Good Food Blog, Bad Photography

Let’s just say I stumbled across a site that linked to me with the quote: “Really good food blog, terrible photography.” Let’s just say that that’s true. Actually, I know it is. I know nothing about photography. How can I improve? I’m using a PowerShot S200. Do I need a new camera? Your advice is much appreciated.

20 comments

  1. hey! sorry, i’ve been a lurker for awhile. anyway, yes, you probably need a new camera with more megapixels (higher resolution) that what you’ve got now. the S200 only has 2 megapixels. most people say that the minimum for decent pictures is 3 MP. It goes up to about 8+ MP, but most people say that at 5 and above you don’t notice the difference. I have a 5 MP minolta and I love it.

    The other thing about the S200 is that the “optical zoom” is 2x, which is minimal – basically means your lens isn’t too great. Go to http://www.dpreview.com and do some research. You will be happy with a new camera! And good ones most much less than they used to. Rock on.

  2. If you have an optical zoom, I would try standing further away from the dish and zooming in — that way the flash isn’t so close to the subject.

    You might also try the “portrait” flash setting if you have one, to provide slightly softer illumination. Or replace some of the bulbs in your kitchen with full-spectrum “natural light” bulbs that will make things warmer and more natural looking.

    None of this will help if the writer is complaining about the look of your kitchen, though. Personally, I like the way your kitchen looks kind of messy when you’re cooking. It makes it seem more real. And it makes me feel less bad about making a mess when I cook!!

  3. Before you get a new camera, I’d think about the fact that you are displaying the image on the Internet which doesn’t require the highest resolution for display. You’re getting decent resolution and color out of your camera for what you are using it for. I’ve found that even the more expensive and higher resolution digital cameras put on a darker picture for everyday shots. You can enhance the picture with an image manipulation program. The best is Adobe Photoshop, but download a freeware/shareware program that allows you to do basic image manipulations. A program like Irfanview that allows basic contrast/brightness/saturation adjustments can improve your current shots significantly. I also like the idea of shooting the shot in a working condition, but you could still compose your shot so that the immediate background doesn’t blend into the object you are shooting. You could do this with something as simple as a tablecloth. You could also fake the lighting systems professional photographers use. I’ve gotten a simple shop light at someplace like Home Depot. You want to bounce the light off the ceiling or another wall and watch the shadows. Some of the lights have intensity adjustments to minimise the shadowing.

  4. Before you get a new camera, I’d think about the fact that you are displaying the image on the Internet which doesn’t require the highest resolution for display. You’re getting decent resolution and color out of your camera for what you are using it for. I’ve found that even the more expensive and higher resolution digital cameras put on a darker picture for everyday shots. You can enhance the picture with an image manipulation program. The best is Adobe Photoshop, but download a freeware/shareware program that allows you to do basic image manipulations. A program like Irfanview that allows basic contrast/brightness/saturation adjustments can improve your current shots significantly. I also like the idea of shooting the shot in a working condition, but you could still compose your shot so that the immediate background doesn’t blend into the object you are shooting. You could do this with something as simple as a tablecloth. You could also fake the lighting systems professional photographers use. I’ve gotten a simple shop light at someplace like Home Depot. You want to bounce the light off the ceiling or another wall and watch the shadows. Some of the lights have intensity adjustments to minimise the shadowing.

  5. Funny enough, I like the photography. It’s not in the ‘bad’ range, I’d put it more in the ‘not good’ range. It’s *real*. You aren’t supposed to be a great photographer, you’re supposed to be a great blogger, which you succeed at.

    And so ends the ego boost of the day. :)

  6. Try putting the food under a good light — better yet, in some daylight — and shut the flash off. If you take close photographs, switch on Macromode (the little tulip).

  7. Oh! I forgot this — when not using the flash, try to keep your hand really still when you take the photo!

  8. Ha. I’m glad you agree. Because if I didn’t like your blog, I wouldn’t read it every day.

    To rephrase more politely: I love your writing, but the photography doesn’t do it justice. (That said, I’d rather have *some* photography than none at all.)

    IMHO, the main thing you need to do is to adjust the brightness and contrast. And then also try playing around with the color balance.

    Even with your existing camera, that would go a long way towards improving the pix.

    You can probably find some tutorials on those particular aspects of digital photography.

    Once again, sorry if I sounded like a jerk.

  9. Try getting close-up shots (macro), use natural lighting (avoid flash photography) and concentrate on composition. It can do more for your photographs than buying an expensive camera.

  10. Others have said it, but I’ll go ahead and repeat it–it seems to me that the camera you have is fine for what you’re using it for. Yes, 3 MP is the bare minimum for printing pictures, but you’re not printing them, you’re putting them on a website, which allows for much worse resolution. Personally, I think that my best camera accessory is the tripod–the internal flash on any camera is kind of crappy, (mine turns everything deathly blue), so when I’m in bad lighting conditions, I set up the camera on a tripod and fire away. This won’t work for people, but it’ll work for food pictures. (You could try to hold your hand still, but that usually doesn’t work too great). Last but not least, your problem could be the composition–which the most expensive camera in the world wouldn’t solve. The best photographers are amazing at composition–and that’s something you have to learn on your own. Take photo lessons if you feel bad enough? :)

  11. Agreed. I never put up anything with more resolution than 640×480 on the Web. You don’t need resolution.

    I wouldn’t get a new camera, but I would get:

    –a shoplight. You know, those kinds with the conical aluminum reflector. Under $10 at any decent hardware store. Try, as mentioned above, using washes of indirect light to illuminate your subject;

    –a mini-tripod. I have this one and love it, but there are lots of similar models. You can browse J&R or B&H and find one easily;

    –a decent beginning photography book. I got a good one by John Hedgecoe in the bargain section of Borders for $4.99 a while back.

    I’d experiment with lighting, and maybe try not to use the flash unless you absolutely have to. (It destroys the illusion of depth by washing out shadows.)

    Make sure your camera’s white balance setting is appropriate for the kind of lighting you’re using. If it’s set on “auto” white balance, perhaps consider manually white-balancing with a sheet of printer paper that’s evenly exposed.

    If you have photo-editing software like Photoshop, play around with color balance and saturation.

    Have fun!

  12. I wouldn’t recommend changing your digital camera because its 2 megapixels; I totally agree that for the Web, this is already more than you need and that you could shoot with even less resolution with no problem. Stop using the flash (it kills the picture, stamping everything on the same layer), use ambiant lights instead, vary the angle from which you photograph…

    But if you still decide to change the camera (and follow the great advices you received with the new one ;-)), I’d recommend choosing that has an optical image stabilizer, that will let you take a stable picture at even less than 1/60 (where you’d normally need a tripod). I’ve never used a tripod since I bought my Panasonic FZ10, which I mainly use for the same needs as yours: food photography.

    In low lights condition, you just shoot many pictures and you’ll be sure that at least one of them is stable. I’m not trying to sell you the FZ10, but let me just mention one of the great features it has for food photography: a manual focus ring. You can choose an interesting angle and then focus EXACTLY where you want on your plate, leaving everything else in an artistic blur. It gives great results in my opinion:

    http://www.banlieusardises.com/delices/archives/001013.html

    http://www.banlieusardises.com/delices/archives/000999.html

    http://www.banlieusardises.com/delices/archives/000975.html

    (sorry, all in French).

    That FZ10 has a Leica lens and an incredible zoom (12x – 420mm equivalent) wich may seem overkill for your needs and probably are… but I just had to mention it.

    Anyway, all this said, I’m sure you’ll achieve greater photographs with the ideas people shared here. I just wanted to underline the interest of image stabilization if you still decide to change camera.

  13. I completely agree with some of the above advice. A 2 megapixel camera is fine; my 2 MP Fujifilm takes awesome pictures (yes, even for printing at the higher settings). Also, I agree with turning off the flash. As long as you have sufficient lighting and a steady hand, the pictures will more times than not turn out better, I find. (If you use zoom, your hand will have to be even steadier). Good luck – the best thing to do is just experiment and practice.

  14. There are some easy tweaks that will help most photos on the trip from camera to web page. How it gets done will vary from program to program.

    Photoshop is probably overkill and a little intimidating to start with. If you have a Mac try GraphicsConverter (http://www.lemkesoft.de/en/graphcon.htm). On windows try something like PaintShop Pro (http://www.jasc.com/products/paintshoppro/) or PhotoPlus (http://www.freeserifsoftware.com/serif/ph/ph5/index.asp). Usually it’s best to forget the software that came with the camera.

    Typically I crop out unwanted areas first. Things that don’t contribute to the subject or are bright and distracting. Next tweak the brightness and contrast.

    You are starting off with an image that is 8 or 10 times the final size you’ll use. Instead of resizing it completely the first time, resize it to 700 pixels wide. Apply a sharpen filter. Now resize it to the final dimensions. This way the photo looks crisper, but not overly so.

    That’s usually enough. The tips on keeping a steady hand and lighting will give you a better image to work with.

    Have fun!

  15. I agree with John Eddy. Amateur gourmet, amateur photographer. it’s all good. Hey, you’re good at making your bad food experiences look pretty awful. i hope that doesn’t change once you get all this new expertise.

  16. I had never heard of food blogging until I stumbled upon your site — now my worlds have collided. I blog, I cook, and now I’ve gotten into the obsessive compulsive habit of blogging my cooking. I have you to blame, and therefore I’ll share my paltry photo knowledge. Check out a good post of mine for my qualifications: http://www.laurafries.com/archives/carnitas.html#more.

    1. White plates and taking pictures entirely above the plate has helped me.

    Anyways, thanks for getting me into food blogging.

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