Confessions Of A Food Photographer

Photo: Courtesy of A Beautiful Mess.
By Emma Chapman

Did you know that in a few short weeks I'll be celebrating five years of food blogging? Sometimes, when you hit milestones it's fun to take a look back and remember how far you've traveled. So, in honor of five years of cooking, eating, learning, and photographing my food like a weirdo, I thought I'd put together a little mini tour of how my food photography has grown and evolved over the years.

It has been quite the journey, and I've learned tons along the way. As I look through these photos, two things stick out in my mind. Do you remember my article about 5 secrets to success? Well, one of my tips was, don't wait for perfection. As you can see, when it comes to food blogging, I did not. Ha! I was passionate about it, and I just went for it. And, although many of these photos sort of embarrass me now, I'm so glad I didn't wait on perfection, and I just took the leap! I would not be where I am today if I hadn't.

Another tip I shared was to start now. When I started food blogging I had a very old hand-me-down DSLR camera, I had a TINY kitchen I shared with two roommates, I didn't have any fancy dishes or food styling props, I was not by any stretch of the imagination a pro chef, and my grocery budget was somewhere around $150 a month. I had a million reasons not to start food blogging right then. But, again, I did anyway and I am so glad I did. 

Okay, so without further ado, let's see how far I've come in this wonderful and exciting world of food photography.

Related: 5 Tips For Food Photography

Here we are in 2009. I was living in the heart of Hollywood, CA. I actually remember eating all of these dishes. That cauliflower curry number in the bottom right side, although not a great photo, was super delicious. I've also always loved no-bake cookies (top right), and still use the exact same recipe from this post to this day. 

I also remember I was checking out every single cookbook my local library had. I was obsessed!

Honestly, the photos from this period aren't that bad. I knew to always find the best light. I can tell I took all these photos near a window during the day. So, no crazy dark night photography here. I didn't really use Photoshop very much except to re-size images to fit on my blog. I didn't have a lot of ideas for food styling yet. But, you can tell I was trying, because I know I propped up that stuffed pepper to look just so. I can see the effort; all the pieces weren't quite there yet.  

Photo: Courtesy of A Beautiful Mess.
By 2010, I had already improved my cooking skills about 100%. I was beginning to develop my own style and taste too.

I can tell I was still finding the best light I could, and I was trying different angles, tilting things in the photos to try and give them an interesting perspective. I still wasn't using Photoshop very much. During this year I also moved back to Missouri and was living at my parents' house. I can always tell in the photos, because I can see my mom's cloth napkins and dishes that I was using. (Thank you for your support and taste testing over the years, Mom and Dad!)  

I liked 2011. It was a good year. I got a new camera! About halfway through the year I bought my house and had a whole new setup in my very own kitchen to work out of. I had gotten to a place where I felt really comfortable in the kitchen and began experimenting with more baking (lots of bread that year) and using all sorts of different flours. I should go back to that; it was a good time. 

My food styling looks to be improving. I can tell I was working hard to add color, patterns, and just more dimension to my food styling. I had also made some improvements in my Photoshop skills and was practicing using my new camera lots. This was also the year I started doing more content on ABM, as opposed to just my own food blogs.   

Related: Tips For Using Natural Light In Still Life Photography

Photo: Courtesy of A Beautiful Mess.
In 2012 and 2013 I was doing more and more here on ABM and had really gotten a better feel for recipe development, styling, and photography. I think this is when it all finally clicked. I still was working on making the whole process consistent every time, but I guess in some ways I still am today.   

This was the year I had a big change: I upgraded my camera. Also, I started using the A Beautiful Mess actions in every photo, and they are SO good! I feel like I should be allowed to brag about them, since it was really Elsie and Sarah who developed them.

Any time you get a new device it takes a while to get used to the settings, so it was a good time to refresh and learn more in those areas. I'm also trying out different backgrounds and looking to give my photos different composition. I've been playing around with negative space and how it can add weight to an image.

Blah, blah, blah, art and stuff.

This article has been more about my journey rather than photography tips and tricks, but let me know in the comments if you'd like to learn some smartphone or DSLR techniques. Otherwise, nothing would please me more than to point out a few cooking, baking, and food photography heroes in my life. I've been devouring cookbooks and food blogs for many years now, and I've learned so much from this community.

Photo: Courtesy of A Beautiful Mess.

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