Learning food photography

Let me get this off my chest right from the beginning: I am just learning food photography and trying my best to figure out how to take great, clear, and vivid photos of food.

To be quite frank, Royal Icing Diaries is not one of those blogs where you come to drool over the mouth-watering photos.


One day it will be and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later. I’m not going after the blog-of-the-year award or anything, but I do want to take nice pictures.

Actually, I am trying to learn all about photography and how to take great photos overall, but I’m really interested in food photography specifically.

Lemon blueberry biscotti

This past Christmas Sal bought me a camera I’d been looking at and dreaming of for a while: The Canon T3i.

We had an old point and shoot for years but it just wasn’t cutting it. Our iPhones took much better photos than that camera.

I wanted something more. A camera I could play with and manipulate.

Now I look like a professional. In addition to the kit lens I have an EFS 55-250mm, the 50mm F1.8 lens, a gorgeous backpack made specifically for a DSLR with all of my gear in it, lens cleaning kits, an extra battery, and I even a tripod.

But looks can be very deceiving. All the gear in the world doesn’t do me a lick of good until I learn how to use it all.

And that’s my goal.

EJ 11 mos

If I’m going to write a blog, I need good, or at least half way decent pictures. That much I know.


So I’ve been practicing every chance I get, changing lens, setting things up (the composition) – trying to figure things out. I made myself a promise right from the start that I was going to learn to take every photo in manual mode and that’s what I’ve been doing.

It’s been a slow process but at least there has been progress.

Here I’ve posted some photos I’ve taken around in and around my house with the Canon T3i. No doubt a vast improvement over the photos of my first decorated cookies.

They may not be up to professional standards but considering that I knew next to nothing about depth of field, f-stops, or aperture just a few months ago, I don’t think they’re half bad to tell you the truth.

However, it takes me forever to get a good shot. I usually play around with the ISO, f-stop, and the shutter speed (because I still can’t even grasp what those things are) and take picture after picture of the same subject, praying that I’ll end up with at least one good one. Good by my standards anyway.

For instance, I took 338 pictures of the biscotti in the picture below and kept 8 of them. (Yup, you read that right – 338). Not great, but I thinking I’m learning.

cranberry pistachio biscotti

baby sitting on the couch

She is not happy that I constantly use her as a subject to practice taking photos.

flowers in the yard

I took this picture of some flowers in our yard with my new Canon EF 50mm F1.8 lens. Yes, I’m fairly impressed with myself.

Cigars in the yard

And the one above I took on a typical weekend in my backyard. Cigars, rum, and “the boys” are usually keeping Sal company out in the gazebo.

Here is some NY crumb cake I made. This photo is 1 of 12 that I kept after taking 216 shots if you can believe it, and I’ve learned enough to know that it’s still a little too dark and there are shadows.

I am pathetic, huh? I have fun though and I keep on learning. Sal tells me I’ll never get a job with the NFL or NBA because I’m so slow setting up the shots.

He is convinced the only place that would even consider hiring me is a morgue, where nothing is moving!

Yes, he does thinks he’s hilarious. I don’t necessarily agree.

NY Crumb Cake3

One of the issues I have with taking food photos is that I have horrible lighting in my kitchen. The lighting is fine for everyday use, but not for taking good pictures. I’ve learned enough to know that I need more daylight and that I never want to use the flash.

See the pendant lights above my island? Those are actually daylight bulbs but shine directly down on the island where I do all of my work.

Add to that, I have dark brown cabinets and wood floor, and a very dark green granite counter top. It almost looks black.  And because it’s granite, it’s shiny so I get a reflection.

Our kitchen1

As if that’s not enough, my kitchen faces south and although there is a ton of sunlight outside, the amount that comes through into the kitchen is minimal because of overhangs we have outside of the bay window and the sliding glass door just off the kitchen. Great for much-needed shade in the South Florida summers. Not great for food photography.

Here is the kitchen without the lights on. This shows how bright (or dark) the kitchen is at midday, on a sunny day.

our kitchen2

It can be very bright right at the bay window but only in that area.

I tell you this because it does explain why some of the pictures you’ll likely encounter in Royal Icing Diaries may not be under the best lighting conditions until I figure out this whole food photography concept.

I make my dough, cut out the cookies, bake them, and prepare all of my icing on the island at the foreground of the picture above. It’s not really an option to schlep everything over to the bay window because the table is actually very small.

I’ve tried every which way I can to take good shots but it’s hard. If I put the lights on they give off too much light and reflect off the granite. If I turn them off, it’s too dark and there are shadows.

Oh what in the world is a girl to do?

I’m working on figuring all the logistics out. One thing I know for sure:  I can’t even consider asking Sal to rip out the overhangs! I have to make do with what I have.

Any advice on how to get more natural light in my kitchen in order to take better photos is appreciated. Yes, I’m begging.

And I have yet to even think of how I am going to take photos with one hand while mixing or decorating with the other hand. I suppose I need to learn how to use the tripod and a remote shutter release. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

So many things to learn at once.

But I’m having fun, and that’s the most important thing.


4 thoughts on “Learning food photography

  1. I’m totally in the same boat as you with regards to inadequate natural lighthing in the kitchen! What I usually do is I use my mini wooden folding table to take photographs of food. By using the folding table, I could take photographs of my food anywhere at home. I usually take photographs of my food near my balcony window because the natural lighting there is great. Hope that helps.

    • Thanks so much for the tip. I never even thought of using a little folding table, and I have a few of them. That would definitely work for some of the photos I want to take. This is why I love blogging – so many others out there who are willing to help! I still need to somehow create more daylight on and around my kitchen island as well, for photos of “the process” of cookie making.

  2. I have that same problem with my counters too! I normally use my bamboo chopping board as a photo area. It’s nice to see we can relate to our food photo problems when we both have similar kitchen styles.

    • Ok, now I set up a folding table in my living room to try that. Yesterday I hauled things back and forth from the kitchen. Well lo and behold it poured rain most of the day so I had no sunlight in there anyway, the photos are no better and I was exhausted. Gotta love it. Maybe tomorrow. And my living room looks VERY classy with the folding table sitting in the middle of it. Eclectic I think it’s called.

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