I’m going to walk you through how I setup, style, and take a standard shot, start-to-finish. What you’ll see below is an accurate representation of how I shoot a recipe photo – especially the missing prop – with maybe 5-7 minutes extra to account for the extra stop-and-start points. Oh – the recipe for the subject, a homemade sriracha, will be posted next week.
But you probably want to move along and find out why I did what I did. And why I didn’t do what I didn’t… so let’s get started!
9:31am I push the coffee table over to the window and grab the following items from our-coat-closet-turned-my-prop-closet:
- 2 boards – One will be the tabletop for my shot, the other simply a surface that I can prop up against a box and clamp on a poster board background. These tabletop/boards are super easy and affordable to make, you can find instructions here.
- Black poster board
- 2 clamps – Purchased at your friendly neighborhood home improvement store for ~$3 each
- Reflector – Read more about using the “bounce and fill” technique here.
I already have a picture in my head of what I want the shot to look like. Now it’s time to get that image out of my head.
I also already know the color palette of the food that I’m working with and I use that to decide which color linens (if using) and tabletop to use. Because the sriracha is such a beautiful red-orange, I wanted to shoot “dark” so that the richness of the vibrant color really came through. I also went neutral/white – basic – on the rest of the objects in the image so as not to distract from the hot sauce.
9:43am I’ve just wasted 10 minutes searching for a beat-up, little shallow tin dish that belonged to my great-grandmother. Can’t find it anywhere. But I’ve gathered everything else I want for the shot from the prop closet and kitchen:
- Homemade sriracha in a reclaimed Central Market jelly jar
- A few “consolation prize” white dishes to replace the missing tin dish (at this point, I haven’t decided which to use)
- Tea spoon
- Neutral linen found in the remnant bin at the fabric store
- Coarse twine
- Tepin chiles from the plant in our backyard (because I used them in the hot sauce)
Originally, I was going to cut a small square of fabric to use as a “coaster” for the jar. After I got started, I changed my mind and put the fabric away.
9:51am I’ve now washed my hands 4, maybe 5 times. You can ask my 2-year-old – these chiles are NOTHING to play around with. I’ve cut chiles, composed the shot about halfway or so, and then stop to take a top-down picture to check exposure and to look at the shot on my camera.
- Am I heading in the right direction to get that super fab “this should really be in a magazine” (ha!) image that I had in my head?
- Does the shot and styling make sense? Am I showing you homemade chicken noodle soup that I’ve poured into a carafe that I usually use for margaritas? Or am I presenting it to you in a way that you would actually recognize and serve the soup yourself. Or did I actually just put a knife and fork next to that stack of chocolate chip cookies.
- Is my eye drawn to the food or is it distracted by all 15 of my props?
Then I move on to the finer details. I do spot a few things in the photo above that I don’t like: the spoon placement is awkward and the leaves of the pepper between the jar and round dish are facing the wrong direction and not catching any light.
9:53am Composition is mostly done, problems spotted 2 minutes ago are now fixed… but the spoon is still a problem and I find the twine shooting out of the top of the screen a little odd.
9:54am But first, I walk to the kitchen and take another pullback shot.
9:55am I like the exposure, the tweaks to the composition, but that spoon is still bugging the crap out of me…
9:56am AND THIS IS WHY. Scale. My tea spoon is far too big for the jar and the shot. By shooting overhead, it wasn’t so clear that I have as much spoon sticking out of the top of the jar as I do jar. (Sidebar: don’t be afraid to cut those pretty little paper straws down a couple inches so you don’t have 5 inches of straw sticking out of a tiny glass of milk.)
9:57am I run over to my little utensil box to grab a new spoon. And just like that, I’m a happy blogger. I take the final shot and the picture is in the books.
9:58am I reach into my camera bag for my USB cable and I find an open tube of blue Toy Story toothpaste in its place. Typical.
10:12am I am my worst critic. I’m staring at the photos in Lightroom, seeing a couple of teeny tiny things that I wished I had noticed before. But because I made the rookie mistake of cleaning up already and the details really are minor, I click my “The Usual” preset and export the photos. For more information on how I edit, check this out.
- 26 minutes – That’s a little elevated, due to the extra stopping and trying to figure out what I needed to shoot after I got started. I’d say that I usually spend 15-20 minutes photographing each recipe post.
- 21 photos – That’s nearly double what I’d take for a standard recipe post, my goal is no more than 12. I’ve wasted far more time than I like to think about in the early days of this blog… taking 40 shots of a recipe, only to waste even more time sorting through the nearly-identical pictures.
- 1 recovered USB cable – found it in my daughter’s toy box.
- 1 missing prop – still haven’t found it, but it’s definitely not where it belongs nor is it in my daughter’s toy box.
You can check out my Photography page for a collection of tips, tutorials, and FAQs to get a little more information about the photography that you see on this site.
So for those of you that has asked to see my setup and want more information on how I style a shot… did that kinda sorta help at least make things a little clearer? Even just a little?