Tips for Better Food Photography

How To Photograph Food – Preparation

Just like an eager home cook peeking into a professional kitchen, a behind-the-scenes look at a professional photography studio is often enough inspiration for nascent food photographers to take their images to the next level. Whether you’re picking up a camera for the first time, or are looking to improve your skills, we hope these tips will get you snapping in no time. (Yes, smart-phone photographers, everything here applies to you, too!)

We’re starting with the basics, and will build future blog posts that are geared towards different concepts and skills. Please always ask if you have specific questions about how we shot a particular still image or video—we’ll happily share the details.

Read on for some basic tips on planning, equipment, and technique.

PRE-SHOOT PLANNING

Here’s the scenario: You’re in the kitchen preparing a sumptuous meal, and you want to share it with the world (or your Instagram buddies, at least). The first rule is this: keep it simple. Before you even start cooking, remove clutter from the area and make sure everything is clean and orderly. Set up your tripod, and any tools you might need, within an arm’s reach. In a professional kitchen, this process is called mise en place; the same principle works for food photography.

Before we document anything at ChefSteps, we also discuss exactly what we want to shoot. Since prepared food changes rapidly, it’s best to think about these elements and stage your shooting area before you cook. When you’re all set up in advance, you can work fast to capture a frozen dessert at that perfect icy temperature, or show hot steam escaping off of warm rolls just out of the oven.

BASIC LIGHTING

If you can get it, natural light will show off your food to its best advantage. We’re lucky to have huge windows lining our kitchen, so we can shoot almost everything using natural light—even on those famously dreary Seattle days. Lighting your food evenly is one of the easiest ways to create a delicious-looking photo, so a bright but cloudy day is actually the perfect time to shoot.

But still, too much or too little light can affect your outcome. If it’s too dark outside (at dawn or dusk, for example), we use artificial lights, or we move very close to the window to make use of whatever light we can. And while they’re great for sunbathing and barbecues, sunny summer days can create harsh shadows and overexposed highlights in photos. When it’s too bright, we’ll pull the shades to diffuse the light, or just move plated food further from the window. To get rid of heavy shadows cast from bright light, we’ll hold up a piece of poster board to reflect light onto the shadowy areas. This reflector can also be used on darker days, to reflect whatever light there is evenly onto the subject of the image.

COMPOSITION: SIMPLE IS BEST

Make the food the star of the show by keeping compositions clean and simple. We like a bright, minimalist look, so we use white or black plates set against clean backgrounds like butcher blocks. Personal styles vary, of course, but even if you’re after a more homey, rustic look, less is often more. Play with different surfaces around the house to see what works best for you.

EXTRA EQUIPMENT

If you’re shooting solo, we highly recommend using a tripod. That way, you can “style to the camera”—positioning your tripod first and then plating with a set angle in mind. With a hand-held camera, it’s more difficult to remember camera positioning as you adjust items in the shot. Working with a tripod will also reduce the blur that comes from accidentally moving the camera while shooting.

Another great item to invest in is a remote for your camera—you can capture sprinkling powdered sugar over the moist doughnut you just baked without having to lean over and snap the photo at the same time.

How to Photograph Food – Lighting

We hope these tips are helpful and inspiring enough to get you cooking and shooting. Let us know if you any specific questions—we’re always here to help.

Join our community for empowering recipes and techniques, access to our lively forum, and lots more behind-the-scenes stuff. 

Movember

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It’s Movember and we’ll be growing a moustache to raise funds and awareness for men’s health. It’s going to be a hairy journey and we want you to be part of it.

Fight for your right to change the face of men’s health, enlist for Movember and JOIN our TEAM now.

A moustache is the mark of a man, and today it is a symbol to spark conversations about important health issues. So guys, pledge to grow a Mo today, or ladies, join the team to support the Mo.

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Find out more about why you should join us by taking a look at THE CAUSES WE ARE FIGHTING FOR.

Thanks for supporting and helping us change the face of men’s health.

United We Mo!

Happy One Year Anniversary!

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ChefSteps’ first anniversary has come and gone, and, like any good startup, we were too busy working on the next great thing (our online French macaron class) to stop and celebrate.

I asked some fellow team members to weigh in on what it’s been like to work at ChefSteps for the past year, and they had plenty to be grateful for.

Michael Natkin, our CTO, described his favorite part of the job: “I get to combine two of my favorite things: food & code.”

Lorraine Esterling, our social media director, on the work environment at ChefSteps: “It looks a little like the show Breaking Bad, with the mysterious lab and maker builds scattered about; plus an influx of irresistible aromas from the kitchen; Ben’s and Grant’s playlists; Chris’s ongoing dissertations; lots of laughter; amazing food; and coffee, endless coffee. In other words, heaven on earth.”

Software engineer, Huy Nguyen, on the best parts of working at ChefSteps: “Being able to work with so many talented people on a subject I’m passionate about. Getting to talk to people of different disciplines and backgrounds. I enjoy chatting with the chefs in the kitchen, with Hans about music, you and Ryan about video, Lorraine about social media. We have such a diverse and multi-talented team. Not to mention, getting to taste all the food.”

Our product designer, Tim Salazar, told me about his favorite parts: “The people. The freedom to work on a million things. The space, culture, and of course, the food. Lots of things to think about, challenges everywhere, and big things on the horizon.”

I agree with all of it—especially the part about the talented people I get to work with.

We’ve spent the past year developing recipes and techniques, building a clean, easy-to-use platform to feature your recipes, establishing an awesome online culinary community, and listening to input from that community.

I’d like to raise my apple gin gimlet to salute our amazing ChefSteps community, our founders Chris Young, Grant Crilly, and Ryan Matthew Smith, and the rest of the ChefSteps team, which continues to grow.

Many thanks to all of you ChefSteppers for your continued support. If there is anything you’d like to see us improving on in the next year, leave a comment or email me at kristina@chefsteps.com with the subject line: “One Year and Counting.”

The French macaron class is coming soon!

We’re really looking forward to the upcoming launch. We can’t wait to see all of your amazingly successful macarons!

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A few weeks ago, our chefs handed the aprons to the rest of the (non-chef) team, and asked us to beta-test the class. We paired up into teams and made our own batches of macarons—with no support from the kitchen staff. That’s right, no support at all.

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They watched us like lab rats as we cooked our way through the class, making sure that the step-by-step instructions and videos were easy to understand and interpret. If we had any obstacles throughout the process, we talked about them and wrote them down. Then, we went back and fixed everything that had been confusing or unclear.

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This was such an entertaining and enjoyable activity to do with my coworkers. I hope you will give it a try as well! Speaking from experience, I can say that this thorough, in-depth class will help you perfect your French macaron artistry. I guarantee it!

Before we launch, we’re giving away three free entrances to the class: http://goo.gl/z71pzN

Click here to view this promotion.

It’s all about the beer this weekend!

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Can you guess what we’ll be doing this weekend? We’ll be raising our beer steins in honor of Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria’s wedding on October 17th, 1810—the occasion of the first Oktoberfest. The event festivities were such a hit, that the tradition of Oktoberfest still lives on 200 years later. Prost to that!

And, speaking of history, since the late 19th century, the Pacific Northwest region has been known for producing hops. Our grand ole state, Washington, contains approximately 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage. Cool, eh?

We have many reasons to be clanking our steins together; Oktoberfest, the upcoming first year anniversary of our website launch, and a slew of new recipes in production. So, in honor we’ll be drinking some of our favorite beers. And what are our preferred brews? Well, we’re lucky to have several local Northwest breweries among our favorites—a shout out to Georgetown Brewing CompanyHilliard’s Brewery, & Ninkasi Brewing.

And remember, don’t drink all your beer, make sure you save enough for this recipe. This meal would pair beautifully with a pale ale in hand!

Ein Prosit!

Side note: Since we’re on the beer topic, look for us on Brew Dogs, premiering on September 24th, 2013 on the Esquire Channel. We might have contributed to the world’s most-caffeinated beer, you’ll have to watch to find out!

Danke!

Good Taste Tour: Flavors of Seattle

We were honored when asked to participate in the Good Taste Tour: Flavors of Seattle as part of Drive the District powered by GM (General Motors). After traveling the nation, the GM Taste Tour had one final pit stop (no pun intended). We think they saved the best for last.

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Our chef friends, Brian McCracken and Dana Tough of McCracken Tough restaurants curated the evening. We welcomed the GM Taste Tour family, along with Chef Jason Franey of Canlis, local foodie friends; Jen Chiu, contributor at Eater Seattle, food freelancer Chris Nishiwaki and bloggers Naomi Bishop and Keridwyn Deller to our space and invited them to taste what we had been developing: a Carbonated Celery GimletPNW Salmon and a rendition of the Aerated Green Apple Sorbet.

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Take a look at what the evening entailed!

For more behind the scene pictures, visit and follow our behind the scenes Pinterest board.

Michael Natkin Codes and Cooks | Gigandes Beans with Romesco in Saffron Broth

While many of our chefs were traveling last week, Michael Natkin, our lead developer stepped in. Many know him from his Herbivoracious blog and we’ve had a voracious appetite to get him in the kitchen to produce a step-by-step recipe for you. We thought this would be a perfect time to show off this multi-talented guy, so here is Michael’s recipe for Gigandes Beans with Romesco in Saffron Broth.

Gigande Beans with Romesco in Saffron BrothThe recipe has several steps, so we broke it down. You can prepare each part separately and then reheat and assemble with excellent results.

1. Prepare the gigandes beans. Alternatively, you can use jarred pre-cooked gigandes. You can also substitute a different large bean if you so desire.

  • Pick through the dried beans for any extraneous material. Rinse well.
  • Soak overnight, optionally in a vacuum bag with 450 grams water.
  • Repack with 1000 grams fresh water. Do not seal bag.
  • Cook sous vide at 90 °C, securely hanging the bag over the rim of the cooking vessel. After 90 minutes, start testing a bean every fifteen minutes until tender.
  • Drain and chill beans.

2. Michael prepares the potatoes and leeks:

 

2. Next up, Michael concocts the wonderful Catalan sauce, romesco, made from roasted (by blowtorch) red peppers, tomatoes, roasted garlic and toasted nuts:

 

3. Now to make the delicious saffron broth:

 

4. The last step before serving, here’s Michael assembling the final dish:

 

Cheers to Michael
and many thanks from
Chris Young, Grant Crilly, Ryan Matthew Smith and the rest of the ChefSteps team!

Why Sous Vide Makes Life Easier

We’d like to introduce you to Nima Mojgani. A longtime friend of two of the ChefSteps’ founders, Nima is best described as a typical 20-something city-dweller. Eating out most nights on Capitol Hill in Seattle, and cooking only sporadically for his girlfriend, Nima never showed any interest in trying any of the ChefSteps techniques for himself – thinking it would be out his rudimentary culinary reach.

So last week, we gave him instructions to make his favorite meal – steak – but rather than cooking the dish his normal way, we gave him a five minute starter course on how to do it sous vide style and this is what he had to say:

“I’m not a bad cook, per se – but not a good one, either. What surprised me most about sous vide was really how simple it was. I didn’t need to watch the steak as it cooked – which is huge because normally I stress about when to flip it over or cover the pan or when take it off the stove so that it’s medium rare. I could have literally sat back and hammered out two games of Call of Duty on the Xbox while it was cooking. Worst case scenario, the steak might have changed a shade of reddish pink while I was cooking.

I thought I’d need expensive equipment and was expecting I’d need vacuum seal bags like the ones on those infomercials – but a regular zip-lock did the job. My small apartment normally didn’t smell like steak afterwards and I didn’t have to marinate anything before. Normally I’m a bit fearful of spending any more than $10-15 on a good cut of meat when I’m cooking it myself out of fear that I’ll mess something up – but with sous vide I could go for something a little better the next time I’m out. Oh, and clean up – that was a cinch.”

ChefSteps is Chris Young, Grant Crilly and Ryan Matthew Smith.
Sign up for our free online sous vide cooking course.