My 3 Essentials for Food Photography

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The #1 way to grow your food blog is to work really, really hard on your food photography. I didn’t begin to see a spike in my blog’s readership until I began working on improving my photography. My photos are the selling point to my recipes, so it’s important for me to continuously strive to get that “perfect shot.” And believe me, it’s the hardest part of the job. Impossible? No. A labor of love? Yes.

 3 Essentials for My Food Photography-- tips and tricks from sallysbakingaddiction.com

My photography is what takes up the most of my time. I don’t shoot recipes every single day, but the days when I do? They’re the longest and most draining. I’ve been writing for years and baking since I was little, but it’s only been 3 years since I first picked up a DSLR. Every photo I’ve taken since then has led me a step or two closer to the photos you see on my blog today. And this learning journey is far from over. That’s what makes it so exciting. There is always something new to try, to learn, and to shoot.

There are many guidelines out there for how to use a DSLR. I’ve written a simple beginner’s guide to the basics, but today I want to share three essentials for my food photography. These three items– all relatively budget friendly– help me create images that compliment my personal style and really make each photo on my blog shine bright.

Let’s begin.

1. White Balance Expodisc

What on earth is an Expodisc? I certainly had no idea until 10 months ago when we moved into a house surrounded by massive leafy trees. So much green. E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. During warmer months when the vivid green leaves are abundant, the natural light that flows through my windows is tinted… you guessed it… green.

No matter which white balance setting I choose on my camera, my photos literally are… green.

3 Essentials for My Food Photography_

(hi s’mores pie)

The same thing happens with the red leaves outside my windows in the fall. And there are pink bushes not far from our window in the spring. Gorgeous landscaping, yes. Year-round weird lighting, yes. Headache for my photos? YES.

I could certainly fix these white balance issues in post-processing (more on that next), but it was taking me way too much time finding the perfect natural-looking temperature and tint. A white balance expodisc filter solves all of this. It’s a filter that you put over your lens. Then take a picture through the Expodisc in the same setting and angle as your subject. Next, set the custom white balance. Remove the Expodisc and begin shooting.

Color correction made easy. Perfectly white balanced right out of your camera. Exceptional photos! A true lifesaver in difficult lighting.

It’s small, compact, lightweight, easy, convenient, and simple. Read more about it here. Make sure you pick up the one that fits your lens. I have the 58mm.

Expodisc

2. Adobe Lightroom

I do not use Photoshop to edit my photography. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. That’s probably confusing because Lightroom contains the word photoshop in it, but Photoshop and Lightroom are two different tools used for post processing. Lightroom is a more functional, user friendly option. Maybe one day I’ll master Photoshop. For now, Lightroom has all I need.

Lightroom is a simple, user-friendly editing software. I didn’t even read the manual when I first began editing! I just… started playing around. (Yes, I have since read the manual and learned my proper way around!)

Sally's Candy Addiction Cookbook Recipe- Cake Pops

I think of modifying my photos as putting life back into them. From real life to camera, a lot of natural depth, contrast, and highlight is completely lost. Therefore, I spend time with each photo modifying it back to its original. Lightroom is my saving grace and I HIGHLY recommend it, even if you do not own a DSLR!

Here is a photo I took with my DSLR at a recent bridal shower. The day was a little overcast, I didn’t have my flash, and the window was on the other side of the room. As you can see, the before photo is dark and dull.

(These are adorable pink and green cake pops! I made them completely from scratch and you can too– I put the recipe in Sally’s Candy Addiction.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.09.46 PM

I adjusted the clarity, shadows, highlights, saturation, and contrast in Lightroom to get us that much brighter, more cheerful after photo.

Here’s another example. This is my crumb cake before and after.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.14.49 PM

The before photo is pefectly white balanced thanks to my Expodisc. However, it’s a little lackluster. I brightened the entire photo up by modifying the highlights, saturation, and exposure. The adjusted photo is much more “I want to grab this from the screen!” right?

Old Fashioned Crumb Cake Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com-2

3. Tripod

I’m confident that I’m cursed with horrible lighting. In the past 3 years, I’ve lived in 3 different homes and each one has had terrible lighting. Upon moving into the 2nd and 3rd, I had photography on my mind. “Ok, this would be great for my food photos!” Only to learn later on… not so much. Do I just need to move to sunny Cali? I don’t know. We have plans to buy a home next year (we are renting our current home) and the first thing I’ll do with each house we see? TEST THE NATURAL LIGHT. End rant.

The light hits at such weird angles in my home that I need the help of my tripod. This isn’t always the case; I’m usually fine on ultra bright summer days, but in the dead of winter or on an overcast day, a tripod is key.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.36.40 PM

Besides my camera, lenses, and Lightroom, my tripod is one of the best investments I’ve ever made into my food photography business. It’s a complete necessity in low light situations when I need to use a slow shutter speed. More on shutter speed here. My hands are shaky and there is no way I can keep the camera still when the shutter is open for a long period of time. Camera shake translates to image blur.

I shoot about half of my more recent images with a macro lens. Because the field of view is so small in macro photography, even the tiniest of camera movements can make a noticeable difference in the photograph. Using a tripod guarantees a sharper image.

Here is a photo I took of my dark chocolate key lime truffles with my macro lens. It was an overcast day so I used my tripod to really get a clear shot of the center of this truffle.

Dark Chocolate Key Lime Pie Truffles-2

My camera and lenses are the base for my photography. However, I couldn’t produce quality images for my blog without the help of these three essentials. Look into each of them and consider adding them to your photography gear collection.

Maybe you have a dream to make a career of food photography or perhaps you just want to improve your images. The more you learn about your camera and the photography resources available to you, the more you will get out of each photoshoot!

Complete List of my Current Photography Gear

Highly Recommended

Be sure to read my Food Photography Basics. A helpful beginner’s guide to understanding and using a DSLR, including details on aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and more. See all of my posts about blogging.

Q: Do you have any favorite photography essentials? 

64 Comments

    1. I learned a ton here too! I always love my tripod, it really helps with family photo’s (okay, not food photo’s but still) It’s the only way we actually get a decent shot for the yearly Christmas card. And yes, photo’s are such a labor of love…..getting a good shot of anything is so so hard!! 

  1. I think we have the same trees 🙂 I live above an urban canyon that’s filled with 200 year old trees that are HUGE and their green leaves are everywhere and my photos have so much green/blue in them and I am going to go buy ExpoDisc right now. I spend so much time in LR removing the green/blue. Where have I been…thank you for this gem of a tip!

    And everything else you said, totally spot on. Except I suck with a tripod and shoot freehand 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for these super helpful tips. I don’t run a foodblog, but a blog about basically anything I do and experience, which sometimes includes cooking and eating out. My food related entries don’t look very pretty so far, but with those tips I’m sure I’ll start improving slowly. Thank you for helping me out ♥

  3. Great tips, Sally. The baking and writing part are fun for me, but I struggle with the photos. I’ve been working really hard to try and improve my photography, and I could use any advice people have. Your photos are seriously wonderful, and it’s really cool of you to share!

  4. Sally – Thank you for always teaching us new things. I love it. Lighting is my worst enemy. I’ve been playing around with photo editing software on my Macbook, but that white balance filter is a great tool as well. 🙂

  5. Nice tips. I’m sort of the opposite. I’ve had an interest in photography since I got my first camera as a kid and I’ve been using Photoshop for a long time, but I’ve only just recently gotten into baking. Even so, as I try to share my baking attempts I feel I still have a lot to learn about how to compose this subject matter and the lighting and colour balance does cause me a problem. It’s something that I’m interested in learning more about.

  6. Thanks so much for the tips Sally! I’ve been trying to work on my food photography and I loved reading these tips. Also reading From Plate to Pixel currently, and I would highly recommend it too!

  7. Thank you for the update Sally, it’s really useful. I’ve loved your series on how to blog and how to do good photography and this is a great adjunct to your existing material. I’m particularly interested in the Expofisc as I live in a converted chapel which has nothing but stained glass windows. You can imagine the white balance issues I may be having! I’ve never heard of that before but I’m most definitely going to research it to see what I can get locally in the UK. Thank you! Xx

    1. YES I can only imagine the white balance problems you face! I would absolutely try out the Expodisc filter.

  8. Thanks for the great tips! I am light challenged in my house too. In fact, I don’t even use natural light in my photos. I use a DSLR, artificial light and Photoshop. I’m hoping to one day figure out the natural light thing. Thank you for the inspiration. 🙂
    p.s. Your cake pops are so perfect!

  9. Thank you for such a generous post; I learned so much from it. This is by far my most favorite food blog. I tell all my friends about it and I have made a lot of your recipes. . . I just trust you. Thank you again!

  10. This is awesome! Thank you for this post, Sally! Your photos are really inspiring, so it is very nice to get tips from you…. And you are not kidding about wanting to pick some of that crumb cake off the screen lol 🙂 

  11. I need to bookmark this post!! So many great tips, some that I really really really needed. i’ve had my Nikon forever but still don’t know how to use it. Thanks for these tips!

  12. Thank you so much for the tips, Sally! I fell in love with your blog and recipes all thanks to your gorgeous photos. They truly have a special, one of a kind, try not to lick your screen look to them! Your photos and love of food inspired me to start a blog of my own and you still inspire me today! Food photography is a slow process to learn, but so rewarding once you get that “perfect, drool-worthy shot.” Thanks Sally! 

    1. A VERY slow process to learn Janessa. And I’m still learning! But that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Good luck with your blog!

  13. We are renting our first home too and when we were looking, natural light was the key decider 🙂 Thanks for sharing your tips! I’m going to look into that white balance filter ASAP. 

  14. Great post, Sally!

    I have a quick question for you, and this might be way off, but still… After your recommendation of Lightroom, I downloaded a trial version and have been playing with it a little

    one thing I’d like to ask you – can you make a composite file with it? for instance, can you add 4 photos to a page and add a frame around them?   I use Photoshop (convoluted) or Photoscape (free version) for that until now.   This is a feature I really use a lot for my blog and so far I haven’t been able to find how to do it in Lightroom… their online help has nothing…   (sigh)

    any advice?

    1. Oh gosh. I might not be the best person to ask as I’ve never looked into that possible feature before. I have made some composite files with 2-4 images on a page, but have never played around with adding a frame around them. Go to the “Print” tab in Lightroom. This is the tab I use for adding more than 1 image to a page.

      1. Thank you! I managed to make a composite using the Print tab as you suggested, it took me a long time to realize how to print as jpeg, but finally did it No luck with the frame, though _ I guess I can always add it using another type of software

        thans again!

      2. After using the trial version for a few days, I decided to get the software… 

        it is a bit pricey, but I think it will be a great tool to have, I did not want to pay the monthly fee, and decided to bite the bullet and get it at amazon.com

        wish me luck!  😉

  15. Great post, Sally, thank you! I can totally relate to thinking a new home is going to be good for lighting and then realising ‘er, nope, not so much!’
    I have the expodisk thingy and it’s a lifesaver! 

  16. I totally agree about the Expodisc! Before I photographed food, I photographed people. And I can tell you that the Expodisc is my best friend! It not only fixes the white balance–it also tells you the proper exposure for your shot! Before every session, whether it be with people or food, I always take a custom white balance with my Expodisc and feel totally confident in the outcome. It’s so great not to have to mess with color balance after the fact!

  17. Sally I just love your helpful posts like this! I picked up a DSLR for the first time a couple of months ago, and can’t believe the difference it makes and your blog is always the first place I go if I’m stuck!

    1. Shadows and highlights, in my opinion, are what make the food really POP in photos. Definitely worth spending some time with to see what you like Shelby.

  18. Sally your photos always make me want to reach through the screen and get a little taste! You have been my inspiration for getting serious about my food photography this year.
    My boyfriend bought me a tripod for my birthday and I LOVE IT! I have only started using it recently and it has made a huge difference. My wonderful family also bought me reflectors, a light box, and some lights – all to help me keep photographing.
    I guess my favourite photography tool is the love and support and belief of my family 🙂 
    I really need to read the copy of Plate to Pixel that’s sitting on my bookshelf now that I am all set up for success!
    Thanks for this great guide 🙂 

    1. A tripod makes all the difference in food photography, in my opinion! Just remember to practice practice practice and take as many photos as you can. I always remind myself that I won’t get that “perfect” shot unless I take it. So, lots of photos. Every time.

  19. Totally sweet post – photography is my least favorite part of blogging, and I always just superimpose unicorn or cupcake illustrations on top of my shots. This roundup of tips helps though 🙂 

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