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Jun 24, 2011 09:39 AM

Photographing Dinner

Do you post photos on Chowhound, or maybe on a blog?
I'd love to hear and see some of your experiences. Not super pro stuff, just cooks who click.

What camera do you use? Do you use a lighting set-up or natural light? What has been useful, what has been problematic? Do you photograph all your steps, or just the final product? What issues have you found with uploads? What solutions have you found?

And finally, post some great photos! Post your unsuccessful ones and maybe we can troubleshoot together.

I am working with a Nikon point and shoot that is about 10 years old. I hope to upgrade soon (for various reasons, not just food pics). I use a workbench lamp clamped to my cookbook holder on the kitchen counter. Sometimes it works, other times, not so much. I also seem to lose some color value when I upload to Chowhound. Still working on it, still having fun.

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  1. So glad you started this thread, Nightshade! Point by point:

    - I also use a point and shoot. Canon PowerShot A590 IS, 4 or 5 years old, Aquarium and macro settings, to be exact. Those two settings seem to best reproduce what I see with the naked eye.

    I have access to the Man's fancycam, but am still debating over whether to use it for my blog pics because if there is any point of view to my blog, it's that I find particular satisfaction in making do, and I've somehow got it in my mind that using my point and shoot is better aligned with that philosophy. (Though people have made some very good points about why I should consider using the other cam.)

    - No particular lighting setup. However, as it gets later in the day, I will turn on the kitchen light, which is fluorescent, and the dining room light, which is incandescent, to balance out the blue from the fluorescent.

    - Sometimes problematic and other times a boon for me is ambient lighting because of the way our current kitchen is set up. Lots of natural light from the back. Sometimes it makes for a stark white background that provides lots of contrast. Other times, it washes out detail and color.

    - I photograph all or most of my steps and share those albums with friends on facebook who seem to like the sequential pics. Helps them when they're duplicating the recipes. (I love facebook albums for that reason, btw.)

    - No issue with uploads unless I have crap connection.

    - I also lose color when I upload here.

    The first two pics show how anemic/washed out the fluorescent light can appear as opposed to the third pic, which is balanced with the incandescent.

    I've got way too many crap pics to choose just one. :P

    Still have a LONG way to go in terms of composition and angling, particularly when it comes to multiple elements on a plate. Dead on from the top seems so one dimensional, but then some times it's the only way to show more than 2 elements.

    I'm not very food-style-ish. I care about presentation, but my own style is fairly casual, so I tend not to doll the food up too much and usually photograph it the way it lands on the plate, relying more on angling and distance to try to make it look appealing than on heavy manipulation.

    Almost forgot the steam. It's always handy when taking sequential shots to have a steam blower handy. The Man is very good about blowing steam. It's difficult to do it yourself from behind the camera. :P

    So much more to learn, so I'm looking forward to more responses!

    14 Replies
    1. re: inaplasticcup

      Ina, you are a great photographer if you get all those beautiful photos from a point and shoot AND just light from your kitchen and dining room! I get weird shadows or they just aren't bright enough.

      1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

        Thanks, Bombay. You're always so encouraging, and I'm flattered you like my pics because I find yours really pleasing to the eye and imagination.

        Care to share some of your tricks with us?

      2. re: inaplasticcup

        It's amazing what different lighting can do! What do you mean by a steam blower? I use my hubby as an asst sometimes too;o)

        1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

          LOL. When I take sequential pics of the cooking session for other share albums, I also photograph the actual cooking process (I rarely post those pics here), so steam rises to the lens from the cooking vessel and makes for foggy pictures. And no matter how I try to blow it away from behind the camera, I just can't seem to direct the air to the right place, hence the Steam Blowing Man.

          1. re: inaplasticcup

            Aaah, I know exactly what you are talking about! I've just blown with my mouth sometimes when I'm taking shots on the I never thought of actually having something to do it with!

        2. re: inaplasticcup

          Didn't you say you were moving? Or was that someone else? If it was you, how will the light be in your new kitchen? I'm impressed that your photos are taken with ambient light.

          1. re: L.Nightshade

            I am moving, and I've yet to take food pics in the new kitchen. Am really curious as to how that's going to work. I'm really trying to maximize the point and shoot for now, just to see how much better I can get with it before I start having the Man take pics with his SLR.

            When I (self) publish my e-book, I will definitely have him take the pics if for the much finer resolution and richness of color (pics attached). But for now, I'm going to take the P&S as far as I can take it. (Not to mention the fact the Man would have a heart attack if I abused his camera the way I do mine, during the cooking process, with meat and flour and oil on my hands, no less. :P)

            1. re: inaplasticcup

              Those photos are with the fancy cam? The resolution is great. I also like the narrow depth of field. I can't get the background to go soft focus with my point and shoot.

              1. re: L.Nightshade

                Have you tried getting up real close using a macro setting?

                And yeah, those are the fancycam pics. :)

                1. re: inaplasticcup

                  I guess you are right, when I get very close there is some loss of focus in the background. Usually I don't hold the camera steady enough and lose all focus! Next camera gets a tripod.

                  1. re: L.Nightshade

                    Maybe you're forgetting to eat before you shoot! :P

                    I don't know if this will help, but sometimes, when my shooting hand (right) is shaky, I steady it at the wrist with my left.

                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                      I will try your steadying idea, thanks.

                      Well, of course I don't eat before I shoot. Everyone must wait for the photos to be taken, myself included!

          2. re: inaplasticcup

            Looking at your first photo id say your fluorescent bulb is probably matched close to daylight balance as far as color goes. You would be better off spending 5 $ and buying a daylight balanced incandescent bulb for your incandescent fixture. If you try to balance different color light sources against each other you will end up with pictures that have strange color casts either over the whole image or just in the shadow areas. Your first photo in the series is actually the closest to a marketable image instead of turning on that incandescent fixture which made the shadow area of the bun in the foreground orange, a small white or silver fill card would have filled the shadow and kept the over all color balance right. Your "corrected" third image actually looks way too orange both in the highlight and its super orange in the shadows that are being filled by your incandescent light that is way too warm. Digital cameras are much more accurate at reproducing color casts than film ever was. being consistent with the color of your light is super important with digital. Using one light source and cards is an easier way to go it kills the need to check to make sure that all the colors of the lights match each other. Also for around $10 pick up grey strip card for color balance. its a small card that has a scale of pure white to pure black. you can lay it in the frame on your first picture and remove it for the rest. when you get your images into your editing software balance the image with the grey card then apply the settings to the rest of the images from that shot. Its a simple cheap way to make sure your colors are accurate to the subject matter. ciao

            1. re: Valabar

              Thanks for your advice, Valabar. I'm in a new kitchen with very different light now, but at the very least, I'm sure I should replace the fluorescent bulb with incandescent. Luckily the natural light in my dining room is much easier to deal with than the previous, so I wait until the food makes it onto the table for my final shots. It's quite an education reading what you see with your professional eye...

          3. Ln, you are doing something right because your last set of photos of your spring rolls was beautiful! I think it's just about practice makes perfect. I've improved tons since I started blogging two monts ago:-)

            I've read up on how-to threads and studied others photos. You can get a grasp on composition just by going on Tastespotting and Foodgawker:-)

            Getting a lightbox helps too.

            I still have a ton to learn, baby steps!

            2 Replies
            1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

              Yeah. I'll vouch for those spring roll pics. <drools...>

              1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                Thank you both! So very nice to hear. I am getting better, I think!

              2. i take more photos of beer than food, most of which are uploaded to Flickr. i use an old Nikon at home, and a point & click on oinking trips. even at home there's no fancy set-up and i try to keep it as simple as possible.

                looking forward to seeing (photos) and learning in this thread!

                btw, there's also another food photo thread but it has died.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Pata_Negra

                  Jealous of your oinking trips a little, PN. :)

                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                    it never crossed my mind to make photos of food until *after* i returned from a trip to Peru and Bolivia in 2003, which had nothing to do with food.

                  2. re: Pata_Negra

                    Would love to see some of your photos, Pata :o) Yum, Oinking trips!

                    1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                      i've recently been to Chile and now started to sort out the photos.

                      pic 1 @Ancud, Chile: an enormous shellfish dish called 'curanto'. (


                      pic 2 @home: simple asparagus soup. fish is haddock loin.

                      1. re: Pata_Negra

                        Pata, your photos look beautiful! How were you able to get so much light on the first pic? Wasn't it taken at a restaurant?

                        Your 2nd one is so beautiful too! Nice composition and it looks so soft :o)

                        1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                          yes the first one was taken in a restaurant. this restaurant is extremely informal and the lighting is fluorescent.


                        2. re: Pata_Negra

                          Hard to believe that first photo is taken under fluorescent lamps. It looks like an outdoor shot. Very nice.

                          1. re: L.Nightshade

                            It really does. Nice observation, Nightshade.

                          2. re: Pata_Negra

                            I love the white tray effect, gorgeous...

                      2. I have taken some nice food photos late in the afternoon when the sunlight comes in through my kitchen window onto the counter. Use a Canon SX 100 but block the flash. Now all I have to do is find the photos on my old computer.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: escondido123

                          When you say you block the flash, do you mean it flashes, but you cover it with something? Your photos must be beautiful with the afternoon sun!

                          1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                            I just put my finger over the flash if it is a quick shot, or tape cardboard over it if I'm doing more. As you can see, the sun is quite bright--I would knock it back if printing--but I like the way it lets you see the grains of salt. I am sure there is a way to turn the flash off, but I haven't taken the time to read the manual. LOL

                            1. re: escondido123

                              I've heard of putting your finger or even a piece of kleenex over the I see what you mean by the salt, it really pops out!

                              I'm like you, sometimes I just want to do things right away without reading a manual:o)

                              1. re: escondido123

                                I think it's neat how you've captured the time of day in that pic, escondido.

                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                  Thanks. I've been posting pics of produce sometimes to encourage people to go to the Farmers' Market. I've also taken some when I was there but can't seem to find them.

                          2. These are my progression of my photo skills...

                            I'm going to post all my photos here and hope the explanations make sense :o)

                            I started posting on FB first then started my blog just over 2 months ago.

                            Giant Roast Chicken..taken with point & shoot Leica on 11/18/09, no flash
                            I really thought this was good at the Now I look at it and think, omg, what
                            was I thinking!

                            Pasta...taken w/Leica again, no flash on kitchen counter w/kitchen lights. After I starting blogging, 4/21/11
                            I thought for sure that Tastespotting & Foodgawker would accept Now I see it
                            was too dark and the white balance is off

                            Sliced Steak...taken w/Nikon D300s w/Nikor 60 mm lens. This is the camera and lens I normally use now. Poor Leica feels neglected;o) This was taken late afternoon by a window, no flash. 4/25/11
                            My first photo that was accepted by both TS & FG! I found that they like very bright & light
                            photos w/white plates and Bokeh (gradual blurring)

                            Roast Chicken...Taken w/Nikon on kitchen counter on top of white paper w/lights shining on it on both sides, no flash 6/5/11
                            Accepted on FG, but rejected by Tastespotting for composition!

                            Pesto...Taken w/Nikon inside of a light box w/lights shining on it from both sides. 6/19/11
                            Both FG & TS accepted this one :o) Tastespotting really likes the props!

                            So, see, I learned a lot in a short time and I still have a lot to learn:o) I really don't have the time to use a ton of props like some people with all the different colored napkins and layered plates. I make the meal and then that's our dinner! Sometimes I do make 2 sets of food, one to shoot early (then that's my lunch the next day) and the other that we can eat hot. It depends on the food. Obviously, I'm not making 2 roast chickens!

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                              That's awesome. I love how you took us through the progression. I can definitely see why 4 and 5 were selected for TS & FG.

                              I'm finding that flash is very rarely a good thing for food pics. What do you think?

                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                I keep reading don't use flash, but I guess it has it's place. I was talking to a camera store guy that takes food photos as a living and he says he always uses flash...well strobe lights and stuff;o) Or do like escondido and cover the flash for a different affect and they also have those covers for them too. See, so much to

                                1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                                  As a rule, don't use the camera's flash. You do want to use a flash that attaches to the camera, that can be directed to bounce off surfaces. Strobes also.

                                  1. re: monavano

                                    Monavano, I guess using point and shoot and dslr makes a difference in what type of flash to use, right?

                                    1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                                      Point and shoots can do a very good job. As stated above, cover the flash with tissue if you must use a flash.

                                      1. re: monavano

                                        Most point and shoots these days have a feature that disables the flash if you like, luckily. Since I never use flash, it's a godsend. :)

                                    2. re: monavano

                                      Monavano, can you give me some pointers on my photos, up thread. Obviously not the first 3, I know my mistakes on those...

                                      1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                                        Use something to bounce the light to fill in shadow.
                                        Use white light or adjust the color with a computer program.
                                        The last photo with the noodles has great composition!
                                        Does your camera have a macro mode? If so, use it for close ups.

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          Thanks Monavano :o) Are you a photographer?