The Obligatory Food Photography Blog Post

beforeafter

This post may be premature (for a food blogger), but here goes.

The two biggest compliments someone can give me about my blog are a) You’re a great writer and b) Your photography is great. Of course, it’d be nice if the adjectives they used were a bit more loving than “great,” but beggars can’t be choosers (or so my mother always says).

Why are these two compliments more meaningful to me than “Your food looks delicious!”? I think that anyone can cook to an extent, but solid writing and beautiful photography are difficult skills to master. I read Gluten Free Girl‘s blog daily, and I hope to write as well as she does and capture passion through words just as profoundly some day. 

As for photography, well, since I could barely take a successful iPhone picture before starting this blog, I consider this my greatest challenge– and a fun one! Photographing food to make it look just as delicious as it tastes is a near impossible feat. Something is already wilting as you plate it, the noodles become soggy with every second that passes, sauces curdle and by the time you’re on your second picture, your pasta bolognese looks more like a sloppy joe that a third grader has been picking at for an hour. 

While I obviously adore writing and cooking (why else would I have started a food blog?), photography doesn’t come naturally to me. On June 26, 2013 (when I started Inspiralized), I began taking pictures with a newly-purchased DSLR. I never read the manuals, so I took the “practice makes perfect” very literally and just started taking pictures of everything I made. 

Learning photography has become my new favorite hobby! It seemed so daunting at first and now, it’s something I do for pleasure on the weekends. 

Let’s take a look at one of my pictures, posted up on June 28, 2013, just two days after I started:

Absolutely hideous. I’m so proud of this picture, because it shows the beginnings of my photography education. To this day, Garlic Zucchini Spaghetti with Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes, and Basil is my favorite dish to make for a quick dinner (minus the roasted potatoes, for time’s sake): chicken sausage, tomatoes, basil, garlic, red onions, and zucchini noodles…. sometimes with some kale for more oomph.

Okay, how about another shocker

Oh, the awful over-exposure and terrible focus. And this tacky plate! At this point, I had no idea what ISO levels, apertures or shutter speeds were. Can you imagine? I still had fun. 

So, I drove to IKEA and bought some textured placemats and patterned linens. I rearranged where I took my photos (I thought away from the light would be better – boy, was I wrong). I saw some progress (taken July 8, 2013):

You get the idea. Practice. Progress…. Perfect (some day!)

Many people ask “how did you learn?” While I am a FAR FAR way from becoming an expert food photographer, I thought it would be nice to encourage aspiring food bloggers and photographers with some advice from someone just starting out, with no prior experience… literally, none. I still don’t have the proper lenses, equipment, or techniques, but I see improvement everyday in my photos – and that motivates me! 

Here are some tips to learn food photography, in my amateur opinion:

  • Look at pictures of food taken in a style that you like. If it appeases your eye, follow that blogger/photographer on social media. The more you look at the style you like, the more you’ll adapt it to fit your own creative nuances and make it perfectly yours.
  • Don’t forget that photography is an art. There isn’t one style that’s “right.” It’s all up to you – one photographer might like dark, stylized photos and another might like bright, airy shots. Tomayto, tomahto.
  • Don’t get beat up over getting rejected by Foodgawker. It happens. So far, I’ve had 51 recipe shots rejected and 11 accepted. That’s less than a 5% acceptance rate! Grr.
  • Learn what ISO, Aperture, and Shutter mean. Google it, buy a book on food photography, whatever it takes: really understand the importance of these camera settings. It’s not intuitive at all, but you’ll find your little ways to remember what they mean and once you do…. magic! 
  • Read food photography tutorials online. If you go on most major established food blogs, they’ll have photography tutorials and posts like this, giving advice. Read them. Bookmark them. Read them again. Keep reading and picking up tips. Write down a list of things to try. Try them. Keep reading.
  • If you can afford it, attend a photography class. For my boyfriend and I’s anniversary, we went to a photography course for beginners. It definitely helped us understand that photography is all about lighting. Even if your head is spinning afterwards, you’ll definitely learn something once the spinning stops. Plus, you can ask questions to the instructor.
  • Accept that you are going to have to spend money on food styling. Food styling is the art of making the dish and the area around it look cool. Buy hipster mason jars, vintage-looking spoons, colorful linens, muted linens, placemats, dish rags, different textures of fabrics, distressed wood, and plenty of plates, bowls, mugs, and eating utensils. All of this helps make a photo look yummy. Set the scene. Make someone want to sit down and eat what you’re taking a picture of. 
  • Never take pictures at night. Avoid it at all costs. Natural light is the absolute best for food photography, so build your schedule around mother nature. Wake up at 5am to cook and then photograph a picture before work, if you must. It’ll be worth it, trust me. 
  • Buy a tripod. When there isn’t sufficient light for taking appetizing photos, you’ll need to adjust your shutter, ISO and aperture accordingly. I’m not going to get specific, but basically, the way you’ll need to change your shutter will make it more sensitive to movement and will result in blurry, shaky pictures. Get a tripod for this purpose, so that on a cloudy or rainy day, you can make do.
  • Take at least 75 pictures per shoot. Sometimes, I take 250 pictures of one dish. One dish! Out of all of those, I usually pick 6-12 pictures for a blog post and I want them to be the best shots. This as also helped me feel more comfortable with certain camera angles and settings on my Canon.
  • Learn how to set a custom white balance. I’m not going to get technical in this advice, so once you feel comfortable taking pictures in Manual mode, look into setting custom white balances. I just started (like, yesterday) and it’s making a huge difference already.

Consider this: there are entire art departments at universities devoted to photography studies. If it wasn’t a difficult art form to master, people wouldn’t spend $30,000+ a year on studying it. 

Also, people ask me what type of camera I use: it’s a Canon Rebel T3i and I use a 50mm lens for food. I want to invest in the 60mm soon, though! 

In honor of my progress, I decided to re-photograph a dish from those early stages, sort of like a before and after diet picture (without the diet, of course). My Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles are so decadent to the tastebuds yet low-cal and low-carb, it’s a sin. This was the picture I took of the dish on July 1, 2013:

And today, on September 18, 2013, here they are (I forgot the edamame):

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

Sesame Ginger Peanut Cucumber Noodles

What I’m trying to say is that anything really is possible. If you want to start a food blog but feel intimidated by the greats, just go for it. I’m doing it, and I’m living proof that someone with zero food photography experience and pure passion for cooking, writing and self-expression can start to make it happen. One of my favorite lifestyle/food blogs is A House in the Hills – I dream everyday of taking pictures as good as Sarah Yates’s. She’s also a professional photographer and has a seriously photogenic pup and adorable husband….. I have neither.

Good luck to everyone who got something out of this post, and have a great weekend. Go start a blog, take a picture, or if that’s not your thing, take a leap of faith in some other adventure: every expert in something was once a beginner! 

Don’t forget the spiralizer giveaway that’s still going on:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Comments

  1. Ali, you an inspiration! You’ve come so far in just a few months it’s incredible! You’re pictures are beautiful, I had no idea you had just started with food photography! I’ve been food blogging since about the beginning of this year and I just switched over my wordpres.com account to a wordpress.org site a few months ago and am just now starting to learn more about food photography and what a difference it really makes! It’s definitely hard, time consuming and expensive so you should be so proud at how far you’ve come! Giving me hope that my pictures will soon start to look better…practice makes perfect! :)
    Thanks for sharing!!

  2. oh shoot, I wish we could edit comments! I meant “your” not you’re pictures heheh :)

  3. i can almost smell the food in your pictures, they look so good, i will have to try this recipe soon

  4. You’re doing great! And thank you so much for the kind words! I started out here: http://www.ahouseinthehills.com/ahouseinthehills/2011/10/3/what-we-ate-avocado-sushi.html even as a professional photographer. :)
    My best tip: great light makes ALL the difference- I shoot right beside a window most of the time.
    Thanks again! xx- Sarah

  5. If I had a spiralizer, this is the first recipe I’d make! Looks absolutely delicious. (A testament to your photography, no doubt!)

  6. This is the first recipe I’d make if I had a spiralizer! Looks delicious. (No doubt because of your photography skills!)

  7. Haven’t tried any because I don’t have a spiralizer;)

  8. sooooooo great! i stumbled on your blog looking for paleo recipes. this spiralizer idea is so cool. also i love food photography! you have come a long way in such a short amount of time!! kudos! daylight does wonders. too bad i have like one window and never any light! haha perhaps on my next move!

  9. LOVE this post!! I swear, each year (of the five years I’ve been blogging) I look back at my photos from the previous year and think EW, but I suppose that just shows improvement!

  10. Been in the process of beginning my own food blog–this post is quite inspiring. I love your photography, it really shows how far you can go in only a few short months!

  11. i want to make your recipe for spiralized sweet potato buns with mini salmon cuts in the middle! mhmm! it looks absolutely gorgeous AND tasty!

  12. you are awesome with your writing and designing of your blog.
    first time when i checked your blog i thought this was not that good recipe which i am looking for but after reading this, my opinion about this recipe are changed, and try it suddenly at home.
    you what happen, when i was done with cooking? it was awesome.
    thank you so much to sharing this.

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