Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

Food Photography 101

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Food Photography 101

I have been getting a lot of emails and comments lately requesting that I share a little bit about my experience with food photography. In full discretion, I am not a food stylist or food photographer at all. In fact, I know nothing about photography except what I have learned through my own trial and error and the tips from friends and books that I have read.

Let’s start with what my food photography looked like when I started blogging.

First, I started my blog with no photography.

Or paragraphs.

Or spacing between sentences.

Basically, it was one giant wall of text about food that we ate.

Then I decided to venture into taking photos of the food we ate. Let me tell you, if you made my recipes when my food looked like this, then you must have had a lot of faith in what that recipe would actually yield.

Food Photography 101

These examples really showcase where my first pictures of food started from. I had no clue about how to set the white balance on my camera, I thought all photos should be staged on top of my oven, and there was little thought to plating or creating a mood with my photography. Unless that mood was orange. Which, mind you, I fully succeeded at.

At the same time, I also know I am a very busy mom with very hungry children to feed. I spend my days running errands, activities, and volunteering. The idea of staging an entire photo session in my kitchen in the middle of the day still seems pretty impossible to me at this stage in our lives. My approach towards food photography is that it has to fit with my lifestyle and our family.  The tips I am offering are hopefully approachable and can help you in whatever stage of photography you are in.

 

Set Your White Balance

 

No matter what type of camera that you own, setting your white balance is something that can help you achieve better pictures from the start. You can set your white balance with the preset balance options in your Camera Menu or you can customize the white balance on your camera by simply taking a picture of a white sheet of paper.

The Auto White Balance (AWB) option isn’t always the best option for your food photography. If the day is cloudy or if you have lights on where you taking your photography, you will need to take in account what types of bulbs or lighting situations you are dealing with. For a more in-depth look at setting the White Balance, be sure to read this post on Figuring Out Your White Balance.

Use Natural Light When Possible

 

Food Photography 101

Natural light is always the best option for beautiful food photography. Turn off all of the lights in your house and take pictures in a well-lit room for the best naturally lit photos.

I noticed a huge difference when I simply turned off the lights in my kitchen since the light bulbs really added a lot of orange and yellow hues into my photography, making my food less appetizing.

If you find that there are shadows in your pictures, it can help to use a foam board to bounce the light from your kitchen windows to create even natural lighting.

Whatever you do, keep the flash off on your camera. This may require a bit of reading in your camera manual, but your pictures will be a thousand times better if you can turn the flash on your camera off.  Flash photography in food photos will, guaranteed, not create the beauty and the look that you are going for with your photography.

Practice taking pictures in different areas of your home to find the one spot in your house where the lighting is the best. I have found that I have great lighting in my kitchen during the daytime, but my front room also provides beautiful lighting when I move my console table out of the direct sunlight.

Stock Up on Thrifty Props

 

Food Photography 101

Creating beautiful scenes with food does not have to be an expensive endeavor at all. I love to visit thrift stores for unique tableware, glassware, and for fabric to use for my food photos. The best part about food props is that you can often take advantage of clearance items or patterns you might not use in your everyday life.

When I first started out I just used white plates for my food photos. These are simple, classic, and truly let the food take center stage. They also show every little spill and splatter so messier food can be trickier to photograph on them.

I started visiting the clearance section of the housewares and realized that I could inexpensively create unique displays for my food without a huge expense. My favorite plates so far are inexpensive salad and appetizer plates that look like real plates,but are just plastic tableware. My trick is always to look for small plates and bowls for my food photos. Using these smaller plates helps the plates look fuller than what they are.

 

Food Photography 101This bowl of Roasted Brussels Sprouts, for example,  looks like a normal size bowl of Brussels Sprouts. This is actually one of our little applesauce bowls set on top of a plastic appetizer plate I found on clearance at Target.

The big joke around our house is that these tiny plates are how I stay so thin. These pretty plates are usually how I eat my dinner after I photograph them while the rest of my family eats on regular plates. My daughter is always irritated that my food is prettier than her food. I am sure this will lead to weird sessions in a counselor’s office one day.

Get a Weathered Table…Or Not.

Food Photography 101

The other question I always had when I looked at other people’s photos is where they got all these beautiful ancient weathered tables?  Most bloggers actually don’t have a bunch of varieties of weathered tables in their home. I know…that kind of shocked me too.

I discovered you could buy weathered wood wallpaper fairly inexpensively on eBay. I also found this weathered wood paper, pictured above, that is just paper from a teacher’s supplies store that has worked really well for creating the wood look.

Food Photography 101

Don’t think of your faux wooden backdrops as being only used in one way, like a tabletop.  Here is an example of how if you have a large enough backdrop, you can actually use it to cover both the back of the photo as well as covering the tabletop. I found some wipeable  backdrops that were for sale on a deal-for-a-day site and bought several different varieties. Just to prove that you don’t have to have a fancy set-up, this is actually taped with electrical tape to my kitchen pantry door and is actually on the floor in the corner of my kitchen, right next to the window.

Rethink Your Backgrounds

Wooden cutting boards provide richness to food photos, place mats and fabric napkins can add more color and dimension to your food photography, and even the rusty bottoms of cookie sheets, inverted,  can create uniqueness to your food photos (as learned through a fabulous BlogHer Food session).

Food Photography 101

Food Photography 101

I have found tile can be an inexpensive purchase at our local Habitat for Humanity, at just fifty cents per tile at our store. This is four pieces of tile (two upright and two flat) to create this surface for my Quinoa Berry Bowls.  Did I mention I also found swoon-worthy antique spoons at that store? I love when I happen upon a place like that for the unexpected prop!

Food Photography 101

An inexpensive way to shoot a photo and still capture the beauty of your dishes is simply using foam board from your local hardware store. In this shot of my Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, the background and the base of this shot are two pieces of foam board. You can’t get any more inexpensive than that and this simple background lends itself well to creating a pretty title to your photos.

Create Your Own Mini Photo Studio

 

Indiana winters are a struggle for me because I have a limited window of truly great natural light in my kitchen. After battling with bad lighting for many years, I finally decided to create my own mini photo studio to help. While this lighting isn’t as lovely as the natural lighting in the morning in my home, it has provided consistent results for creating the types of pictures that I want when I am dealing with low-light situations.

I purchased this Lowell EGO Light set with backdrops and bounce board (currently priced at $214.99 total) for my food photography. These lights are set up on a small cabinet in my office in our sub-basement. There are no other lights on when I take my food photos and these two lights provide optimal light for my food photography.

The lights come with Daylight bulbs in them. I simply switch my White Balance to shoot in the Daylight setting (the setting with the Sun icon) to begin shooting.

Here is the shot that I took in my basement with all of the lights off and using my two Lowell EGO lights. It still shocks me that this was taken at 8PM, in the dead of winter, and in my sub-basement of my home. I do think that the lighting is a little flatter than the natural light, but it is so much better than I could achieve with those scenarios going on any other time. (Picture of my Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Orzo Pasta)

homemade_tomato_soupHere is the very first shot that I took with my Lowell EGO lights. I angled one of those lights so it appeared that this Homemade Tomato Soup was being shined upon by sunlight. Little does anyone know that this was all after we ate our dinner and shot in the dark depths of my basement. Since this is the first shot I took, you can see that even though I had no real clue what I was doing that I was able to achieve wonderful results with very little effort.

food_photography_101_7Here is another shot of my set-up. I have my tripod in front of my little mini-studio. Below the lights are my plates, back drops, cups, fabric, napkins, etc.. in the two lower shelves so I can grab what I need and switch out colors and accessories as I need to.

Were the lights a big expense? Yes! Have they been worth it? Worth absolutely every penny for this busy mom and novice food photographer.


Get Familiar With Your Camera

 

I am definitely no expert when it comes to shooting in Manual mode, although I do shoot in this mode sometimes, but I love shooting in Aperture Priority (Av) for most of my food photography. Aperture Priority means that you set the camera’s Aperture and then the camera automatically figures out the shutter speed that you need to achieve the best photos. You can consult your camera manual to find out how to switch your own camera to Aperture Priority.

I had my lens cap on when I took this photo (thus the ISO displayed), but I wanted to show you that even while shooting in Aperture Priority, you can still adjust the settings for your situation.

Food Photography 101

Exposure and Aperture are usually the two settings that I play with most on my camera for my food photography. I really like light-filled photos and tend to go for a brighter photo than what it automatically chooses for me. The box that is highlighted above determines your Exposure of your photos. Basically, the exposure simply determines if the picture is too bright or too dark. Usually when it’s set to 0, or right in the middle of that green box shown above, it is just the right setting for exposure. In Aperture Priority mode, it will always stay at 0 unless you specifically tell it to move. If you decide that you want more light in your photos, like me, you can bump this to the right. If you want your photos to be darker, you can bump your Exposure composition the left, to create a food with less light. Sometimes I will bump it lower especially when I am dealing with dark plates (like red, black, or blue)  since it tends to overexpose the rest of the shot.

(Pictured Above: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad)

Food Photography 101

Getting that blurred background is probably the coolest thing about getting your first DSLR. Of course, you want to be sure that you are telling the whole story about your food photos and aren’t always shooting with this large of an Aperture. I usually like my Aperture around F5.6 unless I am really trying to blur something out behind the food, like the spoon in the picture above.

If you are looking for more information on understanding Exposure and Aperture, I really love this down-to-basics guide to understanding Aperture on i heart nap time.  For understanding Exposure and Exposure Compensation, I really, really loved this series, “31 Days to a Better Photo,” on my 3 boybarians. You can also visit my Pinterest Photography Fun Board for lots of other links to great tutorials on the blogs.

Edit, But Edit Wisely

 

Food Photography 101

If you take really great food photos, you will not need to make a lot of edits to them. My editing is usually just saturating my color (just a touch), sometimes adjusting the exposure, and cropping my photos.

I had been using PicMonkey to edit my food photos although my goal this year is to switch my editing process over to LightRoom. I just recommend concentrating your efforts on taking a great photo and use a program to help add a little saturation or adjust your exposure. Just remember that sometimes one can get carried away with the editing and you have pictures with all sorts of crazy fluorescent food. It is disappointing for your readers when they are unable to achieve what you have photographed at home. I always try to keep things as natural as possible so my readers know that the dishes can be created just as they have seen on the blog.

(Pictured Above: Homemade Whole Wheat Toasted Tarts)

Sometimes It Just Ain’t Pretty

 

Food Photography 101

Food Photography 101

No matter how you look at it, sometimes it can be impossible getting a pretty picture of food. Chicken and Dumplings are absolutely delicious, but they don’t yield gorgeous and rich food photos without a lot of work. A green smoothie might be a great energy-booster, but the pictures of it weren’t among my favorites.

I find that in situations like this that I try to rely on richer content in these cases and hope that the readers will look past the unappetizing photos and read about how delicious the food is.

Here are the most FAQ questions that people have asked me about taking food photography…

Food Photography 101

What equipment do you recommend and what do you have?

A:  I am not an expert on buying camera equipment, but I can tell you what I do know about it. I have always heard that it is much wiser to spend your money on your lens than the body of your camera. That is not to say to totally skimp on the body, but the body of cameras is constantly changing and being improved upon. I started out with the Canon Rebel T1i and, if you can believe it,  they already have many more versions of my camera since I got this and they cost quite a bit more than my already antique and outdated camera! The truth is, I will never stay current with the body of my camera because within a few months, a new one will already be replacing my ancient equipment.

If you are on a budget and are looking for a great point-and-shoot camera that has the same functionality as the DSLR, but you don’t have to buy lenses and make a huge investment, I loved my Canon PowerShot (the link takes you to the current model). I am a Canon girl and was really happy with this point-and-shoot camera. It is the camera that I recommend to my friends and I have always heard how happy my girlfriends are with their Canon PowerShots. Agonizing amounts of research were done before I selected that camera and I was very happy with it!

If you are still on a budget, but want to make a long-term investment in your food photography, I can share with you the lens and camera that I have. As an aside, we found our lens on eBay from a photographer who was upgrading his equipment, but I am linking through Amazon for convenience sake. I now own the Canon 7D and we bought the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm lens.  They have kit lenses that are around $100 or more each and I have seen people take great pictures with these, but we made the investment in one really good lens that would do just about everything for me for the rest of my life and until I die amen. This lens is all I really need in most situations.

Food Photography 101

What Other Photography Equipment Is Useful For Food Photography?

Other very useful tools for food photography include a good beginner tripod, a tabletop tripod,  and a remote for your camera so you don’t have to lug around your camera while taking shots while in food preparation mode. A reflector can also be a smart inexpensive investment to help bring more even lighting into your photos or create moodiness in your pictures.

If you are low on funds, I recommend asking for these great gadgets and more food props for holiday & birthday gifts. I have been accumulating my collection over the last three years since I really started getting excited about food photography.

The most important thing to buy though is a lens filter to protect your lens. If for some reason you scratch your lens or something happens to the outside of it, this $10-$20 filter will protect the lens and be what breaks instead of your $100-$1,000 investment. Trust me, you will thank me later if you have this!

Food Photography 101

Do you have any good books or websites to visit that can help me learn more about photography?

My absolute favorite book on food photography is, “From Plate to Pixel.” It is the one resource I would really recommend investing in to help with your food photos.

I am also a HUGE fan of Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography Books 1, 2, & 3. See if your library has these and check them out for smartly written, witty, and down-to-earth tutorials on how to use your camera. I love that he says, “If you want a good portrait, turn you dial to this,” instead of high-brow photography terms that, as a mom,  I just don’t understand.  I just want someone to tell me what to do, not make me feel stupid!

For websites, every single day I am inspired by food bloggers and their photography. Some of my favorite sites to visit for inspiration are GoodLife Eats, Picky Palate, Two Peas & Their Pod, Steamy Kitchen, Dine & Dish,  and Food Gawker.

(Pictured Above: Baked Strawberry Doughnuts)

Food Photography 101
I hope that these tips will help inspire you and your own food photography. I am really proud of the progress I have made over the last few years to achieve food photos that I hope inspire you to create new dishes in your kitchen.

If I could have given myself advice when I first started out, I would have told myself all these tips that I have shared with you. I also would have told you that adding more color into your food photos is always a great idea, to strive to incorporate bits of the preparation into your food photos,  to use natural ingredients for props, and to not be afraid to experiment with my camera more. We all have to start somewhere and I hope this encourages you, from one novice to another! (Pictured above: Red, White, & Blueberry Trifle)

blueberry_sangria_lemonade_3

Do you have any tips that have helped you with your food photography? If you take food photos what is the one tip you wish someone told you when you first started out? Let’s chat it up!!

 

 

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate your camera equipment and tools easily. Feel free to order through our site, but we always encourage shopping around for the best bang for your buck! Happy picture-taking!

 

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Watching Your Pumpkins Grow

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

It was another fun day at the Pumpkin Patch this year. Some of us (ahem) may have had more fun than others. I finally have some photographic proof that sometimes I am a fun mom. Just sometimes.

Every year I take a picture of them doing the same pose at the same pumpkin patch so that I can see how big my little pumpkins are getting. Sometimes I forget how different they look from year to year. Seeing it all side by side… well, it makes me happy and makes my heart ache all at the same time. The differences are quite remarkable to me.

Try doing this at your pumpkin patch and see what results you find. Line them all up in a Picnik collage and marvel at how big your kids are getting. Those pumpkins grow so fast, don’t they?

First Day of School

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

We survived the first day.

One of us…

*ahem*

Barely. Survived.

I hope you all have a wonderful back-to-school day too!  We wanted to share the pictures of our day with our friends here!

xo,

Amy

Capturing Your Children Through Photography

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

One thing that people have been asking me to share about is how to get fantastic pictures of your little ones. It was a request that I felt weird about accepting. I am just a mom who loves to take pictures. I have no formal training, no accolades, no studio, no professionalism at all…  In all seriousness, it feels strange to speak with authority on the subject.

Here is what I want you to know though! In this day and age, anyone can be a great photographer. We have more equipment, more free tools, more books, and more resources than ever before.  Unfortunately, the key to becoming great at something is good old-fashioned practice, reading, hard work, and more practice. It is not necessarily spending more money and buying more equipment. It means, simply, getting familiar with what you already have at your disposal and being the best that you can be with what you have already in your hands.

That being said, my Mother’s Day gift last year was the Canon Rebel T1i, which has been a fantastic entry-level camera into the world of DSLR cameras. It was such an incredibly big deal to me to have something so glamorous and so fancy. It is something that I would never have bought myself because I can not bear to part with money. I am sure if you read me regularly, you are nodding your head at this statement.

Even if you do not have an DSLR camera, there are so many things you can do to make your photos just as spectacular with just a few tricks up your sleeve.

Shift Your Focus- So many times it is easy to plop everything dead into the center of a picture. It feels natural to do it that way, doesn’t it?  This has been a really bad habit of mine that I have been working really hard to break. Shift your camera a little to the right, shift it a little to the left and see if you can tell a better story without having everything dead on in the center. Technically speaking, I learned the rule of thirds in a fantastic tutorial hosted by Sony and from the very famous photographer Me Ra Koh. The beauty of this simple trick is that anyone can do it with any type of equipment that you might have. Try thinking of your photos differently and shifting your perspective to tell the story!

It’s All in the Details of the Story- Look through your camera with an artist’s eye and start capturing those small and hidden details of a story. My friends refer to this (sometimes annoying) habit of mine  as my “artsy shots,” where I am taking shots of those often missed and hidden details that I want to remember about my children or about a particular place, event, or tradition that we have created together.

For example, baking a cake with your child and taking pictures of you making it together are wonderful and great. Imagine though if you took a picture of her hands stirring the batter for you, the feet that are pulled up on the stool, the snack that is shared while baking. Suddenly, you are telling a story of a family moment that will conjure up not only the special cake that you made together, but how small her hands were, that tradition of the chair pulled to the counter, the beauty of the batter that was poured, the picture of the anticipation as she peeked in the window of the oven for the cake to get done, the first slice, the crumbs left on an empty plate… Try becoming a storyteller and capturing the details that you *think* you will remember and that are sadly forgotten. These pictures are always my favorite and are my most-treasured photos in our family collection.

Sometimes It is About the Big Picture- Now that you are taking beautiful detailed shots of your children, it is also great to think about the BIG picture too.  Big shots can tell a great big story too and I love to zoom in on one picture and then zoom out (even on the same shot) and see if the bigger picture can tell a great story.

Vacation photos are a really great time to practice this. Often where you are at for a vacation is a beautiful place with much to see and much to photograph. Focus your camera on your child, but zoom it out to show how little they are as they are walking around a large museum instead of just a shot of your child in front of one small display. It helps to showcase the wonderment and the beauty of being small.

My favorite wide shot remains the one of my daughter pictured in her dance class. If I had zoomed in on her, you would have missed the irony of her movement. She was in her element, a free spirit and wildly dramatic. With the shot nice and wide, you can see that my daughter was doing her very own little routine while the other kids were following the instructor. That is what I love about my daughter and it is now perfectly captured for our family.

Turn Off the Flash- This may require a bit of reading in your camera manual, but your pictures will be a thousand times better if you can turn the flash on your camera off.  The only times that I do turn my flash on is when it is absolutely necessary (which is not often, if you can believe it) because in most situations going without the flash will create a much better picture.

Practice taking pictures in different areas of your home to find the one spot in your house where the lighting is the best and try to plant the kids there for portrait shots. Take your children outdoors (shaded spots work the best) and take photos outside instead of indoors, when visiting places (even if it is just a local restaurant) and snap pictures there. In most scenarios, you will find that taking a picture without the flash will make your pictures much more beautiful!

If I know that I am going to be in a low-light situation or I am looking for ways to get that perfect shot (capturing Christmas lights, fireworks, a child blowing out a candle, etc..) I will Google search for tips and practice with my camera before I go somewhere. Because I am Type-A like that.

Edit. But Edit Wisely.- Once I have taken my photos for the day, I put them in Picnik and spend time editing them. I did pay for a premium membership, but it has been worth every penny ($24.95 per year) for editing my photos. I don’t use anything more fancy than this although someday I hope to learn Photoshop or Lightroom. For now, it is just what I need to help give my pictures a little pop. Try saturating the color in your pictures, switching them to black-and-white, or adding a little bit of softening to them.

Truly though, it is fun to edit, but the real beauty is the picture that is taken before the editing. Concentrate your efforts on taking a great photo and use a program to help add a little razzle dazzle to the great picture that you already have. Just remember that sometimes one can get carried away with the editing and you have pictures with all sorts of crazy fluorescent people at a party or unnatural weirdness to your photos. I hope that wasn’t too technical for you all.

Here are the most FAQ questions that people have asked me about taking pictures…

Q: How do you get everything to blur in the background of your photos?

A: One of the most exciting things to me about getting a new camera was the capability that I had to get sharp focus with a blurred background in my pictures. The way to do this is to change the aperture (or f-stop) on your camera. Aperture is the size of the opening of the lens when a picture is taken. One thing that is often very confusing is  that large apertures (where lots of light gets through) are given f/stop smaller numbers and smaller apertures (where less light gets through) have larger f-stop numbers. So f/2.8 is in fact a much larger aperture than f/22.

To change your aperture, consult your camera manual to see what setting you will need to set your camera to. For my Canon camera, it means switching the dial to Av and then using the dial to turn it to the number that I wanted. I usually try to shoot in f/2.8 for most of my pictures, f/5.6 for much of my portrait photography, and f/22 for beautiful landscape shots with everything in sharp focus. For this shot of the flowers, I used f/2.8 to get just the front flowers in focus.

Q: How do you get the blurred edge on your photos?

A: The blurred edge is just something I add in Picnik. I just go under the Create tab and I select Vignette. Then I slide the slider down to almost nothing on the size of it. This adds just a tiny edge to the photo that is nice for online viewing, but not noticeable when printing them out or loading them on a digital frame. What can I say, it is my little signature move!  You can do that with a free membership to Picnik, you definitely do not have to pay anything for that one!

Q: What equipment do you recommend and what do you have?

A:  Again, I am not an expert on buying camera equipment, but I can tell you what I do know about it. I have always heard that it is much wiser to spend your money on your lens than the body of your camera. That is not to say to totally skimp on the body, but the body of cameras is constantly changing and being improved upon. I just got my camera this past summer and they have already come out with the Canon Rebel 2Ti, if you can believe it, and it costs quite a bit more than my already antique and outdated camera! The truth is, I will never stay current with the body of my camera because within a few months, a new one will already be replacing my ancient equipment.

If you are on a budget and are looking for a great point-and-shoot camera that has the same functionality as the DSLR, but you don’t have to buy lenses and make a huge investment, I loved my Canon PowerShot (the link takes you to the current model). I am a Canon girl and was really happy with this point-and-shoot camera. It is the camera that I recommend to my friends and I have always heard how happy my girlfriends are with their Canon PowerShots. Agonizing amounts of research were done before I selected that camera and I was very happy with it!

If you are still on a budget, but want to make a long-term investment and are just looking to shoot pictures of your family…then I will tell you what I have. As an aside, we found our lens on eBay from a photographer who was upgrading his equipment, but I am linking through Amazon for convenience sake. I have the Canon Rebel T1i and we bought the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm lens.  They have kit lenses that are around $100 or more each and I have seen people take great pictures with these, but we made the investment in one really good lens that would do just about everything for me for the rest of my life and until I die amen. This lens is all I really need in most situations.

I don’t use my flash often, but for  our recipe section and for some our evening events, I wanted to have an external flash. That was my anniversary/Mother’s Day/You Work Hard Sometimes gift and I got the Canon Speedlite 270EX Flash. If you don’t need something this fancy, I did really well with my Gary Fong Puffer Pop-Up Flash Diffuser (around $20) which really seemed to help my evening shots and didn’t take up a lot of room in my camera bag.

The most important thing to buy though is a lens filter to protect your lens. If for some reason you scratch your lens or something happens to the outside of it, this $10-$20 filter will protect the lens and be what breaks instead of your $100-$1,000 investment. Trust me, you will thank me later if you have this!

Q: Do you have any good books or websites to visit that can help me learn more about photography?

I am a HUGE fan of Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography Books 1, 2, & 3. See if your library has these and check them out for smartly written, witty, and down-to-earth tutorials on how to use your camera. I love that he says, “If you want a good portrait, turn you dial to this,” instead of high-brow photography terms that, as a mom,  I just don’t understand.  I just want someone to tell me what to do, not make me feel stupid!

For reading, I definitely recommend Digital Photography School for tutorials and Shutter Sisters for photography inspiration!  I also love to see what Secret Agent Mama, Mooshy in Indy, I Should be Folding Laundry, I Heart Faces, and Me Ra Koh are doing with their cameras. The best part about them…humbleness and willingness to share.

Really though, the best thing you can do for yourself is to read your manual. Discover. Play with your settings. Practice. Read the manual again. Try new things. Be unafraid to fail. Become a human sponge and learn. Display those pictures creatively. Be the treasure keeper. Live your life fully, which will in turn,  will create natural and picture-worthy moments. Love.

Questions and comments are welcomed and appreciated!

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate your camera equipment and tools easily. Feel free to order through our site, but we always encourage shopping around for the best bang for your buck! Happy picture-taking!

Taking Great Pictures: Figuring Out Your White Balance

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Hi! I’m Katie from goodLife {eats} and I’m guest posting today for Amy. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I use photography a lot for my blog. With each recipe I post, I include at least 1 photo. Sometimes upwards of 4 or 5. I hope I can share a few tips with you that I’ve learned a long the way that will help improve your photography skills – even if you use a Point-and-Shoot!

Not long ago I had absolutely no idea what terms like shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and white balance meant. I was stuck on “auto” and I spent a significant amount of time post processing my photos until they were to my liking. Surprisingly, (after reading my camera manual – something I should have done in the beginning – and exploring my camera’s menu) I found that I was actually able to adjust a couple of these settings on my basic point-and-shoot to further improve my photos.

I found that while I was using my point-and-shoot camera, the one of the things that made the biggest difference in my photos was moving away from “manual” white balance settings.

Are you confused yet? Are you asking any of the following questions? Read on and I’ll explain!

  • What is White Balance?
  • How do I adjust my white balance?
  • Is this complicated?

What is White Balance?

Simply stated, the colors in the photo will look correct. The image will look how you viewed it with your own eyes (our amazing brain processes and adjusts the color for us), rather than the camera’s guess at what the color temperature is. Color temperature is the comparative warmth or coolness of the white light.

Can you see the difference below? Which one looks more natural to you?

The first photo has that terrible blue cast. It doesn’t make for a very attractive photo. I’m not in love with the shoot either, so it isn’t a big loss. The second photo is a beautiful shot of my daughter. I love the twinkle in her eye and the way she’s not looking straight at the camera, but it’s all yellow. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the white balance custom set for that photo. So that is a disappointment. The third photo was taken with the white balance set to custom (see below for details on how to do that). Combination of great shoot with a cute grin in her lips and natural looking color.

When set to Auto White Balance, the camera just guesses at the color temperature. Sometimes it guesses correctly and other times it doesn’t. An incorrect white balance will leave you with an unnatural color cast, often times yellow or blue, and disappointing pictures – especially if you are photographing people or food.

A blue plate of fettuccini alfredo? Not thanks. I want to see the creamy white sauce. The same holds true for portrait photography as well. I want to capture exactly what my daughter looks like at age 2, because some day I might not be able to remember that anymore.

Is this Complicated

Setting the White Balance might feel clumsy at first. It is definitely an extra few steps that you’ll have to add in your picture taking routine, but I will tell you that it gets easier and becomes routine quickly. Especially, when you see the difference these few steps can make in your photography.

How do I set my White Balance?

Go into your camera’s menu.

Scroll through to find the white balance menu.

Scroll through the different preset options listed in white balance:

  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Shade
  • Tungsten
  • Fluorescent (my point and shoot doesn’t have this one)
  • Custom
  • If one of those looks like it will work, based on the lighting I have available, I go ahead and select it. On my point-and-shoot I can look at the screen and see how the image will look with the selection I’ve made. On my DSLR, I have to take a test photo first.

    If I want to custom set my white balance, I select that option. And then proceed with a few more steps. The steps may vary slightly according to your camera, so I recommend looking at your user manual for instructions tailored to you, but this should give you a general idea of how simply it is.

    Take a photo of a plain white sheet of paper. The paper should fill the entire frame of the photo so that only white is showing.

      1. Take a photo of a plain white sheet of paper. The paper should fill the entire frame of the photo so that only white is showing.
      2. Select the white photo as the camera’s reference point.
      3. Begin shooting.
      4. Take a couple of test shots and check them out to see if the colors look right to you. If not, try again

      I hope that makes sense! Give it a go and if it doesn’t make sense or you have a question, let me know and I’ll answer it as best as I can! I hope to see you around at goodLife {eats}, where I share what I find good in the kitchen and in life.

      We would like to thank Katie for sharing her fantastic photography advice with our readers as we finish our last week of home renovations. We encourage you to visit Katie’s beautiful and thoughtful site and are so thankful that she was able to help us with the blog this week!

      Mother’s Day Bliss!

      Wednesday, May 6th, 2009



      Can you guess what I got for Mother’s Day? I am feeling a little giddy and geeking out quite a bit, but my husband upgraded my camera equipment as a gift to me. It still doesn’t seem real that I am now the proud owner of a Canon Rebel T1i with an EF-S 17-55 mm lens. Yes, it was completely extravagant and not normal for us at all, but to his credit the lens was used by another photographer who happened to be upgrading his equipment.

      When I asked him why he would spend that much, he simply said, “I believe in you and your business.” He has been pricing, bidding, and researching for months what would be best to buy me, without disclosing any of it to me. He believes that this investment will pay off.

      So if things start to shape up in the photography department around here, you will know why! These are my first shots and I haven’t read the manual or figured a thing out yet, but I am already pleased as can be with what I am able to do with this upgraded equipment.

      Thank you to my husband for believing in me and what I can do!

      5 Tips for Great Photography Straight From A Pro

      Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

      I was excited to have found an old friend of mine from high school through Facebook. As I paged through my friend Daniel’s info and pictures, I couldn’t believe how incredible his photography was and had to find out what he was up to. It was no surprise, after seeing his amazing photography, that he was running his own business and doing quite well with it.

      I asked if I could interview him for our website so I could share tips for great photography with our moms and was so thrilled when he accepted. He was happy to share with our readers just a little glimpse into the world of great photography and I hope that this information will help you as you venture into taking pictures of your children.

      Best of all, he shares his secrets for getting that perfect family photo and just in time for those fun holiday pictures for those photo cards!

      Can you offer some insight on choosing the best photography equipment for a young family? What is one good investment that is totally worth the splurge?

      Sure! I can talk cameras and gear all day and night, but I’ll try to keep it brief. The main thing to keep in mind is that expensive gear doesn’t make great photographs. Expensive tools are nice, but more important is the knowledge of how and when to use the tools you’ve got. With that in mind, remember that digital photography equipment is very rapidly evolving. For example, the big camera manufacturers have a history of announcing new SLR camera bodies every 18 months or less! So the one solid investment to make in digital photography is in glass (lenses). Spend your money on the best glass you can afford, keep it forever, and then look for a camera body within your remaining budget.

      If the SLR world of bodies and interchangable lenses is entirely out of your budget from the start, then don’t forget that truly great photographs are made every single day with cameras in the Point & Shoot (P&S;) category. In general, P&S; cameras will range from being completely automatic to having the ability to shoot fully manual. An automatic camera can be convenient and may serve your purposes well. However, in my experience, most people taking photographs of their kids will eventually want at least some amount of manual control over their camera’s settings. The danger in letting an auto-camera do all the thinking for you is that there will be situations involving lighting, motion, white balance and selective focus that will require at least some amount of manual control to capture. I don’t want to get too much into recommending specific brands or models, but the P&S; camera I take with me when I scuba dive is a Canon G9, which can be as “auto” or as “manual” as I need it to be. I use 2 SLR bodies and a variety of lenses when shooting above the water!

      If readers would like more specific recommendations with regard to brand/model, they are more than welcome to contact me directly. I’m happy to help! So, quick re-cap: spend your money on good lenses first if going the SLR route or spend your money on getting some manual control if going with a P&S; camera.

      When trying to capture pictures of children, what are a few quick tips for good photography?

      First, remember that photography is about light and without good light on your children, their smiles, laughs and actions will likely go uncaptured! So, position yourself in relation to your children so that their faces are well lit and worry about lighting in other areas of the frame as secondary importance. With that in mind, harsh sunlight isn’t very flattering in most situations and finding some shade under an overhang or next to a building will generally improve the quality of your light. Think about light in at least two different ways; there is a quantity of light and also a quality of light, which are very different from one another. Try to avoid shooting under tree leaves as you’ll end up with “broken light” on your children from the sun shooting between the leaves of the tree. You’ll end up with bright spots and shadow areas right next to one another on their faces, creating a “giraffe skin effect” on your kiddos!

      Of course, with kids, the harder you try to pose them, the worse the situation becomes, and very quickly! Most parents with younger children would have no trouble agreeing with that! So, let children be children. Don’t impose too much, hang around close enough to capture your photographs, gently inserting mild directives when possible, but try not to intrude. If you do need to pose children in a more formal manner, do it quickly, with lots of praise and by showing them examples of what you want, etc. Get the shot immediately and then set them free to go play! In general, I try not to keep the little ones ‘posing’ for me any longer than 30 seconds to a minute before giving them a play break. Of course, during their play break, I’m still shooting from a distance!

      Young children are constantly in motion, what settings work best for energetic toddlers?

      Great question! I tend to think of child photography as being similar to sports photography in many ways. Two things have to happen; 1. your shutter speed has to be fast enough to ‘freeze’ the child’s motion and 2. your focus must be constantly adjusting as the child moves and the distance changes between the child and your camera. A slower shutter speed will let in more light of course, but motion will also be blurred (which can be a cool effect). However, I find that a sharp, crisp, and in-focus photo of a moving toddler will typically require a shutter speed of 1/80s or faster depending on how fast they are moving and depending on the lens you are using. A longer (telephoto) lens requires faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. Many cameras have several focusing modes. If your camera has a mode that allows you to track movement, sometimes called AI Servo or AI Focus among other names, this usually works better than pre-focusing and trying to anticipate a child’s movement. So, quick shutter and tracking focus for kids on the go!

      What editing software would you recommend for a mom who is just starting out with photo editing?

      Well, there are just so many good options for editing photos anymore, many of them free and I’d be happy to recommend a few of my favorites. However, I want to emphasize how important it is that good photographs be made in-camera, not ‘fixed’ in post processing. With tools like Photoshop we can do some really amazing things to a digital image, but it’s always obvious when a photograph has been ‘saved’ in photoshop. There’s a saying to this effect amongst many photographers, “garbage in, garbage out.” My point being that you should spend more of your time working on getting great photos with your camera than working on trying to edit them into great photos .

      However, in my opinion all digital photos do require at least a little post-processing in the way of white balance, saturation, curves and sharpness and one of my favorite tools for, say a mom jus
      t starting out, is
      Google’s Picasa. It’s free, has a very easy interface, offers many web and sharing options and likely isn’t going away any time soon! Honestly, my 6 year old uses Picasa with her digital photos. It’s very user-friendly. For those who may be ready to get into a little more serious editing, but want to maintain the ‘free’ aspect, I’d recommend the application, Gimp.

      There are also many free web-based applications for those times when you might not be at your own computer, but need to quickly upload and edit a handful of images: Picnik, Pixenate, Fotoflexer, LunaPic, flauntr, picture2life, phixr, and easyphotoresize. Personally, I do the majority of my editing for the weddings and portraits I that I shoot in Adobe Lightroom and a little bit still in Photoshop.

      When getting family portraits done, I am always stumped how to dress the family. Do you have any suggestions for getting that perfect family picture?

      Sure! In general, I like families to feel comfortable above all else. Good photographs are about capturing a family’s personality and it’s always very obvious when subjects are uncomfortable in their own clothing. Additionally, I tend to like solid colors on top and either jeans or khaki pants. In the Fall, I prefer solid black or white tops. In the Spring and Summer, I really like bright bold solid colors on top. Bright, bold colors in the snow for winter portraits can really be fun too! It’s usually best to avoid busy patterns, horizontal stripes, and clothes that have never been worn before. So, be comfy, be yourselves and do your best to NOT stress out about getting your family portraits done. One thing I can say for sure, is that stress always shows in photographs and stiff, posed portraits are just not my style at all. So, when considering getting your own family portraits done keep comfort and personality in mind. In general, you want your family to look like your family in your portraits, not a stiff, posed and stressed version of your family!

      I have to ask, what is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken and why is it special to you?

      Definitely the hardest question to answer, Amy! It’s so tough to say. On one hand, there are so many photographs that I am really pleased with and on the other hand, one is always very critical of his own work.

      One thing I do every year in December is put together a collection of what I feel are some of my best photographs for that calendar year and publish them as a free video podcast, which can be found in iTunes by doing a search for “dgmphotography” or “Daniel G. McNulty” in the iTunes store. Subscribing to this video podcast portfolio is free of course. I also regularly put many of my personal favorites on my blog in more of an informal format. That said, I think I’d have to choose a favorite in multiple categories (weddings, children, families, landscape, etc), but if I were forced to choose one photograph to keep for the rest of my life and never look at another, it would probably be this one, mostly because they are my daughters and loving the beach and loving each other as I do!


      General Info About Daniel G. McNulty Photography:
      Website: www.dgmphotography.net
      email: daniel@dgmphotography.net
      Blog: www.dgmphotography.blogspot.com/
      iTunes Link

      A big round of applause to Daniel for helping us with this piece. What is your biggest dilemma with capturing pictures and what would you like us to feature more of in this category?

      Please be sure to leave a comment and thank Daniel for his time in helping us supply these amazing tips!