Behind the Scenes Photos of my Food Photography

Food photography and blog photography has come a long way in the six years I’ve been blogging. When I began, I had a 2-megapixel phone and an old DSLR my husband and I purchased five years earlier for our trip to Rome. I didn’t know how the settings on the camera worked, and I always took photos on auto mode.

The photos I share on this blog are nearly always taken in the midst of our chaos, with Saturdays being my favorite day to photograph. Plus, there is a comfort bonus to cooking and prepping food in my pj’s and having the kids around to assist.

behind the scenes photos

Last week, I shared how I turned my living room into a photo studio with a simple backdrop and some holiday lights. And, how the remote control app for my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II made taking photos a breeze. This week, I’m partnering with Olympus again to share some food photography tips and an inside look at props, lights, and my (free) helpers.

My friend Alison has taught me a great deal about photography in the last four years. I remember her telling me that what separates magazine-worthy photos from the less impressive (and not very “shareable”) photos isn’t a fancy camera or expensive equipment. It’s more about the understanding what it takes to compose an appealing photo, lighting, and being able to capture the moment.

Left: framing of the image is different than what the eye sees. Right: Gabriel asking his sister for cheese or he is going to eat the one on the board.

Left: framing of the image is different than what the eye sees. Right: Gabriel asking his sister for cheese or he is going to eat the one on the board (photos: unedited, iPhone)

My shooting style is fairly simple since I always shoot with natural light. That means that I don’t typically use external lights or flash. Over the years, I’ve also learned at what time light enters my house best. Most of the time, I take photos between 9 am and 12 noon in my living room and 3-6 pm at my dining room table.

When I take food photos, I nearly always mount my Olympus camera on a tripod. It’s easy to get distracted or for my hand to shake with a high aperture setting and make the picture blurry. Minute hand movement is one of the reasons I have to delete photos from my card and declare them unusable because they are a little blurry. I don’t want my readers to think they need glasses to look at the fine details of a photo.

Having some general photography knowledge before getting my Olympus OM-D E-M10 made learning to use it a breeze. I spent an hour with the instructions and then I moved on to shooting about practice photos with very simple things, like strawberries on a cutting board. What I love about this camera, in particular, is that I can touch the screen and select my focus point, something I’m not able to do with my other camera or my iPhone.

Plain bowl of soup vs. adding a little texture and color. Still not enough but it's an improvement

Left: plain bowl of soup overexposed lighting placed in direct sunlight vs. moving to indirect light,  adding a little texture and color. Still not enough but it’s an improvement.

Why is that important you ask? Because sometimes I place the food on a specific dish, and no matter what do, the camera insists on focusing on the dish, or another point closer to the camera, especially with a low F stop and the food is out of focus. You know those blurry background photos we all love? With the Olympus camera, it’s easy to touch my focus point and forget about the rest. Something super practical since I always shoot in AV mode.

The Setup and Backdrops

Below are some of my favorite props that I use for the photos you see on this blog.

My dining room table. I love it because it’s a big surface and I can style freely. The downside is that it’s in a darker area so I have to take pictures in the afternoon.

Plastic backdrops. I bought these 2ftx2ft pieces on Etsy and I love that that I can have any color I choose. I no longer have to distress wood planks or store bulky backdrops. They roll up until I need them. I love that I can use these anywhere in my house. My favorite place is by my front door.

Wooden cutting board. Sometimes, simple is best. Especially when it comes to ingredient or process photos. I usually take my food outside, under our covered patio for indirect light in the afternoons.

Garnishes

While pancakes can look delicious, by themselves they are a light golden brown color. They need “something”. Brown soups are hard to photograph because they sometimes look like a big brown circle. My easiest solution is to garnish!

Herbs. Fresh herbs are best but on a pinch, I’ll use dried parsley. It’s the most vibrant colored dried herb.

Parmesan cheese. Parmesan cheese not only adds finishing flavor, but the texture adds a little dimension to the plate of pasta.

Condiments. A hot dog is just a brown circular rectangle, but add ketchup or mustard and now you have color.

Toppings. Can you imagine photographing plain vanilla ice cream and making it look delicious? Toppings can add color, texture, and make the photo pop!

The biggest tip with garnishes is to think about the colors that will enhance the dish, but that also go with the actual recipe. An ingredient that looks pretty but doesn’t “belong” in the dish doesn’t make sense.

sample garnishes

Styling and Props

Over time, I’ve accumulated my share of dishes and pieces of fabric to use in my photography. However, I often use the same ones from time to time because I like to keep things simple. I typically keep styling my photos to a minimum and focus on making the food pretty before it’s devoured by my kids.

Plates. Smaller, round, salad plates are easier to work with to not worry about filling the plate with an abundance of food or having space to fill. I nearly always use a white dish and enhance the photo with a patterned napkin or cloth.

Other items. Napkins utensils, glassware, and other items fill up the image to style it and add layers and dimension to any photo. I don’t have antique silverware for my photos, just plain ones. I’m just a fan of keeping it simple, so I don’t loose sight of the goal: to make the food stand out.

Original on left. Right: decided spoon was too shiny, added more items from garnish board but items still look randomly placed. Better but not yet what I want to see.  Bottom: closer to the final photo.

soup with garnishes

By adding the cheese and the cheese grater, we add movement/action to demonstrate one can garnish their own bowl. Because the soup is brown, photographing a spoonful isn’t a good idea (unless you carefully place garnishes on the spoon). The photo still needs to be edited to remove shadows but the soup looks 100x better.

When in doubt, I use my kids in the photo to hold, dip, bite, and capture the moment. They also assist with holding up the reflector boards (foam boards from the dollar store). Sometimes, when my Olympus camera is mounted on the tripod with the settings I need for the photo, my son likes to look get behind the camera and shoot the photo himself. For this reason, the camera is great for the whole family and would make a terrific holiday gift.

Yes, there are a lot more details (white balance, camera settings, etc.) that go into capturing the vision I have for a recipe in my head to bringing it to life. However, the execution is nearly always the same, and my goal is to capture everyday food in a way that makes you look at the photo and think, “I can make that!”

November 24, 2015

377 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes Photos of my Food Photography”

  1. Joanna Manning says:

    I can cook that! Definitely can cook — but photograph like you do???? Not a chance. I think you have a great idea for detail.

  2. Jennifer T says:

    I like to see recipes that use normal ingredients to make a dish that seems special and interesting.

  3. Barbara Hamel Derner says:

    Photos that are simple (not too busy) and show a close-up of the food are what usually draw me in. Also, the food needs look appealing, which is of course is different for everyone. If the picture of the food looks like something I will enjoy eating and the photo is well done I will most likely click on the recipe to read further. Then it is just down to what ingredients are in the recipe, will my kids eat them, and does my grocery store stock them. The second one is usually my biggest stumbling block.

  4. Barbara Hamel Derner says:

    Your photos look great!

    For me, photos that are simple (not too busy) and show a close-up of the food are what usually draw me in. Also, the food needs look appealing, which is of course is different for everyone. If the picture of the food looks like something I will enjoy eating and the photo is well done I will most likely click on the recipe to read further. Then it is just down to what ingredients are in the recipe, will my kids eat them, and does my grocery store stock them. The second one is usually my biggest stumbling block.

  5. Sarah H says:

    A long list of ingredients doesn’t scare so much as a “book” of directions for one recipe! If the directions are easy to follow and special ingredients are required, I can cook that!

  6. Faith says:

    I am drawn to food pics that look easy and yummy to me. I am not an experienced cook so of it looks simple and good I will give it a go.

  7. Krystal Watson says:

    Simplicity and common ingredients give me confidence.

  8. Judith Zuniga says:

    What makes me look at a recipe picture and go yumm is the picture itself! It has to be a photo that’s stylish, clean and with good composition. I wish I could get one of those cool cameras!!

  9. Gillian says:

    The fresh colors of your food always makes me want to try your recipes! Nice job 🙂

  10. Dana Russell says:

    No fancy dished or place settings needed…..I like closeup photos of the food with simple backgrounds that highlights just the food. I don’t like “fake” food photos where hot food is really cold or grilled food has painted grill lines.

  11. Sarah says:

    I usually look at the ingredients to decide if I can make that or want to try.

  12. Hmmm… I can’t really define what makes one food photo more appealing. Vibrant colors, great lighting and contrast, general composition.

  13. Amy Wolski says:

    I will only purchase a cookbook that shows lots of photos. Ideally one for every recipe. I don’t want to make it unless it’s beautiful. Ditto for online recipes.

  14. Esmeralda says:

    Looking at the ingredients included in the recipes makes me think, “I have all that stuff at home, hey, I can do this!” And knowing what the finished product should look like let’s me know I’m following the recipe correctly.
    Thanks for all the pics!!

  15. Maria says:

    When something looks pretty I’m definitely tempted to try the recipe out. My food photography needs work. I have almost zero natural lighting so I’m still learning when is the perfect time to take food photos. It will come eventually!

  16. Becky says:

    Appealing photos, especially step-by-step ones, means that I’m more likely to make a recipe than one without those. Time estimates are also helpful, though they can be pretty bogus–it doesn’t count as half an hour of prep time from start to finish if you have to chop a million things first!

  17. Dawn says:

    The salmon with honey looks delicious! Without the dry flakes by using your recipe looks motivating and something I can do! My hubby will love this.

  18. Ana Simmons says:

    I recently found your website .. Is fantastic!!! You recipes, pictures books are awesome!!! You’re awesome!! 🙂

    I think for me I would be more likely to try a recipe if the pictures look so delicious that I had the urge to reach and “take” a bite 🙂
    Also if the recipe is easy to follow.. Sometimes there are great recipes out there, but the instructions make me dizzy I’d rather cook mac and cheese :)and lastly if by reading the recipe it seems as the ingredients go together.. I mean if they compliment each other for a delicious master piece. Although sometimes is nice to have a surprise of flavors.. I like to study a recipe and make sure I’m going to have a delicious dish after all that arduous cooking 😉

  19. Julie says:

    One word: steam… the soups gotta’ look hot! : )

  20. Gabrielle says:

    Congratulations to whomever won! I’ve been sick so I don’t know if it was announced or not.

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Sorry Gabrielle, it was announced the following Sunday. Stay tuned for more giveaways!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *