We’re doing things a tad differently today on South of Vanilla…in a good way, I hope! I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about my food photography lately, and a lot of questions about how I take my photos. Also, I want to state that all the photos posted within this site are taken with my iPhone 5s, except for the last two in this post, which I also note in the footing below each one.
Right now, I use a Nikon d3000 for almost all of my photos. I shoot in natural light, and use Lightroom to adjust for exposure, shadows, highlights, and cropping. However, like most bloggers, I started out with my trusty iphone- my trusty iphone 5s, to be exact, which I still rely on for some Instagram photos and taking photos in the moment. Starting out with iPhone phones even got South of Vanilla featured on some other big name blogs and websites, like Health Starts in the Kitchen and on the front page of Brit + Co.
If you are serious about blogging, I highly recommend you upgrade to a DSLR eventually. However, I also suggest that you start with whatever camera you have at the moment-whether that be your iphone or a simple point and shoot. This way, you can work on developing some of the basic photography skills you need, despite what camera you own. Trust me, you will be disappointed if you invest a ton a money in a camera and your photos are of higher quality but still don’t capture the type of artistry you’re going for.
Now, I am not an expert in photography. Not even close. If you are looking for a guide to this ins-and-out of an f-stop, aperture, focal points, artificial lighting, or lenses for food photo shoots, this post is not for you. But if you want to learn some basics of food blogging with an iphone, this post might be worth a read. So here we go, my Top 6 Tips for iPhone Food Photography:
- This is the easiest iphone tip ever, and it took me years to figure it out. (Serves me right for never reading any iphone tutorials). When you are trying to focus your iphone on your food, touch the screen where your subject is to focus on the subject. If you are so inclined, you can even lock this focus so you can move around a bit and not have to constantly readjust. This is especially important for close-ups, as specifying a subject on your screen during close-ups will result in the subject being in focus and the background being blurry. Hmmm, what does this remind you of? A $600+ DSLR. Yep. (Does this not make sense? Go check out the how-to here.)
2. Staging and Food Props
- Perhaps the biggest photo tip I ever received, whether I was taking photos with my iphone or a fancy camera, was that what was else was in the photo, besides the food mattered more than the food itself. Did I just blow your mind? I knew it! Having food props really, really, reeeallllyyy matters. After all, food is often associated wither certain moods and/or seasons: the setting in which the food was photographed conveys those sentiments to the viewer. Personally, I use food props (plates, cups, bowls, kitchen towels, trays) that I already use within my home. Occasionally, I will pick up a bowl or a plate at Target that I love, but more often than not, if I feel like I need to buy something, I will peruse thrift stores or the dollar store, especially for seasonal objects. All the backgrounds I use for my food photography are the countertops in my kitchen, spread out wrapping paper, table runners, or sample slabs of ceramic tile I’ve picked up from the home improvement store for less than $10. Showcasing different ingredients around your main food subject is also especially appealing. Think: using lime slices for pictures of margaritas, cinnamon sticks carefully placed next to cinnamon rolls, or a glass of (almond) milk placed next to a stack of cookies. (P.S. I will be posting even more about staging in a follow-up post! Read below for more details.)
- Composition is a tricky definition in the world of photography, because there are so many compositional guidelines. There are two basic concepts that I always use. First, using the rule of thirds makes photos interesting. (Here is a link to a great resource on that here.) I’ll leave it to them, since they are the experts. But really, I use this trick all. The. Time. A helpful way to ensure you are taking advantage of the rule of thirds is to turn the grid on while taking your photos. Not only does this help with taking straight, non-crooked photos, but also it gives you a visual aid, helping you divide the photo into thirds. (Or ninths, halves, quarters, etc.)
- Second, don’t be afraid to crop your photos. Playing around with photo cropping your iphone pictures can result in drastically different photos. You can read more about photo cropping here. (Again, leaving it to the photography experts.) Luckily, you can crop photos on the iPhone without any special app. If you are reading this post, you are probably tech-savvy enough and already know how to do this, but just incase, here are some instructions.
- When taking food photos, make sure you get a lot of different shots. This means: up-close, far away, aerial photos, focused on your subject, and without a central focus point. Also make sure you take horizontal and vertical photos. Variety is key: no one wants to read a food blog with 10 of the same looking photos. With food photography especially, photos seem to turn out best when they are up close. It shows the details. One thing I have also learned is that vertical shots do much better on Pinterest; they go along with the layout of Pinterest.
- With iPhones specifically, I have realized that my best food shots are usually close-up shots, with the iPhone about 3-4 inches away from the food, using the lock-focus. (See first tip above.)
5. Edit your photos
- iPhones take great quality pictures, however, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to edit them. IPhones have automatic cameras, meaning that they automatically adjust for all the aspects of photos that DSLR cameras need manual adjustments for. As smart as the cameras in iPhones are, however, they aren’t perfect. For this reason, I suggest that everyone edit their photos in the areas of exposure (brightness), highlights and lowlights (the shadows and bright spots in photos), color vibrancy, and focus. It will make a big difference, and iPhone apps I personally recommend are: Fotor, Camera+, and VSCOcam.
6. Lighting (The most important piece, in my opinion!)
There are so many points on this one that I am going to have to break it down into some more specific bullet points. But if you take away one thing from this post, I hope these lighting tips are it.
- Natural light is always best, especially when shooting food. Now, there is a way to mimic natural lighting with special “light bouncers”, but if you’re going to do that, you are clearly not taking photos with an iphone. Save your money for now and learn to embrace natural lighting. Natural lighting is best because is shows more texture to the food you are photographing; using a flash or artificial light from a ceiling light, lamp, etc. tends to “fill-in” all those different bumps which makes food look unreal, weird textured, too bright, and unappetizing.
- Using natural light also leads to not using a flash. Not ever. The artificial light from the flash, even on an iphone, will wash out the background and/or subject, making your food look unappealing and unnatural. Need another reason for not using a flash or artificial lighting? If you use a flash on food that is “shiny” (Think: drinks, ice cream, etc.), the light will just bounce right back at you. Not good looking food.
- Know that there is a difference in photography between light backgrounds and dark backgrounds. If you are taking photos of food with a dark background (Think: black, navy blue, olive green, cement gray), you will need to take photos in brighter light. This is simply because the darker the color of your background, the more light which is absorbed into it, thus the increased need for brighter light to illuminate your food. A good analogy is thinking of what happens when you wear a black shirt in the dead of summer: that black t-shirt absorbs all of the sun’s rays, making you super hot in no time at all. If you are photographing food with a dark background, you may need to be directly under light through your kitchen window, or maybe even outside, depending on what time of day it is.
- The opposite goes for lighter colored backgrounds: the lighter the background, the less light you will need to photograph with. A bright background reflects light, meaning that lots of light will project onto your subject (the food). This means that you will need less light to adequately photograph your food. It also means that if you take photos in too bright of light, you risk having photos that look washed out. Think of this one as walking into a field of snow on a sunny day. You get light from the sun in the sky and light reflecting up onto you from the snow, and seeing nothing but very bright light.
- Avoid midday light, which is usually around 11am-1pm on a sunny day. This lighting is too harsh. The best times for taking natural light iphone photos are about an hour after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset. This creates a soft light, perfect for food photos. I’m not saying that you have to exclusively take your food photos in those hours, but just be mindful of how the light during the day changes and affects your photos.
- My last tip, right now, on lighting and iphone food photography, is make sure you know what direction your light is coming from. A general rule is to make sure that the sun is over your shoulder, behind you. One of the best ways to improve your iphone food photography is to make sure you do not take photos facing the sun. This will create shadows on your food where you don’t want it, and the intense light of the sun make it nearly impossible for your iphone to capture the details. Having the sun behind you also goes for indoor food photography. When using natural light indoors, you are likely near or next to a window. Make sure that even through the window, your iphone lens is not directly facing the sun.
I hope this post helps you! And if you liked this one, stay tuned….I will be posting a more detailed post about staging and food props in June!