I have been working on improving my food photography skills to raise the overall look of my blog. I am shooting with a Sony A100 often a 50mm in natural light. I think I am doing pretty well so far but all of the submissions I have made to www.foodgawker.com have been rejected. The feed back is extremely limited and I am having trouble figuring out where I should go next to continue improving.

One thing I have noticed about the popular images is they seem very bright, high contrast and verging on over exposed. I have been trying to achieve that effect in some of my shots.

I would love any feedback particularly if anyone has had experience getting their images posted. I am not attempting to sell photos just have them posted on sites that will drive readers back to my site.

Here is an example of one that was closed for 'photo/food composition' - can somebody tell me what can be done to correct this? enter image description here

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    Welcome to the site! You seem to be asking generally 'how to improve my photos' but you haven't told us A. what they said is wrong with them or B. What the photos are. If not that, and you want general food photo advice then its a dupe of this photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2544/… .
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 21:41
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    Beyond asking how to take food photography, it sounds like you are looking for constructive criticism and critiques of your work. This site does not consider that on topic, but we do have a thread with great options for you to explore that: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2884/…
    – dpollitt
    Feb 13 '12 at 21:43
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    @dpollitt - specifics of 'how do <not> I achieve this' are on topic though. So if she lets us know what and why it was rejected, it works.
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 21:44
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    @Rose - If ourladyofsecondhelpings.com is your site and the pictures are indicative of what you've been sending, I don't see anything glaringly wrong with them generally. It will probably help to show specifics that have been rejecetd.
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 21:45
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    @Rose posted it to your question - you're likely to get some good advice based on that. Also, congrats on the weight loss!
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 22:33

Regarding composition, it's important to judge all the things that are in the frame. Everything in the frame either hurts or adds to the picture.

In this sample picture, the flower pot and glass pane give a clear hint that the photo is made on a window sill. While people do like to eat in a table near window, only few would consider window sill as a serving surface. Objects that would hint you're taking this photo on a table would work more naturally.

The great thing about window light is that it's nicely diffused, so it does not leave any harsh shadows. The bad thing is that you're shooting from a dark room, and this leaves a bad blueish tint on the side of food facing you. Not many edible things come in blue color; usually that color hints that the thing is no longer edible. So you might try to use a reflector or some artificial lighting to light up the shadow side, and try to accomplish neutral or warm tones in general. Ice cold food/beverage is an exception, of course.

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    +1 I think the biggest thing is "Everything in the frame either hurts or adds to the picture.". Good advice.
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 23:28

Composition: the window pane, blue bowl, and cut-off edges of the plate are distracting. I also find the silver plate itself to be a composition problem: all of the highlights and shadows make it a distracting element. It's dark behind the food -- is this a reflection of you? On the right, behind the lemon reflection is something that looks sort of like a camel's head.

To place more emphasis on the food, I would use a solid color plate -- especially for this food where you've got so little color. A vibrant blue, green, red, etc, plate would allow the food to pop right off! It would also not have the same reflection problem that the silver plate has.

I would get closer to the food. ("Wait, you said the cut-off edges of the plate are a distraction!") Yes, go ahead and get closer and cut off the edges of the plate: so that all I see in the frame is the plate and food -- nice and tight. Really show off the food and make it appetizing.

The diffuse window light is nice, but you're pointing the wrong way with it. The daylight is streaming in through the window and hitting the back of the food, as you've shot it. Put your back to the window/sunlight and you'll likely get a little more pop out of the colors. Or, try shooting with the window light streaming across the side of the plate.

I remember seeing somewhere that a "natural light photographer" is somebody who used flash once, didn't like the result, and decided to never use it again. The trouble is, well-used flash is really the key to making a dynamic photo that pops. I would start with just an umbrella or softbox to light the food. It'll add some pop, bring out more detail, and show off the food to make it more appetizing.

Have some extra flashes? I would maybe add a more harsh sidelight to bring out the texture in the whipped cream(?). Maybe use a rim light to light the back of the lemons and make the edge of them really pop off the plate.

Style the food. Get a spritz bottle of water and spray it on the cut open lemon so that it will cause little highlights and "sparkle" when you blast a flash on it. Make the whip cream into a fancy dollop with a big peak, or form it into quenelles. Would something like a mint leaf make sense for this dish? An extra splash of color, texture, and shape in such a simple dish would add a great extra element of interest.

For your next shoot, just try and focus on improving one or two things. Try using a solid color plate, and try moving the plate so that you can shoot with the window light at your side or back. Make step-by-step changes and you'll be able to see how each thing improves the photo. Changing everything all at once will make it hard to understand what specific changes helped with what aspect of the photo.

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    Great answer. I have really learned from this. I'm not very good a food photography in general, but your hints have encouraged me to try some more. Thank you.
    – AJ Finch
    Feb 14 '12 at 15:09

One other trick you may want to try, in addition to @Imre and @Dan Wolfgang's great suggestions is to try bokeh.

I took a look at the website you're trying to submit your photos to and in addition to be well lit from the front, including removing distracting items, using warm colouring and so on, is using a shallow focus.

Some shots those photographers are using are f/1.4-2.8 or so, or digitally edited. Some photographers love to use 70-200m f/2.8 lenses or prime macro lenses so that their subjects (usually portraits, but it can be other items) "pop" out of the image. I personally use 17-50mm because I can't afford a 70-200mm just yet, so use what you can.

Remember, however, that when use a shallow depth of field, it can sometimes be hard to get the subject perfectly in focus. Try moving up a couple stops to f/4 or f/5.6 and then start to bring it down after. Also, do experiments shooting in extremes, such as f/15 vs f/2.8. The difference will astound you.

Here are great examples fro of quick focus drop offs when using shallow depth-of-field shots:

http://www.sugareverythingnice.blogspot.com/2012/03/banana-chocolate-cupcakes-with-italian.html http://www.thewickednoodle.com/ideas-easy-brunch/

  • Well I think tons of bokeh is always a plus but I agree w/Brett, I take all the pictures for my chef wife's blog and tend to shoot at f2.8-4.0 and back light the settings. smu.gs/zRTMbL
    – Shizam
    Mar 16 '12 at 5:09

My opinion of the above photo:

compositionally, you have a very small bit of a blue bowl, a slice of an outside window and you've cut off the very ends of the plate. Nothing wrong with cutting something out, but when you almost, but not quite completely show something, or just include such a small bit that you can't tell what it is, I think it makes the viewer go "why didn't she just include one more quarter of an inch and show the whole thing. I find the grass + pavement ? outside the window distracting.

IMO lighting is harsh, resulting in shadows. Need to diffuse the light and reflect some light back onto the front of the food (for example lemons look too much in shadow I think). Platter has very bright reflections which would be more pleasing if light was diffuse.

I don't know if we can/should continue with critique on this thread, but if you want to continue in chat I'm happy to look at and comment on other images

  • Advice that is specific to the issue she had - composition with that photo is appropriate IMHO. I believe it falls under this and generally we've allowed it so long as its specific: meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/677/…
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 23:20
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    Chat is definitely a great place to head for general critique though.
    – rfusca
    Feb 13 '12 at 23:20

As said by others - composition - light is not that great in the end. Why the back-lite? Makes things more complicated and doesn't really add anything.

I would add one thing: the composition of the food itself feels wrong. You put in the plate the mousse and a cut lemon. What is in the dish is supposed to be eaten. Few people would take any pleasure eating a whole lemon :D It Would have been better to have the mousse in a plate and the lemons on the side hinting they have been used in the preparation.

This is just a matter of personal taste, but the plate is a bit démodé.

The lemon half in the foreground is missing some zest.

In a word the photo doesn't show you put much care in making every aspect almost perfect.

  • Use the glass vessels since they won't produce any reflections.
  • Use the glass vessels since you won't need to shoot from over the top. Glass is transparent. You can easily lower your view point. Shooting the food through the glass can trigger appetite since it will force the mind to ask for more revelation .
  • Do NOT use designer vessels since they distract attention. In the current case the rim design of the vessel is attracting my attention more than the food.
  • Keep the unwanted elements out of the photograph. In the current case, the unwanted elements are
    • The blue object on the right.
    • The road with the grass on it.
  • The texture of the food should be visible clearly. In the current photo, I can't see the texture of the lemon, the juice inside it, and also its veins.

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