Tips For Taking Better Food Photos

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Since I started this blog, it takes me twice as long to eat a meal at a restaurant and three times longer to get food on the table when cooking at home. This is me at a restaurant as soon as a dish is served.

“Wait! Don’t touch it! Sorry, I need to take a picture of the food.”

I then proceed to take several shots to make sure I’m bound to have one that is good enough to use. And then I take a quick glance at the pics on my phone and just when my date is about to stab his fork into his food I say,

“Oh wait! I’m so sorry, I need to take a few more pics of your dish!! I got your nose in the last photo!”

You should see me when I’m cooking. The recipe may say it only takes half an hour to put together but when you factor in me documenting the process and ingredients (many shots until I think I’ve taken one that looks satisfactory) it takes more like 2 hours to get a 30 minute meal on the table!

I’m slowly learning how to photograph food better (but not much faster yet) and I love looking to food photographers for inspiration on Instagram.  From lighting to food styling to the composition of the items on a table, there is so much to learn about making your photos look beautiful.  And beautiful photos really make a huge impact in captivating your readers. I know this because I’m a blog reader myself and good photos are really what hook me and often keep me interested.

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I also love looking at food photos because I drool over the beautiful pots, pans, dishes and trays that are used to style the photo. My Mom was a huge dish collector and she loved anything kitchen related. I inherited the same love for kitchen accessories and I am slowly growing a ceramic mug collection. I’m also always on the lookout for beautiful ceramic serving bowls and platters. I’ve discovered that thrift stores can be a treasure trove for things like pretty cake stands or vintage glass pitchers. All you have to do is dig through the junk and sometimes you may find something worth taking home.

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Lucky for me, I recently learned some new photography tips first hand from Slice of Pai, a food and travel photographer that I follow on Instagram.  Joann Pai is based in Vancouver and Paris and all the photos in this post were shot by her.  She was named B.C. Photographer Of The Month by Huffington Post in September 2014 and her work clearly shows why. Look at how she plays with colours to create deeper hues to summery pastels that add to the story that she is visually narrating.  Not only do her photos whet your appetite, they also evoke emotions from the warmth of hearty home cooked meals to the laid back vibe of a casual dinner shared over laughter and chatter.  It is true what they say, a picture does say a thousand words.

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When I learned that Joann was having a prop sale, I couldn’t wait to meet her and pick up some of the beautiful kitchen props she uses to display and style her food. I was able to go home with a pair of trompe l’oeil drinking glasses, a Marimekko mug to add to my collection, and of course, I could not resist grabbing some vintage mason jars (you know I have the bottle bug).  I also found a madeleine tray (I had been meaning to buy one!), which I’ve already used (I’ll share the recipe soon), and some cookbooks that she gave away for free.  Perhaps the most valuable thing that I left with was Joann’s photography tips for people like myself using a simple Iphone for taking food photos.  She was very sweet to sit down with me and explain some very basic tips.  This is what she shared with me:

1- Lighting

“When it comes to food photography, lighting is integral. Even the most delicious, beautifully styled dish won’t look appetizing when photographed in bad lighting. I’m a natural light photographer so I’m always looking for sources of available light when I walk into a room. When eating out at a restaurant, I prefer to sit by the window.”

“Food looks best when the light is coming from the side or back because it gives it shape and texture. When light hits the object from front, it makes it look flat.”

“Try to avoid any direct overhead lights, direct flash, or direct sunlight because it makes it look harsh and creates strong shadows.”

2- Composition

“When it comes to composing a photo, think about the story you want to tell. Pay attention to what’s in the frame, if there are objects that don’t fit your story, remove them if you can. Try not to have something that would distract people from the focus. Think about colours, textures, shapes in your frame.”

3- Editing

“I always do a bit of editing for my photos, but not overly so. I tend to adjust things like brightness, contrast, colour temperature. Don’t use too many filters- food has to look like food!”

It’s not easy to just learn from looking at beautiful photos alone.  It was so helpful to have Joann actually break it down so that I know exactly what to do and what to look out for. Much better than my trial and error method that has my starving guests and dinner dates waiting impatiently for me to finish taking photos so that they can eat! Joann’s beautiful photos were clearly made with a fancy, high quality camera but it doesn’t mean we can’t say as much with a simple iPhone.  I can’t wait to test out her tips.  I’m looking forward to taking better photos, having more space on my iCloud, and getting food on the table faster!  While having fun as well now that I have new props to play with.

Thanks so much Joann for sharing your valuable tips!  She is in the process of moving to Paris full time.  Oh how I can’t wait to see more food photos from Paris and live vicariously through her!

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Follow Slice of Pail on Instagram to see more of her mouth watering photos.

Do you have any tips for taking better food photos? I would love to hear from you!

– SS

P.S. All the photography in this post was shot by Joann Pai of Slice of Pai.

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