When an accomplished food and foodservice publicist decides to step back after a 25-year career to start a boot camp for food bloggers, you can bet that food photography is going to be one of the topics she teaches. That's just the case with Patti Londre, who several years ago launched her blog and how-to site, WorthTheWhisk.com  and now also runs Camp Blogaway for Food Boot Camp (see p. 16).
Londre's former PR and marketing career brought her clients that included Dole, Nestle, Kahlua, Mrs. Fields, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a host of other accounts. FM thought she would be just the person to offer our readers suggestions on how to shoot better food photography on a blogger's limited equipment budget.
“Those of us who spent time on the agency side always had plenty of client money to spend on photographers, but we bloggers are do it-yourselfers,” Londre says. “Your equipment needn't be expensive or fancy, but you should know how to set up your shot before cooking, how to use flash and when not to, and the little tricks you can do to perk up your shots…”
“Simple tools I recommend to those on a budget include a large sheet of white poster board from an art store and items like duct tape, a binder clip, a paint stick and a simple fill reflector you can make yourself. (I used the cardboard back of a yellow legal pad and a sheet of foil — matte side out).
“The posterboard provides a simple ‘seamless” backdrop. You can clamp the front of it to a board or tabletop and hold the back up with a kitchen stool so it has a nice bend to it. In one setup, I duct-taped a serving spade to a paint stick, placed a slice of cake on it, and wedged the paint stick into the middle of a stack of books. I arranged the setup so the spade was held in space above the poster board and was illuminated naturally by indirect window light.
“Some other tools I find useful include small bamboo skewers to hold food together; olive oil in a travel spray bottle to fix dryness on foods like pasta; a sharp 10-inch knife and small ceramic knife for preciseness (ever see a strand of spaghetti that needs snipping?); vodka in a travel spray bottle as a grease cleaner and anti-browning agent (better than lemon juice); a handheld chef torch to hit a few spots with brownness; long-snout tweezers from a dental supply store; and a baby nasal bulb syringe (more precise than a turkey baster).
“Put your camera on a tripod and set your camera's timer for a two-second delay. That way you can let go of it completely, avoid shakes, and focus on bouncing your fill light without rushing. I like to use the fill reflector on almost every shot, and experiment with throwing light onto little places by holding it opposite the light source. Bounce it here, bounce it there, and you will have lots of photo options when you look at your shots.
“Collect a variety of fabric swatches you can use to drape the background or use as props. I like tablecloths but I have also picked up many swatches from a local upholstery fabric store that offer nice, textured surfaces, fanciful colors, crazy patterns, etc. When shooting food you will find that even a simple pound cake looks different on one fabric than another. I always keep an iron nearby because creases can sneak up on you. You don't want to notice them after you are done shooting!
“I've gotten many props from a local Goodwill store, which has piles of unmatched dishes for sale. A collection of white is most useful, especially if you can find some that have a bit of texture, like a basket weave edge, which can add interest to a shot. Add some cool shapes like square or triangle plates and bowls if you can find them, and you have plenty of options.
“White balance issues are a common problem for bloggers (potato salad really isn't supposed to look blue!) and I have learned that AUTO is my friend, but not my only option. Here are five helpful rules of thumb:
ISO 200 is a good all-around setting
Image stabilization assumes you are holding the camera. If you use a tripod, turn stabilization off and the photos will be clearer.
Shoot your first picture on AUTO WHITE BALANCE to let the camera set itself to accurate color balance automatically. Once you see that, you can mess with the color balance later in a photo-editing program.
When you do adjust your picture in an editing program, use a “Control Shadows & Highlights” feature, not “Control Brightness.” Brightness affects the entire image, while “Shadows & Highlights” does spot-tweaking at either end of the lighting range, which is where more of the adjustments are usually needed.”
Looking to invest in a some more advanced but modestly priced studio lighting tools? Here are a few sources you may find helpful.
Want to know more about Camp Blogaway Bootcamp for Food & Recipe Bloggers?
Information on the workshop programs, activities, speakers, accomodations and other details can be found at www.CampBlogaway.com . The next program is scheduled for April 29-May 1, 2011 and registration opens in January. Space is limited.