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Not too long ago, I finally purchased and read Pinch of Yum‘s book Tasty Food Photography, which was originally published in 2012. As someone who started food blogging with absolutely no photography experience at all, I have learned so much from it that I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to start taking food photographs but doesn’t know where to start. It was only after reading this book and implementing a lot of its ideas that I finally got my first recipe accepted to Foodgawker! As someone who used to take all their photographs on a phone because I had no idea how to operate even the simplest functions on a camera, I’m super proud of how far I’ve come and this book was one of the tools I used to improve significantly.
Tasty Food Photography Review
Tasty Food Photography covers all the basics of food photography, including editing, which was so helpful for someone like me, given that I had no idea what to do with my copy of Photoshop! Lindsay makes everything clear and simple, even explaining the more technical aspects of things like aperture and ISOs. The original version has just been updated with 15 extra pages of content, including more sample pictures and video tutorials. Oh, and if you have already bought the original version published back in 2012, email Lindsay and she will send you the updated version for free!
This ebook also walks you through elements of food photography that are often overlooked, like how to improve the composition of your photos and use props effectively. It shows you how to increase the light in your photos without relying on artificial lighting which can wash out the vibrancy of your images. Not to mention tinge them unflattering yellow or blue! One of the most useful sections for me was where Lindsay shows you simple, inexpensive ways to improvise tools that would otherwise set you back lots of money, like fancy reflectors or diffusers.
If you want to find out more about Tasty Food Photography – and see more sample pages – click on the image or banner below. This is the sample page that sold it for me, where what I would have considered an “unsalvageable” image was turned into a blog-worthy one, something I had no idea was possible! Seriously, I used to take 100s of photos and STILL not be happy with any of them.
What I learned from Tasty Food Photography: shot by shot!
So I’ve told you how awesome Tasty Food Photography is. Which is great. But how can you tell if it will be useful to you without actually seeing the book itself? Well, as a kind of self-imposed photography mid-term, I decided to reshoot a recipe that I had made back when I first started food blogging. And here I will take you through that process step by step, showing you how I applied what I learned from the Tasty Food Photography ebook. As a quick comparison, here’s my “before” photo of the gratin on the left and my “after” photo on the right: quite the difference, right?! This is going to be an in-depth photo essay, probably the longest post I’ve ever written to date!
I first published a recipe for a completely Paleo, dairy free, Sweet Potato Gratin back in November 2012. I had been blogging sporadically since July and was still stubbornly taking pictures on my iPhone (/facepalm). Why? Because I was terrified of learning how to use Mr Meatified’s DSLR camera as I had absolutely no experience with anything other than a point and shoot. Oh, dear. Now this gratin was undoubtedly delicious – in fact it’s one of the recipes I’m most proud of! – but it was really, really ugly. Here’s the original picture I published with that post. I have no idea how it got shared over 1000 times with a picture like that, aside from the relative novelty of it being a dairy free gratin.
It’s far too close, to the point that you can’t really tell what it is. The lighting in my kitchen is entirely artificial, which gives it an almost radioactive glow, along with a greasy-looking sheen. Not only is it pretty difficult to tell what it is, there is no context or story to the picture, at all. How was I going to appeal to anyone’s senses with an image like that? Food photography is supposed to make you want to reach in and enjoy the food. This picture was not helping me achieve that.
Before I read Tasty Food Photography, I had started to use Mr Meatified’s camera, a Canon Eos Rebel T3i. We had even gone so far as to buy a new lens which was much more suitable for food photography, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, as it was perfect for shooting closeups and great at making the most of available light. This was important to us as we often have to shoot indoors, given the harsh sunlight outdoors here.
What I envisioned when it came to reshooting this Sweet Potato Gratin was simple. Better lighting, truer colors and a nicer looking dish. I knew I needed to back right up and stop getting so close to the food that nobody could really tell what it was. So I figured I’d use a nice, clean white baking dish to start off with. Which sounded fine, but it’s hard to make a single dish look interesting. So I divided half of my gratin batch into a smaller baking dish than the original recipe called for and then used the remaining gratin components to fill some individual ramekins. That way I would have a few options available to me later when it came to taking pictures.
This is a really key point: try not to envisage only one version of the shoot. Don’t confine yourself to one version of anything, whether that’s the color scheme of your props, or the way you present the dish. You can see here that already things were looking better when I took a few test shots of the ramekins: dividing the gratin into multiple ramekins instead of just one dish makes the future shot more interesting by adding much-needed depth. In addition, the natural light when I took these in the sunroom beneath the nearest window was beautiful. I was happier already!
Once the gratins were cooked and had cooled enough to handle, I took them back to the sunroom for a couple of quick test shots. Uh oh. The light was much harsher and made the gratins look almost freakishly deep orange.
The natural color of the gratins was much more muted than in this image! Lindsay talks about finding the right location to give a great “scrape” of light across the subject of your photo, so I moved the gratins onto a second table in the sunroom, one which is below the window sills and therefore doesn’t get hit by the harshest, direct light. The last photo had also proven another thing: while the depth given by having three individual gratin dishes was nice, there just wasn’t enough of interest in the picture to really draw the eyes in. It was time to add some props.
Since the gratins were fairly orange due to the pumpkin puree in the recipe, I brought out some green placemats. I used one beneath the individual gratin dishes and then set out a second at a somewhat jaunty angle to the first, overlapping each other a little, to add some interest to the background without being distracting. I didn’t want to take the shot straight on, so I had the gratins lined up at almost a 45 degree angle behind each other for added interest.
However, I had the problem of a large empty space in the top left of the picture, so I added some complementary napkins and some forks. It still didn’t look right as it was a tad muted. So I placed the gratins on a long white dish to brighten things up. Lindsay also explains in Tasty Food Photography that this is a handy tool for later editing: if you need to adjust the white balance at that point, it’s sure useful to have a white item somewhere in the picture! Things are starting to look improved!
There were plenty of problems yet to adjust, though! Temporarily ignoring the issues with color and contrast, the image lacked any real semblance of a background. It was also kind of boring to be looking at an image where the focus of the picture – that gratin at the front – was squarely in the middle of the shot.
Lindsay explains in Tasty Food Photography how you want to move your subject out of the center most of the time, which is called the Rule of Thirds. So I brought back that battered baking tray from my original shots and placed it in the background. Then I placed my second, larger gratin dish on top of that. I adjusted the angle I was shooting from so that the individual gratin dish from the prior shot was still the focus, but it was now placed in the lower right hand corner. The composition was looking much better.
But, wait! My work was not yet done! The natural light was waning and everything looked a tad washed out and overcast. I slowed down the shutter speed to let in more light and added a reflector behind me to my right to bounce back some more of the available light. See, it looks a lot warmer and better lit now.
Guess, what? I still wasn’t happy. I know, I know. I loved the overall mood of that lighting, but was bothered by the shadows being caused on the side of the gratin dish. It was so dark in there that I could barely distinguish between the crispy gratin edges and the thyme leaves I had used to garnish the dish. So I repositioned all the dishes so that they were being backlit by one window, had additional light coming in from the right hand side (another window in the corner) and adjusted the reflector so it was behind me. Look how much clearer the definition is between the gratin and garnish now. There’s still some empty space at the top right, though, that I want to avoid next time.
Now I adjusted the angle I was taking the shot from once more, so that the subject gratin was back in the bottom right hand side. I was finally happy with this shot!
I opened it up in Photoshop, tweaked the white balance, increased the vibrance a tiny bit and removed the too-dark thyme leaves from the top of the gratin as well as the partial thyme leaf on the right hand side of the plate. I added a watermark and was done! Yay!
Clearly, Tasty Food Photography is awesome – I highly recommend it for anybody just starting out with food photography or blogging. We eat with our eyes when it comes to food online: this book will help you show just how delicious your food really is.