How to create Instagram-worthy food photography while you’re baking up a treat

How to create Instagram-worthy food photography while you’re baking up a treat

  • Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

Lately, I’ve been a bit obsessed with food photography. Can you blame me? I mean, who doesn’t love drooling over tantalizing images of tasty desserts, or pulling out Grandma’s worn cookbook to test out recipes? Baking is such a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and it’s even more rewarding when I can combine it with my love of photography.

But let me tell you, it’s not so easy to be a baker and a photographer at once. Aside from the mess, baking and photography are two very precise arts that can be difficult to execute in tandem. But with a bit of practice, the results can be really amazing. Not only will you come away with a delicious meal or treat, but you’ll have gorgeous photos, too.

I’m going to share my three main steps to food photography — along with all my tips and tricks — while I walk you through the making of a cherry galette. Keep in mind, this is my first time making this dessert! Even more reason to document the process, right?

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

1. Prep for your food photography session.

Ingredients & Tools

Before you begin, make sure you have all the ingredients and cooking tools you’ll need. I know this sounds obvious, but there have been times when I started a recipe but didn’t have quite enough of an ingredient or couldn’t find a tool. Now, I’m sure to measure everything in advance so I have it all ready before I begin.

I like to lay out my cooking or baking tools on the counter so they are ready to use. Since tools are part of the story, I sometimes group them together in different ways and photograph them. Think about how you’d like to style the tools — laid out neatly, bunched together or posed with the pre-prepped food. Play around with different arrangements until you find compositions that you like.

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

Lens

Before you begin setting up, think about which lens you’ll need. For indoor food photography, a 35mm or a 50mm lens will allow for the best results. This is especially true if your shooting space is a little small.

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

Tools and props used for this photo shoot

Cherry pitter
Stainless steel colander
Parchment paper
Cookie sheet
Linens
Lenox dessert server
Slate board
Plates and flatware

My gear

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art
Essential gear: Manfrotto tripod, Canon wired remote, Opteka Five-in-One reflector
Special tools: Small plastic bag with rubber band (to cover the remote), cleaning cloths, color wheel

2. Set up your gear and props.

Location and light

Decide on a location for your food photography and baking session, and get to know the light. If you are shooting in your kitchen, decide where to set up the tripod so that you have the best light angles. It’s good to know what time of day provides the best light in the area you want to use for your food photography. A strong side light will enhance the textures of food, whereas a soft light will subdue them.

For my galette, I was shooting in my kitchen, which has one primary window facing southeast. The light is best in the early morning before it comes directly through the window. After that time, the light is quite strong, so I need to make modifications if I shoot there later in the day. Because I have blinds on that kitchen window, it is pretty easy to modify, but a scrim, sheer curtain, or five-in-one reflector can help with adjusting the light.

Camera and tripod

Once you understand the light you’re working with, make sure your camera and tripod are in an area that will allow for the best angle to the food and give you enough room to move about. For the cherry prep images (rinsing and pitting), my camera was at about a 45-degree angle to the window on the tripod.

When I set up my tripod for a baking or cooking shoot, I attach the tethered remote to my camera. Once I have focus I find it much easier to use the remote rather than reach for the shutter. I wrap a plastic bag around my remote so that if my hands have ingredients on them, I don’t get my equipment dirty. This saves me from cleaning my hands each time I want to touch the remote, since I am both the baker and the photographer here.

To clarify, my camera is on and off the tripod throughout the shoot. I keep it on the tripod as much as possible so that my hands are free to prep food or adjust the food for the image.

A few of my favorite food photography props

Vintage bowls
Vintage wooden cutting boards
Wooden grape drying rack
Parchment paper cups and sheet paper
Ceramic bowl from Aetlier Trema
Linens from Made on 23rd – everything she makes!
Faded wooden fence boards
Backgrounds from Medium Boards – marble and slate
Vintage dish towels and cloth napkins
Vintage strainer

My favorite backdrops for food photography

wooden cutting boards
marble
slate
chalkboards
burlap
cookie sheets
ceramic tiles
linens
canvas

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

Backdrop

Decide if you’ll need a food photography backdrop for your shooting location. Depending on if you are going for a lifestyle look or more formal images, your backdrop will help to convey the message.

When I’m shooting the baking process, I feel like the environment of the kitchen is perfect as a background. The counters and work area all help to tell the story. Later, when I’m showcasing my completed recipe, I’ll use other backdrops and props to tell the story and style my images.

For the final images of my cherry galette, I felt like my countertops were too busy, so I used a slate board. I prearranged the linen and fresh cherries on the board, leaving room for the baking pan and plate.

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

3. Begin photographing your food as you prepare the recipe.

Photograph each step of the recipe.

I photograph my food after each step of the recipe, from food prep to serving. During this process, I make sure to shoot from different angles. Then I go on to the next step of the recipe, complete it, and shoot again. Often, I will take the camera off the tripod and remove the remote to achieve a different angle. It would be stale to have all images from the exact same perspective.

Move things around.

Don’t be afraid of moving things around. Take the camera off the tripod and really get all the angles you can. Rearrange the artifacts, shoot, move yourself, repeat. Style your food and your process the way you’d like. Don’t be afraid to change things up. 

Style your final images.

When the food is cooked and ready for eating, I like to photograph it with serving pieces, linens, and some of the raw food ingredients. I usually have my final images set up ready before the food comes out of the oven. In fact, I often set up my final shots before I even begin the recipe. That way, as soon as my dessert or food is finished, I can start taking photos. If I’m using my food prep area for these final images, I’ll do the styling or set up while my food is baking. 

I personally like to photograph the food as soon as it is finished cooking. It looks freshest at this time, because it is. The only exception to this is when I’m shooting a warm dessert with ice cream. The ice cream will melt too fast if the dessert is too warm.

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn
Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

Cherry galette recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
  • 2 tbsp white sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
  • 2 cups sweet cherries, pits removed and sliced in half
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Raw turbinado sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat mat.
  2. Roll out the pre-made pie crust onto the center of the slipat mat.
  3. Split the vanilla bean pod in half with a knife.
  4. Using the back of the knife, scrape the inside of the vanilla bean pod to remove the seeds.
  5. Add the seeds to the white sugar in a bowl. Using your fingers, mix the vanilla beans into the sugar until well combined.
  6. Place the cherries into a bowl and sprinkle the vanilla-sugar and cornstarch on top.
  7. Gently stir the fruit until the sugar and cornstarch are evenly covering them.
  8. Place the cherry halves in the center of the dough.
  9. Fold the edge of the dough over the fruit. Brush the dough with the beaten egg.
  10. Sprinkle the edges with the raw trubinado sugar.
  11. Place into the oven and for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.
  12. Remove the galette from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.
  13. Serve plain, with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy.

I used this recipe: For The Love of Cooking. I then modified it to fit my tastes and needs.

9 Insider tips to help you photograph food like a pro

1. Have cleaning cloths ready.

Keep several cleanup cloths handy — both damp and dry. They are good for wiping edges of plates, unintended spills, and hands.

2. Photograph steam to add movement.

To capture steam from a hot beverage, use a dark background to contrast the light steam. Strong side light or backlight works best for this. Set up your scene and take a few test shots before pouring the hot beverage into the container. Once you pour the hot liquid, it doesn’t take long for the steam to fade, so be ready! Keep your shutter speed fairly high, around 1/250 or faster. A slow shutter will blur the steam. You don’t need to use a tripod for this, but I think it helps eliminate errors.

3. Photograph liquids for added interest.

When shooting running water, decide on how much blur you’d like and adjust the shutter accordingly. Try a slow shutter speed for more blur. To capture pouring liquid, use the remote with your camera on the tripod. Practice beforehand to get the distance from the camera right as well as the speed of the pour.

4. Style images with powdered sugar.

Sprinkling powdered sugar on dessert or pancakes always adds a nice element. A shutter speed of 1/50 will keep texture in the sugar. But a shutter speed of 1/8 will give lots of blur. Decide on the look you are going for and adjust from there. Again, practice this before you introduce the food into the photo. Use some wax paper, shake or sift the powdered sugar, and shoot away. That way you can always use the powdered sugar again and you haven’t drowned your food in sugar trying to get the shutter speed right.

5. Use flour to add texture.

Sprinkle flour on the surrounding surface of the food when you are working with pastry, pasta, bread dough, or any dish that requires flour.

6. Use turbinado sugar to add visual interest.

Use turbinado sugar (raw cane sugar) on desserts that have a nice crust. The crystals are large and show up well in photos. Turbinado sugar would have worked well on the crust of the cherry galette.

7. Add dimension with nuts.

Add nuts whenever and wherever you can. They add dimension to the food and the photos. Sprinkle nuts on top of desserts or scatter them throughout the frame.

8. Set the mood for your food photos.

Decide on the mood you want for your images — bright and airy or dark and moody — and then use either high-key or low-key exposure. For the galette, I wanted it to have the  look of real time prep and finished product so I went with natural lighting that was neither dark nor light, but just right.

9. Be mindful of color.

Complementary colors can help to highlight your food. For the finished galette, I used the color triad. I have the dark red cherries complemented with the yellow tones of the crust and the dark blue of the slate. It is subtle, but it works.

Tips & tricks of food photography by Nadeen Flynn

All photos by Nadeen Flynn

More juicy stories about food photography

Don’t have a photo-worthy kitchen? Check out these 20 flat lay background suggestions from Amy Lockheart. They’re just perfect for food photography! And then you’ll need to go shopping, right? We’ve got a few food photography props you just might need in your life. Plus, you’ll need some drool-inducing inspiration, so we’re introducing you to these 29 food photographers that will have you reaching for your stretchy pants. Enjoy!

Nadeen Flynn walks us through the making and photographing of a cherry galette — proving that you can create amazing food photography while baking.

About the Author:

Nadeen Flynn is a multi-genre fine art photographer living in rural Northern California. She enjoys capturing the uniqueness and beauty of everyday moments, people, things, and views wherever she goes. Her published work can be found on Amazon in Chris McLaughlin's book "Growing Heirloom Flowers". Nadeen also mentors and helps others learn this fascinating art of photography. Visit Nadeen Flynn online.
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2 Comments

  1. Nancy Armstrong September 6, 2018 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    So many great tips here and the photos are wonderful. Thanks Nadeen! Not all food photography makes me want to run and make the recipe but I can almost taste those tart cherries and the flaky, sugary pastry.

    • Nadeen September 8, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Nancy. You nailed the flavors for sure. With a little ice cream, it was sooooooo good!

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