Note: I’m neither a professional food photographer nor a particularly good amateurish photographer but I’ve learnt something along my journey to get my photos accepted by Foodgawker and I believe that sharing a few tips would be no harm to you.
OK. Let’s start.
This is not a post about Food Photography nor a Lightroom tutorial. This is just about how I manage to get my recipes published on the most popular website allowing visual search and discovery of new recipes. I assume you already know what Foodgawker is (essentially a curated photo gallery of recipes) and how useful it can be to food bloggers who want to drive traffic to their posts.
Have you been trying to take advantage of the visibility this website offers and got your beautiful recipe rejected? This post is for you, then. I myself had quite a few recipes rejected before I realized I had to adapt my food photography to some “Foodgawker standards”. I put some thoughts and a little effort in making my pictures Foodgawker worthy and in return my acceptance rate raised from 10% to 100% and my traffic increased (Foodgawker is now one of my 10 best sources of traffic). Provided that Foodgawker only accepts original recipes and that the submitted image must appear in your blog post, here are my tips on how to be successful with your submission.
1) Make sure your food is appropriately lit
Photography is the art of light; learn how to master it and you will avoid blurry and noisy pictures Foodgawker is likely to reject. Unless you own and know how to use studio lighting equipment (flashes, umbrellas, reflectors, etc), you should use natural light for food photography and never (NEVER) the built-in flash of your camera. You might already know these two fundamental points:
- Shoot the food during the day, either by a big window or outside;
- Do not put your dish under direct sunlight (you’ll end up with harsh shadow, otherwise).
I use natural light which makes everything more difficult and variable. How do I cope with “dark” days? I found post processing overexposure to be affecting the quality of my image negatively: the command Brightness (which you can find in any free image processing program) make it brighter at the expenses of the contrast. Foodgawker loves high contrasted and crispy images. What if I use the Contrast slider? Again, I often end up with a weird artificial effect where large areas of the highlights are too “shiny” and shadows are way too “black”.
The only way not to lose contrast is having proper exposure. This is why extremely cloudy days are my enemies. By using programs like Lightroom and Photoshop I can improve my photography but never make up for a “bad” picture. Before shooting, I can always increase the ISO. However, if my subject is not sufficiently lit anything above 800 would add noticeable noise and make pictures grainy. Also, I can “slow down” the shutter speed bearing in mind that values less than 1/60 would require the use of a tripod. I blog happily and thoughtless when the sky is blue or not fully overcast.
2) Use a Photo Editing Software
Post-processing is still important and not as tedious as it might seem at first. If you have taken a good picture under the appropriate light exposure, taking advantage of a good photo processor such as Lightroom will provide you with sharper and better contrasted images. I’m not speaking about applying drastic changes or adding a surrealistic, edgy look to your images. I do not advocate using Lightroom for drastic pic editing (Photoshop would be a more appropriate tool in this case). Foodgawker showcases pictures that look natural, without borders, graphic elements and filters that can detract from the subject.
While I can find wonderful examples of significantly post-processed photography online, I like to keep things simple to make sure the observer knows what the real focus of my photography is. Food, that is. Have I already said that FoodGawker doesn’t like artistic/gloomy pictures? I’m pretty sure many beautiful images were rejected due to over-processing. For all these reasons in most of my pictures I just slightly increase the shadows (from +10 to +30) , clarity and vibrance levels (see the side panel in the image below).
When the image appears darker than expected and/or with a blueish look (a sign of wrong white balance) like in the shot of Giant Whole Wheat CousCous Salad below, more work is needed. In this case I apply a slight HDR effect to my photography. Well, not a real HDR (High Dynamic Range) technique but only the post processing adjustment of some of the Lightroom sliders in the Develop module.
In the picture below, I increased the exposure a little (very little!), decreased the highlights (-80) and blacks (-20), added some contrast (+20), shadows (+80) and whites (+40). When the background of a not so bright image is white, it makes sense to increase the whites and decrease the blacks rather than adjusting the exposure (increasing which usually results in poor contrast). I also never forget to play with the sliders in the sharpening area. The tool “Amount” controls how much sharpening is applied to the image (between 40 and 60 for most of my pics).
Other typical sharpening values are radius=1.5, details=40, masking=50, and luminance=40. Even though these values result in different effects on different images, I suggest you to use them to create a preset (check online tutorials on how to create Lightroom presets). You will be able to apply a HDR-like effect in one click that will serve as a good starting point to work out other adjustments, if needed.
3) Stand a little further away from your food and don’t forget the “square”
This is crucial. I could not submit many of my recipes to FoodGawker because of a too tight composition (close-up). Remember that Foodgawker only accepts square images that are 550×550 pixels, so if you stand too close, you might not be able to crop a square out of your image. My Nikon D5000 allows me to get 4,288 x 2,848 pixels large images. A rectangle, that is. I need to set up the composition and place the camera at a distance from the food so that my dish fits in a square. This is easily achieved when shooting food from above, like in the case of the Glazed Butternut Squash in Thai Peanut Butter Sauce pictured below.
Once I’ve got my rectangle with the dish fitting in a square, I just export the image with the right dimensions (at least 1000 pixels for the long edge to maintain a high resolution). Since Foodgawker added a built-in tool for cropping images uploaded by the users, I don’t use the tool highlighted by the red arrow below.
Have you noticed the blue arrow in the Tone Curve section? When I feel my presets are too “invasive” I just change the Tone Curve in the way described by Irvin of Eat the Love. Essentially, I adjust the tones by “bending” the straight line like in the image below.
As I’ve already said, shooting from above is relatively easy, especially if you keep your table/background uncluttered. You can’t go wrong with a plain white surface or painted plywood to support your food. More challenging but also more interesting, since they add depth and character, are those shots taken at an angle smaller than 90 degrees. In this case, the attention shifts from the table to the background, which you need to “control” somehow (has anybody written a book about “food photography backdrops”?). Again, keep it simple by placing only few elements in the frame (no cabinets nor counter-top in the background).
The angle that will make your food look at its best depends on many things. As a rule of thumb, when you deal with food stacked like in the picture below, placing your camera such that it is at an angle of 10-30 from the horizontal table is a sensitive choice. Think about pancakes.
You might have noticed there is a too strong close-up going on in the picture on the left. This resulted in a too little space between the patty on top of the stack and the upper edge of the image (food should be equidistant from the sides). I am not sure why Foodgawker accepted my submission, things are that this image made my Ricotta Zucchini Cakes recipe a very popular one. While I am not a fan of close-ups I reckon they might work well for small bites. In any case, make sure the “context” is clear by including other objects other than the food itself (plate, glass, fork, etc).
4) Avoid a shallow depth of field
Foodgawker doesn’t like a very shallow depth of field where only a small portion of the image is sharp. I usually close the aperture of my camera (from f/3.2 to f/4.5, depending on the ambient light) to capture a deeper depth of field and thus keep most of the food in focus.
If nothing useful has come out of my tips, would you like to leave a comment or a tip for me? I would love to hear and learn from you! If this made you hungry for creating your own blog check my guide on how to start a food blog.