My blogging friend Lucy at An Ordinary Mom suggested a few weeks back that I do a list of photography tips and honestly? The thought terrified me. Mostly because I don't think my photographs are very good and we happen to have a family friend who IS a professional photographer and for me to give out advice on photography has got to make him laugh most heartily. Most heartily.
However, I have learned a few things since I began posting pictures a year ago. Maybe the tips I've picked up (and am still trying desperately to master) will help someone else out there. These tips work well for most still life shots and they're especially applicable for food photography. And who among us doesn't appreciate a good photograph of chocolate cake?
1. Have Good Lighting. The number one rule for photography would be lighting. Utilize natural light whenever possible and avoid fluorescent or incandescent light. I take all my photographs near a brightly lit window or outside to take full advantage of the natural light--think how unflattering fluorescent light is on the human face and you'll start to understand how it will affect your photographs.
2. Get a Light Box. Here in Alaska daylight in winter is a big problem--or rather the lack of daylight is a problem--and I found last winter that the pictures I took were frustratingly dark. My photographer friend suggested buying a light box. My husband, ever excited to boost my blogging skills, got me one for my birthday and it has helped tremendously. If you ever have to take still shots, say for something you're posting on ebay or your blog, a light box is the way to go.
The one I have is a Quantaray Portable Ebox Photo Studio which collapses into its own carrying case and comes with two different background drapes (blue and gray), a small folding tripod and two standing lamps that can shine light through the diffusing side panels.
3. Where's the Light Coming From? When considering lighting issues never light an object from the front. From the side, or from two different sources but not from the front. Never use the flash as the primary method of lighting, it always looks fake, though it is acceptable to have a flash of diffused filler light when necessary.
4. Consider Backgrounds and Props. When taking a close up don't let the background distract from your subject matter. Try to use unobtrusive, calming backdrops for your pictures and when props are appropriate have them be subtle. For my food shots I try to take pictures on plain dishes. Oh occasionally I'll have a funky spotted dish but generally I try to keep things low-key. A great place to get extra dishes is a thrift store. They often sell single dishes for low prices so you can build up a store of props inexpensively.
5. Get the Right Tools. What is ideal is to get a camera that is an SLR (single-lens reflex) which basically means a camera that allows you to see your images exactly as they will appear compositionally on film. Do I have one? Nope. Though I'm told you can get good, decent used equipment for a couple hundred dollars it's just not in the budget for me right now. Besides, once I had the proper camera what excuse would I have for bad pictures? At this point I can blame everything on my lack of professional equipment. I have instead a Canon Powershot that works fine. Get a cheap tripod and get rid of "the shakes."
5. Get close. Many cameras won't allow you to focus more than three feet from an object. However, my Powershot has a "macro" feature that will allow me to focus so close I'm nearly touching the lens to the surface. Get in there close and fill the frame with the picture.
6. Hold it steady, don't slant. This is where that tripod comes in handy. If you slant your photograph it may feel artsy but it may also give the impression of a tilting plate and food about to fall on the floor. If possible, place the food on a platform where you can walk all around the item to discover where the best lighting is coming from. Hold the camera at a 45 degree angle from the food.
7. Take a Hundred Shots. This is the digital age, people, who cares how much "film" you use up? Take hundreds, thousands of shots and discard the ones you don't need because you're not going to be able to come back later and get another go at things. Take the picture from many angles, with different lighting, experiment and see what you like. I typically snap 20-30 shots of each plate of food. And that's low only because I have starving, ravenous wolves waiting at the table for me to serve dinner. I'd take more if I had the time and didn't think it would provoke a mob with torches and pitchforks coming for me. I figure I've taken 500 photos for my blog in the past year. I haven't used all of them but close to it, maybe a handful of those are decent photographs, the more pictures you take the more you'll improve your skills and the better chance you have at getting it right.
8. Take it Fast. With food photography you have a limited time before the food looks less than prime. You want it hot, you want it perky and don't want juices running all over the plate. Be ready and have things set up for that moment when the roast comes out of the oven, for the minute the cake is done.
9. Improve Your Composition. Be aware of where your objects are meeting the edge of the frame which naturally causes tension. Be aware of where your eye leads as it sweeps through the shot, avoid centering things perfectly in the frame and think in terms of triangles.
10. Consider the Rule of Thirds. This is a great tip for portraits and landscapes as well, but remember to divide your photograph into thirds. Don't put the horizon in the middle of the shot, place it one third or two thirds of the way down. Don't put your child's eyes in the middle of the frame, have them in the upper third of the shot. Centering is stiff and tense so put things to one side and allow your eyes to sweep over the image.
11. Use Digital First Aid. Take advantage of the features offered in Photoshop and crop, straighten, adjust, color and lighten as needed. These tools can compensate for quite a few problems--though not all obviously or I'd look like a regular Ansel Adams here.
12. Be Aware of Color. Remember the old color wheels? Blue compliments orange, red compliments green, purple compliments yellow. Whenever you have two complimentary colors together they strengthen each other. Use contrasts and value differences for excitement and interest.
13. Have a Goal. Are you trying to show a product as accurately as possible to sell it? Are you trying to make your audiences' mouth water? Are you try to impress us with the beauty? That will determine how you approach your subject and will give you different ways to judge the success of your picture.
If you're looking for some more good tips may I suggest the following?
* Tastespotting. A site that has amazing pictures of food. If you have a photo that good enough yours might be featured as well.
* Digital Photography Blog. A blog that has some more tips for your pictures.
* Food Photography Tips from 101 Cookbooks
* Food Photography Portfolio. Food photographer Michael Ray has a whole list of posts covering basic areas of his profession, some technical and some less technical.
* Picture Correct has a series of articles on various aspects of photography--and not just for food.
Technorati tags: Thursday Thirteen, photography, still lifes, food photography