Photography FYI

When I first started my blog, I was doing it for me and my friends, and for the fun of sharing good recipes with them. Before I ever even wrote my first post, I decided that I’d always put lots of photos in every post. I like seeing things that people are talking about, and seeing if I’m doing things right, so I figured other people might be the same way. It never occurred to me that people might come to like looking at my photos as much as they like trying my recipes! Recently, though, I’ve been getting lots of emails asking questions about my photos, camera, and other equipment. I decided the easiest way to cover it all is just to write a post about it.

For starters, it’s important to point out that I haven’t taken any classes or anything. I am entirely self taught, and learning more and more every day. In fact, you can see quite a change in my photography from my beginning posts to my most recent. It’s all trial and error, and learning new things. But having some really cool equipment and a fun camera that I love helps too!
I don’t use any crazy expensive photography tools, but they aren’t necessarily cheap either. We have acquired all of this over the last couple of years, but aside from my camera, it’s all affordable. And even my camera is reasonable, if you’re ready to make the investment. Seeing as how that’s the most important part of the equation, I’ll start there.

I use a Nikon D90 DSLR As of Christmas 2012, I am now using a Nikon D7000). We invested in this two years ago. My husband was actually the one who wanted it because he loves taking pictures too. Once I started my blog, though, I ended up sort of taking it over! I love it. A lot. When we bought it, we got the kit (which is what I linked). When we first got our camera, we both shot everything on Auto. The camera produced great photos on that setting, but exploring the other settings (Shutter, Aperture, Manual, etc.) has led to some amazing photos! Whatever kind of camera you invest in, don’t be afraid to experiment with all of the bells and whistles! You can take an ordinary photo to extraordinary so easily! Also, the manual is your friend! I’m not big on reading manuals, I admit it, but there’s really a lot of information that can make the whole process easier for you. It’s an especially good place to start for beginners. Learning all the fancy photography terms and investing in equipment won’t do any good if you can’t use it all to it’s fullest potential.

A comparable Canon would be the Canon EOS 50D. Two years ago, I had no opinion on brand (Nikon vs. Canon). I’m an incredibly loyal person (or maybe just set in my ways), though, so now I am Nikon all the way. I have lots of friends who are huge Canon devotees too, though. It’s your call, just research and see what’s best for you.

When I said kit above, I meant that the camera body came with a zoom lens (Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5). While that’s a decent lens, I honestly very rarely use it.

I prefer my 50mm f/1.8 lens. All of the photos that appear on my blog are shot with this lens. Even off the blog, for personal photos, I still use this lens 99% of the time. It can’t zoom, but I don’t mind at all. This lens is my key to getting great bokeh

Chocolate Filled Blackberry Soufflés
…and by bokeh, I mean that fuzzy part of photos. In the photo above, the chocolate-y, yummy souffle at the front is crisp and clear because that’s where I focused my camera, but everything behind it is dreamy and soft, and the background is completely blurred…that’s bokeh. Bokeh can be super soft, like above, or it can be more subtle and a little clearer, like the photo below.

Festive Eggnog Christmas Cake

Here, the majority of the objects in the photo are in focus, while the background is blurred. Changing the amount of bokeh in a photo requires some knowledge about aperture. There’s a lot involved with aperture, which I’ve learned through trial and error (and advice from others), so that’s another post all by itself. But the link will give you a good idea of what it is.

Basically, though, you should know that you have to have an Aperture (A) priority setting on your camera to work with it, and it’s not just the camera that does it all. The distance between objects also plays a part. But seriously, aperture is a whole post on it’s own. Plus, there’s the whole option of shooting on Manual or Shutter…there’s a lot to learn! Fortunately, there are countless resources on the internet! Definitely take the time to seek them out. The Pioneer Woman has fantastic photography series that explains aperture and shutter perfectly.

Occasionally, I like to get in really close for a photo. To do that, I use my Kenko extension tubes. I’d love to have a real macro lens eventually, but for now, these work beautifully.

Last, but not least, for camera equipment, I use the Lowepro SlingShot 202 AW camera bag. This was a birthday gift from the hubster this year and I absolutely love it. It holds everything and is super comfortable for me to wear. In fact, on our trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this past summer, I not only fit my camera and lenses/flash in it, but also extra snacks and drinks! It has lots of pockets and cubbies! It even has straps along one side to hold my tripod! I love it!

Aside from my camera, I also have a little set up for all of my food shots.

This is my “studio.” I use a card table, covered in a crisp white sheet that I’ve tied a string around. The string holds my sweep in place. The sweep is the backdrop for almost all of my photos.

My sweep is the Lowel EGO Sweep. Above, it’s plain (notice the clips at the top for holding paper in place), but in the previous photo, it’s covered in plain ivory colored paper. It also came with several other large sheets of paper in various colors.

You’ll notice in the first photo (of my “studio”) that the sweep also came with a reflector (positioned on the right side of the photo). The reflector bounces light onto the unlit side of the food, so that there aren’t big shadows in my photos. You’d be surprised what a difference it makes!

In these unedited photos, you can see the effect the reflector has. The top image has no reflector, while the bottom does. Without the reflector, the right side of the image is darker with a much deeper shadow next to the object. I told you it’s surprising the difference it makes!

Every chance I get, I use natural light for my photos. Fortunately, I have these big beautiful, East-facing windows right over my photo table! Once the sun rises above them, I get the most gorgeous light all day!

On particularly gloomy days, though, or days when I’m unable to take any photos until evening, I use the Lowel EGO Light, which I love so much! Once my photos are uploaded and edited, there is no distinct difference between the photos with natural light, and the photos using this light. I also use a tripod often, usually for my light, but occasionally for the camera (you can partially see it above, with the light on it). Mine is a Sunpak FieldMaster, but any one will do.

Sometimes I want a more interesting background than just a solid color. In those cases, I turn to good old scrapbook paper (usually 12 x 12, but occasionally 8 x 8). It’s an endless supply of infinite backgrounds for practically no cost at all! For a particularly wide image, I just double up and place two sheets next to each other (I buy lots of paper packs, and I never buy a single sheet…always at least two sheets of the same print). I also love to use napkins, placemats, and trays whenever I can.

As for editing, I absolutely love Adobe Lightroom 3, which is indeed an investment, but one that is completely worth it, if you’ll be taking a lot of digital photos. I also have Adobe Photoshop Elements, although I use it less for blog photos than I do for personal photos, like the one below. Finally, the hubster recently got me Adobe Photoshop CS5, which is the biggest photography investment we’ve made after the camera. I’ve only had it a couple of weeks, though, and am still learning all the bells and whistles!

If you’re unsure of which program would be best for you, my rule of thumb is that Aperture is for photo editing (exposure, crop, etc.), although you can truly do a lot of very, very interesting things with it too. Elements is more for photo manipulation, like above (but you can still do editing with it too). I use Elements to change photos (like shrinking myself down to four inches tall and giving myself fairy wings).


The above photo is a good example of a photo before and after Aperture edits. The top image is the original photo with no edits. The bottom is the end result of my editing in Lightroom. Notice how much brighter and crisper it is. I love Lightroom. *It should be noted that the photo above was taken in artificial lighting, in the evening. Photos taken in prime natural daylight need far less editing.

A couple of final points:

I always shoot in RAW. This isn’t a must, but you have far more editing freedom in RAW than you do in JPEG. Yes. RAW takes up tremendous amounts of room, but I’m also brutal with the delete button. I’m more than willing to get rid of 95% of the photos I take for the blog. About 99% of the remaining photos are then converted to JPEG, with only my very favorites staying in RAW format for future possible use.

I rarely use flash (and only with a diffuser), but I never use flash on food…it’s very unflattering.

I shoot on a very, very low ISO sensitivity. You only want to have a higher ISO in low lighting. High ISO sensitivity leads to a grainier photo, so unless that’s what you’re going for, you want a low ISO sensitivity (mine is usually on 200).

I always take lots and lots and lots of photos. You can always delete them, but you can never create the photo you didn’t take.

Move around while shooting. Change your perspective. Get level with your subject, stand over it, take a couple of steps to the left or right. You never know what angle will present the photo if you don’t move around and experiment.

Relax and have fun. If you want to enjoy taking photos, then you can’t stress out about it. Practice is key and having fun is the most important thing.

I hope this has been at least a little bit helpful. I still have lots to learn, but I’m having fun doing it, and that’s all that really matters!

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Comments

  1. Blog is the New Black says

    Thanks for all the wonderful tips. I just got a Lowell light and sweep and the improvement in my pics is drastically wonderful!

  2. Anne @ Flour Box Bakery says

    This is so helpful. My husband (he also likes to take photos) and I have gone back and forth over investing in a really good camera. I love all the tips you gave and I really appreciate the full review of the camera and it's lenses! Thank you so much!!! (I just emailed this to my husband)

  3. ChinkyGirLMeL says

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post. I sure learned a lot. I am planning on investing in a Nikon too. I still need to save up a bit but will be getting one hopefully by this February. =)

  4. HeatherS says

    Thanks so much for this detailed post. I've definitely picked up some good tips, now I just need to pick up my credit card. :)

  5. Caroline says

    This is hilarious! I was reading through this post and I swear it is my same story! I too wanted to do a blog with photos throughout. I started out with a little point-and-shoot because I knew absolutely nothing besides how to switch the camera to automatic mode. Then, my husband bought a Canon 7D that he had been dreaming about, and just within the last 3 months of owning it, I have learned how to navigate through the options and, god forbid, take it out of automatic mode and into manual and/or aperture priority. Consequently, lets just say that the 7D is now my camera. Poor husbands. Us food bloggers definitely duel as professional photographers too!
    Your photographs are always so beautiful and your recipes are delicious. :-) Happy Blogging!

  6. Kita says

    Great post. I love it when food bloggers write about their equipment and technique – it often seems like a well hidden secret. :D

  7. Michi says

    Thank you so much for sharing your photography secrets! I always look forward to drooling over your posts. I think it is important to share that it takes time and effort (and honestly, money) to get some of the fantastic shots you get. You are very talented!

  8. sugarswings says

    great post and awesome for a photo newbie like me! I have to take almost all my pics at nite so the tips are super helpful. Thanks for this!!

  9. Tea says

    This was really interesting to read. I sometimes like to take photos, but not enough to really invest yet (my main investment was a Canon S90 to replace my old point-and-shoot). Thanks for posting this, as I've been wondering as well, what kind of set up you used.

  10. Stephanie says

    This is a great post!

    I want to work on my photos for my blog.. right now I just have a little point and shoot camera. I'd looove to have all the equipment you have

  11. Scarletta says

    I have been waiting and hoping for this wonderful informative post – thank you so, so much!

    Your tips are so helpful, as are your photography product reviews and recommendations.

    Thank you from the bottom of my bokeh!

  12. Lana says

    Thanks for the info) I'm dreaming of a good camera))
    Happy new year!

    С наилучшими пожеланиями из России =)

  13. says

    Thanks for sharing so much info. We share much of the same equipment, I want to get one of those backdrops that you have. I often shoot inside of a light box right now but if I am not careful you see evidence of this.

  14. says

    I love your photography, your focus is great and the lighting is always clean and thanks for posting your tips and techniques. Do you do photography professionally, or just for your website, because you are good enough to sell stock or commercial photography!

  15. says

    Just stumbled on your blog – so excited to have found it! I started blogging about 2 years ago – I’m just now starting to get serious about my photos and I have to say that this is one of THE MOST helpful and informative posts I’ve read on taking pictures. I knew about most of it in a general sense, but I think you’ve explained the details very well. Thank you very much! :)

  16. says

    Extremely helpful! I’ve had so many photos rejected on foodgawker and getting very discouraged. I have photoshop CS4 but have no clue what I’m doing. I’ll play around with it a bit. Great explanation in this post. Thanks :)

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