Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tackling food photography with the Canon EOS Rebel xsi 450D - still a learning process

For your laughs, I am posting some very retarded looking photos that I have been shooting as practice with the Canon EOS Rebel xsi 450D. It’s been a bit frustrating because I am still clueless on what I am doing and my pics don’t look the way I vision them to look. I don’t have a creative visual eye nor am I anything close to being tech savvy. So being able to learn to take decent pictures is challenging. But hey, that just means I gotta practice more…A LOT more than those that naturally have the talent and skills to create visually and aesthetically pleasing masterpieces. In the meantime, I can laugh at myself and will continue to stomp my feet from the frustration. Maybe months from now, I can look back and laugh at myself again (without the stomping or cursing).

I’ve been meaning to post my practice pictures, but they’ve kind of been too embarrassing to share. I mean, you’d be expecting to see gorgeous mouthwatering pictures that would look 10x better than the ones taken with my iPhone. Gosh…..I got to the point where I found myself taking prettier photos with the iPhone. The iPhone pics looked a whole lot better just because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with the DSLR. But I figured that this post might be relatable to some folks that have went through or are going through what I am currently going through. I know that many people would be too embarrassed to post the horrible looking photos on their public blog. I still am very much embarrassed too, but I know that I will get over it… here we go! Please don’t laugh too hard.
I began practicing by shooting landscape. That was easy. Nature just does all the work for you, with the lighting from the sun and just everything being beautiful. It’s just hard to get ugly pictures with beautiful scenery. I realize that there are a number of flaws that can be pointed out to the critical eye…even looking at some of these now, I see overly graininess. Maybe the ISO was too high.


When trying to capture a pretty image with food, it was a different ball game! I was still not that comfortable with using all of the functions. I read through it all, all the instructions in the manual and the tips I read in Plates to Pixels…but to actually use all that info and apply it was not as easy as it sounded.  
I’ve only shot with natural lighting so far. I have yet to delve into the art of using artificial lighting. That’s far far away from the agenda. I haven’t even mastered this natural lighting business yet.

The experts recommend that you don’t start off by shooting something too fancy. If you are to start with a fancy dessert or something that took you a lot of time and effort to assemble, especially ones that are time sensitive (like frozen desserts or souffl├ęs), you will end up wanting to tear your hair out. No way I was going to start with anything I had to take time to assemble all pretty just to have it captured ugly. So I started with an apricot. It has a vibrant orange color and it can’t get any simpler than a single apricot shot, right? I wasn’t really thinking too much into props or backgrounds yet…I just wanted to see how the apricot itself comes out and practice using all those complicated functions. And well, it turned into a mess like this:

I was still trying to get the hang of getting used to the trinity functions of a camera (ISO, F Stop, and Shutter Speed).

I tried shooting blueberries next while playing around with different settings. Oh God…what the heck was I doing??!
Why does it look so hideous??! I was using a small white plate and packed on the blueberries to give that abundant look. I wasn’t feeling it and continued being frustrated.
I tried shooting corn. I love me some corn! No idea how to angle, prop, or style corn. I just laid it down on a piece of white card board and shot.
I captured most of the produce shots (above) somewhere around 11am to 1pm.
On my day off, I was able to shoot later than the usual times that I have been shooting (in 2-4pm lighting). I know it has a long long way to go to be any decent, but I guess I can say this is somewhat of an improvement compared to the other blueberries photos. Shot later in the afternoon, different bowl (clear), and using a tripod.

Getting a hold of a tripod made a huge difference in image and comfort in using. My dad lent me the tripod too.

It is about 30 years old. But hey, it gets the job done. I can’t complain. I remember this tripod being used for many many family photographs over the years, back in the days (dad used it mostly in the 80s…not so much in the later years since his equipment started getting lighter). So I guess it’s somewhat of a family gem being passed down.

Direct sunlight creates a harsh image. I was playing around to see what direct sunlight would do to the bright red strawberries. I took it outside and shot. I used a silver reflector because it looked worse without it. I guess you would need sunglasses to view this image. It’s so sunny and bright, but doesn’t it just scream “come out into the sun and enjoy some strawberries!” haha at least that is what I had in mind.

I like to tell stories (as you may have noticed). But I’ve only known to be able to tell stories with words, not through photographs (not yet). Photographs speak a thousand words and always have a story to tell. So I decided that the story to be told would be the first thing I focus on before I even take the picture. What do I want my story to tell? What type of message am I trying to send? I figure that starting with that goal in mind would help me in the process of the photo shooting.
As far as props and equipment go, I plan on going DIY as much as I can and find things around the house that I can use. I want to spend as little as possible if I can. For a reflector (it’s the only reflector source that I have used so far, so I have nothing to compare it to), I have been using a silver cake board. I also have a white cardboard that I use for a bouncer. When I am ready to start exploring with other colors, I will get more card boards in different shades at Daiso ($1.50). I think Daiso will be my place to shop for props and things. And for the rest, I will dig through my house. I “getting creative” and finding value in old junk is what I gotta do.

Oh yeah and I still need to learn how to use that post editing thing. Why is photography so complicated? Lol but it certainly is fun learning.
Sandra of Sandra’s Easy Cooking has been a big source of moral support in this whole process, holding my hand and being encouraging. She’s great at dumbing things down to explain things in a way I can understand better. Her food photos are always mouthwatering (she’s a pro hehe). So I am always learning from her. I always tell her that it would be so cool if we were neighbors. I'd be following my nose to her door since she's always cooking up something yummy. And it would be so cool to watch her in action (shooting her food). I think I'd be able to learn a bit faster and more efficiently if I can observe someone in person and maybe shadow them, and to have someone there to observe me and tell me what I am doing wrong. But oh well...I will make ado.

Below is a list of links that I found to be helpful in this whole food photography business: - this google + community is pretty supportive can be helpful in critiquing each others' work. Some of the members are professional photographers. But sometimes people tend to spam with links and irrelevant pics, straying away from the whole purpose of the community. That part gets annoying, but other than that, it's great. I haven't submitted any photos there (taken with the DSLR) yet though.

For mobile phone food photography (I use the iPhone 5)


  1. Thank you for all the links!! I just got my DSLR end of last year so I'm always trying to learn more. In the beginning I pretty much only used the Auto setting but then forced myself to learn manual. My dad also helped me a lot because he used to be really into photography when he was younger. I think what you're doing is the best way to learn. It's good to do some reading but then just go for it!

    I bought a cheap reflector off Amazon and I like it because it packs into a small disk thing but then it pops open and you can flip it inwards or outwards (don't know if this makes sense) so in total you have gold, silver, white and black faces. And I have a mini tripod, for taking pictures in low light its the only way to go, my hands are too shaky!

    Ooh also for cheapo photography tips, you can always use aluminum foil as a silver reflector if your having a hard time placing your sheet pan. Andddd lastly, I think the last shot of the blueberries looks good!! And I like the super bright strawberries too :)

    1. Everyone was saying to stay away from auto when learning, so I didn't even bother shooting anything in auto yet. It beats the fun of learning and experimenting.

      Haha I read about that reflector that you are speaking of. Sounds like a pretty handy item to have. I've been using a shiny silver cake board as the silver reflector. I know I have a gold one laying around somewhere too.

      Thanks for liking my fruit pics! You take some pretty nice pics btw. Were your beginning pics as bad as mine when you first started?

      Everyone says to get a 50mm lens. I wonder how much of a difference I'd see with one.

  2. I thought the 1st blueberry pic and the strawberry pics were the best. I can't believe you had to use the tripod. I always made fun of ppl who had to use that but it seems the tripod really helps with the pics.

    Thanks for the iphone food photography links. Will be studying that tonight.

    BTW - there's a yelp event that's open to anyone who has an active yelp account. It's a cruise and will have food/drinks/activities

    So there are yelp events that are open to all yelpers - I'm sure LA has these type of events too :)

    1. Thanks! Yeah, the tripod totally helps. My dad used to actually carry it around when we went somewhere. It was used for the 80's "selfies". Gosh I have never been this attentive to light until I started delving into this photography biz. It's fascinating.

      Some awesome photos can be taken with the iPhone if you know what you are doing (I don't, but I guess I am progressing or trying to). I still plan on snapping (and posting) with the iPhone from time to time too. So the iPhone camera isn't completely becoming obsolete to me now that I can shoot with a real camera. I don't carry the DSLR around everywhere I go, so sometimes shooting with the iPhone is definitely more practical.

      Oh that Yelp event sounds pretty neat. Are you going to that one?

  3. Do not fret! They'll get better and it will get easier!

    I had many a breakdown complete with tears and self-loathing. Lots of anger about the weather. Fortunately as my skills have improved, so has the range of hours and meteorological events that I am able to take good photos during. {That was a horrible sentence but I am way too tired to fix it. Sorry.} I still get frustrated with myself. There was a period of 3 months where I thought my camera hated me because it just "decided" to start taking awful pictures when I had been doing so well!

    I like the last photo of the blueberries! A white plate, a large, wooden cutting board and a white-bounce are all you really need. I wish someone would have told me that. A roll of white paper towels can work in a pinch. Keep it up!!!!

    1. Thanks Lindsey! I certainly hope so! So you understand my pain. I was too intimidated to even turn on the camera until I read through the manual and Plate to Pixel. I see myself slowly getting a little better with each practice. But yeah, it is still quite frustrating as heck! I love your pictures. It's hard to imagine any of yours being bad. I am curious to see! hehe

      I've only taken pictures of food and landscape so far. I imagine that shooting portraits would be a whole other task to grasp. I didn't really read anything on landscape/scenery shooting, but that was so easy compared to shooting food.

      Thanks again for the tips and encouragement!

    2. I totally understand! I took a lot of pictures of my cat before I ventured into the kitchen. I read Plate to Pixel, put on my Big Girl pantys, switched the camera into Aperture Priority mode and then dove right in. Best plan ever.

      I can't even begin to think about shooting portraits. I took some of Hubs for his work, but that's it. I just want to master food! And landscapes :-)

      Go to my homepage, scroll down to the Archives in the sidebar and gorge yourself on absolutely breathtakingly awful photos between Feb -June 2013. Brace yourself.

  4. I am guessing taking pictures of cats (that move around) can't be too different than taking pics of humans? I wouldn't know. At least humans can stay still to pose. At this moment, I am not too interested in portraits...maybe some day! But it's good to try shooting different things since it'll only help you become better when shooting food.

    I haven't tried Aperture mode or any of the other modes yet...just been trying with manual so far. I gotta try practicing with the other modes....maybe just not auto! I'll totally have to check out your older pics.Haha but can't be as bad as mine I can imagine.

  5. Miss Kim,

    When I was in high school I had an interest in photography. I had a Pentax K 1000 35 mm SLR. It was kind of the beginner SLR but still of good quality. It had a built in light meter but was completely manual.

    I used to use slide film all the time because I could develop it myself (in my bedroom closet LOL), it didn't require a machine to transfer to paper (forgot the classmate who lived next door had one), they took up less space than paper photos and finally I had a slide projector.

    I agree with the folks who say start out with the manual settings. Then you will understand how they affect the picture attributes. later when I got my Nikon FG, I found I was always using the auto feature. But at that time I was mostly taking family photos and needed to be quicker.

    I love that you are sharing how you are learning. I think you are doing a great job and are.being too hard on yourself! For chrissake girl, you very just started and there are a thousand variables you can control to get your perfect picture!

    Did you see my first food pics on Maangchi? Talk about sucky pics...I'm embarrassed! Even your worst on this page is not as bad as those! ^__^

    Anyhow...I think you will enjoy the details of setting up the shot and tweeking the parameters to get the perfect shot!

    And I love your comment about the tripod bring used for 80's selfies! But back then they were known as groupies because the effort it was only worth it when you got the whole family together! Did your dad use the built in timer or did he have a remote switch? I took a fe we of those family groupies using the timer and always had to run back into my spot before it took the pic! Hahaha! ^___^


    1. He used a built in timer. Thanks for not thinking my pics suck.

  6. I don't have a DSLR but I have the new Samsung Galaxy 2 camera and it's also a lot different from using my old point and shoot. I have a mini tripod that I carry around with me now because I can't ever seem to keep the camera still enough to take a good photo (it's a lot bigger and heavier than my old camera so harder to hold still). I like using the morning light the best, but if I can't get up that early I like the late afternoon light. I really liked your corn photo! Makes me want some corn on the cob right now... thanks for the links, too! I'm still trying to fiddle with all of the manual settings to get my photos to look right. Photoshop is still my friend. :)

    1. Yep we both love corn! They were having a sale at Walmart for $.25 each! But there was a limit to how many each person can purchase. I am not sure if it was only going on for that day.

      I wouldn't even have any idea to work photoshop....that'd be another task to learn. Gradually getting there at my own pace. The mini tripod sounds like a good idea. The thing I have gets tiring to keep adjusting. I can't even imagine carrying it around.

  7. I think you did pretty darn good job, Miss Kim! You are brave, honestly because many wouldn't even thought of posting beginning pics but it is all learning process and I respect you that much more for talking about struggles that we all go through at some point.
    Thank you for the are too sweet! I enjoy telling you some tricks or tips about photography. It gives me much pleasure especially because I see how much you want to learn.
    I am far from the expert but I am willing to share what I have learned so far.

    Now i want some blueberries :))

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words and help. You totally are an expert in my eyes lol.


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