Photo Lessons & Good Food

by HEAB on March 11, 2011

Hello my almond butter loving friends. If you're new to HEAB, you may like to subscribe to my RSS feed or receive my posts via email. Thanks for reading!

To my readers affected by the recent earthquake in Japan – I am thinking about all of you. I have a cousin that is stationed there with his wife and 3 children. Please keep them in your prayers as we haven’t heard from them yet.

I wanted to share some photos with you from a food photography workshop I attended last night at one of my favorite coffee shops in Nashville. I usually go for the lattes, but Fido also serves amazing food as evidenced by our meal last night.

My camera is a Canon point and shoot. I asked Santa for a Canon DSLR, but apparently he forgot and left it on his sleigh Christmas Eve. My birthday came and no camera. Had my hopes up for Valentine’s Day…hmm, hey Easter Bunny, a camera would make a great addition to my Easter basket, and if not, my fingers are crossed that Summer is feeling extra generous on Mother’s Day come May. ;) Anyway, you don’t need a super fancy camera to take decent photos (CD, please ignore).

I am in no way an expert, but I am trying to learn more about photography. Changing the settings on your camera and working with your lighting can make a huge difference…

The first photo I took with my usual indoor auto setting. So dark…

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Butternut squash and apple soup topped with dried apple and roasted squash seeds.

Look at the difference in the next photos. The first was taken on auto with no flash, and the 2nd was taken using a daylight lightbulb and a screen. To get the same effect, you can easily make your own light box.

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Empanadita with chorizo, white cheddar, potato, curtido, and chipotle. What is curdito? I have no idea, but it was yummy.

Playing around with the lighting and my camera settings…

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These photos were taken at my seat with nothing but the dim restaurant lighting and no flash. Read your camera’s manual and if your photos are too dark, learn how to slow down your shutter speed, increase your ISO, and open your aperture (make it a smaller number). All of this was foreign to me until last night. I’m more of a hands on person, and it really helped to have a professional photographer explain all of this to me in person.

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Handmade pizza with goat cheese, mozzarella, feta, Parmesan, local spinach, and fig mayo. DELICIOUS!

Photo of pizza using the daylight bulb and screen…

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If your photos come out looking brown, use the Tungsten light setting, and if they look too blue, then use the sun, flash, or daylight setting.

Dessert, AKA torture since I gave up sugar for Lent…

Auto with no flash:

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After adjusting my camera settings (still no flash)…

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Using daylight bulb and screen…

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Carrot cake with spiced cream cheese frosting, coconut carrot cream, and topped with fried carrots.

I asked for a to-go container and brought the carrot cake home to CD. See, the following horrible photo proves it… ;)

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While Chris enjoyed the carrot cake, I made a sugar-dessert of my own and played around with the daylight bulb I purchased at Home Depot…

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Plain oat bran in the waning tahini jar with unsweetened chocolate.

I’m loving learning more about photography, but I still have a long ways to go. Here are some basic tips other bloggers have taught me over the past couple of years:

1) Always try and take your photos outside if you can. If you can’t adjust the settings on your camera, then natural daylight will make a huge difference.

2) Attempt to make your food look nice. For instance, if you make oatmeal and then stir in a a bunch of ingredients, pour it in another bowl before taking the photo. No one wants to see the sides of your bowl slopped with nut butter and flax seeds.

3) Look at your surroundings. If you’re trying to capture your plate, then don’t have a lot of clutter around. Get a close-up of the plate, perhaps on a nice placemat.

For some inspiring food photos, please check out these amazing bloggers: The Edible Perspective, Simply Recipes, and Kiss My Broccoli.

What are some of your favorite photography tips?

{ 58 comments }

Baking 'n' Books March 11, 2011 at 9:52 am

Is photography something that interests you in general…or just with food? ;)

They all look great to me! But I think bringing my food outside and pouring in into new dishes is too much time and cleaning!

…so, I’ll just look at other’s photos :)

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 10:17 am

B n B,
I am interested in photography in general. I just happen to take a lot of pics of my food. :)

Holly @ Couch Potato Athlete March 11, 2011 at 9:57 am

I try to make my photos look good — I will put the food on a clean plate because I don’t like seeing the slop on the sides of the bowl/plate — and I’m pretty sloppy when I cook!

Photography is one of those things that I want to learn more about, I just need to actually dedicate some time to figuring it all out.

And I think your oat bran/choc dessert looks better than that carrot cake dessert (and I love carrot cake!)

Kelsey March 11, 2011 at 10:20 am

Wow, I really have a lot to learn about photography! I have a point-and-shoot, too, and didn’t think there was much I could do to improve my photo quality. You’ve inspired me to start playing around with the settings!

P.S. I tried oats with tahini and baker’s chocolate this morning inspired by you (I’m also giving up sweets). It was really interesting, complex, and delish! I think I might add a titch of stevia next time, but I was impressed. LOVE tahini and had never thought to put in my oats before. So thanks! I’m a relatively new reader and am loving your blog. I plan on HEABifying a lot of my food. :)

Cameralyn March 11, 2011 at 10:23 am

CD = “Camera??? “Duh”

Kayla (Little Miss Healthify) March 11, 2011 at 10:30 am

It’s amazing how much there is to learn about photography! I have been practicing a lot and having a food blog really motivates me to make my pictures nicer. I almost always have to take my food outside for the natural light. And I can almost never get photos of my dinner because the picture would turn out bad because I eat after dark! It’s been fun, learning about lighting and food styling as I try to figure it all out!

Maria March 11, 2011 at 10:34 am

Thanks for the photography tips! Your sugar-free dessert looks beautifully delicious!

Rebekah March 11, 2011 at 10:57 am

I wish I had known you wanted a DSLR – we just sold a Canon DSLR with bag and accessories and a lense for cheap because my husband upgraded. He wanted one with video capability since we’re expecting our first child in May, and also for his astrophotography. Fido’s is one of my favorite places too though I’m really missing coffee right now!

Matt March 11, 2011 at 10:58 am

I LOVE my lightbox!

Katie @ Nourishing Flourishing March 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

How fun! I am definitely still trying to teach myself even just the fundamentals of photography. Once I get those down with my little digital point and shoot, I’ll “earn” the nicer camera ;) Some days my photos surprise me and I love ‘em (well, for being beginner photos I love them, haha), but days like today I go, “Ugh?!” I guess it just takes a lot of trial and error (and patience). Fingers crossed for a Mother’s Day camera for you! ;)

Prayers for your family and everyone affected in (and by the events in) Japan…

Ashley March 11, 2011 at 11:00 am

The oat bran in a jar looks RIDiculous!!!! I love how stuffed it is! Also..the homemade crust looks outstanding. Great photo/lighting experiments too and thanks for the shout out! Hope you guys have a great weekend! Oh yeah – been meaning to ask you if you think you’re coming to CO this summer? I think you it was you + Chris that would come out for a few weeks each summer right?

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Ashley,
Yep, that was us. We love Colorado, but we’re going back to Michigan this year as we loved being on the water even more. However, I hope to get back to the Rockies one day soon. Love all that fresh air and sunshine!

Katie March 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

I am actually starting to LOVE my new camera and my lightbox, both of which I hated when I first got them. The white balance is also KEY for taking good shots.

LauraJayne March 11, 2011 at 11:17 am

I’m definitely a newbie to photography – so I need as many tips as possible! I’m always bummed when I eat delicious and delicious-looking restaurant food, but the lighting is so bad that my pictures do not do it justice! I want to take a class (or read a couple of books) but I know that moving on from my point & click will make a big difference too!

marie March 11, 2011 at 11:22 am

No photo tips from me (DH is the family photog), but I did want to let you know that I said a little prayer for your cousin and his fam.

I hope y’all hear from them soon.

nicole March 11, 2011 at 11:47 am

I love to use the portrait setting on my camera. I don’t have an SLR but I do have manual settings so I don’t use the flash unless it’s really dark out. I’m still working on trying to get my settings to allow me not to use the flash ever

Mary @ Bites and Bliss March 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm

It’s SO amazing how a lighting and different camera setting can go such a long way in the quality of photos. I love playing around with all the possibilities. :)

Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn March 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I desperately need day light bulbs. Do you find them at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s?

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Katelyn,
Yep, I got mine at Home Depot. I have a 40, 60, and a 100 watt and play around with all of them. It’s so fun. :)

Kiran March 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Natural light is the way to go for photography. I think everyone should come out of their “Auto” comfort zone and play around with the dials on the camera settings.

Natalia - a side of simple March 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I really do enjoy photography so much. I took a class in high school on it and loved spending hours in the dark room! Things are so different now with digital cameras but I still really take pleasure in it. The best tip I ever received was ditch the flash. Who knew?!

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Natalia,
That’s exactly what the photographer told us last night. He said the only time he ever uses his flash is outside in broad daylight to help bring out the shadows. Ha, that’s the only time I never use my flash.

Namaste Gurl March 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Great advice and photos, HEAB! I’m especially loving the mason jar oat bran one, as well as the entree ones. I definitely need to improve my photography skills, so this brief, but key info helped immensely! Santa brought me a new exlir casio 10X for Christmas, which made my photos look a lot better, but I still don’t know how to use it completely! Oh well… :)

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Namaste,
If it makes you feel any better, I’ve had my camera for 5+ years and never used half the settings it has until last night. So sad for my past photos. ;)

Emily March 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm

All I have right now is a point-and-shoot, and I often feel embarrassed by it (silly, right?)! Love that you have learned to make the most of yours.

chelsey @ clean eating chelsey March 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I have a DSLR, but I honestly didn’t even figure out how to change any settings (or know that I could) on my point and shoot until a few weeks before I got my new camera!

Clare @ Fitting It All In March 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Great post, Heather! I usually ignore photography posts because they only use DSLRs. So great to know I can improve my photography even with a point and shoot!

melissa @ the delicate place March 11, 2011 at 1:10 pm

i feel awful about japan as well, sooo tragic! the photos are heartbreaking! fave photo tip: don’t be afraid of your macro lens!

Anisha March 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Heather, your cousin and his family are in my thoughts! I grew up in japan and my parents are still there–3 hours away from where the quake happened, so they didn’t feel it as strongly, but I still haven’t gotten through to them on the phone either. This is so hearbreaking and scary, I’m praying for all affected!

Nicole March 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm

These tips are great! I’m new to blogging and only have a basic camera. My photos arn’t looking so hot. I’ll have to start experimenting more. (Wish I paid more attention in my high school photography class.)

Abbey March 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I spent two years working on a photography degree and switched…now I just have a minor in Studio Art. I believe the rule of thirds is one of the best composition rules. Also, having a good lens makes a huge difference. I like a 50mm with a larger aperture, like f1.4 which helps with low light situations and has better clarity.

I am no expert, believe me, but these are two things I found to be very important.

Also, I want to point out that while the photos on a blog are very important, so is the spell check feature which many bloggers seem to neglect. Not you, HEAB’s! Thank you for being so careful with the grammar and spelling in your posts. It makes anal people like me really enjoy your blog even more!

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Abbey,
Really? Oh that makes me feel so much better about my posts as I am always going back immediately after publishing to find mistakes even after proofreading several times. So, thanks for the compliment! :)

Julie March 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Heather, Tell the Easter Bunny/CD/buyer of Mother’s Day gifts that if he wants to capture really great shots of Summer–smiling, walking, laughing, etc. A DSLR is the way to go. Kids do things so fast and you want to capture the moment. It is definitely a worthy investment when you have children!!

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) March 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm

“No one wants to see the sides of your bowl slopped with nut butter and flax seeds.”

Oh, how true that is!!

I have fallen in love with the photography aspect of my blog. I swear I read blogs for 2-3 yrs and had my own for almost 2 yrs before I even paid much attention to photos!

I got bit by the photography bug, bought my DSLR, and have since (recently) dropped some pretty big cash on camera stuff and lenses but you know what, I am LOVING it and having so much fun…and participating in things like Ashley’s “homework challenges” and am signing up for classes in my area and stuff like that.

I agree that a fancy camera will NOT make your pictures amazing. You have to have an eye for making things look pretty, for food styling, for getting the shot set up. Once that is all in place, THEN a nicer camera can help things become more crisp/clear but the best camera in the world will not take care of nut butter slop all over the edge of your bowl :)

Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day March 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Great tips! … and I want that carrot cake so much!

I think my biggest photography tip is to learn how to use your camera! When I first started, I had no idea of the very basics of photography.. and my second tip is have fun and experiment and don’t take yourself too seriously!

Jen March 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I don’t even like cake, but that carrot cake is making my mouth water. I think carrot cake is my only exception to not being a cake person, because I love cream cheese so much.

Alyssa March 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm

(Keeping your family in our prayers!)

Those are great photos; very appetizing!

Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) March 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

My thoughts are definitely with your family.

I am a daylight girl. I will post some things taken in the evening, but really natural light works best for me.

alli March 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm

i’m sure he’ll save the DSLR for when you least expect it… at least i hope for you, anyways. :)
these are really great shots of mouth watering foods! wow! it makes me want to play around with my point-and-shoot.

robyn jones clark March 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

just out of curiousity, who was the instructor? man, i love fido. i would have loved sitting in on that workshop. i have a nikon d40. it’s relatively reasonable and if you google reviews (ken rockwell’s site has some great info), it’s got some great reviews. I also have a nikon f100 film camera. sadly, i truly just love taking pics with the hipstamatic app on my iphone! :)

HEAB March 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Robyn,
The instructor was Kyle Dreier: http://www.shooteatlearn.com/about/. Do you know him?

I have friends that swear their iPhones take better pics than their digital cameras. I wouldn’t know – that’s another thing CD won’t buy me. ;)

Kate - Bread & Chocolate March 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the tips! I’m considering upgrading my camera and appreciate the ideas. Here’s my hint: Keep consistency with your “props”. A favorite Crate & Barrel platter and Anthropologie plate are regulars on my blog. Pretty, practical, and recognizable. Here’s an example (featuring pumpkin chai spice bread):

http://bread-n-chocolate.blogspot.com/2011/02/pumpkin-chai-spice-bread.html

Cheers,
Kate

Kath (My Funny Little Life) March 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I’m always astonished how much difference the light makes! I think a somewhat balanced arrangement of elements in a picture is important as well – you know, not too much empty space, and counterbalancing of interesting spots.

Heather @ kissmybroccoli March 11, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Thanks so much for the shout out girlie! I feel like I learn more about my camera and photography in general each time I line up a shot. I couldn’t agree with you more on your top three tips…my thoughts EXACTLY! I am loving my lightbox…not sure how I lived without it before!

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you this Easter! How awesome would it be to be able to take a shot of you first bite of almond butter after 40 days with your brand new DSLR?!

Kristen, Sweetly March 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm

No photography tips… I’m a huge fan of trial and error. Really, it’s more like guess and check on my dSLR. I think it’s really the only way I’m learning anything.

I think your post got me thinking, and I want to focus on my sugar intake for the 40 days. I’m not really sure if it counts as a “give up for Lent” sort of thing, but I’m going to make every attempt at cutting out most added sugars. I resisted cookies this morning! It was mildly hard. And I made a homemade hot cocoa with just some Stevia tonight for dessert.

I can’t wait for a jar of tahini oats and some 100% dark chocolate! I’m trying… Haha.

Samantha March 11, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Heather, someone may have already posted this, if so I apologize. I’m in a rush to get out to the funeral home and can’t read through all comments but there are some resources you can use to be in touch with family in the pacific theatre…

The State Department is standing up a task force for Americans to call about their relatives in Japan. The numbers are 1-888-407-4747 and 202-501-4444. The Department of State is reaching out to DoD to coordinate inquiries on Status of Forces Agreement personnel. If you’re reading this from CONUS and you’ve got a Sailor in Japan you’d like to get information on, please dial these numbers.

However, 7th Fleet issued a statement saying all military in the region were safe and accounted for. (I don’t know if that means all military branches or Navy/MC only). Will be praying for them.

britt will be fit March 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm

your husbands dessert looks awesome..great pic

Hannah March 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Thank you for the tips! I have a Canon Ixus that seems to be on its last legs (’tis getting blurrier and blurrier :( ) but don’t think I can afford a DSLR in the near future. I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about the manual settings but it’s all very confusing to technincompoop me!

The Teenage Taste March 11, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Lately I’ve become more interested in photography and noticed that photos outside are the best with my dinky point-and-shoot. I’m saving up for a “real” camera though, so I can’t wait until I have enough money for it! :-D

Pure2raw twins March 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm

So fun! I want to take a photography couse. Lately I just been teaching myself. It is taking me awhile, somethings I understand but still have a lot to learn. For my final project in school, I am building a website for my photography learning journey. I plan to share lots of pictures and what I am learning. Just trying to still figure it all out.

Jess@atasteofconfidence March 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm

your pics look great.
hope your loved ones in japan are OK. <3

RunEatRepeat March 12, 2011 at 12:03 am

I love all photography and really want to get better!

Oh, I’m super excited about your sugar free dessert recipes! I made a protein shake tonight. My protein powder has sugars, but it’s pretty low in it. Oh, and I love it more than anything.

J3nn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog) March 12, 2011 at 5:16 am

WOW! Huge improvement in your pics! Some look absolutely perfect to me. Amazing what a little adjust can do. Better food photography seems to be all the rage around the blogosphere lately!! I suffer from TERRIBLE indoor lighting, so my hubby built me a lightbox a few weeks ago, but it’s not yet complete: http://www.j3nn.net/2011/02/21/wind-water-and-sunlight/

I need more lights for it and possibly different screens. It’s a work in progress, for sure. I’ve also been doing a ton of self-education on camera settings and lighting and everything food-photography related. I have a Canon Rebel xsi and a Nikon D40, but I never use the Nikon anymore even though it’s a wonderful SLR, so I plan to sell it. I have a few lenses for my Rebel, but even they can only do so much, it’s really all in the lighting and focus! :( I am getting there, but not quite. Sometimes I have some excellent pics, other times, not so much! LOL I’ve also been reading a lot of Photoshop turtorials — there is so much to learn when it comes to photography! Gufffff. Totally worth it, though.

Thanks for all of the tips! I already try to do most of the, or am planning to. Can’t wait for warmer weather. I’m finally going to cave in and do outdoor photos. I thought I could beat the odds and stay inside, but my walls and windows just aren’t food photography accommodating. :( hehe

Good luck with your photo studies and I hope the Easter bunny brings you your camera!! :)

J3nn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog) March 12, 2011 at 5:22 am

PS. Forgot to mention that all of that food looks AMAZING!! :shock:

Annabel @ www.FeedMeImCranky.com March 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm

enjoyed the photo tips!

Eden March 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I did a post earlier this year on home point and shoot cameras can produce just as “foodgawker” worthy pictures. My first photos on my blog are totally embarrassing! But now I’m like a proud parent. Of corse I always try to use natural light, but I avoid shooting at noon. The sun just gets way too harsh, I might as well use the flash!
And it always cool to play up with colors and textures. I like using straw place mats and colorful tablecloths. Sometimes food is nit so pretty so exterior things help.
And lastly, I try not to take too many pictures if my fingers. They are just so horrifying!

Christin@purplebirdblog March 13, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I look forward to the day I can really spend the time to play with my camera (and get a super nice new one!), but right now I’ll take what I’ve got with the little amount of time I do have to spend on food photography! ;) I think I do alright for the most part, except for my dinner shots when the natural light is gone!

Liz @ IHeartVegetables March 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm

My light box has made a world of difference! Now if only I could drag it with me to restaurants ;) hehe

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