Live Blog: Lunch is Ready for its Close Up!: A Food Photography Mini Workshop

This session was led by Kacy Meinecke and Brandi Koskie who make up a dynamic recipe development team. These two have been working together for two years creating exciting recipes to support a healthy lifestyle.  These two understand that we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths and that pictures can truly sell a recipe!

The scene is set with Brandi and Kacy standing behind a long table filled with ingredients and surrounded by camera and lighting equipment. CamRanger is a wireless tethering system used during this session.

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Brandi: Foodblogging has become huge. We all know that you can go anywhere on the internet to find recipes, whether it be Food Network or recipes.com. However, recipes from blogs not only help support the blogging community, but blog recipes tell a story. Food evokes emotion and memories, that when shared along with a recipe is a win-win!

The two recipes shared during this mini workshop are a guacamole recipe using avocados from California Avocado Commission and Blueberry Lemonade. Get the Blueberry Lemonade Recipe here; guac coming soon!

The guacamole recipe is a Brandi original and has never been shared before. Per Brandi, no onions were harmed in the making of this guacamole because onions are disgusting. During this session, Brandi was preparing the guacamole using avocados, diced cilantro, chopped Roma tomatoes, Serano peppers (good flavor, but not too hot), salt and a sprinkle of paprika. Kacy was taking photos, which will be shared with the recipes at an upcoming date!

Two different types of shots are typically used during recipe photography: process shots and finishing shots. Process shots are taken during the various steps in creating a product whereas, finishing shots are taken once the product is completed.

Brandi: The first step when shooting is laying out all tools and ingredients. This allows you to get good photos of the items and ingredients necessary for the recipe.

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It can be very difficult to try and take pictures as well as cook at the same time so it’s always a great idea to find a friend, spouse or kid to assist you in the process. Baby hands sell! Getting assistance also allows you to get better photos because you can concentrate on taking pictures.

Kacy: Now to set the scene for your picture, remember that you don’t need to have a full setting of professional lights. Natural light can be perfect and work in your favor. Just be aware that natural light is not always constant. You can work to control the light in some instances. On a bright sunny day take a white sheet to help soften and diffuse the light. Also, make sure you are looking at the whole picture including the background and foreground. Dirty dishes or ugly fingernails can mess up a picture. Being aware of the background of a picture ahead of time saves a lot of work in the long run for editing.

When it comes to equipment, you can use almost anything. I use my iphone to edit all my photos. Using apps such as Snapscene and VSCO film can be extremely helpful providing different filters and editing options. Most of the filter options are free, but if you do plan to purchase, look for one that provides a warm, smooth light. You can adjust all your settings including light and sharpness in the apps. Film is also making a big comeback, as people love the grainy look.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

As for cameras, shoot as wide open as possible as it will give a shallow depth appeal. This allows for a nice inch of focus, but makes things look more smooth and buttery. And with food, you want your pictures to make people hungry!

Question: Do you always adjust your white balance before a shoot?

Kacy: Yes. I always shoot in Kelvin 5200. If you set your camera on auto white balance you can get pictures that look very blue, warm or purple. If you set it on Kelvin you can always have a constant white out. This is extremely important when taking pictures of people rather than food.

Remember that food photos can have different styles. Some people like messy, while others like crisp and clean. Find your own style!

Question: Is there anything wrong with using Photoshop to edit out things that aren’t in the place you want them to be?

Kacy: NO WAY! Photoshop all you want if you don’t like where things are. If there is a splatter on the plate brush it out.

Brandi: Make sure you pay attention to the little details because they make a big difference. I once did a shoot with chicken empanadas and we realized days after the shoot that we never took any pictures of the inside of the empanada.

Question: I have the worst luck with indoor photos and seem to always get a yellow haze, potentially from florescent lighting. How do I stop that from happening?

Kasey: Turn off the lights and get by any natural light. Put your camera on a manual setting instead of auto. When you control the settings you control the output. Also, shoot as low as possible with food. Even if the shot is a little underexposed that’s ok and is easy to manipulate in editing. If you are in an area with no light then you can jack it up to 6400.

Question: Is there any specific colors or plates to use when plating food?

Brandi: I try to get as cheap as possible. I like to go to Hobby Lobby or a garage sale and pick up different items. You can get random cloth or napkins that can work really well with color layering. Burlap can also add a neutral texture to a picture.

Kacy: It all depends on your personal style. I love white plating because it’s chic.

Brandi: You want to use something that will compliment the food, but doesn’t detract from it.

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Question: What are your thoughts on vinyl backdrops?

Kacy: If they look ok and lighting looks good then do it! I use doors, steps, and outdoors. Take a wood board and buy vinyl, sticky fake wood flooring for 70 cents a piece. Stick it on the board and it looks like a wood floor. Decide whether to have variety in your blog pictures or stay consistent the whole time.

Question: Are there any trends in food photography that are played out?

Brandi: Mason jars.

Kacy: I’ve personally seen a lot of burlap, but I don’t necessarily think it’s played out because it is rustic and shabby-chic.

Food styling is another big part of the photography process. When you’re plating, you want your food to look as good as possible. Add things in; take things out; take a ton of shots; do a mix of pretty and clean and then messy photos. Take the clean one’s first!

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Question: What angles should you use when shooting food photos?

Kacy: Angles are very much what you like. Obviously, don’t do super awkward angles. I’m OCD so I like perfectly straight and symmetrical or add a little dutch angle. Look at where your light is falling. You don’t want too harsh of lighting. You can be dramatic without being overexposed. I’ve never said there is a wrong angle, except upside down because that would be weird.

Question: I have trouble with shadows. How do I fix that?

Kacy: Watch where your light is coming from and where shadows are occurring. Working with florescent light is often killer. Try to use natural light and photoshop as needed.

Question: Where should light be when you’re shooting?

Kacy: Light should be directly to my side or at 2pm.

Question: What kind of light would you recommend for adding artificial light?

Kacy: Natural light is best and we all have access to it. You can do it anywhere! You can do it in your bathroom if it has good light! Subtracting light? Anything black can stop light from bouncing too much. With adding light you can get mini reflectors that help bounce light. Look for something in silver or white as gold gives a warm tone. Some people like their food very warm, but the lighting plays a part in the seasons. You may want to cool the tone in the winter. When bringing in external light, shoot light up towards the ceiling so it’s not too harsh. Diffuse the light in any way you can. Get modifiers to diffuse the light if needed.

Question: What do you need to get started with food photography?

Kacy: Inspiration is the number one thing you need to think about first before you get into food photography. You can shoot with anything, including any smartphone or ipad, but a camera will do better in the long run. Grabs some apps (if you’re using a phone) you can play with and use to your advantage. Lighting is key to making photos stand out. Look at the whole picture and pay attention to lighting.

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Question: One problem I have is that I’m busy during the day so I take most of my pictures at night under florescent lighting. How do I make them look good?

Kacy: Bring in an extra lamp or two to soften the light and change the white balance if the photo is looking yellow. You can also shoot it the next day if the food will look good cold. You don’t have to shoot fresh on demand. Things can be cut or prepared ahead of time.

Question: What do you think of light boxes?

Kacy: Love them. This is my Chimera, which is a Boulder, CO brand. Anything that is going to soften your light is the best bet. Any kind of diffuser or soft box will work. Amazon has small kits that you can buy that will be a constant source of light and will be a softer light than a florescent. They are also super cheap.

Question: What do you use to post a recipe? Do you use a plug-in? Is it printable?

Brandi: I haven’t used a plug-in, but those can be fine and I know people that like them. The Diet Review site has a link to print, rather than printing directly from the blog.

Question: How many pictures do you try to put in a post?

Brandi: It depends. There is a “too many”, but the more variety the better, especially from a Pinterest perspective. I’m a big fan of the process shots because you get a lot of beautiful photos that way and it’s an interesting way to publish the recipe. Rather than telling them what to do you can illustrate it. Take as many pictures as it takes to tell the story. If you have the option, make your photos as large as you possibly can. Big, long tall pictures display better. Try for 600 pixel minimum.

Question: Can you talk about Pinterest and your strategy?

Brandi: I always make sure there is at least one image in the post with text treatment with the recipe name. Make sure there are enough horizontal and vertical oriented photos to give people options. I try to use a lot of networks like Food Gawker and Foodily and places that let you upload your own photos. I usually put in the ingredients, but not the instructions. These are big search networks for recipes. There is also one called Finding Vegan. Get a hold of Shape and POP Sugar, etc. because they love to do recipe roundups, so send your stuff to them. That helps get your photos into new places. Follow Help A Reporter Out (HARO). They send 3 query emails a day from bloggers, journalists, etc. looking for sources for stories and recipes. Obviously, stick your food photos on Instagram and hashtag it with food photography hashtags. I like to make galleries on Facebook with 3-4 good pictures. If you can get someone to click through a gallery they will usually follow through and go to the site. You can typically get at least 2 photos on Twitter as well. If you’re taking good pictures, show them off!

Kacy: Brands look at pictures too! Brands are looking at Tumbler and Instagram for content and they’ll pay you, especially for photography.

Brandi: You can also re-work old recipes that don’t have photography or it’s bad photography. Repurpose your content! If it’s a great post, go in, reset the publish date, edit some of the content and add some fresh new photos.

When discussing props, food is a good prop even in addition to the main focus of the photo. Example: lemons and blueberries around a glass of blueberry lemonade. Hands, straws and wooden spoons can help add texture.

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Question: What exactly is CamRanger?

Kacy: CamRanger is a wireless teathering system. Technically, you can use an ipad to change settings on the camera. It is it’s own personal wireless system. It shoots directly to any platform that has the app. You don’t even have to touch your camera if you want to mess with settings. It also has a live view so it’s beneficial for client access and viewing live shoots.

Question: My counter isn’t the most beautiful. What other options do I have for background?

Kacy: Make a wooden board like we talked about before or shoot on the floor. You can use placemats or cutting boards. Bamboo cutting boards are beautiful and classic.

Brandi: We’ve used a large block of ice to take pictures of popsicles before. Grass can also be a great background. Get outside or use a friend’s house!

Question: Do you have any tips for using an iphone to take food pictures?

Kacy: One of the greatest things is that the iphone is getting better with megapixels. Megapixels refer to how large and how much quality you hold in your images. The new operating system allows you to go into your photo settings and adjust the auto focus box and exposure settings (sunshine icon). The exposure setting is very helpful in low light situations. You have a variety of filters that you can add later. The chrome filter is very vibrant. You can download various apps such as Snapseed, Aviary, Rookie and Camera Plus, which allow you to edit anything you want. I don’t like to use the flash because it is awful lighting. Find that natural light and shoot from a high angle. You can also use the timer, which is helpful when you are preparing the food and taking your own pictures at the same time.

The session concluded with tasting of the guacamole and blueberry lemonade. Delicious!

Photos are a compilation of those taken by attendees during the session and copies of photos directly from Kacy Meinecke.

This post was captured by Katie Horner at Pickles 2 Pushups.  Katie is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer who loves to encourage others to pursue their health and wellness goals. 

  • http://www.thedailymel.com Melissa (@TheDailyMel)

    I’m finally reading through some of the live session recaps and this one is great! Thanks for all of the awesome information and advice, Brandi & Kacy!

  • http://www.clippingpathindia.com/image-manipulation.html Ferdaus

    Are you saying Photoshop should not be used in food photography? But dont you think, some basic editing may be needed to make the shot perfect? Like a little bit of adjustment in brightness/color, getting rid of any particular thing in the taken shot etc.