When I started my blog, I had this urgent need to convey my love for food through my wittering on, as I simply could not contain my enthusiasm for food any longer. My early writing voice had a pressure of speech which makes me cringe and smile in equal measure but I hoped my readers (all two of them, lol…!) enjoyed my Tigger-like bouncy zeal for all things edible. Alas, food is a sensory pleasure best experienced by taste, smell and sight with the written word coming much further down the list so taking wonky, poorly lit and badly composed photographs hardly had readers rushing to the kitchen to make my recipes.
It took a long time for me to learn how to handle a camera and then how to produce photos I myself liked, let alone you my dear readers! A huge turning point for me was doing this hands on Food Photography Course earlier this year but having finally gotten to grips with my camera and figuring out how the classical teaching about photography applied to food, I stalled once again.
The winter is rolling in here in Yorkshire and that presents the extra challenge of hunting for just the right light to shoot in – if I’m lucky to find an hour or two of good light of a weekend altogether! I’d never managed to get my head around how to use artificial lighting to fake good natural light… until now! And I’m going to tell you how I did it!
For years, I’d been whining “if only I had someone to take me by the hand and show me how to take photos of my food”. I’ve been so frustrated at my inability to capture the delicious food I was making with my lens. Enter Nagi – she is not only a food blogger herself at RecipeTinEats but she has a separate blog all about how to make your blog the best it possibly can be, and she generously shares mounds of info about how she went from zero to hero i.e. from zero readers to a million in her first year of blogging!
I’d say she’s someone to pay attention to! She believes the growth of her blog hinged on how fast she was able to improve her photography in the early days of her blog. “They” say you have do something for 10,000 hours before you become an expert and although Nagi is very humble about her impressive skills, when you read about how much time she devoted to taking images of food, you’ll see she is most definitely an expert in food photography.
The beauty of the book is that Nagi gives specific worked examples of how to achieve exactly the same level of stunning, glowing images of food as she does – she doesn’t hold back anything! Or at least it reads very much like she doesn’t lol. She shows you her setups, tells you her camera settings, explains how to detect if whatever light you have is good or bad (the Secret Light Test is hilarious to carry out but so helpful!), and she gives examples – good and “bad” – of her own work so you can see exactly what she means.
The advice is clear enough that I believe a beginner blogger with an entry-level DSLR could produce photos which have taken me 4 years of random guesswork and more than a little luck to achieve up to this point! Nagi has managed to produce a book which is every bit as good as having a tutor watching you work and guiding you down the path to success in person!
But enough of me waxing lyrical about Nagi and her marvellous book! Let me let you a little bit of what I learnt and how I shoot in artificial light. Let’s start with my kit. My camera is a D5300 Nikon and I ‘only’ have a Nikkor 40 mm f/2.8 macro lens (I say ‘only’ as it’s actually a very good lens for food bloggers with some minor limitations). I never hand hold (ok that’s a fib – 99.9% of the time I don’t) and Hungry Hubby bought me a snazzy new tripod for our last wedding anniversary which is very sturdy and has an overhead arm. I love overhead shots! My typical camera settings for artificial light (as one of the benefits of using a reproducible light source is you don’t need to move the settings much to get the shots you need) are:
ISO 200 – Aperture f/2.8 – Shutterspeed 0.2-0.8 sec
As for the lighting, Nagi uses Lowel Ego Lights which she shipped to her in Australia from America. However, I was concerned about the voltage differences (and the hideous shipping/taxes it would attract to get them from the States!) so I use these very affordable tabletop lamps instead:
They produce a white light which is very bright and really has to be well diffused or you will end up with washed out, harshly lit images. I use a diffuser panel, muslin cloth and some cheap white curtains from IKEA (a Nagi tip!) to diffuse the light and I still think there’s room for improvement. I want to practice some more with this set up before I move onto dark ‘n’ moody shoots (I have big love for moody foodie photographers lol!).
Once I’ve balanced the diffuser (often using my ample stash of canned tomatoes!), I grab whatever flat white or silver objects I can find – cardboard boxes or panels, cake boards, packaging of all kinds, rolls of white paper plus my large 5 in 1 reflector/diffuser. I have the light coming from the 10-11 o’clock position behind the food (what Nagi describes as “side-back lighting”) as my go-to set up whilst I’m still practising. I hold a piece of foil or a silver cake board to the right of my camera to bounce the light gently back onto the front of the food, setting the 10 second timer on my camera for each shot.
Here’s my current set up which has taken over the dining table for now! You can see how bright the light is as the room lights are off, the light is “just” coming from my lamp. I’d love to hear what others are using, particularly in the UK as the Lowell lights I’d really love to try aren’t available for sale within the UK (to my knowledge…)
Using these makeshift pieces of kit and my entry level DSLR, I’ve managed to take the following photos here at the Apple Chapel, in the pitch black with nothing but my two lamps!
They may not be flawless food photography perfection but if you’ve been following me since the beginning, I think you’ll agree they are a huge improvement and the fact that they are all done with artificial light blows my mind lol!
So there you have it, that’s how I’ve transformed my winter food photography! I’ve got a long way to go to come anywhere close to Nagi in the number of hours she’s put in behind the lens but the great thing about blogging and photography is that it is a journey, not a destination (as cheesy as that sounds!). I’m so excited to try out more of her tips and can’t recommend her book enough if you too are struggling to get the images you want. It’s worth the price just to have the chapter on artificial lighting alone for me!
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