This post is for anyone that swore they’d never pick up a camera. Because I swore. And for anyone that breaks out in a hot sweat when they have to pick up a camera. Because I sweat and I still sweat. If I can do it… you know how it goes.
Let’s get this started. Hi, my name is Melissa, and I’m a fauxtographer. [Hiiii Melissa.] And I don’t use the word fauxtographer loosely. I’m not trained. But somehow I have acquired a blog, a camera, and lots of food begging to be in the spotlight. I’ve learned a couple things along the way. Just a couple. The most important—light is either your friend or your enemy, you don’t need a fancy set-up to get started, and photography always has a way of keeping you humble. Always.
What camera/lens do you shoot with?
I shoot with a Canon Rebel T1i body and a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens. The lens is a cheap $100, which is basically free in the camera world. It’s a perfect starter lens. The low f-stop creates that short blurry depth of field I love. Prior to April 16, 2012 , I shot with a Canon Rebel XTi on the blog. The only difference I can tell is that it has video capabilities. My sister tells me the images are clearer. Maybe I’m improving. I’ll never know.
What kind of lighting do you use?
I’m all-natural when it comes to lighting. This is a low budget operation and my tiny apartment couldn’t house another thing.
How do you get your pictures so white?
I use big white boards and now have a big white desk. It’s a mullet—design on the right, photography on the left. As for camera settings—I usually set my ISO to 200 or 400 and my aperture between 1.8-3.2 to let lots of light in. And I almost always shoot in aperture priority so that I can adjust the depth of field. For extra light, I sometimes use an additional white board to bounce light back onto the surface.
What time of day do you shoot?
My answer will not apply to everyone. Light varies from house to house and apartment to apartment. The light in my apartment in Chicago was horrible. Our best light was just before dusk. It was always a race against the clock. We fought a lot, which resulted in me sweating a lot. It’s a miracle I stuck with photography. Now, we have great light. I can shoot mornings, afternoons, and just before dusk. Overcast days are my favorite. They cast a soft light. Even on sunny days, I wait for a soft light. Harsh light yields harsh shadows. Soft light yields soft shadows. I prefer soft.
How long does it take to photograph a post?
Typically it takes me about 30 minutes to photograph a post. But I may take up to 150 photos. I don’t shoot with a tripod, so I fight the hand-shake-blur thing. I’ve also learned images on my small screen look a lot different on the big screen, so I take plenty to be safe. As soon as I’m done shooting, my husband moves in to commence feasting.
What do you use to edit your photos?
I’m a graphic designer and was trained in Photoshop (and the Adobe Suite), so I still edit all my photos in Photoshop. Maybe one day I’ll switch to Lightroom. I typically edit my photos by adjusting levels. Sometimes I’ll use selective color and photo filter to adjust the white if it’s off. Depending on the light, the white can appear blue, orange, grey, and sometimes pink. Before taking pictures, I test the white balance on the camera. I ebb and flow between the daylight, cloudy, and shade setting.
Do you have any tips for taking photos in the evening?
I turn into a pumpkin once the sun goes down. So far, I’m only comfortable shooting in natural light. And shooting food for that matter. It doesn’t move. People do.
My approach to photography is only one of many ways. If you’re just starting out, I encourage you to find a handful of photographers and follow them. Two of my favorites—Not Without Salt and Sprouted Kitchen. Look at their composition, the way they use light, the way they tell a story. And then work on developing your own style. It’ll come out in the props you use, the backdrops you set, and the angles you capture. Be bold. Practice more than you’d ever want to. And have confidence. I almost quit the all white thing multiple times after seeing what other people were doing. But despite my flightiness, I stuck with it. And now the all white thing is a big part of my brand for lack of a better word. White. Clean, Simple. It’s me.
For more technical photography tutorials, I recommend digging through White on Rice’s Photography Tips and Tutorials section.
I just found this – thanks for all the great advice. Your photos are always stunning!!
Thanks for the great tips – I’ve got a long way to go on my photography but it’s gradually getting better. I’m saving this page for future reference!
Mel — thank you for being so honest. I myself is a self-taught, dare I say, photographer and seeing that someone as talented as you is sharing this, leaves all of us feeling us encouraged. Never give up!
Thank you for graciously sharing your tips and expertise. It must be a good feeling to know you are helping so many people and supporting a common love of food, photography, and writing. As a newbie, I am very happy to have someone like you “around.”
Gosh, I hope this is helpful! I remember reading through massive amounts of blogs just to figure out how to put the dang camera in aperture priority mode. Hoping to do a couple more of these in the near future.
As a newbie blogger – this is amazing. like gold dust!! Thanks so much for the advice. I will be attempting to put some of it in practice for my next photos!!
Really nice! I just moved into a smaller place, but it has way more natural light. Looking forward to experimenting!
Hi there! First of all I just made your peppermint bark recipe and it was DELICIOUS! I am going to share it on my blog and of course link back and credit you. It was so tasty. Second, I am just starting out with photography. I am not very good yet but have a decent camera. I come home from work and it is dark in Chicago this time of year (sounds like you know this). I try to do my cooking on weekends when I can get good light but sometimes that doesn’t happen and I have to cook during the week. It is so hard when it is pitch black out. I like the idea of the white board and am planning on trying this. Thanks for a great post!
Glad your liked the peppermint bark! I definitely know the woes of dark Chicago winters. Weekend cooking and baking is the only way I survive in the winters. Good news, we are now on our way to longer days!
These are some great tips and I’m looking forward to playing around with some of them myself. Your photos have a light and airy feeling about them that I love. Beautiful work!
great summary! thanks for the lens tip. these are excellent starting-out tips! really enjoyed this post! cheers! xx
This is super helpful! Thanks for the tips!
Oh hey Sarah! Hope it helps! Excited to watch your new blog do its thang! You guys have Kev wanting to make soap.
Thanks! 🙂 I’ve gotta admit, soap making is super fun and easy. Love learning about the blogger life from you!
Thanks for posting this, I’m such an abysmal photographer, and I really appreciate tips!
The white board is a life saver! Hope it helps!
Thanks for these tips! My sister is a wonderful amateur chef and my photos never seem to do her food justice. The extra white board may just to the trick.
Oh – and love the use of “faux-tography”. Very clever!
Thanks for breaking this down so well! I’m starting to get more into photography and using the settings on my camera (I have the T2i and same lens as you), so these are some great tips!
Keep shooting; your stuff looks great. I’m always impressed with your photos. Never would have guessed you’re not a pro.
Thanks Jenna! That means alot!
This is perfect!
However, I usually have used the standard photo editing that comes with any apple laptop. Recently, I downloaded a trial of Adobe Photoshop Cs6 and I’ve been struggling a bit, and i think when i edti then save, it saves them as smaller and certainly not as sharp. I am NOT at all computer savvy so I was hoping you had a wee bit of advice on this matter?
Hmm… when I save for the site, I usually save the image smaller. I go to image size and change the pixel dimensions (the width for me is always 440). I select “scale styles”, “constrain proportions”, and “resample image:bicubic automatic”. Sometimes if you try to save the image smaller out of the save as dialogue box, it will change the pixel dimensions in a yucky way. Also, if you upload a large image to your site, it usually compresses it for you, creating the same problem. It’s happened to me a couple times. Let me know if this helped at all. I’d love to get to the bottom of this for you!
oh Melissa, thank you so much for letting us all in. what a great post. i just took a food photography workshop here in germany and totally loved it. it kind of got me to understand and love my camera more 😉 have a lovely weekend, xx Helene
Thank you Helene for all your encouragement! I’m jealous of your photography workshop. I really need to go to one of those! xo
noooooo way, you don’t need that. your pics are great! xo
Love, love this post. Gosh…I could bake all day, but the photography DOES make me sweat! I always end up with about 100 pictures of the SAME cookie….so your 150 number made me feel like I’m doing something right. 😉
Team 150 pictures per post! Which also means team external hard drives 🙂
So jealous of those big windows! I’m really struggling in my new place.
It took me a couple of weeks to take pics in the new place even though the light is better. I think I have PTSD from my last place 🙂
I know your photos the second I see it. It’s amazing what kind of style you’ve created for yourself and this blogosphere. Yay 🙂 i’m so glad that this wonderful photographer is also my wedding invitation designer 🙂 xo
Thanks Julie! Gosh, that means a lot! xo
I love this post! Thank you for sharing your wisdowm!! My living room window is my studio and I have a stack of different colored boards to use when I want things moody and several in plain old white. Keep up the beautiful photos. Gorgeous!!
Thanks Heather! Isn’t it funny where we set up shop? My old neighbors got way too many shots of my rear in the window. PS—I’m gawking over your recent pancake shot. Beauty!
I totally love seeing other blogger’s photography set-ups! I’ve tried the all white shots before and mine never look right…. I’m thinking my white balance is off.
Anyways, thanks for the great post!
Your photos are beautiful! The all white shot plus white balance can be deadly. There’s times I upload them and want to cry. I usually try to pull out the color in the white I don’t like in Photoshop.
You have beautiful photos so whatever you’re doing is working for you. Great work!
Great post. Can’t believe I basically use the same camera as you. Think I could probably use more natural light in my own photo’s. Thanks for the tips.
Natural light is a game changer. Now I can’t shoot in anything else. Nor do I know how 🙂
This is so great, Melissa! I love seeing how other bloggers do it. I absolutely adore the brightness and white in your photos!
Thanks Cassie! xo
you know this post caught my eye! i love ittttttt! your the best.
Thanks for humoring me, Lauren! You are the sweetest and a pro.
Thank you for sharing all your tips and suggestions! I think I’m gonna run out and get myself a few white boards! 🙂
Hope you love em!
Totally, totally, totally! I SWEAT TOO. It’s embarrassing. Thank God I’m alone when I shoot.
I loved this, Melissa!
Sweat Sisters. There should be a club for this. Thanks Bev! xo
Never believe that Lightroom is better than Photoshop ( I use CS4). It maybe quicker but it’s doesn’t have any of the power. I use Adobe Bridge, Camera Raw and Photoshop. It’s a good way. You might think of diffusing that window with a big Ikea muslin curtain. Do ask for a tripod for Christmas or get a Manfrotto Magic Arm with a camera mount to put on one end. I love the name of the blog and the way you’re introducing people to photography. In France a falcon is a “faucon”, and with someone that you don’t like, they become a “Vraicon”:)
In our next place I’m going to do exactly what you say! Our space is sadly still too tiny for curtains and a tripod 🙁 I should have shown the foot of standing space I have. It’s laughable! Thanks for the editing tip too! I’ll stick with Photoshop.
Great tips, friend! I always wondered what your setup was! I really love the clean, white look of your photos and appreciate you putting this out there!
Thanks Kasey! I figured sharing is caring. I can remember a year or two ago reading every last photography post I could get my hands on. Hopefully it’s a little helpful to others. xo!
I never knew how much I would grow to love food photography when I started my blog two years ago. I have learned so much simply by practicing. These little tidbits that I pick up along the way are extremely helpful too. I think I need a big white desk 🙂 Love your blog and happy to add you to my reader now.
Yes, you need the big white desk! It’s a dream come true 🙂 PS—love how clean and pretty your site is!
Love your tut-tut-tutorial lovely lady. But I think I might be crushing on your humor even more. XO
Thanks Heidi! I was in a strange mood while writing this. I had to tame down some of my “jokes” 🙂 xo
Like so many others, I can spot one of your photos a mile away and I absolutely adore that you have your own style. It’s also really inspiring to hear about how you got started and the set up you use and it’s definitely going to make me think more about how I take photos for my blog. Love this post (and you of course!)
You seriously are such a HUGE encouragement to me. Thank you Kathryn! I’m a big fan of you too.
Love, love this post!! Thank you so much for sharing these brilliant tips and tricks of photography. Fantastic!!
Well done! Great instagram page by the way. Do you ever filter the light coming in the window? Curious.
I’ve never filtered the light. It’s all-natural. I could have definitely used a diffuser at my last place.
Thanks for sharing! I’m always so very curious about how other people set up their photography space. I, too, shoot without a tripod, though I don’t have nearly the same amount of gorgeous natural light you have. Camera shakes are
oops, hit send accidentally. Camera shakes are always a part of life for me….
Great tips, thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much! As a fauxtographer myself, I find these tips invaluable. And you’re so lucky with your light! I usually only have a 3-hour window after lunch in which to shoot since the building across the street blocks most of our late-afternoon light.
That was exactly how our last place was. I feel for you. The dang light controlled my whole day—when I’d cook and shoot. And then the seasons change. That’s a whole different problem.
I’m always wanting to take better pictures of my food. It’s coming along slowly. Thanks for these tips, even if I don’t know what to do with them yet 🙂
Take comfort, it’s been a slow process for me too. (and still is)
Great tips! Light has definitely caused anxiety for me as is evident in my early posts.
It can be such a killer. I can’t tell you how many afternoons I spent watching the light. Call me crazy.
Excellent information here! I rarely use whiteboards to bounce and will be experimenting more now. Thanks for sharing! xx
Light bouncing is surprisingly pretty fun 🙂
Thanks for sharing! Love your photos!
Thanks Maria! xo
Such a fabulous and informative post, Melissa. I am always drawn to your photos, and can spot them in a heartbeat on Instagram, before seeing your name. You’re an incredibly talented and true-blue woman, and I’m so happy we’ve connected! xo
Rosie, your comment made my heart go pitter patter. You are one of the people I have been watching and trying to learn from the last couple of years. Thank YOU for your teaching posts. I love the light and color quality you capture even through instagram. So glad we have connected too! Thanks for being an inspiration to me!
Thank you for sharing fauxtography tips.
This helps a lot. Most of the pictures in mine and my wife’s blog are flat and lifeless. Actually, my wife studied photography in college and is an excellent photographer (I went to culinary school…Seems like a perfect blogging match, huh?).
I seem to be the problem. She likes to take action shots while I’m cooking but I’m more concerned getting dinner on the table than capturing the perfect shot. Our Kitchen’s interior is made up of dark materials which doesn’t help. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Chris & Janine
I don’t feel expert enough to speak to this, but what’s helped me is having a consistent spot to take pictures as well as consistent times. That way, I can somewhat predict what the lighting conditions will be. I typically don’t shoot action shots because I had such bad light in my last place. Although I don’t use this, a tripod will help greatly in low-light situations. Hope this helps a little!
Love this Melissa! And we even have the same camera. 😉 Looking forward to this series – I love your white, clean look. It’s beautiful.
Oh goodness—series?! Now you’ve got me thinking…
Absolutely brilliant! Love this bit of Fauxtography! A big fan here not only of the blog but your IG feed and for me, your pics, food and zeal is up there with the best.
I’m currently moving to a new home (sound familiar) and today got very excited when I saw all the natural light in the open plan kitchen, v happy girl 🙂
I totally know that feeling! So happy you have a well lit kitchen. Good light was on our list of necessities while apartment hunting 🙂 Thank you for your kind words and encouragement! You are a gem! And every time I see your profile pic, I want those cookies!
Great roundup! I basically do all the same stuff except I’ve also started using a diffuser in front of the window. It seems to even out the light.
I could have really used a diffuser in my last place. I should probably still get one…
white board in a chair! if i don’t take photos in the morning (eastern exposure), i feel like i’m out of luck for the day. but, i bet that would help. that’s genius.