When I decided to take my gap year (not a gap yah) last summer I didn’t think I would be travelling at all! No trips to Bali to ‘find myself’ or backpacking around the world. Somehow though, I’ve ended up spending a month in New York with plans to travel to Berlin next month, then Sweden in July…
That last trip is one I’m particularly excited about – I’ll be joining the dream-team of Eva and Carey who are hosting a Food Styling, Photography and Portrait Workshop in Sweden along with Elenore. If you’d like more info about the workshop you can check out the details and book yourself a ticket here.
If you’re just looking for some basics to get you started, then this post is for you! One of the things I (and probably loads of food bloggers) are asked about a lot is food photography. It can be intimidating picking up a DSLR and trying to figure out how to use it. I teamed up with my friends at SORTED to make a fun video for you to quickly explain the basics. I’ve also added stills for each tip with a written explanation below. Let me know if you enjoyed the vid & tips and if so I’ll work on some more Tip-Type posts (also feel free to suggest things you’d like me to write tutorials on).
Left: Higher ISO (25600) Other settings – shutter speed: 1/2500, Aperture: f/5.0
Right: Lower ISO (100) Other settings – shutter speed: 1/80, Aperture: f/5.0
ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light – the higher the number the more sensitive it will be:
Higher ISO number = more sensitive to light = brighter photo
The only down side to a higher ISO is that it can add grain to the photos. This is normally fine if you stay below 1000-ish but super high ISOs can mean that images lose a lot of detail. I usually shoot at an ISO range of 100 to 400 depending on lighting.
You can see in the photos above that the ISO on the left which is high produces a lot of grain when zoomed in. The photo on the right is smoother.
Left: Narrower Aperture (f/8) Other settings – ISO 640, Shutter Speed: 1/160
Right: Wider Aperture (f/1.4) Other settings – ISO 640 , Shutter Speed: 1/1250
Changing the aperture changed how much the shutter opens when the photo is taken and has two effects:
1) It changes how much light is let in. If you have a wide aperture, more light gets in producing a lighter photo.
2) It changes how much depth of field you have i.e. how far back the focus goes. A wide aperture has a shallower depth of field so less will be in focus.
The way it’s measured is denoted as ‘f/’ which is called an F-stop.
Higher F-stop = shutter opens less = less light gets in = more in focus = darker photo
Shutter speed is an easy one to guess! It’s how fast the shutter opens and closes when you take a photo.
A fast shutter speed is ideal for taking action photos e.g. scattering flour or sprinkling on toppings but lets less light in so produces a darker photo. You’ll want a fast shutter speed if you’re shooting action shots and don’t want a blurry image or of you’re in a really bright space and don’t want to change the aperture.
A slow shutter speed is good for shooting in low light. I prefer to have a slower shutter speed than use a higher ISO if I need to bump up the brightness as I don’t like the photos being grainy. However, a slow shutter speed means the shutter is open for longer so shaky hands while shooting can lead to a blurry image. To combat this you can use a tripod (only usually if I’m shooting at a shutter speed of 1/80 second or slower)
Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second so a larger number on the bottom of the fraction indicates a faster shutter speed (e.g. 1/500 is faster than 1/100).
Slower shutter speed = shutter open for longer = more light gets in = brighter photo
Left: Back lit
Right: Side lit (light coming from the left)
Use natural light. Always! (I mean, you can invest in artificial lights designed for professional use if you want! But don’t use your kitchen lights for photography). Artificial lights are usually too harsh for food and can be too warm or too cold. Natural light is the best because it has a great colour to it and, at certain times of day, will be naturally diffused and soft.
Shooting next to a window is the best option but you want to have diffused light. By ‘diffused’, I mean natural light which isn’t super intense or overpowering so a cloudy day is ideal! You want the light to be coming in from one direction normally, but the shadows the props and food are casting shouldn’t be too harsh. If it’s a really sunny day you can tape a thin, white cloth or curtain up to your window to help soften the light.
I like to light my photos in two ways: side-lit or back-lit. The way in which the shot is lit will highlight different parts of the objects and create a different feel.
Ways to Shoot
Left: Close up
Right: Far out
Left: Top-down / overhead
Right: Angled side (3/4)
To get the most interesting shots you’re going to have to move around and change up the composition. You’ll need to try out different angles and how close you get to the food.
Shooting close-up is great for showing details and getting those sexy food-porn type shots you see all over the internet.
Shooting far out is nice for more of a story-telling/lifestyle shot. You can show more of the overall composition and get a sense of the space your shooting in to add a bit of a back-story to the shot.
Top down shots are great for things like ingredient shots or foods with minimal height (like salads or soups). This is also the best angle for taking photos on your phone (as you may have noticed after scrolling through instagram). I also like to take the photo on my phone with the basic camera app and then edit it later in the VSCOcam app (it’s free!) using their filters before uploading to instagram.
Angled shots show the height of the objects. It’s nice to have a definite foreground and background when you have this angle, with the ‘hero’ of the shot at the front. Then you can prop with ingredients or equipment behind or just in front of it so they don’t obscure what you’re shooting.
Extra Tips: Shooting in RAW
DSLR cameras have an option to take photos in a file type called ‘RAW’. This means that all the details and information your camera captures (the light temperature, exposure, detail, colours etc) is uncompressed. Therefore you have access to all this data when you’re editing the photo later on so the photo is true to how you shot it and you don’t lose any information! Then when you go to edit the photo you can change each setting easily and the photo will look better. Only certain photo editing software can handle RAW photo files though e.g. Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. They will allow you to access and alter the data of the photo and then export it to a compressed JPEG when you’re happy with it, ready for your blog/magazine/whatever!
If you shoot in JPEG mode, the camera automatically compresses the information which makes for a smaller file size. However this means any edits you add on the computer are layered on top of the image so won’t look as good.
If that sounds really confusing here’s an analogy:
A RAW photo is like having plain cake batter and plain buttercream frosting. You can add flavourings or ingredients straight to the batter/frosting to make whatever cake you want. Add cocoa and chopped pistachios or raspberries and almond extract! Then you get to bake it up (this is like exporting the edited RAW file to compressed JPEG form) and eat that delicious cake just how you imagined it to be.
A JPEG photo is like being given an already baked and assembled unflavoured layer cake. You can add sprinkles to the top, or drizzle on caramel but it’s still going to be a plain cake and you can’t change that.
Easy Shooting with a DSLR (without using Auto mode!)
If the idea of changing shutter speed, ISO and aperture sounds WAY too daunting (trust, it did at first for me) there’s a beginner’s way to get beautiful shots with your DSLR.
Set the camera to AV mode – this means all you need to control is the aperture and the camera will sort out the shutter speed and ISO for you.
The reason I like this mode so much is that choosing the aperture is one of the things which can immediately change the feel of a photo. If the camera is on AUTO mode then the aperture might not be ideal for food photography.I like to shoot in a range of f/3 to f/5 as you still get detail but things in the background will be slightly out of focus. Once you feel comfortable shooting like that you can switch to Manual mode!