Taking Photos When You’re Not a Professional Photographer
by Cindie Flannigan
by Cindie Flannigan
Let me say this right up front: I am not photographer. Here at Food Fanatics, we are not photographers, but we all take photographs everyday. We carry cameras around with us everywhere we go. From really nice digital SLR cameras to the cameras on our phones, we are never without some way to take a picture.
I’ve also picked up a bit about photography from working with some of the best photographers in the business and are going to share some of that knowledge with you. When your photo needs are small, like posting to your website or Facebook, you’ll get along just fine with a nice camera phone or small digital camera.
Cameras: Let’s start off with smallest of the small: the cameras that come on our cell phones. The iPhone 4 has a fantastic camera. The newer Blackberries have great cameras, too. Denise used her Blackberry Bold all across Thailand and took fantastic photos. We have Tiffany take photos of our food with her iPhone 4. I have an iPhone 3 and the camera sucks but I am going to have a 4 before the month is out.
A pocket-size digital camera is the next step up. Food shots are mostly close-ups and mostly low-light. There are a couple of new cameras out with bigger sensors for shooting in low light: the Canon PowerShot S95 ($370), the Samsung’s TL500 (also $370), and our favorite, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 ($400). Denise’s husband Kenny took this camera on their vacation and took the most amazing photos ever. He also took his iPad and used Google’s free Picasa app to edit, retouch and organize his photos.
A digital SLR is the nearly professional way to go but I don’t know enough about them to give advice. What I do know is that Canons are what most people seem to have, and close-up and macro lenses are what those people are always talking about.
Tripods: A stable table-top tripod is sufficient for most casual foodie shutterbugs. Some brands sell a swivel head separately, which is something you’ll need if you want to tilt your camera sideways. You can spend $10-$200 for a tripod so make sure it’s stable, can support the weight of your camera, and is easy to manipulate.
Shutter release cable: As far as I know there isn’t a shutter release cable for a camera phone, but there are for most digital cameras. What this nifty cable does is connects to your camera and, when you press a button on the cable, it activates the camera’s shutter, taking a picture. This way, you can take a photo without actually touching your camera, allowing for clear shots without any camera shake, especially in low light situations.
Reflectors: If you are like most of us who just want a nice photo of the dinner you just made, then you’re probably taking pictures with one or two light sources. Source one would be a nearby window and source 2 the overhead light. That’s why one side of your picture is bright bright bright and the other is in the dark. Using a white piece of rigid cardboard, foam core or Styrofoam about the size of a standard piece of paper, hold it so that it reflects the light from the strongest source onto the dark part of your subject. This is easy to do if you are using a shutter release cable.
Once you get your photos shot, keeping them all organized is the next big job. Google’s Picasa is easy to use, has online tutorials, and, best of all, is free.
Here's an illustrative photo to explain the use of reflectors by someone who has nothing in the way of professional equipment:
1. This shows the main reflector, an old whiteboard on a patio chair, which I'm using because I'm shooting in the shade and need some pretty light coming in. Technically speaking, this is a reflector, but it’s also acting as a strong light source.
2. The secondary reflector (a white plastic trashcan) is used to bounce some of the light from the first reflector back onto the item being photographed (a variety of earrings), softening the shadows.
3. My camera is an older Canon Powershot G5.
4. The camera is on a tripod that I’ve tilted with a piece of styrofoam since it doesn't swivel enough for overhead shooting.
5. My surface is a lovely, well-ironed linen tea towel that Denise brought me back from the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas (this is why we hold onto everything…we end up using it eventually).
6. The most important part of this set up is Peanut, who you can see resting in the patch of sun behind the patio chair. As you can see, she is art directing.
This is my set for photographing my jewelry that I sell on Etsy. I've got a 2-hour window when the light is good before I have to move to some other spot.
Professional photographers will most likely snort their coffee out their collective noses when they see this but my gum-and-duct-tape setup does improve the lighting and, in so doing, improves the final photo.
You can also place your subject in front of a window that has no direct sunlight shining through it. Have a piece of white cardboard, Styrofoam or foam core to reflect light back onto the dark side of the photograph or to add reflections on the surface.
Below is the final photo taken with my Canon. Beneath that photo is the same setup taken with my iPhone.
|Digital Camera Photo|
|iPhone 3GS Photo|
I hope these tips will help you to take nicer-looking photos. Denise and I teach our food styling workshop students how to make their food look gorgeous but, without good lighting, even the prettiest food can look bad. When students stay to work with us on a food photo shoot their own photos improve immensely.
Denise and I, along with Dianne Jacob (Will Write for Food) and Martha Hopkins (Intercourses: an Aphrodisiac Cookbook) will be holding a mini cookbook symposium at Surfas in Culver City,
June 25 and 26: Creating and Selling Your Dream Cookbook.
Check out our website at www.foodstylingworkshop.com to sign up or for more information.
All of our books are available on Amazon.com:
The Food Stylist’s Handbook
Do It For Less! Parties
Do It For Less! Weddings
How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business
How to Start a Home-Based Personal Chef Business
The Entertaining Encyclopedia
Perfect Table Settings