Food photo by Nabila Verushka
Do you photograph food for your blog on a regular (daily) basis? Well, if you do, we hope you made it out to our South Florida Bloggers Meetup in July when Libby Volgyes joined us for a session on food photography. Founder of Libby Vision, she began telling stories with food by creating a mood with every capture. Even with just an iPhone, Libby showed us some very easy tips on slight modifications that make a huge difference when working on snapping that picture perfect moment.
In food photography, Libby believes there are three ultimate goals:
- Create a photograph that is drool-worthy. Does it make you want to eat it? It’s very important that you analyze your picture before you post it or share it on other media outlets. More than just words, your picture should truly represent all parties involved. Ask yourself: is it in focus, and properly exposed? One other important tip that Libby shared is that everything in your picture should be clean and purposeful. Did you really mean to leave that fork in the shot? What about that napkin? Constantly analyze your photo for all those key elements.
- It should be storytelling. Is it a morning shot, evening, or a moment enjoyed with someone else? Another element that builds the story is the surface. Libby uses different surfaces to bring visual variety. There are wood blocks and other stones that are portable and can work for staging your food photograph. And just like a good story, you need to include some props. Some of these can include small pots, small silverware, linens, and especially deconstructed elements from the dish.
- We are salesmen. We are selling the food, restaurant or chef. All of these elements are important because your viewers trust you with their bellies.
Photo by Harmon Journey
Photographers are also very concerned with good light.
If you are a home chef sharing recipes on your blog, then natural light at home needs to be your best friend. Haven’t found it yet? Take a plate of fruit around every window in your house until you find the best lighting. Having this natural light in your photographs will make a world of difference. Try it out!
Photo by Diana Rodriguez
What if you are invited to a media dinner, and there is absolutely no natural light to use?
Libby shared some great advice on how to overcome this. For one thing, get there early and grab a seat with the best lighting. Second, learn how to manipulate your camera by playing with the exposure. Big no-no: FLASH! Here’s where you ask a foodie near you to shine their smart phone flashlight over the dish.
Photo by Munch Miami
Attendees also received complimentary food from Executive Chef Miguel Fernandez as he demonstrated how to create delicious Peruvian inspired dishes from Pisco y Nazca. And with quite a few foodies in the room, Libby took this opportunity to show us how to set up the plates and props for a storytelling photograph. Her words came to life as members of the South Florida Bloggers snapped pictures from every side of the room. Want to learn more? Libby offers intense photography workshops and the next one will be held on November 13 at The Social House in Lake Worth, FL.
Photo by Stacy Moya
Meetup Video Transcript July South Florida Bloggers Meetup
Paola: Welcome to the South Florida bloggers. For those of you attending the South Florida bloggers for the first time, what are the South Florida Bloggers? We’re a community of bloggers that support each other through kind collaboration.
And what does that mean? That means that we’re bloggers that help each other instead of seeing each other as competition.
And let me tell you, “I’m so proud of all of you guys!” because month after month, you come and show up on Saturday to learn about blogging and to keep improving and growing. And that’s what’s going to be the key to your success. I’m very proud of you.
And to start off on a positive note, do any of you want to share a recent win? Something really cool that happened to you that you’d like to share with us.
Audience 1: So I’m not a blogger. I’m a photographer for the blog. I’m very proud of Noyemi from Noyemi.co because we recently got reached out to by a brand to collaborate with them. So we’re pretty pumped about that. It’s the first one.
Paola: Of many hopefully. That is amazing! Congratulations!
Okay, I’ve got something to share too. I was interviewed on the radio this week. I have been so proud, I keep telling anyone who will listen. And that’s important, we have to celebrate our accomplishments.
Why You Need Stellar Food Photos For Your Blog or Instagram
Alright. Today, we’re going to talk about photography. And in our industry, it’s so visual, it’s super important to take very engaging photos. There’s so much content out on the internet. We want to do something that is so captivating that it will stand out from the rest.
When someone stumbles upon our images, we want them to hesitate, “Hey, what’s this? I want to find out more.” Today, we’re going to learn some tips about photography. And then once we’re done, we’re going to have a food demonstration. We’re going to eat some ceviche and a salmon salad.
About The Founder of The Blogger Union
My name is Paola Mendez. I’m the founder of the South Florida Bloggers and The Blogger Union. I also write a blog called, Coral Gables Love that talks all about the best things to do in Coral Gables.
But most importantly, I’m a resource for all of you guys. I want you all to be successful. So if I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. And also, this community is your community. The South Florida Bloggers exist because of each and every one of you. So if you have topics you want to learn about or any ideas, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Libby Volgyes Professional Photographer & Guest Speaker
Okay. Let’s get started. Let me introduce you to our speaker today. She was a photojournalist for the Palm Beach Post. She runs her own business and she shoots regularly for local restaurants, Boca Magazine, The Palm Beach Post, Florida Food & Farm, and Palm Beach Illustrated. Please give a warm to Libby Volgyes!
Libby: Thank you guys so much for having me here today. It is such a pleasure to be here and on the other side of the camera. So being in front of all these well-dressed and beautiful people is a little bit intimidating so be nice to me today.
Today, I’m going to talk to you about food photography. And I think this is something that is relevant, I hope, to most of you. So just so I get to know my audience a little bit. Who here currently has an active blog? Raise your hands up high. Be proud. Okay, great.
Okay, so my name is Libby Volgyes. I’m the owner and founder of Libby Vision. It’s a food photography studio based on West Palm Beach and servicing all of South Florida. I founded it 4 years ago after leaving the Palm Beach Post were I was a photojournalist for 7 years.
Now, that is important to me because I’m interested in not just photographing your food, but I’m interested in telling the food’s stories. Now how is that different than just a picture of a plated dish? I want to create a mood and a story and a narrative surrounding your food. And you’re going to keep hearing this throughout the next 20 minutes and I want to help you do that as well. I want to elicit a narrative surrounding your food.
In addition, I’m a big advocate for the farms. Eating locally, eating seasonally, I think it’s important and I’m addicted to coffee.
Three Ultimate Goals For Your Food Photographs
Okay. Let’s get started. Now when I think about food photography, I think that we have 3 ultimate goals.
- The first, maybe the most important, is creating a photograph that is drool-worthy. That is delicious. We use the word “food porn” a lot in our industry and there’s something to be said for that. When you look at the image, you want to be kind of salivating a little bit.
- Second of all, it should be story-telling. Is it a morning shot? Is it evening? Is it seductive?
Are you enjoying it with someone else? Is it your coffee shot?
What can you tell about the image or the chef or the dish beyond just it’s food on a plate.
- And third, we are selling something. Everyone in this room is selling something. You could be selling your blog to advertisers, to the person who reached out for the collaboration.I’m selling a product of what I do. I work with chefs. We’re selling them, this plate in a dish to come in and try this. Selling that baked goods, fast food, things like that. It could be a recipe for the food bloggers in this group. I created this recipe, come and try it! Trust me with this photo that it’s good to eat.But ultimately, everyone in here, we are selling our reputation. We are saying that we are a source, that we can be trusted, that our photograph reflects the knowledge that we have created and that you can trust us. And I think that’s really important.And bonus points if you can elicit an emotional response. We’ll get to that later.
Are Your Food Photos Drool-Worthy?
Going back to the first thing, ask yourself, “Is the photo delicious?”. So I know that were in the fast-paced world of social media where we have this urge to say, “I was here. I was at this restaurant. I got invited to this media dinner. I went out. I consumed a lot of food. I have this latte and this extravagant dish, look at it!”
And I understand that. It’s very, very easy to get swept away and get caught up in this. This is my get off the grass speech. I caution you to analyze your photos before you post them. So stop for a minute, stop for a beat and really look at it and say, “Is it delicious? Do you want to eat it? Do you have to eat it?” If you invited the chef to sit next to you and show him your picture that you just took, would you be really proud to show him?'Is it delicious? Do you want to eat it? Do you have to eat it?' #foodphotographyClick To Tweet
And I teach workshops in addition to everything else that I do and I got started teaching workshops because obviously they’re spending a lot of time on Instagram and looking in a lot of blogs. And I saw that so many bloggers have this raw passion for what they do and I love the passion. But they might not necessarily have the visuals to go along with it.
And they spend all this time crafting these beautiful sentences and they nailed the description every single time. And I was amazed by the words, and description, and the elements, and how they crafted it, and then I look at the picture. And it would be like a restaurant that I might represent or chef that I knew really well. And I look at the picture and was just horrified and I would be like, “Oh, the restaurant is serving cat vomit on a plate!”
And it was a really rough experience for me as a food photographer representing the restaurant. It’s a personal pride of the chef to see that the photo really did represent the chef. And it was heart-breaking for everyone involved and I know it’s probably heart-breaking for the blogger as well. And so that’s kind of why I’m here today is to try to help everyone to elevate their imagery.
And I know that you guys get invited to so many things and you make a point to go out to so many things and I think that’s amazing. But maybe rather than posting 10 photos from the same restaurant or maybe 9 of them don’t look that great, maybe just stop and ask yourself, really, really honestly ask yourself, “Do you want to eat it?” Like must you have that food in that image? Does the food look good? Does it really, really look good?
Is it flattering? Is it flattering to the restaurant? Is it flattering to the chef? Is it flattering to your Instagram feed? Is it flattering to your blog?
Does it make potential advertisers want to contact you to photograph for them? Does it showcase the chef and restaurant well? Is it flattering? Is it really, really flattering?
You know, we spend so much time analyzing pictures of ourselves, I admit it too, of course! Do I look fat? Does my face look good? Is my outfit on fleek? You turn that same attention on the look of a photograph. So that is my get off the grass speech. Now let’s get in to actually creating better imagery.
How To Take Better Images
Your Photo Needs To Be In Focus
You can’t be a good food photographer unless you’re a good photographer. So good photography 101: A good photo should be in focus, non-negotiable. If it’s not in focus, you can’t post it.
Your Photo Needs To Be Properly Exposed
It should be properly exposed. What do you mean by that? It is not too light, it is not too dark. And if you do take a photo that’s a little bit too dark, we have editing software where you can correct that. It might be enlightened in a Photoshop. You know, ask my DSLR pros out there, they might be just in Instagram or camera plus or snapseed but educating yourself and learning how to use those software can elevate your imagery as well.
Your Photo Needs To Be Clean
It should be clean. And I mean 2 things by this. I mean number 1, when you look at the plate that you’ve taken, the plate should be clean. If you were in the kitchen, you will see them clean each plate with a towel before the dish goes out. So the plate itself should be clean unless you’re going for a purposely messy look.
And number 2, your overall scene should be clean. It should be deliberate. Everything in there, you should have put in there in purpose and if it’s not, take it out.
Let’s look at some photos. So this is my favorite photo for talking about this is a good photo and a good food photo. So it’s properly exposed. It’s not too light and it’s not too dark. It’s clean. So yes, it’s covered in blood and that’s kind of the whole point of it. It’s in focus, it’s balanced. So yes, we have a bunch of fish heads up here and that’s balanced out down here by the one the little fish head down here.
And then it’s telling a story. It’s also shot in beautiful light. You’re going to hear me say this the whole time, the number 1 thing all of could do to improve your photos is to work in beautiful light. So I was working in a restaurant in South Beach, the fish delivery for the day, blogged it down in the middle of the restaurant, I recognized that this is beautiful and took it over at the window, photographed 15 frames until the chef took it away from me. But this is like working in beautiful light and working compositionally and having mastered the basics of part.
So this is a very, very different photo. And it also all the elements I was talking about. It is a dark photo but it is properly exposed. I know those really dark on the screen, even darker. But it’s not too dark, it’s just my style. It tells a story. It’s shot in beautiful window light. The window’s right here. So you’ll see the light coming in and hitting the pears. It’s purposeful. I can’t tell you how many times I placed that carrot and how long it took for me to find the perfect pear. You can see a little leaf right there. There’s one pear with a little leaf on it. But that’s my pear.
And so the purpose bonus of it and the purpose bonus of the pear is in that bowl. There’s a vase right there, later on you can see the flowers. So it tells a story, the purpose bonus of it all.
And the same thing with this one, too. And the one of the hallmarks of my photography is the messiness. So you could say, “Oh it’s not clean” but that’s kind of the whole point of it.
3 Tips To Elevate Your Food Photography At Home
I’m going to give you 3 tips to elevate your food photography at home. Do you guys shoot a lot at home? Yes. Good!
Find Interesting Surfaces To Shoot On
Number 1, find interesting surfaces to shoot on. It took me a long time to figure this out. I’m a little furious to tell you that. If you spend a lot of time looking at blogs online, you would think that every food photographer has this marble and beautiful light coming in to their kitchen. It’s a complete lie.
I have a really dark, ugly granite and window light in my kitchen. But I do have this beautiful 2 by 2 frame marble slab that handles beautifully in images. And it’s like 80 pounds and I carry it around. This is a cloth of denim that I bought at Julian’s and it was 10 bucks and I have a whole bunch of different cloths that I got a Julian’s for different photo shoots and there are interesting surfaces.
I’m also a big fan of incorporating greenery into my photo shoots.
And then of course, this is very, very popular. The faint wood table top! Mine is about 2 by 3. I have been handyman build this. He ripped the fence out of his backyard because I wanted it to look faded and rustic. But these are very mobile. I take mine on photo shoots. You guys might not have to.
But what I’m getting to is how a lot of different surfaces that I photograph on and it kind of gives you some visual variety. You don’t necessarily need that. If you find 1 surface that works for you, that isn’t your kitchen counter like my gross granite kitchen counter. Okay. So that’s the first step.
Find Interesting Photo Props To Tell Your Story
Number 2, find interesting props to kind of tell your story. So going into this picture, so we have the wood table top. And then you have all the things behind. The salt pouring out of the bowl, you have the milk jar, you have the cilantro or whatever herb that you use, you have the linens. And all those kind of work together to create the story.
Yeah, props can help add story telling elements in the pictures. And I really like to size down when I work with the props. So they have the choice between the salad plate or the giant plate. I always go for the salad plate. They just kind of fit with food a little bit better. Like pinch pots, really strange bowls, even silverware. If you’ve noticed a trend in restaurants is your really big utensils. I hate that. I really like to take my own silverware to photo shoots. I use really, really small silverware. I add in there linens, and napkins. Jars, I trolled eBay and Etsy a lot.
And just like your fashion sense, I find that props really changes and evolves with you as a photographer. So when I started my business 4 years ago, I was just buying everything because I thought I needed that. And about 8 months ago, I kind miniatured my closet. I was getting rid of a ton of stuff I didn’t really use anymore and I really did find a lot of similarities with your passion for clearer process. You’re going to go through stages.
And now, I’m at the point where I best invest in pieces that are super expensive and it’s ridiculous. But I don’t buy anything unless it really, really, really speaks to me. So now in my closet, I have greys and blacks and blues. Like lots of colors of the sea. And I buy plates that are 40 dollars, that are hand-drawn and I just invest in quality things that I really love if you’re going to figure out what makes sense for you and your brand.
So this is for a story for thanksgiving program. And obviously the star of the show is the corn bread. The green, the deconstructed elements of the sea help tell more of the story as well as the linens. And my favorite part about this picture is the acorns kind of thrown around.
So this is shot on marble. This is for a commercial bakery with sort of some wind mills obviously. And then we just kind of threw in the vintage elements. And they should make sense.
I always ask my clients to think of the branded words that represent them and they are surprised by this. But it gets me, I’m like, “You don’t know what represents you? You don’t know if you’re modern, or you’re vintage, or you’re clean, or if you’re organic?” And I feel like all of you should know whereas to fit your brand. And so I was interested that clients haven’t thought about this.
But thinking about vintage, like you’re a listed in a very vintage scene. You know it’s not like it’s bright and it’s not modern at all. But all of those elements should work together. So, this obviously requires a lot of experimentation on the proper placements. So be deliberate and careful. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. I’ve sold my favorite pictures are things that just kind of thrown around and it actually works. But it’s an investment on your time as well and I understand that.
Always Photograph in Good Lighting
So like I was saying, the number 1 thing you can do if you remember nothing else from this, photograph in good light. And for me, that always means photographing near a window. I tell people to go on a light hunt in their house, especially if you’re photographing a lot in your house. So like fill a basket with fresh beans and take it throughout every room in your house, put it by the window and take a picture. Make sure you know what to switch and let’s see where you like the light of this. East lights can be different from South light, different than North light. And then change the seasons as well. It just seems really like it.
And I just show this picture because it is such an easy photo to take. Everyone in this room could do it. It’s natural light, it’s a black background, fresh vegetables. And this is a little heavy laid more on craft but it’s the same thing. It’s a plate of sprouts in natural light.
Create an Emotional Connection With Your Photos
I have a friend who’s a caterer and I stepped in his place one day and I noticed this light coming it. And it is like the sickest, craziest light I’ve seen and I was so excited by it.
But this is like a very, very simple picture. It’s a macro lens, just getting very close up just photographed in beautiful light. So you can see the difference between this picture and the heavily cropped pictures. I think this picture is beautiful. I’m happy that I photographed it. I’m happy for him that I photographed it because he has his first collateral. But to me, this doesn’t do anything for me. This is a nice product photo. I did my job well but it doesn’t elicit on the emotional response. Whereas the photographs I would show with the heavy props, those to me have an emotional response.
And even this one, even though it’s a little bit more straight on, this has an emotional response. You know the curve, the custard skillet, you noticed taken a minute that you did not make it cooking. So there is more story telling involved, like I feel something when I look at this.
And I think for me, that’s sort of the ultimate goal in photography whether it is working in the newspaper, I did landscape photography when I go on vacation. I don’t photograph food. I am also looking for that emotional connection, that emotional response.
Taking Great Photos During Media Dinners for Bloggers or Influencers
Okay now this is what a lot of you guys want to talk about. This is what’s hard.
So number 1, if you go to dinner with me at 8 o’clock at night, you won’t see me take out my phone. It just doesn’t happen. And it’s funny because everyone else will and I’m just sitting there, “Can we eat now?” I’m very protective of my brand. I’m very protective with my vision and preserving my Instagram account. And I don’t take pictures where I know I’m not going to be successful.
So going out to eat at 8 o’clock at night in the middle of a dark restaurant, I’m not going to take pictures. I’m not going to be taking a quality photograph. If I can take all my lights and set up a photo shoot in the middle of the restaurant, sure it’ll be nice to have that. But it’s going to be really hard in that situation. So just for taking it at a restaurant, go with one shot.
If you’re writing about the restaurant and it’s open at lunch, why wouldn’t you. You’re going to have a hundred times better photos. Go at lunch. Or sit next to the window, order whatever you want. Just try it once for me. Just try the difference between going in lunch and dinner and see what the result is.
But if you are going to a media dinner and you have to go at night and you have to get something out of this, my biggest suggestion is learning how to manipulate your camera and learning how to really, really use it. So you can control exposure within the iPhone. I expect everyone here knows how to do that?
I highly recommend turning off your flash. There is very, very few instances unless you have a DSLR and an external flash. It bounces of the wall or bounces of the ceiling and slow the shutter down. And then, we’re talking about situations where you can create some photos in that scenario.
You can also have someone else turn on the flashlight on their iPhone and give you a little bit of light. So that’s one situation you can work with.
The Power of Styled Flatlay Photos
Are you a big fan of overheads? I kind of like call them flat lays. So if you have to take photos, like kind of setting up the scene overhead and kind of working that angle. This kind of goes what all those philosophies are saying, go at lunch time, get some props, go by the window.
But work in odd numbers rather than even numbers when working props. Go ahead try it. It just makes everything look better. Trust me on this.
So this is what I kind of call the flat lays. So this isn’t a great example of it, but I want you to kind of imagine if you had a person seated in front of each plate. And then bring in their hands. And then you’re telling a story.
Now, I noticed a shot with a really beautiful light so I went at lunch time. But even if this is shot at a really dark scenario, you’d be telling a story and you’d be creating a photograph even if you’re at a restaurant in the night time. So that’s one thing that you guys could do.
You Should Use Post Processing Software On Your Photos
So I think you guys would probably know all of this. I highly recommend post processing software. Whether it’s VSCO, I like the S2 filter on VSCO. I don’t like to go crazy on my filters, by the way. Camera Plus has good editing software or you can even edit your photos within Instagram.
I was surprised the number of people who don’t edit within Instagram. You should be drilling down within Instagram. You should be working with brightness and bringing out the shadows and sharpening the heck out of that. Because everytime you go into Instagram, whether you’re taking profiles or whatever, the sharpness degrades. And you should be adjusting these glitches like learning how to adjust those images within Instagram.
And I can give you my formula but I don’t know, it changes for everyone. So you just have 3 minutes in on each image. Like really working the settings within that. Your image quality will improve greatly and you’ll see an instant effect within that.
When Taking Food Photos Zoom With Your Feet
And lastly, one of my favorite things to say is zoom with your feet. So I’m going set a common point.
Even with your DSLR, don’t necessarily zoom with the zoom function, like literally walk with your feet. It’ll improve your photography in general.
I know it can be super technical and super overwhelming, the ultimate goal of every photograph we take, we want to elicit the emotional response to our viewer. So try to make them feel something by your photograph.
And it sounds really corny and I’m probably really regret saying this, but I know that I took a good photograph when my heart skips a beat. When I’m concentrating for an afternoon and trying really, really hard to get a great photograph, my heart just jumps a little bit and I feel exhausted afterwards. I hope you guys could feel this too a little bit. And I hope you could just kind of dive in into the world of photography and keep yourself lowered to it a little bit because it will love you right back.
Like a said, I do workshops. And my next workshop is next Sunday after my work. I know it’s kind of a drive but if you’d like to come, we’re going to do this for 2 hours straight. We’re going to be hands on working together. We’re going to be styling together. It’s going to be great! There’s more information at Libbyvision.com/workshop and what questions do you have for me? Do I have time for questions?
Okay. Questions, let’s go!
Audience 6: What type of camera do you use?
Libby: I use a Cannon 5DSR and it’s specifically made for working in the studio. So you can’t get to high in the ISO. So you keep it to a low ISO and it’s like the 50 meg file.
When I started my own business, I used the Cannon 7D. Love it! It’s a great camera! It’s not full frame, but it’s very good.
Paola: Alright thank you so much, Libby for sharing all your photography tips with us.
So we’re about to switch gears to do the food demonstration. We have 5 few chapter officers for the South Florida Bloggers. And I want to introduce them to all of you because they’re going to be a point of contact. For example, if you came to the meetup and you don’t know anybody, you can go up to them and ask them to introduce you to someone in your niche. If you have any feedback for us, any ideas for things that we could do to make the chapter better, you can go up to them and talk to them.
And each one of them has their own project that is going to make us collaborate more so stay tuned for that. So let’s get started.
Chapter Officer Mei Jorge
Our first chapter officer is Mei Jorge. She’s a fashion and lifestyle blogger and you can find her on blameitonmei.com.
Chapter Officer Diana Rodriguez
Our second chapter officer is none other than Diana. She is a food and inspirational blogger. You can find her blog at livingthirtythree.com. And she comes with her own mini chapter officer, that’s Gaby the Pomeranian of the chapter.
Chapter Officer Ana Marino
Ana Marino, she is a fashion blogger and you can reach her at modaddicted.com.
Chapter Officer Kimberly Pfaehler
And then Kimberly Pfaehler. She’s our photographer and running our Instagram today. You can find her at Oh-Lola.com. Talk to her if you want to be featured on our Instagram feed.
Chapter Officer Liege Olmos
And finally, here is Liege Olmos. She is a lifestyle blogger and she runs itsuptomeblog.com and if you want to be on facebook live, go talk to her.
Thank You South Florida Bloggers Volunteers, Sponsors & Members!
I just want to thank all our volunteers that help us run our Facebook group and try to keep everyone’s blog and Instagram engaged. It really is because of all of your help that we’re able to pull all of this off. So thank you so much!
And if you want to be a volunteer, you can let any of these ladies know and we’ll get you signed up.
Alrighty! So thank you Macy’s for having us. This is a great space with a demo kitchen. And we’re about to eat really cool yum yums from Peruvian Restaurant Pisco y Nazca. They have 2 locations, Doral and Kendall.
So we’re about to switch gears. Chef Miguel is going to be doing some demonstrations for us. You guys who are sitting in the back, you can go ahead and move forward. And thank you so much for coming to the July South Florida Bloggers Meetup!