Food blogger and cookbook author Sally O’Neil shares her top tricks to take amazing food pictures.
How long have you been food styling?
I started my food blog www.the-fit-foodie.com six years ago, but it was actually intended for my mum’s eyes only – a way of sharing recipes with her back in the UK. I began adding photos maybe six months in, taking them on my iPhone to show plating, but nothing else. Fast forward a few years and I bought a few boards from Bunnings and painted them up to use as backdrops. Now food styling and photography is my jam. Nothing gets me more excited than making a plate of food look beautiful, and telling its story.
Did you have any formal training in photography or styling?
No. In fact, I have no qualifications whatsoever. I think formal education in creative industry is somewhat overrated. If you have the skills to do what it is you love, I haven’t needed a piece of paper to validate that. Yet.
If so where or how did you learn?
I did buy a book some time ago called ‘Pixel to Plate’ which talks you through the basics of a camera and styling, but I’m more of a visual learner. YouTube tutorials have been my saviour! And practice… hours, upon hours of getting it wrong will eventually teach you a few things on how to get it right. I’m still very much learning though.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever done or seen in a food shoot?
Putting newspaper under a salad to make it look more ‘full’ in a deep bowl. When you run out of salad, apparently it makes a good substitute!
What’s your favourite food to shoot?
Probably smoothie bowls – they’re made in a few minutes (I usually create the food too!) and always look so pretty – with thousands of variations. More often than not, I get to eat the leftovers too. It’s a win-win.
Is there any food that’s notoriously difficult to work with?
Anything that’s been stewed or mixed together in say, a stir-fry. When lots of elements are all squished together, it looks really confused on the plate. I often de-construct those kind of dishes to show people whats in the recipe.
What’s the proudest project you’ve ever worked on?
It has to be my own cookbook – Love Move Eat that was released in March. I really had to improve my photography game pretty quickly to shoot 72 recipes in 4 weeks. I was worried every image would start to look the same, so I meticulously planned how I wanted each image to look the night before and laid out the sets. There was only one recipe we cut in the end, which I was so proud of. Given I’m not a pro photographer, I was so happy with the result. Couldn’t be prouder that I wrote, cooked, styled and shot the entire thing myself!
What do you shoot with?
I shoot with a Canon 5D MarkIII, which sounds very fancy. It’s at the more professional end of the camera scale for sure, but when I started out I bought a pre-loved canon 60D on eBay. I only swopped when I had to shoot my cookbook last year. Lenses are what really make or break a great photo, especially with food. I use a Sigma 50mm Prime 1.4 lens. In saying that, the ‘portrait’ feature on new iPhones is incredible – it creates that beautiful blur in the background (called depth of field).
Are there any apps you’d recommend for those of us who just use the humble iPhone?
YES! Quite often I take shots with my camera and then send them to my phone for editing. I use ColorStory to add filters and really control colour balance, and then use FaceTune to create beautiful whites (with the toothbrush feature!).
What advice would you give to those budding food stylists/photographers out there?
Start a Pinterest board of your favourite food photos. Note what you love about them, and even try to emulate their composition in your next picture. Once you get the hang of it and feel inspired, you’ll develop your very own style.
What are your top tips for making your food look ‘instagrammable’?
Edible flowers make pretty much any dish look amazing! Always shoot in natural light, and be aware of the plates and bowls you use – they can make or break a beautiful picture. I invested in a lot of beautiful hand-made ceramics from a local potter, but there are plenty of organic-shaped bowls and plates available commercially.
A version of this article first appeared on www.movenourishbelieve.com.