A Peek Behind the Scenes of a Food Blogger… My Food Photography Set-Up

A Peek Behind the Scenes of a Food Blogger - Girl and the Kitchen.com

There have been many a people that ask me when I have the time to do all my blogging.  And how which photo studio I use to take all my food photos.  Somehow…I never thought to show them.  Until now…

Before I got involved in food photography seriously I was always intrigued with real food blogging.  Always curiously searching how they took their pictures.  Which cameras they use, what props were most valuable, how they shot once the sun set, how they avoided harsh lighting and most importantly what their set-ups were.

As a novice to photography, that to me was most important: where did they stand to take their photo.  How did they angle their camera?  Where was the plate of food and who held it (typically no one held it, the blogger figured out how to balance a camera and a plate simultaneously.)  The set-up’s for some reason were the most important and yet the most difficult to find tutorials of.

So I decided to let my readers in on my secret.  And hopefully this will help someone who is searching for a photography set-up as I was.

My Saturday mornings and afternoons, like many other bloggers, are spent photographing perfectly sun lit food for this very blog.  And it is honestly, one of my favorite things to do.

As the sun shines in brightly through my west facing kitchen window, I sometimes spend the first 15 minutes just photographing a tangerine or munchkin’s bowl of berries, just to get that perfect light.  Typically munchkin runs in and steals something from the set-up and I have to rearrange.  It really is quite fun.  I swear.  No crossees.

Thief in red pajamas.

Diamond Speckled Lump of Coal Cookies from the Girl and the Kitchen

The set-up is typically more important than the food itself when it comes to the photography.  Because as many of us have experienced…the most amazingly gorgeous food can look like dog poop under the wrong lighting.

Us bloggers… we have an interesting way of setting food up to get that light juuuuuuuuuuuust right.  I swear, I have become a contortionist, an illusionist and an incredible balancer (errr that’s a word right?) in order to get the right shot.  Also, we don’t always have the food on a kitchen table.  Sometimes, mine is staged on a cutting board, that sits on an inverted box to add height which is propped up on a chair, in my dining room which leads to the ideal 4pm light.  As a reminder, I live in Chicago… land of the dark winter.  So typically after 4:38pm I am fighting for that last ray of sunlight to show through.

This picture of my Skinny Smashers was taken in such a matter, it happened to be 4pm…and I dashed around the house while the munchkin napped (another crucial component to a successful photography session) slipping through rooms in my socks Risky Business style, looking for props and tools.  I settled on a fork, a bright napkin and some scallions.  and voila!  A bit blue but I kinda like it:

Skinny Smashers from the Girl and the Kitchen

Usually, if I am photographing during the day, my set-up is in the kitchen, where,  if the munchkin is not napping, I can look over the wooden banister into the living room and watch her playing or doing her newest favorite activity which is about to drive mommy bat shiz crazy…dancing to Chicken Dance.  No matter how adorable she looks doing it, this song has my brain gnomes, Tinsel and Tinkle also running around aimlessly connecting all sorts of strange synapses in my head.

Yes, I run on gnomes, this is what makes me special.

The kitchen has so many different areas where I can create gorgeous photography depending on the time of day and the mood I would like my photography to have.  One of my favorite pictures is this No Churn Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  It was done by my sink, with my sink window shining some dark light onto it.  It was lovely and moody…just like me.

No Churn Salted Caramel Ice Cream - Girl and the Kitchen.com

However, my number one no fuss set-up looks almost always like this:

Girl and the Kitchen.com

What you see above is my glass kitchen table moved ALL the way up to my kitchen window which sits about 2 feet off the ground and all the way up to the ceiling.  It’s a fantastic west facing window that lets in a ton of different light through, depending on the weather conditions.  In this case, it had JUST finished snowing.  And the sun was shining lightly into my house.  The munchkin was outside in the stroller with daddy and I had an hour to cook and photograph a heavenly sauced up tenderloin.

Above is my necessary fancy equipment for getting this glamorous photo shoot just right.   You can see my gigantic window, with the kitchen table literally pulled all the way up to it.  Through the kitchen window is my cement patio, with all our summer BBQ and party gear wrapped up and waiting for the snow to melt.

See that gigantic ugly green thing?  It makes some of my picture backgrounds, GREEN.  It’s my summer swing that I curl up on warm summer nights with a glass of wine and a good book, mercilessly swatting off mosquitoes that threaten to suck me dry.

See that green in the upper left hand corner of my Greek Chicken and Potatoes picture?  That is always the end of me.

Greek Chicken with Potatoes from the Girl and the Kitchen

The hubs wrapped up my swing for the winter and conveniently placed it right in my shot.  And I literally pretzel fold my body to get that swing out of my perfectly back lit shot.  But then I get gorgeous shots like this Tortelinni and Brodo con Polpetti Soup and it kind of makes it all worth it.

Tortellini en Brodo from the Girl and the Kitchen

Back to this picture again:  The white foam board reflects some light into the harsh unnecessary shadows, the dark foam board adds some very necessary drama to this saucy steak. The dark foam board is not always used.  But in this case, I really wanted some gorgeous darkness in the background.

The antique and very expensive looking platter that my steak is laying on is actually a $7 IKEA cookie sheet that I have branded with over-baked and charred cookies over the years.  It’s pretty much as fancy as my props go and it’s also one of my favorite props.  It always adds depth and interest.

Girl and the Kitchen.com

I like this set-up because I have a variety of angles to shoot from.

I can get up on a chair and shoot from above and get lovely full frame shots, like these crazy good BBQ Chicken Pizza Turnovers.

BBQ Chicken Pizza Turnovers from the Girl and the Kitchen

I can shoot straight on and stand right where that “west window” arrow is.  And then I get some really nice side lighting from the window.  One of my favorite examples is my Borscht recipe.

Classic Russian Borsch Recipe – Красный Борщ - Girl and the Kitchen

My recent and most favorite way of shooting though is standing right where the white poster board is and shooting with the window as my background.  With my shutter speed set up just right, it washes out the background and makes it just glorious.  Just like in this easy freezer friendly marinara sauce picture.  There is still a tiny bit of green in the background… I didn’t contort enough I guess.

Freezer Friendly Marinara from the Girl and the Kitchen

It took me quite some time to figure out moods, lighting and props for my photography.  I can write an entire article on that in itself.  AND I WILL…soon.

I learned a lot for some really terrific food photographers and I tried to mimic their photography as well as their set-ups.

In the end, I found that while I can always mimic the set-up, each photograph has its own individual style and personality.  Each photographer has their own style as well.

Some photos are dark and moody and reminds you of comfort and blanket cuddles in front of the fire place.  One of my newfound favorite bloggers, Elizabeth from Three Beans on a String does this incredibly well.  Just check out her gorgeous blog and look how lovely and moody some of her photos are.

Perfect Grilled Ribeye with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Some photos are super bright and make you think of summer and warm breakfast mornings filled with sunshine and muffins.  My friend Nagi from RecipeTin Eats is particularly talented in this department.  I lust after her brightly lit backgrounds in her food photography.  I owe my new-found light filled technique to her.  She taught me to not be afraid to get your shutter speed cranking so that the background can be bright and gorgeous like hers are.  I still have a long way to go until mine look like hers.  But some people are just born with that skill I guess 🙂

Tell me you don’t want to just dive in there!

Cannelloni on steroids! - Girl and the Kitchen

I have also learned that desserts are actually sometimes harder to style.  Cakes, breads and cookies tend to be one dimensional at times.  And learning to style them and take pictures of them correctly is quite the skill.

One of my favorites was and still is Amanda from I Am Baker.  Her desserts are genius and her pictures are just beautiful.  She is insanely talented in every way and also quite sweet. (pun intended)  But her photography is wonderfully simple and ultimately perfect.  ALL her things look mouth watering good.

Look how gorgeous she can make a cupcake look.

Lemon Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream! - Girl and the Kitchen

So, that just about rounds out this post.  I hope I was able to help you all out.  I am pretty excited about this series!  I am by no means an expert on photography, but hopefully some of the things I have listed here will help at least one person out…or at the very least give them some insight into the oh so very glamorous world of food blogging 🙂

And if there is anything else that you are interested in seeing or learning…let me know!  I am always looking for ideas!

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    1. Hi Dixya!!! You know when I started seriously blogging, I just did not know how I was going to make time for all of this. The writing, the editing, the cooking, the photography not to mention our regular day to day lives. But the photography became so important to me, I completely got over how time consuming it was because it became so much fun! Now 9 months of the year I only photograph on weekends…

  1. I love this article Mila! I am still figuring out food photography… (more misses than hits!) and I love your photos 🙂 Can’t wait to follow the rest in the series and get more tips!

    1. Thank you thank you thank you!!!! I work so hard on it so it means the world that you say you love my photos!!! Trust me mine were very hit or miss for awhile!!! Sometimes still are 😉

  2. Found your blog via Spoonful of Foodies, this is a great post! My food photography setup is similar to yours also. I have a great window in my apartment that lets in great light, but the time window is about noon to four and then it disappears haha!

    1. So glad to see you hear Emily!!! Yes after 3pm on a gloomy day it’s rather depressing lighting and it makes everything look so blah 🙁 Thank you for coming over!

  3. Great post, Mila! Isn’t it funny how we’re running all over chasing the light and madly grabbing for props? I try so hard to plan ahead but there’s always something that makes it necessary to adjust that plan. Great photos and lots of helpful info!

    1. Yup! Each time I prepare and prepare some more… but inevitably in the last minute there is always something to change 🙂 Thank you for the wonderful comments on my pics! If someone told me a year ago that I would be writing a post on photography set-up and getting compliments on my photos, I would have laughed in their face 🙂 I guess practice does make perfect!

  4. Thanks so much, I am going back to pour over all the info…I just got a comment on my blog that said I should get a new camera and take better photos, Ouch! But I will admit, I haven’t taken the time to use my camera properly, so I look forward to your help! Amazing photos~

    1. Awww thank you so much for the wonderful comments. Trust me it’s all PRACTICE…eventually you will develop a style of your own… but in order to get there you just have to keep taking pictures!!! Practice! Learn what each function does and how each function effects the other. There is a lot of fantastic info out there for free. But it never made any sense to me until I started playing around with it myself. Good luck to you!

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  6. Hi Mila!! There is so much to learn about Food Photography and editing and I’m just at the beginning. Thank you so much for giving us these wonderful tips also the blogs to check out and learn from. I’m sure you posted this somewhere — this is the first time on your blog but certainly NOT the last — what kind of camera and lens do you use. My camera is not a point and shoot but it isn’t a versatile camera with interchangeable lens — I’m hunting for what camera to purchase and still stay on a budget. Have a wonderful Sunday.

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