If you ask any food blogger, what the biggest factor in the success of their blog is, I’m almost positive they’d tell you it’s the photography. People are visual creatures, the internet is a visual place and when it comes to food, it’s the photos that draw people in.
I can tell you first hand, that a year ago when I started teaching myself about food photography and taking the time to take better pictures for my blog, my traffic grew. A lot. There’s about a year of learning between the photos below. The picture on the left was taken with my kit lens, has no real styling. I mean, what is that? A little pile of granola on a napkin? …. oh and it’s out of focus. However, it was the first photo I ever had accepted to Foodgawker. On the right, these hemp seed superfood cookies are styled, thoughtfully composed, and lit to bring out the colors and textures of the cookies. Not perfect, but so much better.
So today, I wanted to share the most valuable investments that I’ve made in my photography that have really moved the needle in terms of blog growth.
1.) a DSLR Camera
Surprise! I couldn’t really make this list without including my trusty DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. It’s the single most important investment you can make in your photography when you’re ready to take it to the next level. The camera I use is a Nikon D3100, which has been an awesome first DSLR to learn on. (The Canon equivalent is the Rebel T3i.) It’s lightweight, easy to pack and easy to use. (I’m currently itching to upgrade to the Nikon D610.)
I’ve had my camera since 2013, but didn’t start shooting in manual until last summer and it shows. While auto mode is great when you’re on-the-go and taking family vacation photos, if you’re looking to really take the driver’s seat and capture the full beauty of whatever your subject is, you’ll need to learn how to control the light using your camera’s aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Check out this great photography basics post from Sally’s Baking Addiction for more details on shooting in manual for food photography.
2.) a 50mm Lens
If you can only buy one lens for your food photography, I cannot recommend this lens highly enough. It seriously changed the game for me and was very affordable at around $200. Typically a DSLR camera will come with a kit lens (probably an 18-55mm). These are fine for traveling about and when you’re just starting out, but for more control over your food photos there’s nothing like a 50mm.
I recommend the 50mm because it’s great for taking food photos, with a large aperture (low f-stop) it can capture a lot of light and gives you a ton of versatility when it comes to depth of field (how much is in focus in the photo). If you’re looking to create images with a beautiful bokeh effect (blurry in the background crisp focus on one point) then this is a great lens for you.
Next to my camera, one of the most valuable investments that has helped me develop the look and feel of my photos, and by extension, my blog, has been quality wooden photo backdrops. I’d love to say that I’m handy enough to have crafted them myself, but alas my city apartment isn’t conducive to woodwork.
Cue: Erickson Wood Works. I first discovered these guys on Etsy when I was working on a photo project for Bai. Their boards are so gorgeous. They custom make each one and you can chose two sides per board. I have mine setup on a table next to a window that gives me plenty of beautiful, natural light. I recently connected with Ginny, one of the artists, and she kindly agreed to offer a 10% discount on all her products, all you have to do is enter the code “LONGRUNNER” I could gush for hours and hours but I’ll just finish by saying, after my camera, this has been my best investment for my photography.
4.) A Plethora of Props
Probably one of my favorite aspects of setting up a shot is figuring out what props I’ll use to highlight and craft the story for the dish. For me, composition is one of the most challenging elements of photography, especially food photography. I personally prefer a minimalist style as many of my recipes are simple to begin with, however I love a couple choice props and pieces of dish-ware that can help the food stand out.
A couple of my go-to places to shop for props are Christmas Tree Shops (which might just be a New England thing), Home Goods, Target and Sur la Table. Some of my favorite props include: wooden spoons, white linen napkins, brown parchment paper, a marble slab, mason jars (they’re so versatile), a well-loved baking tray and fun paper straws.
My rule of thumb for props: is this prop helping to tell the story of the recipe? Does it help create a dynamic inviting photo? If it doesn’t satisfy either of those questions then I leave it out.
5.) Lots of Research
If you’re a self taught photographer, like myself, it’s important to do your research, which will make subsequent shoots and practicing much more enjoyable because you’ll be trying things you learned versus tinkering and potentially becoming frustrated.
Favorite Photography Resources
This book is pretty much my bible and I’m sure the bible of many self-taught food photographers. It starts with the basics of how to use your DSLR then covers lighting, composition, food styling and so much more.
Food Photography Basics – Sally’s Baking Addiction
Sally’s was one of the first blogs I began to follow… religiously. A large part of me starting In it 4 the Long Run was because of Sally’s Baking Addiction. These are great tips for anyone just dipping their toes into food photography. She explains everything in easy to understand language highlighting important details without bogging you down with too many technical of terms.
DSLR Basics – Kevin & Amanda
I had this bookmarked for months when I was just figuring out what the heck the f-stop, shutter speed and iso were. They also have tons of other great photography tutorials.
Photography Tutorials – Gimme Some Oven
If you’ve ever been on Pinterest you’ve probably seen some of Ali’s gorgeous photos, she shares some fantastic tips especially when it comes to editing!
Her photography (especially food) is simply incredible and she has so many great posts with tips and how to’s. I suggest starting here.
I’m not gonna hate on PicMonkey or other free photo editors, but if you want to get serious about photography, Photoshop is worth every penny. I scored big by buying the Adobe Suite as a student, but I’d buy it full price if I had to because I use it every single day. Photoshop is also a fantastic tool for creating custom graphics for your recipes and blog which is a huge part of establishing and building the look and feel of your brand. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s also dare I say fantastically fun!
7.) Time & Perseverance
These aren’t technically things you can buy or research but they’re certainly resources you’ll need if you want to step up your game.
Time is probably one of the most valuable resources you have, but you have to make it. It doesn’t just fall on your lap magically. Before I shoot I take the time to prepare what I want the photo to look like, then I carve out my weekend mornings for shooting to get the best light. The best photos come from the times I had a strong vision of what I wanted and wasn’t rushed. But that’s not always the case. There are plenty of times I’ve had an amazing plan in my head and it just falls flat or I’m rushing to get too much done and the composition and styling isn’t given the attention it needed, but I try to learn and improve on every shoot.
I believe the mark of a good creative is to be critical of your own work and constantly search to improve but this can be exhausting. One week I’ll be really proud of how a photo came out and in the next couple weeks I’ll look back and wonder what the heck I was thinking. Perseverance isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s such a crucial resource when you’re trying to learn and grow.
Thanks for hangin’ in there!
Hope this was helpful! I’m no expert, but the improvement of my photography has had such a dramatic impact on my blog that I felt guilty not sharing what helped that growth.
- Bloggers or Photogs: What are your favorite photography resources? Did I miss any biggies?
- Food enjoyers: Do you have a favorite site to look at food pics? (Pinterest, FoodGawker, Instagram)