10 Steps to Improve Your Food Photography

 10 Steps to Improve Your Food Photography | http://photorec.tvFood photography is all the rage these days, with thousands of Instagram users posting their drool-worthy kitchen creations and restaurant meals everyday. It's easy to assume these photographers are using high-end equipment or are blessed with amazing natural light in their kitchens. While a DSLR camera and gorgeous lighting will help you take better photos, there is a lot more that goes into making stellar food images. The following steps will get you on your way to improving your food photography.

Baked Potato Soup with Colby-Jack Cheese and Bacon | http://photorec.tvFind the best natural light in your house 

The best lighting in the house often isn't in the kitchen. When you do have beautiful light in the kitchen, you may need to move your food away from the stove or counters and over to the window to create crisp, bright images. When you don't have beautiful light in the kitchen, set up your food shoots in a different area of your home that lends itself better to photography.

Buttery Crescent Dinner Rolls | http://photorec.tvAlternatively, use artificial lighting 

When you're struggling to shoot in the available natural light in your house or don't want the daylight hours to restrict your shooting, consider an artificial lighting setup. When executed properly, artificial lighting produces consistent, bright shots. Typically, I use two desk lamps with daylight bulbs and two DIY Lowel EGO lights for my artificial lighting setup.

Coffee Nut M&Ms | http://photorec.tvMinimize clutter in your shooting space 

Getting rid of unnecessary items and other distractions in your food photography is critical for creating clean, focused images that allow the food to shine. When you begin a food photography session, clear your shooting surface of miscellaneous cooking gear and other household items. If you aren't shooting against a neutral background, such as a white wall, create your own backdrop with a wood board, patterned paper, or even poster board.

Cannellini Bean Hummus | http://photorec.tvAdd a garnish or other finishing touch to your dish 

A garnish or other finishing touch will take any food photography shoot up a notch, boosting your results from casual, amateur shots to polished, professional images. For example, if you're photographing hummus, add a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a few sprigs of parsley. If you're photographing a bowl of soup, top it with a sprinkling of cheese.

Buttery Crescent Dinner Rolls | http://photorec.tvStyle your food with nice dishes and a couple of props 

Choosing dishes and other props specifically for your recipe makes your images more intentional, creating a more powerful visual story. Start with items you already own. Taking the time to style a sandwich on a plate with a napkin and glass of water makes the whole meal together. If you want to expand your prop collection, scout thrift stores and rummage or estate sales for interesting pieces on the cheap. Etsy and eBay are also great options for affordable, unique, vintage items.

Roasted Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts | http://photorec.tvClean up any drops and splatters 

You'll complete the polished, professional aesthetic for your images by taking an extra few seconds to wipe up any drips on the plate or pan. If the pot is really dirty or the bowl has more splatters than you can easily wipe up with a single paper towel, plate your food with clean dishes.

Convey interaction with the food 

Set up a tripod or enlist a family member or friend to help you with your food photography shoot, so you can create a few interactive shots. Pouring the dressing over the salad or getting ready to lift the soup spoon up to your mouth further adds to the narrative. It will take some trial and error to perfect these shots, but it's well worth the effort.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps | http://photorec.tvExperiment with different angles 

When you're preparing for a food photography shoot, allow time to take ample shots, photographing the dish from at least three or four different angles. You may be really happy with your initial idea for the shoot, but it may take a little while to nail the best angle for a particular dish. To get the classic overhead shot you see so frequently on Instagram these days, grab a chair or stepstool, so you can get above your food (safely!).

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies | http://photorec.tvConsider “in progress” shots for recipes and other food-related blog posts 

In progress shots, such as the cookie dough mixed in the bowl or the meat cooking on the stove, further add to the story you're telling. As you're preparing for your food photography shoot, jot down a short list of ideas, so you won't forget to take a few in progress shots as you make your dish. Sneak peek or behind the scene shots also make great teaser content on social media. If you’re planning to publish a new recipe later in the week, publish a shot of your ingredient spread in the kitchen or the empty cookie mixing bowl a few days before the recipe goes live.

Cannellini Bean Hummus | http://photorec.tvShoot with a prime lens 

Many food photographers shoot extensively, or even exclusively, with prime lenses. While you may want a zoom lens to capture a few wide angle shots of your spread, most likely you'll want to shoot the majority of your images with a 50mm, 85mm, or even 100mm lens. Getting up close with your food brings people right into your kitchen, which is key for making food enticing when someone can't actually be there smelling and tasting it. Personally, I shoot most of my food photography with a 50mm lens, using a 100mm lens selectively for a few really tight images, such as the hummus image above.

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies | http://photorec.tvPick up a diffuser or reflector to minimize shadows

Harsh shadows often leave sections of an image underexposed. For certain types of photography, you may want to create this sort of aesthetic. However, for most food photography, harsh shadows are less than desirable. A diffuser or reflector is a simple, affordable way to minimize the shadows in your food shoot. The easiest, cheapest way to create an effective reflector is to fold a piece of white foam board in half. 

Adjust your aperture manually to ensure proper depth of field and focus

Ideally, you want to shoot in manual mode, so you have full control over the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for your food images. If manual mode is too overwhelming right now (and that's okay!) or you prefer to work with your camera's priority mode, choose aperture priority mode. Take care to shoot with an aperture wide enough to keep the image in proper focus. A few images with a narrow focus to highlight certain aspects of the dish will add to your story. But you don't want all of your shots to have a narrow focus. It's rare I shoot wider than 3.2 for food photography. The 9/21 Photorec.tv Instagram challenge is food. Submit your best food photography images by tagging them #PRTV_food2 and #PRTV. The challenge closes at noon EDT on 9/27. Limit two entries. Recent photos only. Check out the full list of PRTV challenges to participate in future challenges. 

Do you have any tips to improve your food photography? 

Leave your best advice in the comments! 


10 Tips for Better Beach Photography

10 Tips for Better Beach Photography | http://photorec.tvThe beach is an ideal setting for photography. With sparkling water and a blue sky, how can you take a bad picture? However, when you snap pictures quickly in auto mode without thinking much about your composition, they often turn out dull or washed out with no clear subject or visual point of interest. A few tips for better beach photography will help you turn your mediocre, amateur beach snaps into professional, polished images.Crooked vs Straight Horizon | http://photorec.tv

Straighten the horizon

Arguably, the single biggest mistake people make with beach photos is shooting a crooked horizon. Straightening the horizon instantly improves any beach photo. When you're shooting, pay attention to your horizon to get it as straight as possible in camera. Then make any final adjustments during post-process to ensure it's completely straight.There are a couple of different ways to straighten the horizon in Lightroom. Both straightening tools are located in the Crop options box. The first tool is a visual rotation tool. After you've clicked on the Crop tool and the grid has appeared, hover your mouse outside of the photo until a double arrow appears. Drag the cursor until you've straightened the horizon.The second tool is the ruler or straighten tool in the Crop options box. Click and drag it over to the crooked horizon. You can drag it over the whole horizon or just a portion of it. Lightroom will calculate how far off it is from the horizon level, and rotate the image accordingly to correct it.You can also fix crooked pictures with Lightroom's guided transform tool. Watch the video below for more details.

Christina Moraes @chris_with_photos on Instagram | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Christina Moraes

Shoot with a circular polarizer filter

A circular polarizer (CPL) filter is like sunglasses for your camera. When you're shooting on a bright sunny day, a circular polarizer creates rich, detailed photos. Circular polarizer filters are particularly important when shooting beach scenes because they allow you to cut down on glare on the water and bring out the color in the water and the sky, creating a more vibrant, balanced image.

Cairn on the Beach by Rose Clearfield | http://photorec.tv

Focus on the details

Amateur photographers walk up to a beautiful scene, snap a picture, and keep moving. While a simple beach composition showcasing the sand and water may be stunning, spending a few minutes taking in the entire scenes will reveal other possible shots.Beach Photography at Different Times of the Day | http://photorec.tv Moon Rise Light Progression | http://photorec.tvBrowns Bay beach sunrise by Tim Rosenthal | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Tim Rosenthal

Pay attention to the light

The current light conditions greatly affect the look of the beach at any given moment. Watching the light and planning to take pictures at certain times of the day will enable you to create images that simply aren't possible in harsh mid-day sun. I like to use timeanddate.com to keep track of the current sunrise and sunset times as well as moonrise and moonset times. The Photographer's Ephemeris and Sunseeker provide even more details about the direction of the light and shadow length.Backlit Girl on the Beach by Trelina Anderson | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Trelina Anderson

Back lighting is another fantastic lighting technique to experiment with at the beach. Lighting a subject from behind instead of the front or side often proves more difficult, but when executed properly, offers fantastic results. Trelina shares a beautiful example with one of her daughters, back lit on a sunny day at the beach.Seashell at Aberdovey Beach by Roger Hunt | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Roger Hunt

Winter Wild Plants at the Beach by Rose Clearfield | http://photorec.tv

Experiment with depth of field

Shooting with different depths of field is a simple, effective way to change the focus in an image. I love to find an interesting rock or a grouping of wild plants and then position the water behind it. When you've found a subject of interest, switch your camera to Aperture Priority (Av or A) mode. Dial in a wide aperture (i.e. 1.8, 2.2) and take a few shots, then slowly work your way to a narrow aperture (i.e. 16, 22), taking pictures at each aperture. See which aperture setting you like best for your subject and the overall composition.Long exposure by Frantz Konradsen | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Frantz Konradsen

Sunrise at Big Bay Park in Milwaukee, WI by Rose Clearfield | http://photorec.tv

Experiment with shutter speed

Setting up a tripod on the beach and photographing long exposures of the water is a popular technique. If you've never attempted a long exposure, it's definitely worth trying at least once or twice. Generally, you'll have the best results with long exposures during the golden hours of the day when the light is low on the horizon. If you enjoy shooting long exposures, invest in a set of neutral density filters. Neutral density filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera, allowing for even longer exposures.Beach in Four Seasons by Rose Clearfield | http://photorec.tv

Frequent favorite spots in different seasons

One of my favorite aspects of living near Lake Michigan is visiting favorite spots throughout the year and photographing them in different seasons. It's fascinating to see how the landscape changes from one season to next and how those changes affect the shooting conditions. A lakeside setting takes on a completely different aesthetic with colorful fall trees than it does with stark winter trees.

Shoot in manual mode

Shooting in manual mode gives you more control over your images. Shooting in auto mode at the beach means you'll often end up with a blown-out sky and water without much detail. When you shoot in manual mode, you can select the settings to create rich, detailed images with minimal harsh shadows and blown-out areas. If you're brand new to DSLR photography or have only shot in auto mode, it's intimidating to make the transition to manual mode. However, it's well worth the effort. Start in aperture priority or shutter priority mode, and build your skills from there.Further reading: Making the Transition from Auto Mode to Manual Mode

Beach During Final Light of the Day by Josh Hairsine | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Josh Hairsine

Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW gives you even more control over your images. A RAW file is the image that a camera sensor sees. When you shoot a JPEG, the camera processes the image for you, making a lot of the editing decisions. Once it's made these decisions, you can't recover detail that gets lost.Unedited vs Edited RAW Sky Example | http://photorec.tvFor example, if the clouds are very bright with blown-out areas, you won't be able to get much detail back.Unedited vs Edited RAW Shadows Example | http://photorec.tvOn the flip side, if an image has deep shadows, the detail in these shadows is lost in a JPEG. Finally, shooting RAW enables complete control over an image's white balance. Instead of selecting a white balance in camera, you can shoot with any white balance setting and then adjust the final white balance in your editing program.Further reading: DSLR Photography 101: Don't Be Afraid of Shooting RAW

Use Lightroom's adjustment brushes

Beach landscapes often have varied lighting, which makes it difficult to capture the entire scene in full detail with balanced light. Our eyes process the varied lighting without us even realizing it in a way that cameras can't. You see numerous beach photos with harsh shadows and/or blown out skies. Many people fine tune their exposures for landscape photos, including beach photos, by using spot metering. You can further perfect your images in post-process by using Lightroom's adjustment brushes.Over years of editing beach photos, I've created adjustment brushes for editing bright skies, cloudy skies, and long exposure water. I've used these brushes in nearly every image I've shared in this post and am sharing them with you. Adjustment brushes allow you edit select sections of a photo. Creating your own adjustment brushes for edits you make over and over again streamlines the post-processing routine, so you can edit more quickly. As with any brush, action, or pre-set, typically, you'll have to tweak these brushes a bit for best results.Download your sky and water adjustment brushes! After you've saved the folder, open Lightroom. Go to Edit > Preferences. Click on the Presets tab, and then the "Show Lightroom Presets Folder" button. Open the "Local Adjustment Presets" folder. Paste your new adjustment brushes in this folder. You may need to restart Lightroom before you can see the adjustment brushes.Finally, keep your eyes open, so you can seize great opportunities for photos at the beach as they happen. Beach scenes change quickly, sometimes minute to minute as the light changes or the weather shifts. Brilliant colors appear, and then the next minute the entire scene is quiet and blue again. A fantastic boat will appear, but it's moving quickly, which means you only have seconds to get the shot. You don't want to miss these fleeting changes to capture stunning scenery.Rainbow Over Lake Michigan | http://photorec.tvI first saw this rainbow from my house. It was one of those drop everything and grab your camera moments. I was fortunate the rainbow stuck around long enough that I was able to get more than a couple of shots. You can see the full set on my blog.Wind Point WI Beach Reflection | http://photorec.tvI actually took this last shot with my phone. I was out for a walk with my husband and didn't have my DSLR with me. We walk on the beach nearly every week when the weather's nice, and I'd never seen this occur before. When I did return the next day with my DSLR, the landscape had completely changed. I'm so glad I got the shot with my phone.Angela Redmon | http://photorec.tv

Copyright: Angela Redmon

The images in this post without a noted copyright are my own images. You can see more of my photography on Instagram and my blog. The photographers who contributed photos to this post are members of the PRTV support group. Thank you for sharing your images! Learn more about becoming a PRTV member and joining our support group.

Do you have any additional tips for better beach photography?

Leave your insight in the comments!