On the Road to Better Photos – What’s happened to my house???

I feel like I am at the Food Network studios!

I thought I would write a post on something a little different today. I was working on a few dishes when I got a bit sidetracked preparing for The Great American Baking Contest, which takes place this evening. My Oh My Ganache! cupcakes are a finalist, so I needed to pay attention to them. I decided I better bake a test batch of my cupcakes last evening since the weather is so rainy and nasty. It is still rainy and nasty, so a test run was a good thing. I did not want any surprises when baking for the event (like molten cupcakes), so what the heck, bake and eat more chocolate cupcakes! Just what we need! 😉

Anyway, since my cupcakes took priority, I decided to do a post about my new life living with camera equipment all over my house rather than a cooking post! I must say that I had no idea what I was getting into as far as food photography when I decided to start a food blog! I thought I would do what I love to do (which is cook), take a few pics, write about it and create a blog post. Well, I soon learned that a rather large part of food blogging has to do with the pretty pictures and not always to do with what’s cooking in your kitchen!

We all love to look at the beautiful photography, and in reality, many people may never cook or bake what most food bloggers are blogging about! The photos are what catch your eye first. Once I realized that, I knew that I needed to put more effort into the pictures of my food. You want someone to love the dish they found on your blog, maybe even prepare the recipe and then come back time and time again. Unfortunately, if your food is not appetizing in appearance, you may never have someone try that recipe or pop in to check out your blog again. It is all about first impressions.

Lucky, for me, my sweet and beyond patient husband (yes, I am sucking up!) owns a nice DSLR camera (Canon 40D) and knows how to use it. However, he shoots mostly landscapes and portrait work, so this food thing was a challenge, even for him! He had some camera and photography accessories (tripod, extra flashes, light meter, spyderlite), but we had to add reflectors and some smaller lights to use in small spaces and in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I started this blog in the Winter (when it couldn’t be any darker and impossible to photograph food)!) and, of course, I generally take pics during cooking and right before dinner. Our lighting situation was miserable, so we added some lights to brighten things up a bit! We now have several different types of light sources for different places where we might want to take pictures. (My hubby had the spyderlite for portrait work in the basement, now it’s in my kitchen!). Yikes! This stuff is taking over my house!

I started out using a Sony point and shoot, while my husband used the Canon. I am now learning how to operate the DSLR. It did not seem to matter what camera we used, before we added the lighting component, we still had awful pictures! There is no comparison in the photos, as shown below (before and after additional lighting).

This was so bad, I did not even do the post!

Isn't this more appealing than the dish above?

As we have quickly discovered (and as some food photo sites will let you know 😉 ) it is mostly about getting the white balance correct. It is amazing what the difference is when you get the white balance where it needs to be! For us, part of that was in correcting the lighting situation.

Not a contender!

This picture was on Tastespotting, Foodgawker and Foodbuzz Top 9!

As you will see in the photos, my home is overrun with studio like equipment now! It gets frustrating some days, but when you get a shot like this below, it is worth all the mess! I just have to keep reminding my husband of this! 😉

This was fun!

By the way, the photos of the lighting and camera set-ups were taken with a Sony point and shoot (and they were not too bad).

Kitchen under seige!

We use this gold reflector to add some warmer tones to pictures.

Preparing food with reflectors in my face!

The best lighting is obviously daylight when you can put your food by a window or go outside, but when you cook mostly in the evenings, it is necessary to have a little help. Maybe not this much, but at least our photos should be getting better going forward (if we can survive the invasion!).

Note – in response to a few comments (below), you can purchase the lights we have on the counter in the kitchen complete with photo bulbs for $130 and a complete set of reflectors (5 disc colors) for $35 on Amazon.

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14 Comments

Filed under Food Blogging, Photography

14 responses to “On the Road to Better Photos – What’s happened to my house???

  1. wickednoodle

    Man, can I relate! My photos are still poor (funny since I owned a food photography site 😉 but they’re slowly getting better. Since I recently resurrected The Wicked Noodle after selling Refrigerator Soup, I’m taking photos again, only this time around I’ve told myself that I’m not going to stress over it and just have fun! Luckily DST is this weekend so I’ll have plenty of natural light to help out, too.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for the comment! It is not easy getting great shots. It is especially tough at night when you just want to eat dinner and forget about photos of your food! I bet we all will have better pictures once we have more natural light to rely on!

  2. this is a little bit over the top – I use a couple of clamp lights and thats about it….it would be fun to use all your cool equipment.

    • I know…I know…Most of this stuff was already in the arsenal. We had those big lights for portrait work, but never used them for food pics until recently. We just took over the dining room to take pics before dinner and are trying the spiderlites to see how they work. The smaller lights have really made a big difference in the kitchen along with the reflectors. Both of those are more manageable in size!

  3. Wow! I’ve got a long way to go with my photos! I just use a point and shoot but plan to switch soon. May have to call you for tips.

    • My hubby has always been a photographer, so he is really into it! To be honest, those smaller lights that are in the kitchen cost $130 (special photo bulbs incl.) and they really have worked well (especially on the kitchen counter). The big lights are from my hubby’s portrait work and we have just started to try to use them in really dark spaces. The other inexpensive thing we bought that has helped immensely is the reflector (with 5 colors). That is $35 on Amazon. Give me a call if you need info on cameras. I am trying, but my hubby knows a great deal!

  4. Barbara Weit

    I love your blog Gwen!! Today’s was hilarious with the lighting nightmare! I can’t wait to try some of your deeeeelicious recipes!

    • Thanks for the comment! I guess you now see what I have been up to! 😉 Yikes! Maybe I will leave the lighting nightmare and the mess and see you around the neighborhood as the temps rise! Keep checking back…it can only get crazier!

  5. ezbake

    Another tip is to NOT use white plates–it makes the white balance off on the camera, plus it reflects light as darker colors absorb light (which I’m sure you know). Even something a common as Fiesta Ware has great colors that photograph well–especially when the food is light–I think your acorn squash lasagna would have looked even more appetizing on a burnt-orange plate. Another added bonus you get to buy more stuff!
    Also photographing cupcakes, I always put a fresh cupcake paper over the one that was baked–at least on the cupcakes in the front of the photo. It brightens the look and the cupcake papers produced now are so decorative and the baking just makes them look brown.
    When you branch out into baking more (like cakes, etc.) Magic Line makes the BEST professional bake ware–Wilton is basically for the masses/amateurs (they do have some good stuff), but their bake ware is horrible (even the Wilton Gold). Some of my Magic Line pans are 15 years old! You can get it at any reputable cake decorating store.
    Happy baking!

    • Thank you for the photography tips. I would like to say that white dishes usually show off foods very well. If you adjust the white balance before taking the shots, there should not be an issue with using them.

      I will have to check out Magic Line next time I am looking for baking pans. I have some of the gold pans from William Sonoma as well as Chicago Metallic, for the most part. I don’t need to bake too much stuff…we need to cut back on the goodies! 😉

      • ezbake

        Our head stylist likes shooting on colors (co-ordinated to the food of course)–it’s so much fun combing antique stores and the like for perfect plates. We use white only for the most formal shots and when me MUST use white because of a restaurant’s distinctive plates (O.K. not glamorous, but the checkerboard plates at Steak and Shake for example). The plating just adds another layer of creativity/interest to the shot that enhances your beautiful food. Just offering suggestions…

  6. Wow…well it’s nice to know what I am getting myself into! I never even thought to food blog until my friends kept begging for recipes and tricks. So instead of just having to tell all of them individually this was a great way. Also…I actually love the fact that it’s sort of an online recipe book for me. Whenever I need a past recipe I did, I just go back to my own blog! Congrats on yours…I do enjoy reading. I hope you get used to the heat from those lights!

    • Thank you for the comment. I am glad you enjoy my blog! I never had any idea what I was getting into when I started the blog last November. It has truly become more like a business and there are so many other components (photography, social networking, new friends, etc.). I agree that it is a great way to sort through your own recipes and share them with friends and family. There are definitely lots of directions you can go with blogging. Good luck with yours!

  7. Great photos!

    And kudos on your equipment. We’re poor; i.e. still using a point n’ shoot… that once fell off the top of our car, and is now being held together with electrical tape. Someday… we’ll upgrade. Someday… [K]

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