5 steps to better blog, food, and product photography


If there’s one thing that convinces people to click through and check out a new blog, it’s great photos. The exact same project that gets thousands (or millions) of views when photographed well will get completely ignored if photographed badly. Drool-worthy pictures of food, craft projects staged on a pretty mantel, and clothes modeled by super cute kids all make us more likely to check out the actual post. I’m by no means a pro when it comes to product photography, but I’ve learned a few things in the past year and a half that I thought I’d pass along. Even if you aren’t a blogger, chances are you occasionally want to photograph something you’ve made, whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner or a first day of school outfit. Keep reading for 5 ways to improve your food, product, and blog photos.

Improve your food and product photography with these five easy steps to better blog photos.

 

1. Find good light. By good, I mean natural light. Overhead lights make terrible photos, and there’s no getting around that. Don’t believe me? Which of these cookies do you want to taste?

Yup, exact same cookie, different lighting. You want to find a lighting situation where 1) you can turn off the overhead lights and NOT use a flash, and 2) there are no harsh shadows on your photo. I take blog photos in my kitchen near a large window, or in the front room with the door wide open, or occasionally out on the porch or in the garage – anywhere that gives me lots of light. (NOTE: you do not want direct sunlight because that will cast harsh shadows. Read this post for a good explanation of what’s direct sunlight and what’s indirect.)

This means I never photograph items at night for the blog. Never. It’s a hassle not being able to get those pictures after the kids are in bed when the house is quiet, but I know the photos will be so bad it will be a complete waste of time. (This post shows why using your flash is such a bad idea.)

And here’s a comparison of a photo taken under artifical lighting in the kitchen and one taken in the light from an open door. They’re both kind of pretty, but the bread looks really yellow in the first one and much more natural in the second one (recipe for the bread here – it’s delish!).

2. Find a nice background. For most of my photos I try to find a plain background because it just looks more professional. Sure, it’s easier to take a picture of your finished product as soon as you’re done, but it’s worth spending a few minutes finding a nice background that won’t distract from your photo. Which of these photos does a better job showing off the marshmallow catapult?

If you’re good at shooting on manual mode and blurring the background of your photos, you can make just about any background work. But if you’re more comfortable with AUTO, it’s a lot easier to get a professional looking shot using a plain background:

(Runway shortie free pattern, ombre striped tee)

When I’m sewing, it’s easiest to photograph items on the carpet or on my bed or on the ironing board – all of which are convenient to where I sew, and none of which provide a nice background for my items. For a better background I use my black kitchen table OR a piece of white posterboard OR a plain colored wall (use masking tape to tape clothing items right up on the wall). If I need a larger plain background and the wall won’t work, I pull out one of my DIY backdrop boards, which is what I used for the catapult above.

Look how well a piece of posterboard works for a white background:

Your background doesn’t have to be a solid color – a cool pattern can work well too. Scrapbook paper or fabric makes a great background for food photos or other small items.

(Homemade granola bars, peanut butter & chocolate hearts)

I also have a couple of large wooden tray/backgrounds that I built (as seen in the smoothie recipe – tutorial here) which look really nice in product photos.

3. Stage the finished product. Look at the difference a little staging can make:

Both photos above are pretty well-lit and have plain backgrounds that don’t distract from the product. However, there’s no contest between them. Would you even look twice at the first photo if you saw it on Pinterest? I wouldn’t. It only took me 5 minutes to make the second photo of the cookie boxes much more inviting. And it only took about 10 minutes to turn this boring orange smoothie photo into a gorgeous Paradise Smoothie:

Now, I have a small-ish house, so I don’t have room for lots of knick knacks or other items to help stage the things I make, and I still have lots of room for improvement, but I’ve been amazed at the difference a few extra touches have made in my photographs. Placing the object you’ve made in context with a few other pretty things can make a huge difference in how it looks, so keep a small supply of ribbon, twine, doilies, paper straws, and tags on hand to dress things up a bit.

You’ll also want to “dress up” your food photos a bit. A single food item can look really lonely in a photograph, so surround your finished dish with some extras: add a glass of milk next to a stack of cookies, add lemons and lemons in the background of your salsa photo, or place your shortbread next to a cup of cocoa.

Pretty plates and utensils can help here too, so check the thrift store to buid up a variety of dishes you can use for photography. You might also wants to think about how to make the food look most inviting – look at these ice cream shots. The ice cream is just as delicious in both photos, but it looks a lot tastier when it’s drizzled with hot fudge and dotted with a few extra candies.

Just remember that more isn’t always better. Give staging a try, and if it’s not working out the way you want, go with a simpler look instead, like I ended up doing with this printable (I ended up using the second photo here – a more basic shot showed the printable better).

4. Take photos from lots of different angles. Set up your shot, then take LOTS of pictures, moving slightly for each one, to give yourself lots of options to choose from. I think food often looks great photographed from directly above (which means you’ll either stand on your table or a chair right next to your table to get the shot). However, that’s not a hard and fast rule – look at the photos of these nutella cookies:

The second one is much better, but it took me some time playing around with positioning the cookies and photographing them from different angles to figure that out.

Here’s another example where angle makes a big difference. In the first photo, the photo bulletin board I want to showcase looks small and unimpressive when photographed from above and far away. But when photographed from below it fills up most of the photo, making a much bigger impact:

5. Learn to decrease your depth of field (blur the background). Background blur is light a big waving flag that says “this is not just a snapshot – someone thought about this photo!” A blurred background puts the focus squarely on your project, instead of everything around it.

(mix-n-match felt monsters w/free pattern)

A blurred background can look especially cool in food photography. Set food items (like cookies or popcorn) up in rows, then focus on the one closest to you, allowing the rest to go out of focus. It makes a much more interesting photo:

The best way to blur the background in your photos is to start shooting on AV or M modes and open your aperture as wide as possible. If you’re not ready to tackle this, however, you can check out this post for some ways to help get that effect even on AUTO.

I’m certainly not a pro when it comes to food and product photography, but these five steps have helped me improve my blog photos and I hope they’re helpful to you as well!

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Comments

  1. 1

    the cape on the corner says

    great tips! especially the living room one-I feel like in pictures things look out of proportion, but in real life, my art on the walls takes up much more space.

  2. 3

    Delia James says

    Wow, thank you. I need to get better at taking more interesting and staged photos for my blog posts. You’d think after 5 years of blogging I would have it figured out by now. I’m not the best photographer but these are tips that anyone can use. Thanks again!

  3. 6

    April @ illistyle says

    Wow! Thank you for the clear directions and even clearer photos. My major blog goal for 2013 is to improve my photography and your tutorial is easy to understand and doable. I live in a small place too and staging can be a a challenge. Thank you for showing me how it is doe. I was wondering: Do you imagine your staging as you create your project or only after? I am wondeirng if staging/ prep for staging has become part of your crafting routine?

  4. 7

    Tracy says

    This is an excellent article on photography! We would love to have you share this at
    our Saturday Link Party. Each link will be shown on two blogs, Made From Pinterest and Bakerette! It starts Fridays at 3pm, hope we see you there!
    Please remember to put a link back to Made From Pinterest at the bottom of your post(s).

  5. 8

    The Chilly Dog says

    I love crafting and I love blogging, but I have a difficult time with my photography. Thank you for the useable tips and tricks that even a photo-phobic person like me can use to improve their shots.

  6. 10

    Samantha @ Five Heart Home says

    These are wonderful tips! I’ve especially found trying different angles to be useful. It always surprises me that what I thought would look best doesn’t, and a different angle that I tried on a whim ends up being a keeper! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!

  7. 11

    Laura says

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I am always trying to improve my pictures for my blog and have been able to do a lot by trial and error, and mimicking what things I like in other blog’s photos. This is a great in-depth description of how to achieve many of the things I already do. I love the tip about the large photo. Room photos are my hardest to get to look right. I will have to try some more angles next time! Have a great weekend.

  8. 12

    Emily @ My Love for Words says

    Great tips! I’ve just started tinkering with my photos and trying to do a better job staging and editing them. I still have a lot to learn, and this is really going to help. Thanks 🙂

  9. 13

    Paula says

    Thank you so much. I’ve been wanting to play around with some photography for my blog. These tips will definitely help me think more about staging and focus.

  10. 15

    Carrie This Home says

    Great tutorial!! It’s amazing what the right lighting and set up will do for a picture! Would you mind to link this up to my Frugal Crafty Home Blog Hop? We love seeing tutorials like this! The party goes live every Sunday evening at 8pm central time. I’d love to see you there!

  11. 21

    says

    Don’t be afraid of using lights. You just need to diffuse the light source, and pay attention to the direction of the lighting avoiding harsh shadows. For professional shots we use strobe lighting and both balance and diffuse the light to get desirable results.

    The difference you’re noticing when using the sun, is that the sun is a large diffused light source. If you mimic this effect with lighting, you will get better shots.

  12. 22

    says

    Thanks for the tips! It’s interesting how we intuitively feel attracted to items in context, but don’t always think to make it happen! I’m definitely going to try improvising some good backgrounds…

  13. 25

    says

    Thank you so much for this tips! I just started to write a blog so it is really useful to know this things. I’m familiar with photographing but I need advice about good photos for blog. 🙂 thanks again

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