#83: Food Photography Tips for Health Coaches

food photography tips

Ever wonder why some food photos look unbelievably delicious and yours look like…blah? Whether it’s for Instagram, your blog or a cookbook you want to publish, join me to discuss simple food photography tips that make all the difference. No, you don’t need a fancy camera!

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Well hello there, health coaches! I know that you very likely got into health coaching because you want to help people. Yes? Right? And if you’re like the rest of us, you have probably, if not yet, very soon going to find out that starting a business or running your business requires you to wear many hats. We have to be marketers because we have to let the whole world know about our services and we’ve got to be copywriters because we have to write our emails and our website and our sales pages and we’ve got to be our own bookkeepers. Unless you’re like me and you finally hired that one out and another hat that weirdly you probably find yourself wearing at some point is being a photographer. Like who knew that you needed to major in photography in college? And it’s kind of scary, right? Like we all carry around a camera with us these days and we’re always snapping photos of our food and whatever’s going on in our lives.

But you know what? When it comes to food, it’s really, really hard to take a good picture. It really is. It takes skill and it’s so easy to do a bad job of it. So whether it’s for your blog or your Instagram posts, how you make your food look in a photo so that it’s delicious and enticing, that’s, that’s a skill. And how are you going to do that without going back to school for photography? Right. It reminds me, I was thinking about this and I was like, what is the worst picture I ever took of food? You know? And I was remembering this time that I was so jazzed. I was like so proud of myself because I made this really, really wonderful breakfast. Has anybody ever used teff like whole grain teff it was a tough porridge and I mean again, I was just so delighted with it.

For those of you who haven’t tried it, teff is the smallest whole grain. It’s from Ethiopia. It’s gluten free, it’s high in protein, like all good things. And I made this porridge and I took a picture of it. I remember I had chopped up nectarines on top cause it was in the summertime. And I look at this picture and I was like, Oh boy, that just looks like a pile of poop. No joke. It was so bad because teff has this dark Brown color and yeah, just look like a bowl full of poop. And I could not do anything to make that amazing teff porridge look like something anybody would want to look at. So I want you to be aware of this because when you’re posting your photos, you are probably going to be exposing your audience to different things, right? Different food stuff they’ve never tried before and they might be a little scared off by whatever it is by your Ethiopian whole grains or your celery juice or whatever weirdness you’ve got going on.

And I know you probably do because we’re all into stuff like that. So it’s really important for your food to look appealing. Otherwise all of these potential clients of yours are just going to go run screaming in the other direction. Like I knew it, I knew it. She was going to make me eat cardboard or I knew it. She’s going to have me eating gross stuff. We don’t want that. We want the opposite. We want them to be intrigued and drawn in and think, Oh, I could do that. Oh, that looks good. So I want to preface all of this by saying, okay, I did go to art school and I used to work as a graphic designer, but I am not a photographer by any means. I do not even own a camera. Every single food photo I have ever taken for my business has been with an iPhone promise and I have people asking that all the time.

Michelle, what kind of camera are you using? I’m like, same one I use for everything. Actually really happy with how much better the iPhone camera has become through the years. It’s pretty good one now, but even years ago, that’s all I was using. So regardless of what sort of camera you’re using, you can make this work. And through the years I’ve learned a couple of tricks for making sure that my food photos look halfway decent and I want to walk you through those today. It’s going to be like a little free basic photography workshop right now so that you can up your food game. And by the way, last week’s episode was all about using Instagram, um, for your business. And if you’re taking great food photos, that’s definitely going to help you get noticed on Instagram. You know, people are always posting such great food photos on their Instagram accounts.

So just as an aside, if you’re interested, we have a free webinar coming up on Thursday, November 7th. If you really want to do more with Instagram, we’re going to be talking about all aspects of it and you can sign up for that for free at healthcoachpower.com/instagram and again, that’s coming up next week depending on when you’re listening to this. It’s next week. As of right now, as I’m recording on November 7th, that’s 2019. So, for today we’re going to talk about photography that you can use. You know what? Anywhere that you need it, you might need it for Instagram. You might need it for your blog, for Pinterest, you know, whatever it is.

But before we get there, I want to give a great big shout out to Stacy who left this five star review on iTunes and Stacy said, “All health coaches need this podcast. First off, Michelle is down to earth and tells it like it is. No fluff. She has been doing this for a while and knows her stuff. I’ve never met her but think we would be friends. This podcast is one of only a handful that I listen to regularly. Perfect for newbie starting their coaching career. Thank you Michelle.” Thank you Stacy. I know we could be friends. Many of my very, very best friends are health coaches and that’s what makes this community so great.

Like we all want to try the Ethiopian teff whole grain now that I’ve been talking about it, right? We have all these shared interests and values and a common approach to life and not to mention we’re not all revved up on sugar and caffeine and half the time. So I feel like we get each other. So thank you for being here Stacy. And please send your mailing address to support@healthcoachpower.com and reference episode 83 so we can send a little gift your way. Thanks again for that review. For all of you listening, if you would head over to iTunes and leave a star rating and written review, I would be ever so grateful for that.

Yeah. Now let’s move on to some food photography. If you’re here with me live, go ahead and tell me what do you need photos for, like what is the number one thing that you would use food photography for if you had some great food photography and if you’re not here live, just think that to yourself.

Where can I use this? In my business, I have used photos in so many places. I think the most food photography I ever did was wet back when I was running detoxes. I used to run a 21 day detox and I did. This was long before anything like that. Clean life existed to help assist her out. I made all my own recipes, did all my own food photography. So I had a whole cookbook full of great recipes that I would cook and plate and shoot and man, that was a project and I would update that cookbook every year. Woo. So I have a lot of experience with this, not to mention shooting for my blog and just for social media along the way. So my very first tip for you for getting a better picture of your food is to use natural lighting. That means go outside, go outside, sister, that’s where you want to be because the light is always, always, always going to make your food look better.

I don’t know why that is. I’m not going to be able to get into like the physics of it, but it almost always holds true. The only thing that won’t look so great is if it’s like high noon and the sun is just blaring down and you’re standing underneath it and you put your food down, you’re going to get a lot of harsh light and harsh shadows and that doesn’t look so great. So what you’re really looking for is more diffuse lighting. And you can find that earlier in the morning, later in the day, you know, like around 4:00 PM 3:00 PM something like that. The sun starting to go down. The light is not as harsh. You can also find it on a cloudy day or you know, a day again where the sun is not just glaring at you. If it’s coming through the clouds, the clouds are dispersing light. It’s a lot more diffuse.

It’s like a natural filter from the universe that’s going to make your picture look that much better. And you can also just take your food and move to a shaded area. It’s, you know, if it’s too shaded, that’s not going to work. But try not to stand in direct light. Some sort of diffuse light lighting will work best. Now, if you can’t get outside. Let’s say it’s pouring rain, you know, this also works if you are like, I have a porch out back that is covered. So that would work and, and often takes, I take very nice pictures out there under the covered roof. So that’s fine. Again, you don’t have to be directly under the sun, but if you have to be inside, try to shoot near a window or near a natural light source. Again, you don’t want it where the sun is glaring in.

You want maybe to like if the sun rises in the East and let’s say that’s coming up in the East and your window faced East, you don’t want to be at that window. You’re going to want to go to the window that’s facing North or something like that so that the light isn’t as extreme. Um, and I think that will always get you a better picture. So you know, take a little table, maybe a little TV tray and move it over to your window and put your food down on the tray and see what you can do over by, by that nice light coming in the window. And as a last resort because especially this time of year where the sun’s going down earlier and earlier sometimes I remember shooting for my cookbook and I’d be cooking cause I wanted to make it close to dinner time cause we’re going to eat it for dinner.

But I couldn’t go that late because then I wouldn’t be able to take a picture of it. So I’d cook it kind of in the afternoon, take the photo and then I’d have to reheat it for dinner. And this is just the life of a health coach. So if you’re going to have to shoot indoors because the light has gone down again, we want to stay away from any harsh lights. You don’t want to be directly underneath the light fixture in your kitchen because that’s going to create that same kind of shadowy gross lighting that we were talking about earlier. You do want there to be plenty of light in the space, but you don’t want to be right near the light source, you to be very careful about the shadows that are being cast on your food.

Oh gosh. I was just thinking about that cookbook again. I made so many great recipes and one we’re going to talk about this next about plating. One of the recipes I make, I make this all the time actually for my family. It’s a Cincinnati chili. Who likes Cincinnati chili? Anybody? I love Cincinnati chili. If you don’t know it’s chili; it’s like served over a bed of spaghetti with like red onions and kidney beans on top and cheese and it can be really junky. But I make it in a way that it’s really very healthy. And I use butternut squash blended in there for some sweetness cause it’s like a sweeter chili. Anyway, it’s very messy cause it’s like chili on spaghetti and trying to get that on a plate to look good. I just remember doing that outside in my driveway, like several tries before I got that one right.

So let’s, let’s see what everybody’s saying. First of all, for those of you that are here live and then we’ll talk about plating your food. So let’s see. Um, Andrea says she’s using Instagram. Deb says she needs photos for Instagram, Facebook, blog posts, program materials, uh, Deb’s also suggesting balcony lighting. Oh no, she liked the idea of balcony lighting. Yes, that could definitely work. And Andrea says she wants to inspire clients or potential clients to get cooking and eating cleaner, but I want it to be fun and delicious. Yes. And when we’re looking with our eyes, you know, we think, Oh, that looks delicious. It, we don’t even know what it is. But if it’s just beautifully arranged, that has like some nice color, it just looks appealing. It’s almost like, you know, when you go to a fancy restaurant, they take a lot of time how they plate the food so that it is appealing when it comes to the table.

So when you’re doing any food photography, you need to be very careful about how you put the food on the plate. Like if it’s just me and I’m just home by myself, I’m just going to throw food in the bowl like this. I’m not paying any attention. I’m going to mix it up my spoon and put it in my mouth and the story. But if I was going to serve it to you at my restaurant or if I was going to take a picture of it for you on my Instagram account, well now I’m going to very neatly arrange all of the ingredients in that bowl also so that you can see them all. Like let’s say it’s a salad and you throw all the lettuce on the bottom and you might even have some really interesting like mizuna lettuce or something and then you have like tomatoes and cucumbers and this, that and the other thing you want the person looking at the picture won’t even be able to see all of the ingredients unless they’re arranged a certain way.

So that’s why when you see nice food photography, especially salads and smoothie bowls and things like that, they’re usually arranged in such a way that you can identify a lot of the key ingredients. So you went to very neatly and carefully arrange your bowl or arrange your plate, whatever it is. And this is hard when you’re a home cook like I am, you really want the plate to be clean. Like you cannot have drips. You cannot have like, Oh my chili slid to the slot, you know, slid over here and then came back and then there’s a bunch of like sauce over here like no, you have to put it on the plate very carefully and then you can take a rag and just with your finger like wipe up any spills if they’re minor, if it’s major, you might just want to start over with a clean plate.

The other day I was actually going to take a picture of some salmon that I cooked, but when I took the salmon out of the pan and transferred it, it broke and you know how that happens with salmon, it kind of gets a jagged edge. I was like, ah, I can’t take a picture of this now. Next time I have to get the individual portions that are already cut. Nice. Nice that I can pick up and put my plate. That would make for a much better photo than what I was trying to do, which is cut a piece of a large filet. But anyhow, my point is keep it neat, keep it clean. That’s going to make it look 1000% better. And again, going back to how you arrange the food, it might not be how the way you actually eat, but you would want to arrange it in an artful way.

Sometimes people get really super artistic, like think about smoothie bowls that you see online. Sometimes there’s like swirls and flowers and I don’t even know what else, like geometric patterns of the coconut and the cow nibs. I mean you could really go to town, but uh, but you could also do stripes. I often do this with salads or Oh gosh, anything like that where I’ll do like, um, you know, a Stripe of tomatoes, a Stripe of shredded carrots, a Stripe of something else, and then let the lettuce show on the other half of the, of the bowl. So get a little artful with it and let everybody see that color and see all of those ingredients. Now here’s a tip that I got somewhere along the way and I think it’s a really good one. When you have a big plate, like a normal size dinner plate or like a big cereal bowl or whatever you’re using, sometimes it’s harder to make that look good.

I’m not entirely sure why. I guess you just have more material to work with. You know you’ve got to fill up that space. Imagine like a bowl, like a cereal bowl that’s half full of chocolate avocado pudding. You guys make that right? It’s like the avocado and the banana and the rock a cow. Yeah. So if you just had a bowl half full of that pudding and you tried to take a picture of it, ah, there’s your bowl of poop again, right? Like it’s just going to look like not much. And the bowl itself is going to be casting a shadow down onto the chocolate, so it’s just going to look dark and like muddy in there. Now imagine instead you had a small bowl and you filled it all the way up in that pudding was kind of in a swirl mound, like a mound at the top.

You know, almost like ice cream when they, usually, when you see a picture of ice cream, you see like the, you know, big beautiful scoop of ice cream sitting on top and the whipped cream. Imagine that your chocolate avocado pudding look more like that in a smaller bowl. That’s like way more appealing. Going to be a much nicer photo. So think about smaller plates and smaller bowls whenever possible and also try different angles. So I think a lot of times we shoot the food the way that we are looking at it, which is like the plates in front of us. I’m going to eat it now and I’m going to take a picture, but that may or may not be the best shot for that particular dish. So some things look really nice when they are shot top-down and I’m, I would say something again, like a salad would look very good like that because a salad salads kind of organic, I don’t mean organic like organic ingredients.

I mean it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s like how you know, it’s in the bowl, it’s lettuce leaves. It’s not a fixed object like a meatloaf. So shooting from the top could be very good for a salad. But let’s say you had a sandwich. Let’s say you had a meatloaf sandwich, some delicious sandwich that might look best from the side. You might want to cut the sandwich, open it up, and then I’m looking at it from the side so you can see the bread and the filling and whatnot. Maybe some they saw us like squishing out from underneath the bread and then a side shot would actually be better. So whenever I take photos of my food, I’m usually bouncing around a little bit. I’ll do some from the top, some from the side, I’ll turn the plate and see what angle is going to make it look the most appealing.

Deb says I have trouble with deeply colored healthy foods looking good. Light and in the apps doesn’t quite do it. Deb gave me an example of that. Give me an example of that. I feel like color… Like I’m thinking about like butternut squash soup, maybe something like that that has like a very distinctive color. You do want to be careful. And the lighting that you use could make the color go off. So inside your app, you know, and we’ll talk a little bit more about that. There’s ways to manipulate it so that the food looks as appealing as possible, as good as it does in person, even if the lighting isn’t playing along. Sandra says I’m encouraging her to let her silver hair come out and she wants to thank me. You’re welcome Sandra.

Nothing to do with food photography, but I do like how my silvers look on screen. You guys are the best. Oh, Deb says beet salad. Okay, beets are dark. You do want to get that nice red color in there. Yeah, we’ll talk more about fussing with the color balance and stuff in just a minute because you’re right, something’s aren’t… The camera’s not going to capture it. You know like when you try to take a picture of fireworks or like a gorgeous sunset and sometimes you look at the picture and you’re like, that doesn’t look anywhere near as good as it looks. And in person, like the camera just can not capture it. I think that using like filters or using like some of the adjustments inside of your Instagram app can do wonders for that. So we’ll, we’ll talk about that in just a second. But on the whole idea of like plating and making the food look good, you also want to consider like decorations.

That’s probably not the right word for it. Props, you want to consider a background like what is the food sitting on? Is it just like in the middle of your messy counter top? You know what? Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes that’s kind of cool to see like the edge of a magazine or like your fork is a little askew over here. But I mean I don’t want to see like your counter top that has crusted on oatmeal from your kid this morning and you didn’t get a chance to clean that up. Right? Like you do want to consider the surface that your food is sitting on and sometimes people will have surfaces that they use for this exact purpose. For example, um, tiles like the kind of tile that you would get for your kitchen floor or something like that. I know like more serious food photographers who have a Lightbox set up in their home.

I’m not suggesting you have to do this, I don’t do this, but they will have like a series of these tiles that they can, you know, put down and place the food on top of. So they always have like a different surface for their, their plate or their bowl to be on top of. So I have never gone that far. No light box, no tiles. But what I have done is gone to target and bought a bunch of different placemats or a bunch of different tablecloths or kitchen towels or anything that you can sort of throw down to make a surface easily. And then of course, you know, you can just scoop back up and throw it in the closet and you don’t need to have any special setup in your home. So that’s one idea. Get yourself some tablecloths, placemats, napkins, even utensils, the utensils that you normally use are okay, but maybe there’s like a really interesting looking fork or spoon or something that you pick up.

Um, maybe there are, uh, again, flowers, flowers. In a vase, flowers that you just placed next to the dish. Um, this time of year, it’s autumn right now. So there’s a lot of leaves falling down. If you made that butternut squash soup, maybe you grab a couple nice bright red and orange leaves from outside and place those next to the bowl on your surface too. Just lend a little extra something to your photo. I also will see people use the ingredients. So let’s say, let’s say we made that chocolate avocado pudding. We put it in a bowl, we swirled it up high, it’s looking good. And then we took some of that cocoa powder or could count nibs that we use and we kind of like through some of those next to the bowl on top of, and maybe it’s on a white surface, right? So you could really see those cocao nibs. You can decorate your surface a little bit with the ingredients that are used.

That’s a way for somebody to understand like, Oh, this dish was made with those ingredients and it just makes it look a little more, um, oh, not that it looks like real life, but certainly in your kitchen you usually end up with a little cacao powder on the counter after you’ve been cooking with it. Right. So a little bit more like real life. The other thing I see people do is product placement. So let’s say that you have, um, a salad and you’re using a particular salad dressing, like maybe you’re holding the bottle of salad dressing in the photo right in front of the salad itself. You know, this would be for a particular purpose, like if you wanted to tag the company, you know, you’re using that. I can’t even think of a brand of salad dressing right now. Somebody helped me out. But if you are using that particular salad dressing, um, you know, you could make that part of the picture.

You could stand it sort of behind your bowl of salad in the background. So it’s there, but maybe it’s not front and center. I’ve done that with things like, Oh my God, have you ever used everything bagel seasoning from like trader Joe’s? So if I make something with that everything, bagel seasoning, I’ll you, I’ll take the jar of everything bagel and kind of like stick it near the plate. So again, just different ways to garnish the food, decorate the photo, put a little life in it, right? And if I’m, if you go into target or you go onto like Walmart, whatever, to pick up some low cost items, also consider something like garage sales or your actual garage where you might have like I’m looking right over here. I have some of my grandmother’s um, old dishes and cake plates and cups. And these are all things that I might not use on a daily basis, but these are things that I might be able to use inside of a photograph. So, garage sales, or second hand shops can be nice for picking up these types of things.

Andrea says, I’m thinking of posting food books I read and recommend and a bit of my personal life. Should I offer a free peace with food session once a week or should I save that for my newsletters?

Well, I think you’re talking about using Instagram, Andrea, not so much about your photography right now, but yes, of course with the, the reason to be using Instagram is to be inviting people into your world. Now there’s a million different ways of doing that, but first we need to draw them in with something that they’re attracted to in the first place and then hopefully start building a rapport with them. So when someone comments on your food and says like, Oh, that looks delicious, how did you make that? You know, you want to write back to them and then you want to follow them and you want to comment on their stuff so that you’re building a rapport and then someone’s much more likely to like click on your link and sign up for your thing.

So let’s not lose sight of the relationship building. The Instagram is so good for, okay. So my last tip for you and we started to talk about this already, is to definitely make good use of editing your photos inside the Instagram app or using whatever photo software you use. Like I use Photoshop if I am going to be using, you know, larger high resolution images for my cookbooks or anything like that. I’m all up in Photoshop for that business, but for something quick and on the fly, I am the thrilled with how nicely the features are. You know how nice the features are inside Instagram for editing photos. So for example, this morning I posted a picture of a smoothie bowl and it really was nothing special. I did not do anything amazing, you know, I didn’t have any flowers nearby or slices of oranges on the table, nothing like that.

I literally just made it for breakfast and before I ate it, I brought it outside to my porch and snapped a picture of it. When I, what did I do though? I made sure that the ingredients were arranged nicely inside the bowl. I did do that. I made sure I had some good lighting. I did that much. Okay. I’m not telling you this was the best photo I ever took, but it was like pretty good considering and I think that’s where we’re all going for. And then once I took the photo, the three things I almost always do that will help tremendously inside Instagram. First increase the brightness. Now you don’t want to increase it so much that the white starts to blow out. And do you know what I mean by that? If you could see me right now, I’m wearing this very fuzzy white sweater.

If the light shining on me was any brighter, you wouldn’t be able to see the texture anymore. It would just blow out to just like bright, glaring white across my chest. So, you don’t want to blow your pictures out so much that the whites just go blank. You want there to be a little bit of texture left to them, but brightening up the picture will absolutely make the food look better in almost every case. The next thing that you want to do is add warmth. So you go to the warmth icon and kick it up a little bit. I’m not saying you want to give yourself, you know, turn the whole photo orange. But what that warmth is referring to is, you know there’s warm light like think of an old on an old fashioned, Oh God, I’m making myself sound old.

I remember light bulbs, you guys just normal light bulbs. Not the new kind but the old kind. Yeah, those have a warm light. Those look nice. Those are the ones you want on your vanity mirror in the bathroom. Right? Cause you look so much better in a warm glow versus, I know they’re energy efficient, but new light bulbs cast a blue light. And so if you have those on your vanity mirror or if you have taken food under blue light, it’s going to have that bluish tinge to, it doesn’t look good, doesn’t look healthy, doesn’t look appetizing. So, depending on your light source, when you take your photo, it often helps to increase the warmth a little bit to get rid of any blueish hues and bring it more into that, that warm light. So that’s the next thing that I would do. And that’s exactly what I did this morning with my smoothie bowl.

And then the last thing is that you can go to shadows and you can lighten up the shadows. I don’t know why this makes such an enormous difference, but it just really, really does. You can, you can basically you’re telling the photograph, okay, I’m not going to light in the whole thing. I don’t want my whites to blow out, but we’re going to look for the darkest parts of this picture. We’re going to lighten them up. So there’s not as much contrast. And again, not for every single photograph that you’ll ever take, but in most food photos I take when I do that, I go, Oh, that looks so much better. I like so, so much better. So I want to encourage you to play that and play with the other filters as well. Play with all of them. Even like rotating your pictures. It’s like obvious stuff.

Cropping the picture a little bit differently. It doesn’t always have to be a circle plate in the middle of the square photo. You know you can crop it off to the side, you could do something interesting with it, but there’s a lot of ways that you can use those filters. You always want the food to still look real. You know, we don’t want to like turn the whole photo like purple or do something super crazy to it. You want it to look like something you want to eat. That’s what my mother always told me about cooking. I would say mom is the chicken ready? And she would say, does it look like you want to eat it? Pretty much across the board that works. If it looks like you want to eat it, it’s done. If it looks like you want to eat it, then your photo is done.

So there’s some wisdom from my Italian mother straight to you and that is all for today. You guys, I hope you got a lot out of this little photography workshop and you can start playing with some of the tips that we talked about. You can tag me, tag me @healthcoachpowercommunity on Instagram so I can take a look at the photos that have come out of this session. And remember, if you want to get those photos on Instagram and actually start finding clients, be sure to join us for how to make Instagram work for your health coaching business. And you can sign up for free at healthcoachpower.com/instagram. Until next week, keep asking great questions and I will keep answering them. I’ll see you soon.