5 Hard Lessons I Learned While Photographing Food

Let me start this by saying I do NOT consider myself a great, good, or even mediocre photographer of food.  I still, even 4 years later, consider myself lucky when I get a shot that’s not blurry, over exposed, boring, and the food actually looks appealing.  On the days that I actually get a shot that has all the elements that “experts” consider essential to a good photo, well my happy dance breaks out.

Photographing food is easy.  Getting a GREAT mouthwatering photo is downright hard.

WordPress is set up chronologically so I’ve had the pleasure of being able to pull up photos by date, going back to the very beginning.  There has been a LOT of face cringing on my part seeing the photos that I actually published early on in 2013/2014.  I have decided to sacrifice myself on your behalf to show you that if you keep at it you WILL get better.

Let’s start by just ripping the band-aid off shall we?

Here are 5 lessons I have learned through the years that I feel have made huge improvements in my photos.

1. Don’t photograph the food while the family is waiting to eat it

Yes, I actually took this photo and published it in early 2013.  I thought I was hot s*** being all fancy with my shrimp in a wine glass, healthy tabbouli and snacks.  There is nothing right about this photo – AT ALL.

But the point I wanted to make was early on in my food blogging career I made the mistake of trying to photograph the food we were right about to eat.  My family was literally waiting while I was taking photos AT THE TABLE!  They are standing behind me complaining that it’s taking too long.  I’m under pressure to get a half way decent shot.  The food is getting cold and I’m getting frustrated.

Apps 3-20

There are so many different things that are wrong with that idea.  I’m not even sure what this picture with the poppers and cheese is even about or why I took it, but again it’s right before I’m about to serve it.


And here is yet another lovely example.  The food doesn’t even look edible in this one!

sloppy joe dinner

I saved the worst for last.  I really don’t know how my blog succeeded.  Who in their right mind would run to print this recipe out?  Lighting is wrong, the angle of the camera, all the settings on the camera.  I was probably in auto focus or no, actually I started this blog using my cell phone as a camera!  (hanging head in shame)

dinner 3-20

2. Lighting Lighting Lighting

Ask any photographer what the biggest challenge in photography is and the answer will always be LIGHT.  It’s like location location location to a realtor.  You can have the best looking 6 oz. Porterhouse Steak glistening with a little butter on it and if the light isn’t correct the picture will be garbage as you can plainly see by the following photos.

Zuchinni Bread

I think this cheesecake photo makes the Top 3 Worst photos I’ve taken to date.  I am actually shaking my head, laughing, and hanging it in shame all at the same time right now.

I think I took this in my kitchen (bad idea btw) under fluorescent lights, quite possibly at night.  I see the light coming from the right and I know it’s one of the overhead lights in my kitchen.  It looks like I turned the light directly overhead off and used my flash! (I seriously want to crawl in a hole right now)


And the hits just keep on coming !  I don’t even know if these muffins are cooked.  They look raw with big large black bugs on them.  The point?  Overhead lighting and direct lighting are photo killers.  Placing the food by a window with a sheer white curtain will result in a nice, soft diffused light.


3. Back away from the food

In my defense, I think my intention here was a good one.  I was trying to get those close up photos you see in Bon Apetite Magazine only what I didn’t realize was their camera lens wasn’t literally 3″ away from the food.  There’s a thing called Photoshop and a Cropping tool.

This photo is way to close, there’s nothing right about the lighting, it was probably taken in the kitchen again, there are smudges on the spoon, there are shadows all over the place.  Just to name a few things.

taco soup

I’m just downright embarrassed over this one.  If this doesn’t prove to you all that ANYONE can start a food blog then I don’t know what will.

french fries

 4. Stage Your Food

In the beginning I didn’t ‘stage’ my food and by that I mean make it look like a professional photo had been taken of it, not a quick snapshot right before you were about to dive into it.

This is done with the use of inexpensive props such as colorful plates, napkins, or glassware.  Or staging can even be done with the use of food such as extra ingredients found in the recipe such as a slice of lemon or lime or a sprinkle of parsley, which was my attempt in the following picture of what I think may be a fish recipe?

mahi mahi

Or in this photo of cookies with milk.  Again, the photos are still being taken in the kitchen as you can see the fridge in the background.


But try not to be overly obvious that you are staging your food like with my applesauce here.  You can laugh now.


5. Keep practicing

Now I get to redeem myself after that hideous display of work.  Here are some photos taken from 2014 to present to show that I have gotten better at this, thank Heaven.

Jan 2014 –

Still in the kitchen apparently as that is my kitchen island.  Lighting is artificial.  There is nothing special about this photo.  Chicken is piled on a plate.  No staging.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

July 2014 –

Picture is too close, overexposed and again nothing special about it.  Just potatoes in a while bowl.  Another tip is to contrast the food with the plate.  This would have popped more if the potatoes were in a darker colored bowl.

mashed potatoes

October 2014 –

I think by this time I was out of the kitchen and actually had a separate table set up next to a window that had natural light coming in.  The problem I had then was I paid no attention to which angle the light was coming in from.  10:00 and 2:00 are your best bets.  Again, the use of props is starting to show in my photos more.


Feb 2015 –

Much better.  At this point I was just learning and practicing with shallow depth of field, which is how you create that blurry background effect.  I was pleased with this picture at the time ~ it’s OBVIOUSLY worlds better than the others but the depth of field is just a little TOO blurry.


April 2015 –

I picked this photo to show that the field in focus can be wherever you want it.  For this chicken chili I wanted the focus to be in the middle.  I also like the use of light in this photo.


March 2016  –

Probably one of the better examples of good lighting.  You can see the texture in the chips, the white bowl is white and not grey meaning the white balance was good.


Sept 2016 –

A great close up of banana bread where the top of the picture is blurry and as you scroll down it gets more in focus.  My photos at this point are taken with the use of a light system that I bought on Amazon that was so inexpensive I kick myself for not buying it years ago and a tripod.   I took this photo much further away and cropped it.  You have better control this way to get it in focus.

banana bread gluten free dairy free

June 2016 –

Lastly, I want you to notice the direction of the frame as these pictures evolved.  Landscape portraits are good for just that, to capture landscape.  Food photos are more appealing and pleasing to the eye when they are vertical.   This photo of coleslaw has all the elements you need for a great photo:

  • The use of props,
  • Staging the food,
  • Lighting it properly,
  • Using a tripod
  • The Rule of Thirds
  • Vertical design

apple cranberry coleslaw (1)picresize


Hopefully you can see the progression not only in the quality of my photos, but the props and staging I used as well.   A subtle slice of lemon or sprigs of parsley can go a long way by creating visual interest in a photo.   You don’t need to spend tons of money on props.  I’m about as frugal as they come with investing in tons of different dishes and backdrops, etc.

I am by no means an expert and I still have a LOT to learn but I wanted to show that all food bloggers started somewhere.  I did not always take the quality of pictures I take now.  I have practiced and practiced and practiced some more.  Some photo shoots take 30-40-50, even 60 pictures which is why staging and setting up the surface area ahead of time is key.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the earlier photos.  I know I did.  I cringed a lot, laughed and even covered my mouth in disbelief at some.  It’s good to look back sometimes, it gives a renewed passion to move forward!  🙂

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind