One of the most challenging aspects to food photography is lighting. Food can be either complemented or made unappetizing by the lighting we choose. As bloggers, we are often in a hurry with our photography - having to squeeze in photoshoots during our kids' naptimes or even at night. When I first started creating recipe posts, I would try to do them in the evening when my daughter was sleeping. Here is an example of one of my first attempts at food photography:
At first glance, this photo doesn't seem that bad. But it could be much better. I was under some very warm-colored incandescent lighting, and it bathed everything in a yellowish glow that diminished the detail and depth of field in the photo. The food lacks life and doesn't really look that appetizing. It kind of looks fake.
And now a word, er image, on flash photography:
The onboard flash on your point-and-shoot or DSLR is the secret enemy of your photography. See above. I took this photo with the same camera settings as the photo below, the only difference was that I popped that flash up and shot. See how flat and, well, boring the cupcake above looks when compared to the photo below? Sadness. If you must use your onboard flash, take a postcard and "bounce" the flash off the ceiling or walls by placing the card at an angle in front or behind the flash unit. This will diffuse the light and soften the stark shadows caused by an in-camera flash. I once did not know better myself, and used my flash all.the.time.
It feels safe and comfortable to shoot in "Auto" mode. And I get that. The move to Manual mode is a big leap, and it may take awhile to figure out your camera. It's easy to resort to using flash when you are in low-light situations, but a tripod and an understanding of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings will really help you to use the light you have available to you. Sometimes, you do need flash, but save up to invest in a Speedlite - an exterior flash you can rotate and even remove and program to fire at will. All DSLR companies have an equivalent. (I'm saving up for one myself!)
Natural window light is your best bet for photographing food. It just is. I typically shoot most of my food photos in front of my patio doors in my kitchen. The windows face North, and the light is diffuse and soft. It makes a huge difference. (I have already told my husband that any house we buy in the future must have windows with northern exposure!) If you must shoot under incandescent or fluorescent light, set your White Balance to compensate. Below, you can see how much of a difference WB settings can make:
The majority of the time, my camera's Auto White Balance (AWB) does a decent job of calibrating in natural light. I tend to use Daylight when the light is very bright, and will use the Shade setting to warm up photos that look a little too gray on cloudy days. Most food looks best in a neutral color temp, but experiment and bracket your images to see which setting is most complementary to what you're shooting.
If you need to add a little more light to your composition without resorting to strobes and lamps, make the most of your ambient light with a bounce reflector. This is a typical set-up for me:
Again, nothing fancy! I just creased a white poster board and propped it behind my cupcake at an angle to reflect the light from the window back onto the cupcake. If you want to add more shadow to areas of your composition, use black posterboard. (Psst - my "backdrop" was cheap too. Remember the fat quarter fabric I talked about in the Staging Post? Well, just wrap the front cover of a book with the fabric, tape it into place with painter's tape so you won't ruin your book, prop it open, and voila! Cheap and fast backdrop.)
I've learned the more prep work you do before you take your pictures, the less you have to do after! You can go from SD card to blog with little editing if you take the time to get to know how light works with your camera. Happy shooting! And eating!
P.S. This cupcake will be the star of Friday's recipe post!