[Note: Updated remarks about photography are at the end of this post.]
I don’t have a recipe to post today, but I did want to share a few things with you.
First, it’s apparently already Fall here because yesterday our local farm stand was filled with rows and rows of different types of winter squash and pumpkins. It’s the first time I’ve ever witnessed anything really photo-worth there, and I wished I’d brought my camera. The range of different colors and varieties was impressive. I hadn’t been prepared to buy winter squash, but I couldn’t leave empty handed, so I picked out two of the smaller ones (and only found out after I’d bought them that the price was by the squash rather than by the pound, so I didn’t save money picking the small ones.)
The one on the left is a Blue Hubbard, which I have never cooked, so I’ll be looking for ways to prepare it. The one on the right is a cushaw, a squash that brings back childhood memories for me. It wasn’t something we ate in my home, but at every church potluck dinner, some Louisiana cook would prepare cushaw. It’s usually baked with loads of brown sugar and butter, so my challenge will be to find some way to make it taste great without those two ingredients.
Second, I get a lot of comments and emails asking for tips on taking food photos, and it’s very flattering. My photos really aren’t as good as I’d like them to be, though they have improved a lot since I started taking photos for my website a couple of years ago. Some of the first ones–like this and this–were truly awful.
I learned a lot through trial and error before doing some research into how to take better photos. I think the most important tips I learned were these:
- Turn off your flash and get some good (preferably natural) light. The flash flattens things out and causes unflattering shadows, so do everything you can to shoot without it. If you have a sunny window, that’s terrific, but if you don’t, set up some lamps or buy or make a lightbox. Most of my favorite photos are taken during the day, back-lit by indirect light from my kitchen window. When I have to take photos at night, I use either the lightbox mentioned above or a photography light such as this one.
- Use a tripod. I used to hate to get out the tripod and would try to hold the camera steady, but in low light situations or in macro mode, that’s almost impossible. Now my tripod is like a piece of the dining room furniture–it’s out all the time.
- Use the macro mode. Most point-and-shoot cameras have a macro or even super macro mode that lets you get close to the food. It’s really useful for cutting out extraneous detail that might detract from your subject, and some dishes just look better up close than at a distance.
- Use software to process your photos. Even the best photos need some sharpening or contrast adjustment. You don’t have to spend a fortune on Photoshop–a less expensive program like PaintShopPro will probably have everything you need. At the very least, use the program that came with your camera. If you have a digital SLR, consider shooting in RAW mode, which allows you to make corrections to a photo before it’s actually processed.
I don’t think it’s essential to have an expensive camera to take good photos of food. Several of my favorite photos were taken with the 4 megapixel Olympus Camedia 4000 I used up until I got a Canon Rebel XT last month. It actually took me a few weeks of practice to get the hang of using my new camera, but now I absolutely love it. Being able to change lenses depending on the shot I’m trying to get is the big advantage. The two lenses I use the most are a 100mm macro and a 50mm lens with a very wide aperture for shooting in low light situations.
Though I highly recommend the Rebel, unless you’re seriously interested in pursuing photography as a hobby (and plan to spend big bucks on lenses and equipment), you are probably better off with a good point-and-shoot that has some flexibility. Consult online reviews and find one that allows you to turn off the flash (some don’t!), use a macro or close-up mode, and specify the white balance (whether you’re shooting in natural or artificial light). You may find that you don’t really need a new camera–just a well-lit corner and something to prop the camera on.
For more in-depth information about food photography, check out these blogs:
Still Life With… (Food Styling and Photography): A whole blog dedicated to food photography tips.
Photography on Simply Recipes: Elise says it all so much better than I do.
And for some really gorgeous photos, check out Ilva’s on Lucullian Delights.
Happy cooking and shooting!