Although still quite the newb myself, I thought these 10 basic tips would be helpful for anyone interested in taking photos (FYI not just food photos ;) ) from someone that had started from the bottom. Seriously I knew absolutely nothing and couldn’t even focus the darn thing properly when I first got it. These were a few things that I had learnt along the way with the super patient C who had taught me a lot of what I know. A big shout out to him for his help with this post!
1. DSLR vs. Point & Shoot
You don’t particularly need a DSLR to take nice photos, but it will make you think more about the photo you are taking. Instead of just saying ‘I want to take a photo of this cake’ you think about the object, where the light is coming from, what is in the background, how shallow a depth of field you want, and the list goes on. After a while this just becomes natural and you start seeing it before you even bring the camera to your eye. A great cheat sheet for the settings on DSLRs can be found here.
I own a Casio Exilim HS ZR1200 for those days that I don’t feel like lugging the DSLR around. I can see a drop in quality in my photos when using my point and shoot – pictures aren’t as sharp and colours are more dull.
2. A lens is more important than a camera
It doesn’t really matter what kind of camera you have but the lens ultimately determines the quality of your photo. Prime lenses (a lens that you can’t zoom with) are cheaper and will give you better quality photos. To have a zoom lens at the same quality it will cost around $2000 compared to $500 for a prime lens.
I use a Pentax K-X (quite a basic camera model) with the Pentax-DA 35mm f/2.8 macro limited for most of my food photography nowadays. I also use the Pentax-DA 15mm f/4 AL ED limited (wide angle lens) for travelling and scenery, sometimes even for food as well. I do find it hard to travel with prime lens as it would be nice to be able to zoom – maybe one day I will get one.
3. Learn to use AV (aperture priority) and TV (shutter priority) mode
If you are shooting in auto mode (you know the ones with a mountain or portrait icons on your camera) try to learn how to shoot in AV and TV mode as it gives you more control of your camera. AV (aperture priority) lets you determine how much you want in focus. Aperture is the size of the opening to your lens which controls the amount of light and the depth of field of a photo i.e. how fuzzy the background is. TV mode (shutter priority) lets you choose the shutter speed. This is usually used in capturing motion and to not get a blurry photo.
4. Rule of thirds
Photography 101. The points where the lines intersect in a 3 by 3 grid is where you should put the focus of your pictures as this is where our eyes naturally draw to. Putting your object smack bang in the center throws the whole thing off. You don’t have to follow the rule to a T but it was a good starting point for me.
5. Natural light
Best moments for light is when the sun is rising or in the afternoon as the sun is setting. In between those times light sometimes becomes too harsh and too bright. Cloudy days are quite nice for shooting outdoors as light is diffused evenly (nice and soft :)).
6. Shoot at different angles.
Kneel on the floor, go eye level with whatever you are taking a photo of, just move around! I promise you you’ll find a more interesting angle for your object.
7. Don’t point a flash directly at your food/object
When we point a flash directly at our food it becomes unevenly lit with the front super bright and the back in darkness. If you are in desperate need to use the flash built into the camera put a tissue in front of it to help diffuse the light. I have an external flash but I point my flash to the ceiling or to the walls to bounce light off the surfaces to create shadows onto the food.
8. Human Tripod
To steady yourself and to not shake your camera when taking photos make yourself into a tripod with 3 points of contact. Lean on the wall, elbows on the table with two feet planted onto the ground to keep yourself steady.
9. Adobe Lightroom
Lightroom, what would I ever do without you? It’s a photo editor that is an easier version of Adobe photoshop (good for a newb like me). As tip 9.1, shoot your photos in RAW rather than JPEG files. RAW files capture more memory of your photo which will allow you play around a lot more when you’re in Lightroom. Even if you don’t have a DSLR I would still recommend to have Lightroom – it does wonders in helping you polish up a photo.
In the end the only way to get better is to practice. I know easier said than done. Don’t worry, this wasn’t easy for me either. It took me about a year when I first got my camera to even start using it but luckily I discovered I loved taking photos of food (it’s the Asian genes). It wasn’t until I went to Japan and was inspired every single day that I found my camera permanently attached to my hand. Whether you love taking photos of food, people, street photography, landscape – find something that you find beautiful and makes you inspired to capture that moment, that’s the only way you’ll be motivated to practice more.
You want to know the icing on top of this post? I baked and styled everything myself hooray (except for the kinder surprise – I didn’t make those). Hope the photos were drool-worthy enough for you guys and these tips will help you out with photography – just keep at it and everything will fall into place :)