, who doesn’t love a little bit of alliteration?
First, practice. All of the Holy Trinity mastery and most expensive photography classes can only take you so far. You have to practice, practice, practice. Try to take photos as often as you can without driving yourself crazy. For some people, this might be every day; for others, it might be once a week.
There are so many things you can learn through practice alone, such as the exact angle of light that streams into your kitchen window at 3 p.m. in the middle of winter, or which dishtowel perfectly complements your earthy wooden background board. Plus, practicing is fun!
Secondly, be patient. Unless you’re a prodigy, you’re not going to become an expert overnight, or even after a few months. A good photographer is constantly evolving her style and picking up new tips and tricks on the way, so the learning process is never finished. But, if you practice for a solid few months with these tips in mine (and the tips from many more seasoned photographers), I guarantee you will notice an improvement in your food photography.
And finally, plan. I get that you’re busy. I’ve heard it before. Hell, I’m constantly talking about how busy I am because I hear it’s a good conversation starter and makes people like you more. j/k, j/k.
But, if you really want to excel at food photography, you should plan out your food photo shots. You don’t have to write things out, but you should spend some time planning out in your head what you’re trying to achieve with the dish(es) you’re photographing.
When planning out a shoot, here are some things to keep in mind:
- The type of food you’re shooting and the best angle for it. More on that in Part II.
- Number of shots: How many different setups do you want for this particular dish? Just one or five?
- Types of shots: Do you want overhead shots and/or table view shots? Do you want an ingredient shot, an action shot, and/or a finished dish shot?
- Food styling: How are you going to style the dish? Will the styling change if the vary the setup? Will you be using any garnishes? More on food styling in Part III.
- Props: What kind of surface are you shooting on? What props, if any, will you be using? Try picking colors and materials that complement the colors of your dish and the mood of your photo.
Was this series helpful for you? Please let me know in the comments! And please feel free to tag me or send a direct message on Instagram to share a photo that you took using one of these tips 🙂