Learn how to style your food to make it look sensational
CNM Naturopathic Nutrition graduate Kimberly Espinel shares her food photography tips and advice and explains how to incorporate styling and aesthetics into your food imagery. She also discusses how to build a successful blog and a thriving online community.
Kimberly is a food photographer and stylist, recipe developer and food blogger. She is also a qualified nutritional therapist, food photography teacher and the author of the best-selling book, Creative Food Photography: How to capture exceptional images of food.
After building a flourishing food blog and food photography business herself, Kimberly now mentors food photographers, bloggers and small business owners on how to take sensational photos to engage their audience across their marketing platforms.
How did you get into food photography?
Before starting my blog, I had no knowledge about photography or what I should be thinking about when taking a photo. I needed to capture images of my recipes for my vegan blog and I wanted my food to look visually appealing, delicious and enticing.
I started out by photographing every meal I made. To get the right photo you need to practice practice practice. Taking a couple of food photography workshops (both group and one-to-one) really helped me to hone my skills and learn more about the art of food photography. In order to promote my business and portray the right brand image to make it attractive to others, my photos needed to be of high quality.
What are the dos and don’ts of food photography?
- When starting out, you don’t need to invest in an expensive camera or lighting; using your smart phone is absolutely fine, especially if it’s for social media posts. Play around with the settings on your phone to make sure your photos will be taken in the correct format and resolution for the image you’re capturing.
- Lighting is everything so make sure you have a good light source wherever you’re taking photos. Knowing how to work with light and shadow is also key as it can make or break a photo. If you get this right, you are 80% there. You need to be close to a natural light source such as a large window and don’t eliminate shadows as this will make your photo look flat. If you need more guidance, I talk about lighting and shadows in great detail in my book.
- Practice food styling and always think about textures, colours and garnishes; these can really add the wow factor to an image. Colour adds vibrancy and garnishes give dishes a finishing touch. Make sure your images don’t look dry or bland as it’s unappealing to the eye. Plant-based foods are naturally colourful so adding different fruits and vegetables is a great way to add splash of colour. For inspiration, look on Instagram, in cookbooks and in food magazines such as Delicious and Good Food; see what types of garnishes they are using and how they are styling their recipes.
- Start sharing your images on Instagram to see how your audience responds; this is a great way to see what is working and what isn’t. You might find that using a particular prop such as a wooden table or a specific style of décor gets more engagement than other images you post. Also ask your followers what types of images they like and why. This will help you discover your own unique style and branding.
- Invest in photography props including table cloths, cutlery, cups, tables and backdrops. Firstly though, see what you have at home and then build your prop kit form there. It’s important to not use items that shine as they create reflections in shots. Instead, use mat ceramics and vintage knives and forks (they are dull and don’t reflect the light). Start with what you have and don’t buy items you won’t use. If you have an amazing marble kitchen or beautiful wooden table, try those as your backdrop. Again, see what your audience responds to and build on that. Over time, you will naturally define you own look and feel.
- The colours and textures you use creates your brand look and this is what is going to make you stand out. Ask yourself: what makes you distinct? What do you like – bright colours or darker tones? Your photos and styling need to resonate with you and reflect the image you want to portray. I always check in with myself to see what feels right for me.
- Just get started, don’t wait for everything to be perfect as it never will be. Quite often, people want to wait until their website is perfect or their logo gets updated before they start sharing their content; this stops them from moving forward. The reality is, things will never be perfect as you are constantly fine-tuning as you go. Don’t get hung up on colours or your logo as you can change all these assets later on; your brand image will continually evolve and transform.
Is there any other equipment or tools needed?
As I’ve mentioned, using your smart phone is fine when you’re starting out; however, if you want to invest in a camera, the Canon 500D DSLR camera is a good place to start. It’s a high-quality camera which you can pick up at an affordable price and you could even get one second hand. You will need a 15mm, 1.8 lens to go with it.
Apps and editing software
Lightroom is a fantastic editing software which enables you to edit and enhance photos. They also have an app for phones, so if you’re using the camera on your smart phone, the Lightroom app is a must as you can edit photos before posting them to your website or social media.
Artificial lighting is not recommended (I often get asked this) as natural lighting is always best; plus, it’s very expensive. You need to determine where you will get the best natural light in the room you are taking photos in. Sometimes, it’s trial and error but practice is key.
What are your tips for getting started with a blog?
Choose a clear and defined niche for your business, whether that be gluten-free vegan food or pre-conception nutrition advice – your customers need to know why you are different from everyone else in the market.
Post content regularly (weekly if possible) and make sure your content is of high-quality. You need to be able to cut through the noise and stand out from the crowd. Well-researched topics that serve your audience with content that provides solutions to their needs is key. For example, if your audience is women in their mid-thirties who want to lose weight, don’t post images or content that applies to body builders who want to lose weight. Your messaging must reflect the needs of your audience and how you want to be perceived by them.
What is the best way to grow a food business or nutrition practice online through social media?
- Building a community is vital, as is finding the right followers for your content. Quality should always prevail quantity. There is no point in having 10,000 disengaged followers as they won’t connect with you or buy your products or services; however, ten engaged, loyal followers is much more beneficial.
- Post valuable content that answers your ideal customer’s questions. You need to position yourself as the expert in your field and provide solutions to your audience’s needs.
- Use hashtags with intention. Research what hashtags are trending and relate this to the content you are posting.
- Collaborate and network with other people in your space. This is a great way to grow your audience (by leveraging theirs) and also create lucrative opportunities.
- You need to be in it for the long-haul, social media is not a quick fix. It takes time to build a community, but when you do, you will certainly reap the rewards. Even if you only help one person with your content, it makes it all worthwhile.
To learn more about food photography and gain experience in capturing incredible photos, attend CNM’s upcoming food photography workshop. This practical workshop focuses on lighting, angles and food styling techniques.