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Four things to help you take better photographs


Ali is an American living in the northwest of England, and loves baking and cooking.

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Blogging and photography go hand-in-hand. Especially food blogging. Instagram is filled with perfect photos of people’s bakes and dinners, and maybe you’ve bought a DSLR or other camera to try to up your photography game and make your blog stand out. However, getting into photography and learning how to use your camera can be very overwhelming.

I’m lucky in that as I’ve gotten into baking, blogging, and cooking, I have already been doing photography for eight years. But I know how frustrating it can be to see your gorgeous bakes not represented as well as they could be in photographs, or have an idea of a photo you want to take but not know exactly how to achieve it.

For the first two years I practiced photography, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I always shot on manual, and if I got a good photo, it was purely by chance. With a LOT of reading, and a couple of photography courses, I’ve improved, and have even had a photo published in Practical Photography magazine. However, not everyone has the time to do courses, and the internet is mired with articles on photography so it can be hard to actually find what you need to know. So, here are the four things I wish I knew when I first started, and hopefully you’ll be able to get off automatic and get the photo you want every time!

  1. Lighting is everything.

Good lighting is absolutely essential to taking a good photograph. When you’re first starting out, stick with natural light (the sun) and learn how to use that to your advantage before you buy a flash and foray into the confusing field of flash photography. Unfortunately, this means your photography will be limited to the day time, but it will be worth it, I promise.

Most food photography is indoors, so this means you won’t to be able to take your photographs near a window, but not directly in the sunlight. Direct sunlight is too harsh and will make your food look washed out and flat. So, set up a table in a well-lit room near a window, and use this as your base to set up your food scene. The window will provide lovely diffused light.

  1. Understand your camera’s trinity settings.

I call them the trinity settings because they are the three MOST important settings to know when you want to get off manual and improve your photography. They are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how fast your shutter moves when you take a picture. If you have too low a shutter speed then the picture will be blurry. If your shutter speed is too fast, not enough light will get to the sensor and your photo will be dark.   For food photography, which is largely still-life, you should use a shutter speed of no lower than 1/100 of a second. I set my shutter speed to that and adjust my ISO (sensor sensitivity) around it to make sure that my photo isn’t too dark.

Aperture

Aperture is probably THE most important setting to know when you’re taking photographs. If you aren’t ready to go completely manual, you can set your camera to Aperture priority mode (this differs from camera-to-camera, so consult your manual). Aperture controls how open the blades are on the lens. The blades are a bit like your eye’s iris: they widen and contract to control focus and blurriness.

If you want that nice, blurred out background with a sharp subject, you want a wide aperture, or a low aperture number. The lower the number, the wider the aperture, the blurrier the background. I find for my photos, I mostly use between f/2.8 and f/5, depending on how blurry I want my background to be. For food still-life, you don’t really want to go below f/2.8, as this will take your subject out of focus a little.   For landscapes, or if you want your stills to be completely in-focus, use a higher number (a smaller aperture). For indoors, f/8 should be plenty, but for outdoor landscapes, f/11 is the magic number for most lenses.

ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. In bright light you want to use a low ISO number, and in dark situation you want to up the ISO number to increase the sensitivity of the sensor.   Once you’ve set your shutter speed to 1/100 for indoor still-lifes and adjusted your aperture to get the blur you want, increase or decrease your ISO to get your light meter (see next section for explanation) to the middle of the scale.

  1. Know your light meter.

Your camera’s light meter, is the scale at the bottom of the view-finder, or on your display screen. This tells you how much light is reaching the sensor and is a predictor of how bright or dark your picture will be. You want this to be around the middle of the scale most of the time, but knowing what this is will allow you to adjust your photograph’s style. For example, I usually like to take brighter photos, so I will adjust my settings so that the scale is slightly on the + side.

There are apps you can download to your smartphone which act as light meters. You can download one of these if it’s easier for you, but the in-built camera light meter is very good.

  1. Editing software is pretty essential.

If you’re taking photos with a DSLR, editing software is essential. JPEGs and NEFs will look a little flat straight out of the camera because the sensor can’t do everything. So software is really how photographs shine.

Photoshop is expensive and confusing when you first start out, and most of the tools aren’t entirely relevant if you’re just a beginner or even intermediate and only photographing food. Luckily, you only really need Adobe Lightroom to begin and really make your pictures pop. A more affordable subscription is available from Adobe for £10-£20/month. Look for sales as well, and this can help keep the costs down.

Lightroom is pretty straight forward to use, but there are loads of tutorials out there that you should watch as you’re trying to find your style. Import your photos, play around with the sliders and brushes, and you’ll be surprised at how much better your photos look with a little help.

Alternatively, if you really don’t want to spend money right away on expensive software, there are some pretty decent free apps available. Snapseed is by far my favourite, and is great if you don’t have a DSLR and are only taking photos on your phone.

My very last tip is that if you want to create posters, business cards, or banners for social media, have a look at Canva. You do have to sign up, but it is free and I use it every single time I need to create a poster. It is absolutely fantastic.

While they aren’t an all-inclusive guide, I hope these tips have helped you understand your camera a bit better, and hopefully you’ll be able to improve your photography. Just remember that practice is what will really make you better, so don’t be discouraged or give up if your pictures aren’t great right away. Keep trying, adjust your settings if needed, add props, do some research, and keep snapping!

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