Food Photography Tips from a Photog Who Knows

Food Photography Tips from a Photog Who Knows

In my other writing life, I help small businesses with their online marketing–using words mostly. Whether its website content writing, social media content, or blogging, I can help out by being a writing coach, marketing strategy consultant, or get down and dirty and do the writing myself.

So when a friend of mine and I decided to interview each other for our respective blogs, it was like, well, yeah! Of course! I’ll talk about what I do best and you can talk about what you do best. For me, I decided to share blogging tips for photographers and he decided to talk about food photography. Here. Today.

I’m honored to introduce RJ Kern, a Denver wedding photographer who specializes in destination wedding photography. This guy can pick up and go anywhere on a moment’s notice. He’s that dedicated.

Without any more delay, here is RJ’s advice for all of us food lovers who want to photograph our food well.


To use the flash or not to use the flash?

No flash. I’m a keep it simple kind of guy. Flash creates lots of distracting reflections on the dish and shiny parts of food, so you have to be careful. I take advantage of available light with my preference falling for northern-facing windows available just about anywhere. Good lenses with fast apertures like a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 make all the difference. The newer cameras at higher ISO cameras allow you to shoot with ISO 1600 or 3200 with great results.

Food photography advice almost always starts with lighting – books are written on the topic; it’s a biggy. Can you sum up the importance of lighting in a few sentences?

When it comes to lighting, choose quality over quantity. Soft and diffused window light trumps direct overhead sun. However, there has to be enough light, which is where a tripod and timer comes in handy in darker situations. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with LED flashlights as alternative lighting sources. Texture and shape vary depending on the light source, so experiment to see what looks best.

Be the alpha-dog over your camera and master manual settings with practice.

If a food blogger doesn’t have any lighting equipment and only has a basic camera without many features, what would you recommend he/she do to create the best looking photos?

Know how to use a tripod, shoot on a manual setting, and use a macro lens setting (flower mode). If shooting inside, one directional light source from the side, say a large window, with a white wall in the background works very well. In the doldrums of winter, stay away from incandescent lamps as they can make food look yellow and unappealing. If outside, shoot in open shade for great results, especially in a patio situation. Use crisp white dishes and clutter-free backgrounds keep your eye from drifting away from the food subject.

My biggest pet peeve: orange cast washing over the image. Learn to adjust the color temperature settings called “white balance,” preferably in-camera.

Two common mistakes amateur photographers make and how to remedy them.

1. Read your camera manual. Most photographers fail to spend the time to read their camera manual, even pros. Not understanding equipment is the #1 source of frustration for new photographers. Read a page a day and practice, practice, practice.

2. Take your time and don’t rush the creative process. Just because you have a camera doesn’t make you a photographer. Learning how to create a compelling photograph takes an understanding of your tools and techniques, composition, and lighting. I recommend taking various shots from different angles using different settings. Don’t be afraid to experiment again and again. Photography is an art, not a science.

How should a food photographer spice up photos of not-so-pretty or difficult-to-capture foods (e.g., a bowl of sour cream dip or brown sauce)?

You can’t polish a sneaker, but you can put it in the “good light.” Be strategic about choosing a complimentary background color and bowl. Don’t forget to go bright, bold, but keep it simple. For foods that appear white, perhaps use a green background like a plant with a brown bowl. With brown sauce, a white bowl with a light-toned background (grey or yellow) would compliment best.

Too few food bloggers take pictures of themselves in the kitchen. Share a tip for taking a self-portrait?

Use a tripod, timer, and take at least three photos. Focus manually on something close to where you’ll be, if possible. Zoom out with a wide-angle lens to capture your surroundings best.

When it’s time to edit a photo, what one or two things MUST be done?

Understand basics such as dodging and burning which can bring out subtle shadow detail or darken areas that are not as important like the corners of the photo. All photos should be resized and sharpened appropriate for output. Over-sharpened photos look fake. I learned my lessons early on.

Be honest. Do you photograph your food?

No. I’d rather eat it. However, I’ll photograph yummy restaurant food with my iPhone and wedding reception food with my pro rig.

Whether a blog or magazine or otherwise, where do you go for information on photography?

My photographer friends give me the best solutions if I’m stumped, which is why it is important to invest in your friendsThe Strobist serves up lighting inspiration. I enjoy the blog of Chase Jarvis to keep a pulse on creativity. jpgmag for a quick glimpse of the work of others.

As for books, Bruce Barnbaum’s The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression draws out the artist within and John Harrington’s Best Business Practices for Photographers serves as a great professional resource.

What one song would you make your theme song while at work (and you can’t say “Here Comes the Bride”)?

“Sweet Disposition” by Temper Trap. It makes me smile in a U2-goosebumps kinda way.

If you didn’t love to photograph weddings, what would you spend your time photographing?

Rare botanics with a macro lens and tribute to Georgia O’Keefe. Sensual, colorful abstract beauty… especially the backside of flowers. Call it “flower porn.”
RJ Kern food photography tips


Fantastic advice. Thank you, RJ.

About that flower porn…RJ recently posted an assortment of flower pictures on his site. If you’re at all interested in photography, I suggest you head over and see these pretty floral pictures yourself. While you’re there, take a peek at the fun booth photos. They really are fun!

10 Responses to “Food Photography Tips from a Photog Who Knows”

  1. R. J. Kern says:

    And I forgot the mention the reason I don’t photograph my own food: I’m usually too hungry to wait much longer! Thanks for sharing, Sara!

  2. Jessica says:

    Wow- this is so helpful.I am always looking for new tips and tricks with my food photogs. Thanks so much for sharing this post! So glad you stopped by today so I could find you. I love anything saucy so to speak! lol! and I am already loving all your recipes. You should definitely join my recipe challenge (see my blog sidebar for details) it is next wed! XO

  3. Heavenly Housewife says:

    Great tips. I have to say, I find the photography part of food blogging not only difficult, but strangely uncomfortable. Its my least favourite part of blogging, though I see it as a necessary evil. Maybe if i was better at it, I’d like it more.
    Do stop by my place and enter my giveaway for an $80 Amazon gift card!
    *kisses* HH

  4. First Sara…I think RJ should come to a group meeting. Can you say too cute??

    Second…would it be OK with either of you if I included this information on a group page for our Meetup. Seems our members are MOST hungry for photo information. I would be sure to link to RJ’s website!

    • Sara says:

      Barb! R.J. is totally up for visiting the group and schooling us on photography. Feel free to use this post anyway you like. Links are very much appreciated!

  5. ~~~~I looooooooooooove observing the food photos…and if one writes lush content, well, that’s the perfect blog I want to visit. 🙂

  6. Regan says:

    What a timely piece! I have just purchased a new 50mm/1.8 lens for my Canon in the hopes of improving my images. These tips are priceless.

    And thanks for commenting on the Chip/Dip over on my site. Let me know if you find either of them & what you think.

  7. Kristen says:

    Thanks so much for this post. It had a lot of great info!

  8. sweetlife says:

    great tips, thanks for sharing


  9. Fantastic post and great tips, thank you.

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