Step Out of Your Photography Comfort Zone

photography - cookies

We all get in ruts. Food ruts, exercise ruts, routine ruts, wardrobe ruts, creative ruts, you name it. I get it, I’m there. In the same long cardigan sweater and leggings I wear everyday. Truth is, my job requires new and creative content… constantly. It’s difficult to remain inspired 365 of the year, so that’s why it’s crucial to take breaks, step back, and try some new approaches. Even if they scare you.

ESPECIALLY if they scare you.

photography - cake

I went to a photography workshop last year (you can read about it here!) where I learned about finding and applying a photography style to my brand. After that, I attended a blogging conference where I met and chatted with dozens of bloggers– mostly about food photography. Feeling invigorated after both, I began making a list of my photography set up. That included my tripod, a few photography surfaces, props, and my equipment: Canon 5D Mark iiiCanon 24-70mm f/2.8LCanon EF 100mm f/2.8L, and Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L lenses. I took notes on my styling and studied food photography I admired all over the internet, in cookbooks, and magazines. My goal has always been to improve my photography and I was super motivated as photographing my next cookbook was on the horizon. I had the best gear already, so I decided it was time to change up my styling. When we moved into our new home, I faced new lighting situations. And over the summer, I began testing out new food positioning, props, backdrops, and angles. With better lighting in our new home, I stopped depending on my tripod. And the world of new photography composition immediately opened.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve felt completely different about photography. More confident, relaxed, inspired, and satisfied. Here are some new strategies I began using!

Bird’s Eye View

I LOVE photos taken from above! It’s been fun implementing this into my practice because I’ve never been that great at this type of shot before. I use a stool for these shots or I place the photography board on the floor and stand over it. When I take bird’s eye view photos, the light from the window is behind the subject (so at the top of the photo). For these, I try to have all the food and subjects in focus so I decrease the aperture. This can get confusing as f/1.4 (small focal point) is larger than f/8.0 (more in focus). For the following 4 photos, I used my Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L at either f/5.6 or f/6.3. Read more about camera settings and aperture here.

photography - hot chocolate

Bird’s eye view makes it fun to play with negative space (like above), but also to style the subject with a variety of props– or just more food (like below).

photography - muffins

photography - cookies-2

photography - birds eye view

Level with Subject + Negative Space

Ditching my tripod meant I could get right up into the food’s face, at it’s very level, using my zoom lens. I love having some negative space in the frame with this composition.

photography - level shot-2

photography - level shot-4

photography - level shot-3

photography - level shot

photography - pour

For these level shots, I usually have a poster board set up a foot or so behind the subject. White poster board is my favorite, but I’ve been experimenting with black recently. Sometimes I use another one of my wooden photography surfaces as the backdrop. I prop the backdrops up with something heavy behind it– literally a small crate of my food props!

Level + Stacks

Stacks of food taken at the food’s level is so pretty! I’ve always loved this style, but was never very good at shooting it with my tripod. Problem solved!

photography - stacked-2

photography - stacked

Shadows + Dark

Here’s that black poster board I mentioned above. It’s set up a foot or so behind the muffins. I’m loving this style! I’ve always been intimidated by darker food photography, but I’m finally getting my feet wet in this style. I’ve been afraid of too many shadows on my food, but I’ve learned that’s what creates depth and mood in your shots. I used my zoom lens in this photograph, ISO 500 + f/6.3 + shutter speed 1/60 sec.

photography - muffins-2

Backlighting

YES! Besides shooting freehand, this is the biggest change I made recently. I’d say about half of my photos the past few months have been taken with backlighting. And the other half have been my usual scrape of light from the left. For backlighting, all I did was turn my bench around so that the window (well, the sliding deck door!) was behind the subject. I especially love the casts of light on shiny foods, like sauces, batter, melted chocolate and so on. Really makes them POP! My kitchen is pretty bright, so I don’t usually use a reflector when I shoot backlit photos.

photography - back lit

photography - backlighting

photography - back lit-2

New Surfaces

I absolutely love Erickson Woodworks for their beautiful photography backdrops. Here are some current favorites: Cookie Sheet, Thrashed Brown, Stormy White, Blue Granite, and Stormy Sea.

photography - colors

That’s really it! I’d say the biggest impact was ditching my tripod. It was a huge crutch for me, so shooting without it was incredibly scary and intimidating. And blurry. All my practice shots were blurry for awhile there. I have extremely shaky hands, but with practice, a good camera, and raising the ISO slightly, I’ve been able to get crisp shots.

Thank you for sticking with me through this 5 year photography journey and by no means is the learning process over! Get inspired, practice until your hands hurt from holding that camera, and have fun!

 Some of the links above are affiliate links, which pay me a small commission for my referral at no extra cost to you! Thank you for supporting Sally’s Baking Addiction.

37 Comments

  1. I love the black and white posterboard shots.  They are so different from anything I’ve seen before and really make the subject pop!  So cool to see you continually evolve.  Love it!  

  2. Hi Sally. Have you ever thought of doing a post of “behind the scenes” of food photography? It’d be really awesome to see you behind the camera. Totally get it if you don’t, but just a thought. Always curious to see it in action (if that makes sense.)

  3. Love all the pictures from your recepis.
    Every looks so perfect : light – colour – plates – deco – i can’t mu eyes off from it, simply Amazing…

  4. WOW! Great photography, Sally!! Makes me want to run out and buy a camer and start shooting!!!
    I wanted to say my favorite pic was the brownies, wait no, the cinnamon swirl stack, wait, no, the ……oh my goodness…they are all wonderful!! Way to go!!

  5. As always, a great article of yours about food photography, I really enjoyed reading it while having breakfast this morning. All your photos are absolutely gorgeous, super pro, and I learn a lot from your experience. Thank you for sharing it with us once again, it’s always a pleasure. Have a nice day!

  6. Sally, thank you for sharing these tips! As you know, I’m just getting my feet wet with Food Photography all together and giving us the settings on the camera is oh so helpful! I literally have printed all of your recommendations and put them in a binder (along with other tips I’ve read online) and can never wait to try these out. I NEVER would have guess a poster board for your black backdrop (shadows + dark)…very cool. Thanks again and your photography is phenomenal! Keep it going! What you’re doing is working! OH! I do have one question which you didn’t mention but I THINK I read before….do you use a flash? Thanks!

  7. I love this post so much, Sally!! I have ALWAYS loved bird’s eye photography, and I would say it’s my most used shot. I also have always liked stacking things, but now more than ever (hello, baby stuff), I’ve always had to be careful about what’s behind my setup. I’ve had one too many times when a photography board has fallen down on my food. Oops. Poster board would probably be a better candidate here, hahaha. I feel you on blurry photos! I’ve never really been into my tripod, so I usually wind up taking 3 or 4 of the same shot just in case. I would say 99% of the time, at least 2 are blurry! 

    Anyway, I’ve been loving your new style!! I can’t wait to see what the new book looks like! 

  8. Great job Sally! All your photos are truly gorgeous. It’s getting to the point where I’m excited to read your latest blog post not only for the new recipe, but also to see your latest gorgeous photo. 🙂 Your passion for photography is really showing!! Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing your tips with us.

  9. Thank you for sharing your struggles on this post, Sally! One of my goals this year is to improve my photography. I’ve invested in new backgrounds and have been slowly learning to take wider shots using props which was SUPER OVERWHELMING. Sounds silly but getting out of your comfort zone takes time. Hard work pays off because your photos are amazing! 🙂

  10. Sally your photography has been truely amazing lately and it has been such a pleasure to see it transform over the years. I have just gotten a new studio with some new lighting challenges myself, so I look forward to trying out some of the techniques you have shared today. Thanks Sally 🙂

  11. I love learning about your photography journey. I really struggle with the photography aspect of running a food blog and I know it’s so important to attracting readers, so reading about your trial and error process is really motivating and encouraging. I love the new dark backdrop! And the background featured for the sugar cookies here. They’re beautiful! Thanks for continuing to share.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this! I’ve been experimenting with different angles and backdrops, too. And yes, backlighting makes things super shiny! I am trying to figure out if I should use a tripod or not. I keep going back and forth. My hands used to not be shaky, but now they are and it stinks! (My medication to stop seizures makes me shaky. Go figure!) Anyhow, I am so grateful for your willingness to share your tips and tricks with us!

  13. Thank you for posting this, it is incredibly helpful and very inspiring. I love seeing your progression and watching your skills grow. Those photos of the ganache covered cupcake and the bundt cake are absolutely stunning. Keep up the great work!

  14. Sally, you’re the best! I have literally just gotten my first real camera (Canon rebel), and I just figured out how to use it with the 50 mm lens. I did my latest post (bolognese if you want to take a peek) and tried your tip for being level (or mostly!) with the subject. I’m so impressed at what a difference it makes! I’m finally proud of my photos, and I appreciate all your tips! Thanks so much =)

  15. The photos with backlighting are beautiful!!  I want to experiment with some of the moodier lighting and dark backdrops as you mentioned soon.  But, for now, I should probably master the basics;)  

  16. Thanks for this post Sally! I learned so much with you, reading you, seeing your photos and triying your recipes…Reading you I get motivation to try again when I’ve got bad shoots or bad baking results 🙂
    Recently I tried your unbelievable peanut butter pie, and It’s absolutely delicious!
    Love your work and wait your new cookbook!

  17. Your shots look like a professional food photographer took them. You have a keen eye for balance, scale, color … always a pleasure to see the photos and read your recipes. Your endless creativity is appreciated. 🙂 P.S. Made your Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce again last night and they’re DELICIOUS!

  18. Thank you for this post! I have been working on my photography and this is just the primer I needed. I just got a new dslr camera and have signed up to take the craftsy online food photography class, and this info will help a lot! Thank you for sourcing your props as well, and for all that you do!

  19. I too like birds eye view photos. Sometimes though I take pix that appear more than 90 degrees. I get frustrated my pix are not improving as quickly as I’d like.

    I just bought a tripod thinking it would help with better lighting and fuzzy pix. However, I find it cumbersome to move around looking for the best lighting and angles.

    What I like about you the most is you don’t come off as a sales shark like many other bloggers. Thank you! I get tired of being pitched to.

    I like reading about your food blog progression! More please!!
    Thanks Sally!

  20. Thanks for all of the great tips! Food styling is so important and can be overwhelming for new photographers/bloggers. Love hearing how the “pros” do it! I’m still playing around with image sizes, bird’s eye views vs straight on. A/B testing has been really helpful for me. Thanks again!!

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