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Food Photography: What You Need to Know

Jumprope Tips

headshots of jessie, julie, and jenna

If you were able to tune in live to our Clubhouse Chat about Food Photography, you know it was packed with valuable information. We had a panel of three talented food bloggers share their best tips, including what they shoot with and how they find beautiful props. Check out their work in these Jumpropes to get a feel for their style, and read the interview below!

How did you find your own photography style, and has it changed over time?

  • Jessie: In the beginning I tried to shoot dark and moody because that’s what was popular at the time, but it wasn’t a good fit for me. I have a background as a ballerina so I love incorporating that with clean lines, glowyness, and bright light. I discovered my style is lush minimalism, incorporating color, floral aspects, and minimal props. It resonates with me and my audience.
  • Jenna: I also do light and bright! I hope my vibrant, colorful images will create a cheerful feeling for anyone viewing them. When I started I was using a very small white slab from Ikea. I’ve evolved by trying to incorporate different textures, but I still keep it minimal. I like to experiment with adding some ingredients as props too.
  • Julie: When I started I kept thinking “what is my style?” Through trial and error and learning from other bloggers, I evolved my style. You won’t know until you start doing it. I love natural light, but not super bright. I like pops of color. Part of my style is not to spend too much time editing. I want the food to look like it does on the plate, with just a slight pop. I also like to layer props, but I want it to look approachable.

What do you shoot photos with, and why do you like it?

  • Jessie: I use a Sony mirrored DSLR. It’s an investment, but it makes sense if you’re doing this professionally. I have several lenses including the Sony Zeiss 55 mm lens, and I also have a wide angle lens but don’t use it often. It’s about investing in supplies you can use often with minimal fuss. Also, don’t knock used equipment! Check out Lens Authority or B&H.
  • Jenna: I started on my iPhone in 2016, and as I upgrade my iPhone, that’s what I continue to use! I was going back and forth on “do I want a DSLR?”, but decided to stick with my phone for now. I recently got a GoPro and I’m excited to play around with that!
  • Julie: Start small and inexpensive! I bought the cheapest Canon Rebel on sale in 2010, then eventually invested in lenses. I started with a 50mm 1.8, then 1.4, now I shoot with 1.2. The 1.8 is great to start at an affordable price point around $100. 1.2 is a $1500 lense, but I love it. I borrowed it from a friend before purchasing it to try it out. You can rent and borrow equipment to figure out if you really like it before buying. Keep in mind, good equipment doesn’t equal good photos. My current camera is a Canon 5D mark 2 and I’m thinking about upgrading soon. I shoot a lot with my iPhone when I’m out and I have a mirrorless camera for shooting at restaurants. 

Do you use natural lighting or artificial lighting?

  • Jessie: I use 98% natural light only. I prefer the glow it gives! I only have 2 hours a week to shoot, and natural light is what’s easiest for me. Natural light creates these stunning shadows that I love. I can have hard lighting or diffused lighting by adding a sheer curtain. Find a large window that has good light and play around with it. Invest in a diffuser screen and definitely get the large size. I occasionally use light stands to help boost my lighting in the winter since I’m in New England. A great free resource for lighting is The Bite Shot on Youtube.
  • Jenna: I agree with what Jessie said, I definitely prefer natural light. I have a set of artificial lighting I bought in 2016, but I’ve only used them a handful of times. I’m getting more comfortable with them so that I can have more flexibility to shoot at night if needed. Some people love really sunny days, but I love overcast days for shooting. This doesn’t happen often in Dallas, but on the few snowy days that we do get, I love the lighting. I like to take everything outside to my covered patio. It works well for me, I even used to shoot on my balcony in our old apartment!
  • Julie: I’m also a fan of natural light. I used to shoot with artificial light, but I didn’t have the patience to master it and there was a yellow/orange cast. I shoot on an Ikea dresser on wheels that I can move closer or further from the window for more or less light. I use diffuser fabric so I can easily fold it up and put it away. I also love overcast days for shooting. If it’s too bright, I move further from the window and use the diffuser fabric. I love backlighting the food, so I’ll use white foam core boards to bounce light back onto my food.

Do you recommend getting pre-made backdrops or do you make them yourself?

  • Jessie: For easy backdrops, you can use non-reflective surfaces in your home, go to Home Depot and buy tile, or even use a roll-out vinyl as long as it’s not reflective. Now I love using vinyls from Ink and Elm. Replica Surfaces is amazing, they are also printed vinyl. I use two large panels for shooting. Woodville Workshop is at the top of the price bracket, but I love them.
  • Jenna: When I started out, I was using our coffee table. In the discount section of Ikea I found a white surface from a bookcase, and that’s what I took pics on from 2016-2018, maybe even longer. It was very small and basic, but it got the job done and it was easy to clean. Then I came across Ink and Elm as well. The first one I bought was a huge marble surface, it was honestly bigger than what I needed. My favorites are marble, subway tile, and white brick wall. Grunge is a fun one to play with as well. I clamp my backdrop onto wood and I set up everything on a small table from Ikea. I believe in starting what you have and building from there. It doesn’t have to be expensive!
  • Julie: I made my own backdrops in the beginning! Now Erickson Surfaces are my favorite, it’s a women-owned business in CA. They’ll even do custom backdrops. I have some beautiful chevron wood pieces. They are not inexpensive but for me it’s well worth it. If my style changes, I’ll resell old boards and put that money back into new boards. I also have some Ink and Elm pieces that I use for the backdrop. The subway tile makes it feel like it’s really my kitchen backsplash.

What are your go-to places for finding food props like dishes, linens, etc?

  • Note: don’t forget, these can be a business expense if you’re using them for your food blog!
  • Jessie: You can fall down a deep hole and buy too much! I love the Wilder plates from Crate & Barrel, but I prefer the salad dishes since they are easier to fill. Pottery Barn has great linens and plates. William & Sonoma is great for decorative touches, like rolling pins and silverware. Glassware and barware from CB2. Vintage stores and thrift shops have great finds with interesting patina. I like matte dishware. It’s a good idea to have some festive dishes as well. Remember that you’re highlighting the food or drink and not the dishware or glassware. It’s like a ring setting: your food is the diamond. I stick to neutral, earthy colors because my color pops come from food or floral garnishes. There’s no need to buy the full collections, buy one-offs at Target, HomeGoods, or Marshalls. For glassware I get 2, and for dishes I get 3 or 4. When you do get colors, make sure they are complementary! We’re dealing with color theory here.
  • Jenna: Ikea is probably where I get most of my stuff. I love their glassware. My white plates are also from Ikea and I’ve used them basically since day 1. Recently I got a plate with high edges from Pottery Barn. Grocery stores like Kroger actually have great home sections! I’ve picked up some good bowls and interesting platters there. Target sometimes has good stuff as well. Tips: look for things that are not shiny to avoid reflections. Also, get cheap wooden charcuterie boards on Amazon!
  • Julie: Ikea has fun kitchen towels! HomeGoods, Target, World Market, and Crate & Barrel are all great. My favorite plates and bowls come from Crate & Barrel. They are a neutral white or cream. I used to go overboard and spent probably thousands of dollars on props! Over several years, I sold some and gave them away, so now I’m very picky about what I buy. If I’m buying something new, I like to get rid of something old. I also make sure to get different colors and textures to have options. Try to find matte silverware, or it can show your reflections as you’re shooting! Tip: if linens feel thick and heavy, they’ll overwhelm your food in the photo. I use mostly neutrals, then for brown food that’s hard to photograph I’ll use colorful linens for a pop of color.

How many photos do you typically take for a recipe on average?

  • Jessie: I shoot tethered. I pre-plan my recipe shoots so I know exactly what shots I want to get. I don’t restrict myself to a specific number of shots. I think having more photographs gives you greater flexibility, and increased opportunities to showcase your photography on many platforms. I aim to create an ‘A Roll’ and a ‘B Roll’ for each shoot. I grab my hero shots and promotional photographs for the ‘A Roll’ file, but I also try to keep in mind that what may work on Instagram from the ‘A Roll’, may not be the same sort of thing that works on TikTok or Jumprope. Having alternate shots from the “B Roll” gives you loads of material to use on other channels. This is a form of  ‘nesting’ your content, shooting multiple angles as well as grabbing a quick video of the same recipe, so you can have more content options for less work. This system ensures that I’m able to share fresh photographs with my followers each time I post about that same recipe. Try to maximize each photo shoot to its full potential! Grab that video, change your shooting angles, and swap out your backgrounds! More is definitely better in my book!
  • Jenna: I restrict myself on the number of images I can take, or I’ll be shooting all day! It does depend on if it’s sponsored content or not. If it’s not sponsored, I’ll restrict it to no more than 10 and then I only end up posting a couple. I’ve been playing with alternating out backdrops so I can repurpose the same food with a different backdrop, linens, or props. For sponsored content, the limit does not exist! I get in the groove and play with the product I’m featuring. I like to get a lot of options to focus on the product and showcase the brand, including different use cases of the product. I storyboard heavily ahead of time to know what shots I need.
  • Julie: I used to take way too many. Now I shoot tethered via USB in Lightroom so I see the photo come up on my computer immediately. This way, I can adjust angles and lighting as I go so it’s way more efficient. I take 1-4 photos of each step to have options. I include a lot of step by step photos on my blog because it helps me create longer posts that work well for ads. It’s also helpful for viewers who are not chefs, so they can fully understand each step. One recipe could have 200 pics, another could have 20. It really depends, especially on the lighting that day!

What type of laptop do you use to edit your photos?

  • Jessie: I use an iMac!
  • Jenna: I use a Macbook for my editing.
  • Julie: I use an iMac. I have a business lease with Apple. It’s really convenient! There’s a great website called MacRumors and they have buying guides that can help you decide when to buy. I also have a Macbook Air for on the go work, but I don’t do a lot of heavy lifting on it.

Want to connect with these food bloggers? 

Julie: Blog, Jumprope, Instagram. Sign up here to learn more about Julie’s new food photography book.

Jenna: Blog, Jumprope, Instagram. Follow her on her new Youtube channel here!

Jessie: Blog, Jumprope, Instagram. Join her Food Blog School club on Clubhouse!

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