...because home doesn't happen overnight.

food photo tips 1

So something funny happened. I used to strongly dislike cooking, but now I don’t. I still wouldn’t call it my passion (there are no plans for Food*Tweaking, ha!) but sometimes I actually find myself enjoying it.

What happened? I’m not exactly sure, but it didn’t happen overnight. I think a few things came in to play. I have more time to cook now that I stay at / work from home. My kids have become little foodies, critiquing my skills and offering to help out with meal prep. When I went dairy free, out of desperation I tried new recipes and ingredients and it exposed me to a whole new world of cooking. FYI – We aren’t completely dairy free anymore, but I haven’t bought cow’s milk in years. Now, Steve eats a mostly paleo diet and I try to accommodate him when I can.

I’ve also been using Blue Apron regularly for almost a year after our friends recommended the service. It’s helped me get out of the dinner rut of spaghetti and tacos – both of which I love but they aren’t very adventurous. I’m giddy every time the refrigerated box of fresh ingredients shows up at my doorstep. Especially when it’s the FIFTH snow day in a row and we’re low on food and I have no desire to brave the cold for groceries. I really like the new family plan which feeds our family of two adults + three children and then some. The new family meals are meant to be served family-style and are more affordable.

I’m so grateful for recipes shared online that I started sprinkling my favorite quick & easy go-tos in with other home-related content on the blog. Obviously, that forced me to take photos of food. All of a sudden cooking became yet another fun, creative outlet when viewed through my camera lens. *BONUS* – I get to eat the subject matter!

I’m definitely not a food styling expert by any means but I thought it might be fun to share a few of my food photography secrets. Kind of a behind-the-scenes look at recipe posts.

*I always photograph food in natural light. (But not always in black socks. No judgments! It was, like, -20°F!!) After some trial and error, I discovered that the best spot to shoot food in my house is on the floor just inside the french doors in our mudroom / dining room. The doors are north-facing and the bright, indirect light is perfect. Placing the food on some sort of backdrop on the floor makes it easy for me to get overhead shots. I’m not naming names because it isn’t my secret to tell but I know one highly regarded food blogger who styles and shoots food in her garage with the door partially raised because that’s where the best light is in her house. Whatever works! I also consider the mood of the dish when contemplating lighting. In general, for brighter, lighter foods I’ll shoot in the late morning on sunny days. For richer, more comforting foods, I’ll shoot on cloudy days or in the early evening.

*I always consider composition. It’s almost like decorating a room but on a much smaller scale. Sorta like creating a mood board but with food. A food board? Instead of lining up all the ingredients, I’ll arrange them organically. I try to balance colors and textures within the frame. My goal is for it to look pretty but imperfect and real. I’ll cut lemon slices, peel garlic, “spill” a little salt or crumble cheese. A little mess is okay! I add practical props. Measuring spoons and small bowls work well. I’m itching to add more props to my bag o’ tricks because my current inventory is lacking.

*I leave out raw meat and raw fish if possible. The same with labels unless they’re particularly helpful. They just don’t look all that appealing to me.

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*I include one or two significant, in-progress shots. Again, I’m no chef and the recipes I share aren’t crazy complex so images of every step usually aren’t necessary. My kids really enjoy prepping so I’ll usually snap a few shots of them. (When we prepare a Blue Apron meal, Everett’s job is to read the instructions to me step-by-step. It knocks out his reading homework for the day. Win-win.) Needless to say, it’s difficult to supervise the kids, photograph and cook at the same time!

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*I shoot several different angles of the finished product. That’s mostly for fun. I never know which angles are going to make the cut until I edit the photos. If the kids are cooperating, I’ll set the table quickly. If not, it might be just a few close-ups. If the dish is especially decadent, I like to include a half-eaten or empty plate, too. It’s a good “the end” image.

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The recipe shown here is one of the new family meals offered by Blue Apron. It’s the chicken scallopini with roasted broccoli & whole wheat farfelle. Paleo Steve ate only the chicken (I left one breast free of flour) and broccoli. The kids and I loved it all! The roasted poblano chilaquiles with sunny side-up eggs and avocado sound pretty amazing, and the filipino-style beef picadillo with chayote squash & jasmine rice is a family favorite that I keep on standby.

If you have been wanting to try Blue Apron, now’s your chance. The first 100 readers will get two meals free-of-charge when they place their first order! Just click here. And, as always, shipping is free.

Do you have any tips for food styling or photography? Any great food stylists I should check out for inspiration? Were you surprised by the food on the floor in the mudroom? My black socks? Ha!

*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.

P.S. – The evolution of my photography.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

58 Comments

26.February.2015

Some how I am the first commenter. I have been cooking for over 40 years. Not every day, we travel and go out occasionally. Now of course, it is just my husband and me unless family are visiting. But I have gotten pretty bored with it, so trying something else will be fun.

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26.February.2015

Thank you for the offer to try Blue Apron – I signed up! I don’t like to cook either, but I am hoping it’s fun to try new recipes. My husband and I both work and commute in Atlanta traffic so maybe this will be a fun thing to do together.

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26.February.2015

love your photos! you have a great way with styling, not only your home, but food as well! I have a question on how you balance Steve’s paleo diet with how the rest of the family eat? I prefer to eat paleo and, because I do the cooking, all our main dishes are paleo. Hubby and kids get only non-paleo snacks (or occasional sides of quinoa). Just curious how dietary choices are balanced among family members in other families :)

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Steve usually follows a paleo diet Monday-Friday. He makes his breakfasts and packs his lunches. (And usually the boys’ breakfasts and lunches, too.) I try to prepare dinners that can be tweaked for Steve’s plate. He encourages me and the kids to eat healthy but he doesn’t force his choices on us. That being said, we do eat many a paleo meal together as a family!

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26.February.2015

I’d love to try Blue Apron but I’m guessing this is a US only offer?

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replied on February 27th, 2015

US only, so sorry!

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26.February.2015

Great post! Would you mind sharing where you bought those water glasses? I’ve been looking for some like that!

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Walmart, a few years back!

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26.February.2015

Wow! Thank you for this offer! Although I love to cook, sometimes my creativity is lacking and the idea of buying specialty ingredients for specific recipes gets very expensive. Can’t wait to get my first shipment!

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26.February.2015

thebeeroness.com has the best pictures, along with some amazing recipes and always a great story to tell alongside it.

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Thank you! I love her rich photos. Bookmarking!

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26.February.2015

I work really long hours, and I adore Blue Apron. I’ve learned lots of new cooking techniques and get to cook vegetables I never would have thought to purchase otherwise.

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26.February.2015

I use Blue Apron and had no clue about a new “family plan.” I can’t find anything about it when I log in, and it won’t let me edit my plan away from a 2 person plan. .. I’m going to have to do some research on this! Maybe it isn’t offered to my zip code yet. Anyways- thanks for the heads up and I love your photography! :)

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Check under the “pricing” tab on Blue Apron’s home page for the family plan. Hope that helps!

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I try the same thing with my food photography. I also love cooking, but I do tend to get in a rut. Luckily, my ruts are still tasty!

I find the best ways for me to get excited about cooking are to throw on a 30-minutete show like with Bobby Flay or Ina and just see what they make. I rarely go make the same thing, but it helps me think about flavor combinations.

Honestly, once you learn about flavor combos and the right temps to roast your veggies on, you’re good to go!

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26.February.2015

Would love some details on your gold forks and knives- Where from? Dishwasher safe?

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replied on February 27th, 2015

West Elm. They are hand wash only…a disadvantage but we don’t use them every day.

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26.February.2015

Oh man, I have been trying to step up my game in this arena big time and I did my first food-on-the-floor-in-front-of-the-back-window shoot yesterday! So.weird. And you don’t realize how many props you need, and are lacking, until you start trying to do this. I gotta hit up some garage sales and thrift shops stat.

As far as inspirational food styling, my friend Jessica at Army Wife to Suburban Life curates a gorgeous Pinterest board on it: https://www.pinterest.com/Aw2sl/food-styling/

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Oh my, so much inspiration! Thanks for sharing.

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26.February.2015

So, is Mabrey still sensitive to dairy?

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replied on February 27th, 2015

No, she eventually outgrew it but we definitely don’t eat dairy like we used to.

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26.February.2015

Since you’re giving tips on photography I thought I’d leave one here for your readers too (based on the photo where you show you & the tripod).

We’ve got lots of light there so you might not need to worry about this, but…

It’ll be easier to get a sharp, in focus picture if (1) you open up the legs of the tripod to get the height you need instead of extending the center column so high and (2) use a remote shutter release (remote control) or the timer so your hand is not on the camera when the shutter does it’s thing. Doing both these will reduce the vibrations your camera has and thus make it easier to get everything in focus. Since you’re using a tripod, you shouldn’t have to worry about shutter speed. But having the center column so far up like that will create lots of vibrations that can negate the benefits of shooting on a tripod.

One other thing to think about is angle of view. In that first image you were almost shooting straight down but not quite. Because it’s not quite the image seems a little bit out of perspective when displayed at 90 degrees from the orientation at which you took the shot. Probably not something most people would notice or pick out, but can certainly change the feel of the image.

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replied on February 26th, 2015

Ooooh and I forgot to mention, that since you’re on a tripod you should stop down a bit (i.e. close the aperture/dial it to a larger number) so that everything can be in focus. The tripod means you don’t have to worry about shutter speed. The larger aperture means that the broccoli will also be in focus. In an over head shot you’re not really trying to use a shallow depth of field to throw anything out of focus. Instead, it’d be better of have the top of everything be sharp. Since the top of the broccoli is much higher (relatively speaking) than the rest of the ingredients, if your aperture isn’t stopped down enough then it wont be in focus if you focus on the ingredients further away/in the center of the frame.

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Megan, thank you for all of these tips! I am going to reference them the next time I shoot. xx

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Some great tips here, thank you for sharing! Hey I have been known to get caught out in my black socks before too – no judgement there :) PS: love the idea of a food board :):)

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26.February.2015

You mentioned that some Blue Apron dinners are family favorites…do you just buy all the ingredients for the recipe, or does Blue Apron let you reorder a meal you like?

Also, out of curiosity, do you pay for Blue Apron, or is it a perk for mentioning it on your blog? I’ve just always wondered how these arrangements work!

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replied on February 27th, 2015

For our faves, I save the recipes and buy the ingredients from the grocery. I started using Blue Apron on my own, with my own money after our friends recommended the service. For a sponsored post, the company provides the meal but we still subscribe on our own throughout the year. Hope that helps keep things transparent! It truly is a service we use and love.

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26.February.2015

Hey! We had that same lemon chicken a few weeks ago. We love Blue Apron!

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26.February.2015

I love your photos! Thanks for the behind-the-scenes shot!
Check out these 2 Chicago food photo pros:
Josephine Orba, food stylist: http://www.josephineorba.com/stylist/
and my super talented & successful friend, Stephen Hamilton: http://stephenhamilton.com/

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Awesome, thank you!!

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26.February.2015

Everything looks so fresh and flavorful. I wish there was a Kosher option!

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27.February.2015

Straying off topic for a minute – I realize your husband is smaller than mine, but does he find that just a chicken breast and some broccoli fill him up? My 10 year old would have eaten half of that chicken and half of the broccoli (none of the pasta) and the 5 year old maybe a bite of chicken or 2. None of the kids are foodies, sigh, so I often cook ‘plain’ things for them. And maybe when it warms up your way, you might now want to try a CSA box – fresh local veggies! Maybe you will be ready/feel confident after using this service.
(And what color socks should you have had on?)

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Steve ate a breast and a little more than half the broccoli. If he’s still hungry after dinner, he’ll usually have a bowl of dates + almonds and a glass of almond milk. He has a pretty rigid diet that he follows throughout the week. It’s all very healthy but, I swear, he eats all. day. long.

I would LOVE to try a CSA box! Come on spring.

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27.February.2015

The food photos look great. I went back and read about your camera equipment, and I’m curious about the tripod. How satisfied are you? I’m in the market for a new one and found two that are well under $100 but I know nothing about them so if you are satisfied I would probably go with what you have. Thanks.

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replied on February 27th, 2015

I LOVE this tripod. I had a less expensive one that didn’t hold up well. The panhead cracked after only a few months and it was so flimsy that I didn’t use it half the time.

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27.February.2015

These are great tips for food photography. My husband took a picture of me taking photos of a meal because it thought it was hilarious how I had things set up. He just wanted to eat the meal before it got cold. (which it did)

I will have to check out Blue Apron because while I enjoy cooking I hate going to the grocery store. Enjoy your meals!

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Food styling is quite comical. My kids are always asking, “Now? Can we eat it now?”

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27.February.2015

Off topic question (and apologies if you have already answered this question in a previous post), but what kind of paint and what color did you use to paint that step stool? I have had pretty disappointing results with painting furniture, but I would really like to paint/stain the Ikea stools I plan on getting.

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replied on February 27th, 2015

All about that lil’ red stool here…

http://www.housetweaking.com/2014/02/24/i-call-it-the-stop-stool/

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27.February.2015

So cool, you are just so amazing. Where did you find those drinking glasses ?

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replied on February 27th, 2015

I’m pretty sure I bought them at Walmart a few years back.

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27.February.2015

Lovely composition and how did you manage to take a photo of yourself taking a photo? :)
This is super silly, but are your black jeans Levi’s?

Thanks,
Meg

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replied on February 27th, 2015

I had Layne, my ten-year-old, take the photo of me taking a photo. He just used my iPhone. My jeans aren’t Levi’s but I wish they were! They have lost their elasticity so I’m on the hunt for some black Levi’s now.

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27.February.2015

Does stopping to document come pretty naturally to you, or is that a trait that you’ve developed since it’s just a de rigeour aspect of blogging? My job (graphic design) frequently necessitates taking photos so I do it pretty often, but in my personal life, I have so much difficulty stopping what I’m doing in order to snap a photo of it. I love to cook and love plating, but at that point I’m ready to chow down and not interested in clearing some counter space and pulling in some extra lighting.

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replied on February 27th, 2015

It’s not natural but it does help me see the beauty in the everyday. I don’t make food boards for every meal I cook ;) And I am usually HANGRY by the time I get to eat what I made.

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27.February.2015

I have to say it; I have always thought black socks are the only sock option with black pants. Same effect as wearing a dress vs. a top and skirt / wearing tall boots / wearing pointy toed heels –elongates the leg. I think it looks terrible when people wear socks that contrast with their pants* (especially white sports socks… don’t get me started!) [*tall slouchy cabin socks excepting], and I’m kind of (okay, very) obsessive about finding denim-coloured socks to go with jeans.

So… you have to tell me: why don’t you like the black socks? I’m really curious now!

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Haha! I just thought it was awkward that I was posting a picture of myself in black socks (vs. barefoot or shoed) online. ALWAYS black socks with black pants.

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replied on February 27th, 2015

I’m glad. I’ll sleep better tonight knowing you’re on the same page. ;)

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27.February.2015

This is such a timely post… I am taking a photography course right now, so that, like you, I can actually learn how to use my DSLR properly. Yesterday’s class was on “lighting” so I thought I would try some food photography for this week’s assignment. I was worried about the poor lighting in the kitchen and contemplating if a homemade reflector would even help… didn’t even occur to me to move everything out the the better-lit family room!

So thanks for the tips– both you & @Megan W above.

On another note, I am with @Summer… what other color socks do you wear with black jeans? Because there is no way I’d be going sockless in my house this time of year! I thought black socks were only a faux pas with shorts (and not necessarily even then if you are a pro athlete).

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27.February.2015

http://www.creativelive.com has a few class offerings on food photography every now and then. if you watch it live, you don’t have to pay for the class unless you want to keep it for a resource for later. :)

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replied on February 27th, 2015

Thanks for the link!

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27.February.2015

I wear black socks every single day in the winter.

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28.February.2015

I love your food photos! They look great. I also love to cook, and bake. I love taking food photos, and working on getting better at it. Thanks for all your hints.

Kathy

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02.March.2015

I’m not surprised at all by your mudroom location for food shots. I know of bloggers who shoot in their bathroom (good white reflection) or on a night stand in their bedroom. I shoot mostly food on my blog and am now even teaching an online tabletop/food photography class after teaching a workshop at a blog conference. It’s so much fun. My motto is that you don’t need expensive equipment to get good food shots. You do have a great eye for it!

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10.March.2015

Pulled the trigger on Blue Apron, I’m really intrigued. I very much fit your description of your former self – don’t love to cook – but it MUST be done, and I feel like this takes out the hardest part: “What’s for dinner?” We’ll see how it works for my downsized, empty-nest, household of two. Our particulars are that 1) I am gluten free and they don’t directly accommodate this, but I’m savvy about substitutions and 2) my partner eats enough for three of me, lol. (Much bigger appetite – and person – plus I plan leftovers for his lunches.) I think the family plan will fit, even though we are just two people.

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replied on March 10th, 2015

I don’t mind cooking as much when everything is laid out right there in front of me. Like you said, it eliminates the hardest part. I hope you enjoy it!

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17.March.2015

i love how you’re keeping it real!
ALSO what tripod are you using?
the one i ordered BLOWS and will not support my camera.
:)

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replied on March 18th, 2015

Check that info here…

http://www.housetweaking.com/2014/02/06/photography-on-the-blog-then-now/

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