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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Food photography tips - how to take better food blog photos

It's no secret. One of the driving reasons why people visit food blogs is to look at mouthwatering food photos. I see you now - coffee cup in one hand, mouse in the other. Oh yes, I know you read every single word. Pore over it. Sure you do! But nothing arrests the attention of a fickle surfer like a striking visual image.

I look back now on the photos I took eight years ago and wince. But you know what they say. Practice makes perfect. Over the process of publishing 1,600 posts (This is post number 1,601. Ack! I know!) I've honed a few skills, learnt a few tricks, and become much more comfortable pulling out an SLR in a fine dining restaurant.

Last year I was approached by My Nikon Life magazine to share some of my tips as a food photographer. I do use a Nikon D90 and here's the disclaimer, no, I'm not sponsored by Nikon. The final article appears in Issue 3 as a four page spread, incorporating a profile on me as well as some of my food blogger tips. I have to confess I wrote these tips off the top of my head without overanalysing it or giving them too much consideration. But then I think that's how photography should be - it's often about instinct and trusting your impulse.

I've reproduced my food blogger tips below. Let me know if you think I've missed anything!


Food blogger tips
The secrets to taking great food blogging pics

This is a hard habit to kick, and can seem a little daunting but it's worth it. Trust me. No-one ever took an amazing food photo with their on-camera flash -- all you get is harsh blown-out images without any colour subtleties. Using a mounted flash can work but I find it's very obtrusive and the constant bursts of light will quickly annoy other customers, not to mention your fellow dining companions. If you're really stuck, I've gotten assistance from the torch function on the iPhone 4 or the backlight from an iPad! The iPhone 4 torch can be pretty harsh so I make a little filter by tearing off a bit of serviette and getting my friend to hold it over the flashlight so the light is diffused.

Take the time to read your manual and play around with the manual settings on your camera. I always shoot with Aperture Priority so I can control how much of the dish I want in focus, depending on how much light is available. To compensate for low light I will manually adjust the ISO priority.

A prime lens means the focal length is fixed (i.e. you can't zoom) but this translates to sharper images and a faster shutter speed -- essential for low light photography in restaurants. The most popular prime lens that food bloggers use are the 50mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/1.8.

You know you're a food blogger if you arrive at a restaurant and immediately scan the room for the table with the best light. I will often ask to switch to a table with better light, or swap seats with someone if they have better light than I do. The best way to get good food photos is to eat during the day - go out for breakfast or lunch and relish the abundance of natural light that will be a godsend for sexy food photos!

There's something almost meditative about taking food photos. I like how looking at the dish through a lens gives me a chance to really scrutinise the physical construction of a dish. When I first started food blogging I experimented a lot with different angles, and I often find that holding your camera at plate level will help to give a dish a sense of depth and height.

I use post production software for almost all my photos -- it won't create a miracle but a little tweaking with brightness, saturation and white balance can often work wonders. I also find shooting in RAW instead of JPG gives me greater flexibility when editing the images later.

Inside a food blogger shoot

  • Nikon D90
  • NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4 lens
Because I never know when I'm going to eat out, I always carry my camera in my handbag. It's heavy enough on its own, so I don't tend to bring much other equipment, plus if I'm photographing in a restaurant I think it's cause to cause minimal disruption to other dines by being discreet and not using flash.

I usually carry around a spare memory card and a lens cloth but that's about it. I either use my D90 or a little point-and-shoot to take photographs of menus or do exterior shots of the venues. And it's always important to make sure to charge your batteries regularly.


In my profile I do emphasise that "I find that food photos are an essential part of my blog posts. You can describe a dish in intimate detail, but a photograph of an exquisitely plated dish will always stop someone in their tracks. Writing about the food is still important - a photograph doesn't convey how a dish smells or tastes or the textures you experience with every mouthful.

"I also find that people read blogs at work, on the train, on their phones - sometimes people don't have time to read every word, but compelling food photos are a powerful way to maintain their interest."

If you want to read my full profile piece, please click here and here.

Fellow food bloggers and photographers - do you have any food photography tips to share? 
31 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/01/2012 03:03:00 am


  • At 2/01/2012 6:47 am, Blogger Kalyan Karmakar said…

    thanks for sharing this Helen. The photos in your blog are superb and inspiring.
    I swear by the no flash rule too even if it becomes a problem at dimly lit restaurants. I am not a big fan of props. I try to get close to the food and try to focus on specific parts of it. I use a very basi post production software. Windows photo edit...but then the photos on my blog don't look too professional

    I am back to my sony cybershot point and shoot after damaging the lens of my sony nex 3. I prefer to use light cameras

  • At 2/01/2012 7:20 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Great tips and well said Helen. Yay! Nikon girl!

  • At 2/01/2012 8:33 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    SUCH a BRILLIANT roundup. Thank you so much. Was looking for reassurance on some of this for ages. Thank you so much for sharing

  • At 2/01/2012 8:48 am, Anonymous jess @ fushmush said…

    If someone is going to appear in a photo, say a vendor at a street stall, do you ask if it's ok to take a photo? I'm still figuring this one out and wondering how others approach it.

  • At 2/01/2012 9:30 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Go the Nikon club! Amazing how we scan the restaurant within 2 seconds and find the best light in the room, and then make sure we have the best spot on the table in terms of light.

  • At 2/01/2012 9:38 am, Anonymous Julie said…

    Great tips Helen. My best tip is to always shoot in raw!

    Instead of the flashlight on a phone. I use an iphone app called softbox (thanks to recommendation from Sugarpuffi) it cost about 0.99 I think. It gives a softer light therefore not needing the tissue to diffuse!

  • At 2/01/2012 9:47 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Congrats on the article Helen, really great advice. And big congrats on 1601 posts - that's a lot of blogging (and yummy meals).

  • At 2/01/2012 10:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for the tips, Helen. It's good to know that there's hope for us rookies. 1600+ posts, wow!

  • At 2/01/2012 10:06 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Good tips, especially with the iPhone 4's torch light app and the serviette as a diffuser!

  • At 2/01/2012 10:28 am, Anonymous gastronomous anonymous said…

    great tips Helen! and congrats on the 1600+ posts - WOW!!!

  • At 2/01/2012 10:38 am, Anonymous Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy said…

    I agree with Joey, i never would have thought to use the torch app on my iPhone. Great tips Helen!

  • At 2/01/2012 10:40 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    Great tips and advice, thanks for sharing. I definitely must be a food blogger because when I arrive at a restaurant I immediately scan the room for the table with the best light too HEHE — and start to panic when it's only dim and romantic candlelight.

  • At 2/01/2012 10:50 am, Blogger Alison said…

    Daylight savings is also a blessing for light, but sometimes nothing can help make brown food look good.

    Thinking of a Nikon myself, might just be the excuse I need.

  • At 2/01/2012 12:01 pm, Blogger Dressed and Eaten said…

    Congrats on the article. Great tips. I definitely need to pay attention to them! I bought a nikon recently love it but definitely have A LOT to learn. No point having an expensive camera and not being able to use it properly.

    p.s. It was great to meet you at the food bloggers meet!

  • At 2/01/2012 12:52 pm, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    Nice work on the article :)

    My tip would be to practice often and learn from your mistakes. Not much can outdo hard work for making better photos.

  • At 2/01/2012 2:57 pm, Anonymous Tenille said…

    Helen you're awesome! I love your blog, you write so well! Tenille x

  • At 2/01/2012 3:17 pm, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    Congrats on the article Helen.

  • At 2/01/2012 5:28 pm, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    grats on being published...again! :D i love your durian photo ^^

  • At 2/01/2012 8:04 pm, Anonymous David Latimore said…

    I just purchased my 50mm 1.4G about a week ago. My old 1.8 nifty fifty was good, but the 1.4G is a god! Still using my D90 after 25000 shots, it's been dropped on concrete twice and run over by a car once (well sort of). Great camera, but I can't wait for the day I go full frame :)
    Thanks for sharing!

  • At 2/01/2012 8:14 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Great article Helen and thanks for the photography tips.

  • At 2/01/2012 10:22 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Great tips, thanks for reproducing them here!

  • At 2/02/2012 7:55 am, Anonymous Anna @ the shady pine said…

    Really interesting post Helen and I always enjoy reading new helpful tips.

  • At 2/02/2012 1:19 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Thanks for sharing Helen. I def agree on the prime lens, my fav lens so far! <3!

  • At 2/02/2012 2:37 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    Great piece, I've been using those same tips ever since I started food blogging! Never thought of diffusing the light with a serviette before :)

  • At 2/02/2012 4:31 pm, Anonymous catty said…

    all i can say is.. it BOGGLES me when people still use flash for food photos. BOGGLES.

  • At 2/04/2012 2:58 am, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    Nice photo tip share Helen. I need to get to know my camera better, that's for sure.

  • At 2/07/2012 12:42 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    @ Jess - Street photography is always tricky. I think situations vary when it comes to asking for permission - often you lose the moment or naturalness. I tend to think that street stall vendors are in a public place and also the public face of a business. If it's a diner/patron, I try and keep their features indistinguishable because who knows who they're eating with and whether they should be! lol. And if people do request no photos, then I respect their wishes.

  • At 2/08/2012 9:17 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Great article, Helen! Your photos look fantastic in the spread as well.

  • At 2/10/2012 5:05 pm, Anonymous Naiya said…

    It's really very useful information for every food bloggers just like me. Thanks

  • At 2/16/2012 6:11 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Helen,
    I'm a food blogger myself and completely agree with you on the importance of good pictures along with the material. I'm planning on buying a camera, is there any particular model you would suggest? or exactly what features should I be looking out for while making the purchase?

  • At 5/01/2013 10:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks Helen. I have one camera and also have years of experience in photography photo are good when photographers mind is well and take right position of objects.


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