A Guide to Food Styling and Photography

A Guide to Food Styling and Photography | Miranda's Notebook

I thought it was about time for another post in my Blogging 101 series, and as I’ve been questioned on food styling tips in the past, I thought a blog post on the subject might be useful. Of course, this is particularly relevant if you have a lifestyle / food blog, but I think a lot of the tips can apply to photography in general. I am by no means an expert in this subject, but I feel I’ve learnt quite a bit over the past year, and these are some of the best tips I’ve discovered whilst developing my own styling and photography skills.

1. Get your lighting right

I fear I’m becoming a real bore on the subject of light. Wherever I go, I seem to think about the light quality, and before I started blogging I never thought I would get so excited about being seated next to a window in a restaurant. ‘Oh brilliant,’ I cry ‘natural light!’  My friends raise their eyebrows in a ‘there she goes again’ kind of way, and I can see them thinking ‘oh no, we’re probably not even going to get to eat a bread roll ’til she’s photographed it.’

Even if it makes you seem like a weirdo in front of your friends, though, I have to stress that the right light is essential for a good photo, and I prefer natural light. If you’re setting up a photo shoot at home, make sure you take photos next to a window that lets in plenty of light. I in fact shoot most of my images on the floor by some french windows. Generally, the best light is on offer in the early morning or before sunset towards the end of the day, and it’s a good idea to experiment to see which light you prefer (I like evening light best, but this really is a matter of personal preference).

2. Diffuse and Bounce.

Even when you have the perfect light, it’s important to know how to diffuse and bounce light properly to get a great photo. Diffusing and bouncing light means you have greater control over the image you’re creating: you can eliminate shadows and brighten areas of your composition. I diffuse and bounce light almost every time I take a photo, and so far I’ve done this with the most basic of kit. I have a piece of white cardboard I use to bounce light, and I have a round diffuser, that also doubles as a bouncer. I admit I’m starting to outgrow these now, and I could do with a much bigger diffuser and ideally a bigger bouncer too, but they’ve stood in pretty good stead up until now! Also, a lot of photographers simply use a white cotton sheet hung over the window as their diffuser – so there’s no excuse not to up your photography game without spending much money at all!

3. Tell a Story.

I like to create a certain atmosphere for each of my food shoots, so I pay a lot of attention to the props that I use. If I want to convey a bright sunny day, and the feeling of lounging in the garden whilst enjoying a cocktail or slice of cake,  then I’ll often shoot pictures outside. For a recipe I created especially for Mother’s Day, I included nostalgic photos, pretty pink china and tulips.

4. Play with different levels and backgrounds.

In general, it’s a good idea not to have everything on the same level when taking pictures. This is an excellent opportunity to dig out your prettiest cake stands, or simply place a plate on a pile of books (like I did here). You can also experiment with different backgrounds. I’m extremely limited with the types of flooring or tables I can use in my flat, and I’m getting really bored of my brown wooden boards, so I’m planning to invest in some wallpaper that’s made to look like textured wood or marble. Using different table-cloths, wicker baskets and upturned crates are also excellent ways to create a variety of backgrounds.

5. Experiment before you invest.

I really urge you to play around with your camera and to get a real feel for your own style of photography before you invest in any serious equipment (like I said, there’s an awful lot you can do with a simple white board and a cotton sheet!). I’ve been experimenting for almost a year now, and I’ve only just started feeling like I now know what would be wise and useful investments to make to improve my photography and styling, and even then, I’m not going to be spending a fortune. There’s honestly no point in spending money on fancy equipment before you know why it’s useful or how to use it. I would like to start testing out artificial light photography, but I’m only going to start with a basic kit whilst I find my feet.

6. Read a food photography book!

There’s one investment that I would advise anyone to make immediately and that is to get a photography book. It’s the cheapest way to get terrific, professional advice, and if you’ve still got your camera on automatic setting, then reading a photography book will give you the help you need to switch to manual. One I’ve loved reading is Plate to Pixel, which is specifically aimed towards food photographers, but honestly just has excellent advice in general and has given me so much more confidence to experiment with my own photography.

I do hope you’ve found this little guide useful, and I’d love to know what your own tips are for food photography and styling. Also, if there’s a topic in particular you’d like me to cover in my Blogging 101 series, then do please let me know, and I’ll do my best to write it!

++ See my Blogging 101: How To Start a Blog, Parts 1, 2 & 3 series ++

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