Hello Dear Friends,
Elson asked me to do a guest post for his on-going How To series. I was excited and eager. Elson writes beautifully and his love for food is evident in his words and his posts. Well, he wants me to cover a topic which brings out the biggest critic in me. He loves the pictures that I take and I for one am highly critical of my own work.
We eat with our eyes first. A picture speaks a thousands words. Quotes like these kick me in my butt every time I shoot my food. If truth be told, I have drooled over and stalked many a sites purely for their outstanding photography. Desperately trying to figure out styling and photographing ideas, I struggle and stumble with my limited resources. They say you can take excellent pictures even with the most basic digital camera, you really don’t need an SLR. So with that motivation, I make use of the resources around me. I try to take shots where each picture tells a story of its own. I aim really high, and for those who frequent my blog know that I still have a very long ladder to climb.
Still, in spite of all this, the little that I have learnt in my one year stint, I would love to share it with you. Thank you Elson for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
Let’s get started –
1. The camera –
I have the most basic one. Learn to ditch the auto mode and start fiddling with the manual settings. Learn all about ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance. Read all about it here. Just learning the basics can have an alarming difference in the quality of your photographs.
2. Light/Setting/Studio –
Ideal food pictures are shot in studios or you could make one for yourself. Since I don’t have the expertise or the space for it, I mostly go natural, that is, take my pictures out in our terrace garden or in the balcony.
I play by one basic rule… lighting. Too much light spoils a photograph, too little makes for a very dark one. Inside the house, there is glass and shiny surfaces which reflect a lot of light rendering a not so good picture. Evening or night times with the tungsten bulbs all on, again the picture quality suffers.
So, I prefer taking my food cutlery and all to the garden outside my house which is covered by walls on either side and a roof on top. Light flows in only through one side making it ideal for my photographs.
The best time I have noticed is mornings and early evenings as the sun rays are warm and not so harsh. Once it gets dark, I refrain from photographing.
3. Background Props/Boards and Work Surfaces –
You can surely make mundane boring food look sexy and gorgeous. I secretly lust for props like these. But we make do with all that we have and can find, coz buying antique and silver ware is not easy on our pockets.
What we can do is make optimal use of stuff at home. Do not ignore old well used scratched metal or wooden trays. My garden provides me with a wonderful wooden bench ideal for placing my food.
Old baking trays, an extra board of laminate left or your child’s wooden study table, all make great backgrounds.
4. Cutlery and China ware
Now for the food to be placed in. Silver, brass, antique and expensive crockery make great photographs – FACT. Decrepit copper bowls or cups make excellent pictures. Your red sauce would look more sanguinary in rich china ware. But since they are difficult to procure, I have found solace in inexpensive china ware, mostly in white!
White bowls, chutney pans, cake mounts, platters – buy them in white, as food displayed on it looks best. Visit your dollar store or your local market and pick one of all the serve ware that you use. It will be mostly enough to complete a pretty picture.
Keep an open eye for newer variety of cutlery or forks or platters, especially when you are traveling. I usually get very good stuff where I am least expecting it.
One look at my crockery section and you can see how WHITE it is 🙂
An attractive wooden soup bowl often makes very good pictures. Be it rice or some curry or stew or soup, it serves as a perfect container to be photographed.
5. Other props
So its been a year or so since I have started blogging, and I have collected twines, twigs, coils, brown shopping paper bags, ribbons … anything you name. My most prized finds are these small cute little gunny bags which we use here in India to gift or as wedding favors. One time, my MIL was coaxing me to take a pair of beautiful anklets which she got as a party favor, but I was more interested in the bag. 🙂 I let her have the anklet and was ecstatic with the little bag.
Scarves make such pretty pictures! I use my colorful stoles as a mood enhancer in plain pictures. Your child’s little toys can prove to be a wonderful place to pick your ware from. I have used Milee’s toy spoons and little plates and no body could tell. 🙂
Crumpled baking paper or brown paper makes very good background for your baked food dishes. So you baked a beautiful loaf of bread? Now wrap part of it with brown paper and twine, set it against a well crumpled baking paper and there you have a great picture waiting to be captured!
Use your dish cloth, or apron or kitchen napkins and dinner napkins to good use by laying them in an informal way against the food.
6. Important Pointers/Tips
- The first on my list is to pull back. A newbie photographer will have the impulse to “move in” on their subject. Get that beautiful crumbly crust of a muffin as close as can be. But really, the most beautiful shots are when you can “pull back” from your subject and make the intended focal point “pop” as opposed to “fill the shot”. It’s a simple phrase to remember when shooting: “pull back” – taken from here.
- Think of what you want to do, how you would like to shoot, what cutlery you would like to use. Imagine. Create a scene. First in your head and later on paper. Roughly sketch it up, so that you have a clear vision when you execute it. I am going to be honest, I don’t always do this step, but all those times when I plan and create, the results are much better than expected.
- Partial photographs of food look more enticing than the whole picture. I learnt this a tad late.
- Rule of Thirds – The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. The lesson is that a direct face-on, centered shot is not always the most interesting or pleasing to the eye. You want your photo to have movement and flow. Basically it means, you place your focal point of interest not in the middle but on the intersections of the imaginary lines, that is, on the sides of the pictures. Here is a good tutorial on the rule of thirds.
- Color and shapes are a great way to add beauty to your scene. But be subtle. For example, if it’s a very plain looking dish, try and season with a twig of some bright green herb or if it’s a dessert, which looks very boring, fruits or sugar dust or drizzled sauce can create a very inviting atmosphere.
So with all said and done, here is one of my most favorite shots –
Thank you Elson for giving me this wonderful opportunity to write and share my stint with photography basics. I would not have had the courage to do it ever but this guest post makes me contribute, share and help many a novice newbies out there, drooling and lusting after those gorgeous food photographs 🙂
Whoa!! Awesome post Nams…. incredible. I am sure this post is going to be of great help for your co bloggers. I like the way you have presented the topic, very neat and clear.
Thanks Chaaru, you always say such sweet things
Very interesting and so helpful, thank you x
I’ve been keeping your tips in mind and pulling back!
Very informative post on food photography.
This is So useful, Namrata! I seriously thought you must have a high end camera for all those lovely photos. I feel motivated to improve with my humble camera too!
Apsara, the many photography links I frequent, all stress on one’s intuitive sense of style and lighting and the machine itself, comes very late in the list. 🙂 I hope this post helps!
Thank you so much for this great post Namrata! You are truly an inspiration!
Oh Sheila, thank you.
You have such a beautiful terrace I’m slightly jealous! And loved this post, I’ve gotten into food photography since I started blogging and it really is an art. I’ve started collecting fun props through the year and am looking to add more. Daylight definitely makes for the best lighting, I slightly panic when it starts to get dark, hoping for my pictures to come out right.
Thanks for sharing.
Hey Rakhi, I am so glad you liked the post.. hope it is of some help to you. Yea you’re right, food photography is an art and not to forget its fun too 🙂 I just hope the addiction never stops.
Such lovely tips, Namrata! Well done!!
Oh, love this post, Namrata! I’m going to use some of these tips, or maybe all. I need a wooden bench, and not one that’s painted red and looks so fake (looking at hubby right now). Btw, I’m not sure if you knew, but I’ve been hosting a blog party, called Fiesta Friday. Would love for you to join. You’ll see familiar faces and maybe not so familiar. It’s kind of fun, really. I hope you’ll come! 🙂
I am so glad you like this post Angie. You take great pictures and food on your blog looks perfect 🙂 I have a vague idea about Fiesta Friday but am not sure of the details. Would love to be a part of it! Please could you send me the link where I can read the rules and regulations.
Yay! So happy to hear you’ll take part. Now the party will be even more fun! The guidelines are here:
Very nice and informative!
Superb post Namrata! And it was awesome to get a sneak peek into your pantry and your terrace. Love it! But then, I always love your writing! 🙂
Thanks Priya. Its always insightful to some how one works or thinks. Isn’t it?
Some really great tips here! Celeste 🙂
Oh thank you Celeste.
Wonderful post with some great insights! I also showed my dad this post because he is often bemused at the odds and ends I collect or stash away for the blog posts…. 🙂 He is only a teeny bit convinced that there are other such “mad” people in the world!
Haha I know what you mean when elders think that we have ‘lost’ it. So happy you enjoyed this post 🙂
Thank you for doing this very helpful post– especially for those of us who struggle with food photography…. I always wonder how others are setting up their images. 🙂
I am struggling too.. but it always helps to see another person’s work method and perspective. I think you take fabulous pictures too. We all just need to practice.
I am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog, as I am always looking for tips on food photography! Your shots are beautiful and are set up so professionally thank you for taking time to share this valuable advice 🙂
Thank you. Am happy this helped
This is a fantastic post Namrata! I’m always really intrigued to see what people use for their shots and styling… I am so, so impressed by your ability to manually set a Powershot! I am still very much a beginner when it comes to manual settings on my camera. So much to learn, but it makes such a difference when you get it right! Love that garden bench too. Definitely a fantastic backdrop 🙂 x
Thanks Laura. That bench has been a blessing. Really. The only hitch is its not in the house, carrying stuff outside is like painful and am prone to audiences … 🙂
Awesome post, I started blogging a little while ago but rather inconsistently, am now trying to focus on it more and improve my pictures. This is a huge help!
Its a simple post Sarah. There is so much to photography and I have so much to learn. This is all that I could come up with. But I am so glad it helps.
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