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Food Photography Tips

Julie Andrews had it right.

The beginning is a very good place to start.

I wish we could jump right to part 2 and talk photo flair. (Ribbons! Flowers! Glitter!)

pb-fudge11

In the above picture: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Fudge.

I often skip through the first few steps while reading directions. (I’m especially notorious for skipping directions when assembling something. Does anyone else do this?)

Unfortunately, skipping directions in an attempt to save time can occasionally backfire, leaving me confused and even costing time in the long run.

So let’s start at the very beginning…

Food Photography: The Basics

Good news!

You do not need to have a fancy digital camera to take advantage of these tips. I haven’t taken any photography courses, and therefore it would be ridiculous for me to offer you technical tips on how to work your digital camera.

What I can offer are some basic photo-styling tips you can use with any camera. These tips are all ideas I’ve learned from experience; trial and error.

breakfastcobbler

Photo taken with natural light: Peach Breakfast Cobbler.

Tip #1: Listen to Nelly Furtado

Turn off the lights! That goes for your camera’s flash too.

When photographing food, keep the flash off at all times. Walk around and try to find the area in your home that has the most sunlight. I take photos almost exclusively in my living room, and usually somewhere around 11-4pm, because this is where/when I’ve found the best lighting conditions. Sometimes I take photos outside, too. Overcast days are great for this; too much sunlight can cast ugly shadows and make your photos look harshly overexposed.

homemade-Frappuccino

Photo taken in my living room: Healthy Starbucks Frappuccino.

Tip #2: Keep it Steady!

You’d be surprised at just how much havoc a tiny shake of the camera can wreak on a shot. It baffles and frustrates me they’re doing away with viewfinders in point-n-shoot cameras, because holding the camera right up to your face allows you to be much steadier than if you hold the camera way out in front of you, without anything to brace it.

If you have a tripod, use it. (Do as I say, not as I do. I have a tripod—somewhere—but am too lazy to set it up, and therefore never use one.) If you don’t have one, or if you’re lazy like me, make sure to keep the camera as steady as you absolutely positively possibly can.

healthy-fudge-pops2

Above, on a white plate: Creamy Chocolate Fudge Pops.

Tip #3: White makes Right

Also known as the KISS principle (“keep it simple, stupid”)

When I started out, I made the mistake of thinking fancy = better when it comes to dishware. In reality, if you look at the pros, they often use very basic dishware so that the food, not the plate, holds center stage.

Above, Flourless Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

Questions of the Day:

Are you interested in photography at all?

And do you ever take pictures of your food? What are your favorite things to photograph: Food? People? Nature?

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Published on September 14, 2011

Meet Katie

Chocolate Covered Katie is one of the top 25 food websites in America, and Katie has been 
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ABC's 5 O’Clock News. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating dessert every single day.

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  1. Giulia says

    Love the KISS principle! And thank you for the tips, they are great! My favourite pictures are those of food, closely followed by nature. Food pics always make me drool 😀

  2. Nicole @ Of Cookies and Carrots says

    I like photography, and I do some food photography when I make recipes and such but I actually find it pretty boring. And I never bring out all the glitter & ribbons & decorative pieces… I’m mostly lazy and don’t have that kind of creativity!

    What I DO like photographing ar epeople. Places. Vacations. Candids are my favorite. Pictures of my puppies. I think some of htem turn out alright, and I guess what makes them even better ot me is the fact that they mean something to me. Which probably means they’re useless to most people, but whatever. 😉

    Good tips! Especially the flash and the white. I almost exclusively use white plates these days, haha. 🙂

    <3
    n

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Aww puppy pictures are my favorite too! My poor dog, Molly, was completely black, so she always looked like a big black blob in photos (unless she stuck out her tongue). But you’re right; photos that others might consider bad-quality or boring are the ones that are often the most meaningful!

  3. Ali @ Peaches and Football says

    Cameras can be so outrageously priced. My little one was just over $100 – and I am always looking for ways to make food pictures come out better. You are right though, the flash ruins it. Sometimes I’ll take 2 pictures – one with the flash and one without – so I can compare later and see which I liked better. Twice the work but helps me get a better finished product.

  4. katie @KatieDid says

    I find for my house that shooting later in the afternoon, after 4pm works for me because the lighting is a bit softer than high noon. I love shooting pictures of people, to capture emotion and eyes and expression. But food is really fun too because you can set it up just how you want! And it evokes it own kinds of emotions and feelings (read: HUNGER!).

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      NOT yellow! 😉

      LOL but seriously… my house is so yellow, and it puts such an ugly cast on photos. Good background colors are things like white or light blue– light colors. And honestly, I haven’t completely figured out the background thing yet either. But usually, in photography, white seems to be a good choice for anything!

  5. Alyssa @ Life of bLyss says

    LOVE these, katie! I have a very basic point-and-shoot, and I have such an issue with photographing my food with such little lighting in my house and office (much of my “food photography” happens at night when I’m not at work). thanks for the tipskis! 😉

  6. Michaela says

    I love photography so much and I am so glad it pops up on so many blogs 🙂 You can never get too much information!
    I adore makro photography, but I also enjoy taking pictures of people and recently, mostly while preparing a meal or eating it, I am thinking “this would make a nice pic”… I guess I caught on the food photography bug 😉
    Looking forward to your next posts on photography!

  7. Jennifer JCD says

    I love photography, and your tips are great. (As are your photos – they have come a long way in the past year!) Another tip most photographers follow is the rule of thirds – try to place your subject off-centre, preferably at 1/3 of the width and/or height of the frame/photo. Centering the subject in the middle works well in most cases, and moving it off-centre can add even more interest. The Frappacino and Fudge Pop photos demostrate this principle beautifully! The cobbler too.

    As for me, I like to photograph kids, nature, and vacations. I’m still in the old school with a 35mm film SLR and a point and shoot digital for those times when I need a smaller, lighter camera or want to take lots of photos.

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Oh yes, thanks for bringing that one up! I try to keep the rule of thirds in mind… but sometimes (like with the blueberry muffin), I just can’t help but break that rule!

      I need to find a new, good-quality point and shoot… my old Kodak one was INCREDIBLE, but sadly it was also seven years old and finally broke. They just don’t seem to make them anymore with viewfinders, which is a must for me.

      • Jennifer JCD says

        Every photography rule is designed to be broken, and I like the muffin photo just the way it is. Sometimes centering things is the best way to capture them!

        Ugh, I understand the lack of viewfinder frustration… viewfinders are another key to achieving good photos, I agree. We like our Canon PowerShot A1000iS – it’s older and has some great features, it’s very durable, and still works perfectly after almost 4 years of heavy use. I don’t like cameras that only have a LCD, especially if you cannot see them in bright daylight. (I had this eperience this summer with a waterproof camera – couldn’t see a thing on the screen with all the glare, so the photos were hit-and-miss, mostly miss.)

        Good luck finding a new camera! And keep taking great photos!

  8. Jill says

    I am working my way through a chocolate cookbook, one recipe at a time without skipping. As I go, I write in what I made it for and the date I made it. If it is spectacular, I make sure to note that too, so I know which ones to repeat someday. After I make the chocolate creation, I take a picture of it with the cookbook page behind it. I am thankful for the simple steps you have given because I do not have a particularly special camera, so I always figured what was the point in trying to make it a really great picture? But now, I have these easy steps that wouldn’t take much effort but will make a much better picture! Thanks!

  9. wwhitney says

    Awesome post, totally agree with the no flash rule. My photos are all natural sunlight. Sometimes te 7am breakfast photos don’t turn out as good but its whatever. Lunch photos always rule!

    Whitney

  10. Melissa says

    I am interested in photography & take food pics for my blog, but I’m not very good at it. Photography in general is something I’ve always been interested in. I’m glad you’re doing this series. Hopefully I’ll learn some things! I’ve just recently stopped using a flash when taking food photos, but sometimes they look grainy and icky if I don’t have good light. Trial and error, I suppose! 🙂

  11. jordan says

    thanks for these, katie! i just started my blog and i’ve always loved taking photos of my food for good memories (and ’cause it’s pretty!), but for some reason i feel like the photos i’ve been taking for years are not appealing enough for my blog. i’ve always admired yours, so i’ll try these tips in the future 🙂

  12. Liz @ Tip Top Shape says

    Great post, Katie! I love food blogging and taking pics is both my favorite and least favorite part of it all. The tip about natural light is great. That is one really easy way that I found to improve my pictures.

  13. Jessy (squeezetheday) says

    I have a DSLR and I love photography, but I haven’t mastered it up quite yet. My favourite things to shoot for me are nature (especially seaside!), animals and children. I rarely take pics of food – I would feel uncomfortable taking out my camera and start shooting my meal in front of people, heh.

  14. Angel says

    I am absolutely interested in learning about photography. All the pictures I take are of my kids doing goofy things in strange outfits. How fun. I want to be able to take better pictures of them and I want to photograph beautiful sunsets and gorgeous leaves.

  15. Karen says

    Hi Katie! Thanks for these awesome blogs!!! I love to see what you come up with every day! I was wondering if you would be willing to do a post on pumpkin cookies? My non vegan husband loves them and i’d like to make something we both can eat 🙂 Also, what do you use for chocolate chips? I haven’t been able to find any vegan ones 🙁 thanks so much!!!

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Hey Karen!

      I do have a pumpkin bar recipe to share soon, but not yet an idea for a cookie one. I can try to think of one, though! I’m also hoping to develop a chocolate-pumpkin pie recipe for Thanksgiving :).

      As for chocolate chips, Many brands are vegan, including: Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet (the ones in the gold package), Enjoy Life, Whole Foods brand, Sunspire, some generic brands, Divvies, etc.
      Look in the natural section of your grocery store, if it has one. And if you absolutely can’t find any (and don’t want to buy online), you can always take any-flavored chocolate BAR and break it up and use that as chips. I’m actually posting a recipe later today that uses this method!

  16. Amber K says

    I love looking at awesome photos, but don’t really try to make my own anything special. Mostly because the only places I have to photograph inside don’t get natural sunlight. But yours is one of the blogs I seek when I’m searching for food porn 😉

  17. Sophie @ LoveLiveAndLearn says

    Yay I’m so glad you did this post :-). I love photography but I’m like you, I’ve never taken any classes or anything like that so I’m always looking out for good tips! Good call on the simple dishes, it really does make the food look better!

  18. [email protected] says

    Thanks so much Katie 🙂 And thanks for your kind words about my photos today. I’m trying so hard to get better, trying to photograph whenever I can! Since I’m at school all day I don’t get much by way of good natural light unfortunately. Maybe I’ll have to flip my schedule around! I’m thinking about looking into artificial lighting for the dreary New England winters; it’s already too dark to photograph dinner by the time I get to it! I just got a tripod and it’s making a world of difference. I can’t wait to read your flair post!

  19. Aine @ Something to Chew Over says

    Great tips Katie! I take photos for my blog but I feel like I have sooo much to learn.

    It’s hard to find sunlight in Ireland!

  20. A Tablespoon of Liz says

    Thanks for all the tips! Photography is really something I want to improve on, and you always take such nice photos.

  21. Nicole says

    Thanks so much Katie. This is really great. I love KISS! LOL.

    My apartment has absolutely terrible lighting and i almost always take pictures at 9pm or later. I’m moving November 1 so top on my list of new apartment wishes are larger kitchen, real dining area (right now I eat on the floor off my coffee table), and LIGHT!

  22. Maddie says

    I LOVE photographing and super editing people! Since most people don’t like posing for spontaneous photo shoots that means that I normally am doing self portraits and editing them for an eerie feel (and also to crop out the hand holding the camera! 😛 )
    My biggest issue for food photography is the finding a pretty background. Should I go simple and realistic or a backdrop? Should I find something that goes with the food or just a random image? I don’t know! What types of backgrounds do you normally go for?

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      I usually try to keep it very simple, since I end up having a very-blurred background anyway and you can’t see any of the details in the background.

      Sometimes I’ll put other foods in the background (like image #1 on this post), sometimes I set a place setting (like image 2), and sometimes I just focus close-up on the food. I also have a penchant for ribbons, but I’ll get more into that in Part Two (hopefully next week!).

  23. Lenna says

    I used to be very “against” taking pictures 🙂 But then I went to Madrid, took a lot of pictures while being there and I realized I actually enjoyed it very much 🙂 S now I am really interested in photography and all that stuff. But I am no profi, obviously 🙂

  24. Mallory @ It's Only Life says

    These are great tips! I’m a newbie blogger, and just started a new job, so it’s a struggle to get dinner photos in when it’s still light out… do you have any suggestions for this one? Photograph leftovers the next day? Haha!

  25. Monica Erskine says

    I’ve always admired your food photographs; thank you for sharing some of your tricks and secrets. And yes, I often do photograph my food, especially around the holidays. It’s great to break up a string of Halloween or Christmas photos in my album with a photos of food memories (like my handcrafted and utterly messy/rustic caramel covered apples or a plate of reindeer shaped sugar cookies made by my son).

  26. Rachel @ The Avid Appetite says

    thanks so much for sharing your tips! My biggest problem with photos is the lighting situation, especially once the clocks go back. I work 9 hours a day and am stuck in the office during prime food photo lighting! I may look into getting a light box…

  27. Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather says

    Great tips Katie! Most of my shots are done in the early am or late pm (dang 8-5 job!) so I use my light box a lot. Your photos look spectacular. I think I new to invest in a few mote white plates. They really make the colors splash.

  28. Stephanie @ StephSnacks says

    Awesome tips! Somtimes I find myself getting a little frustrated when it comes to taking photos of food. This definitely helps.

  29. Emma (Sweet Tooth Runner) says

    Thank you SO much for this!! Seriously, I NEED some photography tips- mine is not so great! 😛 Yours is AMAZING and I love all your photos!! Especially your cookie dough pie one which I know I say every time but it is my absolute favourite photo in the WORLD!! I’m considering making it into a poster to hang in my room, but I know I’d get hungry all the time! 😛

  30. Aja says

    I love, love, love photography. We just got out first assignment in AP Studio Art today and I am so excited (my portfolio is probably going to be just photographs and I might do my concentration on food). I love those tips. Very simple and basic for people whether they have taken a photography class or not. 🙂

  31. Albizia says

    I love photography and even though I am still not very good, I know I am light years away from where I was when I started. I was an artificial-light-loving, flash-abusing, crap-producing photographer wannabe who wondered why the final result was never even close to the initial idea.

    I think I am best at photographing nature but I still take a lot of food pictures and pile them in a folder on my computer 🙂 .

  32. Sarah says

    I mostly take shots with my cell phone camera (which takes some pretty good pics, really). Mostly these are flower photos. I’ve never been too keen on taking food photos. They usually just look like messy slop, and I do not have the patience to correct it. I do have to tell you that your photos are the most amazing things ever. They really are what makes me want to make some of the stuff you post about now as opposed to just saving the recipe for later.

  33. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga says

    Are you interested in photography at all? = Yes, just slightly 🙂

    Love the tips…White, keep it steady, the KISS method. Good advice.

    I’ve done plenty of tips posts regarding photography and another thing I always say to people is it doesnt matter if you have a fancy camera or not.

    If the food is styled bad, i.e. it’s just ugly food, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use to capture it. A fancy camera will simply capture ugly food in higher resolution and in greater detail 🙂

    Something to think about is working on the food STYLING and COMPOSITION, too. That’s my big tip!

  34. Jennifer says

    I love taking pictures of trees and flowers. The University I attend/teach at has a beautiful campus and I am often the crazy person climbing in the flower beds trying to take a picture. I keep waiting for someone to get annoyed, but no one’s said anything yet!

  35. Katie @Nutrition In A Peanut Shell says

    heck YES I’m interested in photography! However even with natural light/tripod/ simple plates my stuff doesn’t come out quite as pretty as yours. I have issues with focus, I suppose.

    Can’t wait to see more tips! 🙂

  36. Brittany says

    I LOOVEE taking pictures of my food…everywhere I go I try to get what I consider pretty foodie pics. Natural light is def necessary in achieving this. Great tip!

  37. BroccoliHut says

    Great tips! Keeping dishware simple is always hard for me, as I LOVE cute and colorful ones…but white and clear really do look best!

  38. Photography Art Cafe says

    Food + photography is about as good as it gets for me! Great tips on this page and absolutely brilliant recipes throughout the site! Some of my favourite food photography is often the stuff in Jamie Oliver’s books. Not sure who does it, but it really makes me hungry! I think it’s quite nice when food photos show a dish that’s in the process of being eaten; fork perched on the plate, perhaps a sauce being poured over it, someone’s hand holding a drink. Shallow depth of field is always great for showing texture too.

  39. t says

    Great tips, Katie! I also use a fake-macro lens to get a nice dull background and sharp foreground, but apparently many digital cameras also have macro settings.

  40. Electra @ Vanilla Bean Lean says

    LOVE this post Katie! This is awesome. I definitely take a lot of pictures – and a lotttt of pictures of food. I haven’t mastered the art quite like you have but with your tips maybe I’ll get closer 🙂

    BTW, my favorite has got to be the cookies with the pink ribbon, love that shot girl!

  41. Lisa says

    I was just checking my email and I got a copy of this sent to me and I was so excited about it! I’m always trying to find ways to improve my photos but with lack of experience of actual good photography, I’m usually just lost! Thanks so much for the tips! Your pictures are always awesome
    🙂

  42. Mary @ Bites and Bliss says

    Thanks for the tips! I definitely need to buy more plain white dishes. Colorful dishes are pretty but not the best for photography..

  43. natalie @ southern fit foodie says

    Love this post! I just got a Canon Rebel (early birthday present from my sweet husband), and I am SO EXCITED to start taking food pictures!

    Thanks for the tips! Your photos always look gorgeous!

  44. Marianne says

    Your house has immensely better natural light than mine. We have these stupid tinted windows to keep the house cool, and none of our windows actually face east or west, so our light inside is crap. I usually try and take my stuff outside, and either have it on the porch in the shade, on the deck under the canopy, or hope its cloudy. Setting/rising sun works too, and sometimes things look interesting when they are over exposed.

    I also agree than in general, basic white is the way to go with dishes. But, you can also add flair with the right kind of patterned/colour dishes. Even photography rules are meant to be broken 😀

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Oh LOL no! My house is horrible for lighting! Really horrible. All the walls are dark red or yellow, which casts such an ugly shadow! There’s only one place where I can actually get decent light, and even then it’s only for a period of about 2 hours! When I was little, we had a gorgeous indoor porch… that would’ve been perfect for photos. It was like a giant lightbox! Too bad I had no interest in photography back then!

  45. Drew @Just Good Chocolate says

    Hi Katie,

    Very good tips. I’ve been shooting in our production kitchen and have run into some issues with all of the stainless steel and the reflections(without flash). Your images (and the food) look great for not having a fancy camera and keeping it simple – very nice!

    Drew Warner

  46. Meki says

    I am having a hard time finding a good light source. our house is like a cave! no big windows and mostly it’s really din 🙁

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Ugh I hear ya! I moved into a small place, and there’s very little light… But I also live in Texas, so going outside means harsh shadows. I am so jealous of those soft white light rooms that some people have!

      I have to rely on setting my manual exposure a few stops overexposed, and I also add light with Photoshop.

  47. Joanna says

    I love how down-to-Earth your photography tips are. The pros make it sound so complicated! Heheh. And I’m slowly improving on my food photography without buying a pricy DSLR camera, though they take lovely pictures.

  48. Sophie says

    Thanks so much for those awesome tips! You’re photos are always really pretty, so any words of advice from you are very much appreciated. I have two questions for you now so that i can try to improve my pictures.

    1. Do you have any ideas on how to take pictures without natural light? Like people above have said, at the time when i usually take my pictures there isn’t much light and i’m not exactly sure what to do about that. Is there a way to create natural looking light?

    2. I always always always like when someone can give me some good ol’ constructive criticism. If you have a chance could you check out my blog that i just started and give me your opinion on the pictures? The link is http://mouthwateringfoods.blogspot.com/. I don’t mean to beg for you to check it or anything like that, but if you could take a quick look it would make me very happy.

    p.s. I recently discovered your blog and though i’m not a vegetarian or a vegan i absolutely love it! Great job on the recipes and, as i mentioned above, the pictures.

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Hi Sophie!

      I hear you on the lighting thing… I actually live in a VERY dark, tiny house. I rely on higher iso (often 400), higher f stops (2.8 and 3.2 are favorites), and post-processing (photoshop) for help with light. But to be honest, I still struggle with it A LOT! And lol I am definitely still a novice photographer… I can’t give you tips on your photos, as I’m no professional by any means!

  49. Olivia says

    Hi there,
    How do you place your subject (food) in relation to the window light? Do you use anything to control it or diffuse it?
    I really appreciate your simple explanation of things!
    Thanks.

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