Behind The (Blogging) Curtain

Photographing holiday cocktails…on my bed. Of course.

(Recipe coming soon!)

Whenever I see bloggers post their beautifully framed shots of food or their jeans arranged just-so against white bedsheets on Instagram or wherever, I like to imagine what the scene *really* looked like when they were shooting it. Especially the food shots, because you know that they’re literally standing up on a chair in a restaurant to get that perfect top-down angle – but really: it’s interesting to imagine pulling back on just about any photo.

Because we all know that life doesn’t arrange itself quite as neatly as some of those pretty images makes it seem, and that just outside the borders of the picture is the stuff that’s really going on: a pile of laundry in the corner; a baby tossing Cheerios onto the floor over and over and over; a dust bunny or six (damn dust bunnies).

That’s not to say that these images are bad or wrong or “lies” (unless the person is actually insisting that their IRL-life looks that perfect, in which case yes: lying); just that it’s a good thing to remember when you’re feeling bad that your kitchen counter isn’t a perfect, pristine shade of white and accessorized with a vase of stunningly arranged flowers. Mine isn’t, either. I don’t even have a white countertop; what I have is a white piece of cardboard that says “ALAMO” on the other side (in its former life, it was a poster sent over for a party I threw last summer); I use it as a background for shots because it bounces the light back onto my subject in a really nice way.

And about that light: it’s best in my bedroom, so when you see pictures of prettily lit pies or accessories with, like, glitter and hazelnuts scattered around them, please be sure to picture the ridiculous scene that is actually taking place, which involves me standing on tiptoe on top of my comforter and trying not to tumble over onto the very precariously arranged scene below me.

Just so you know.

Photographing flowers against a white background

Another thing you don’t typically see in my photos that you would see were the frame to be pulled out slightly: my helper. It makes sense, given how much his mama wanders around with a camera in her hand, that Indy wants to try taking pictures himself, but it still floors me, the extent of his interest. He doesn’t just want to take a turn holding the camera (although he does that too, every time he can); he wants to help me arrange the set. He’s hardly, like, trading in his Legos for lighting equipment – he’s four years old; let’s not get crazy – but still: watching him perching on the bed next to me, occasionally reaching into the scene to change the orientation of the plates or reposition a flower petal, then stepping back and saying “yeah, yeah, that’s good”…it made my heart feel like it was going to burst out of my chest.

Red, yellow and pink flowers on a white background

How To: Photograph Products And Food (or How I Photograph Products And Food, In Any Case)

Now let’s end this ramble with some tips, because blogging tips are always fun (for me, anyway). It took me a long, long time to find a style of food and product photography that I was happy with, so if you like the effect I have going here, here’s how you can recreate it yourself:

1. Find Your Light. I’ve found that the best light in our home is in our bedroom, because it gets strong (but indirect) light from two large windows all day long. To find the best lighting in your place, just play around – carry an object from room to room and shoot it in different places, from different angles, until you find a few really great spots that work.

2. Create A Clean Background. While I always appreciate a nice rustic backdrop (and use our reclaimed wood dining room table a lot), I love the clean vibe of white negative space. It creates such a fresh, pretty image, and puts the focus right smack on your subject. So my advice: pick up a large flat, white surface that you can move around as needed. It can be cardboard, wood, plastic, whatever, but try to make sure it has a smooth finish – the one I use has some faint striations on it, which are kind of a pain and occasionally require some light editing.

3. Select Good Props. I used to just use whatever I had laying around to create a setting for a product or food shot, but I’ve found that putting a little forethought into the surrounding details goes a long way towards creating a finished effect. It takes more time to think through the details (and, in many cases, run out to the grocery store or to Homegoods to purchase them), but it’s worth it. Here, for example, I wanted to have an autumnal vibe – hence the woodsy bouquet – but also wanted to pick up on the color of the drink by including pops of that same pink (the grapefruit, the pink roses), so I selected my props with that in mind. And adding a little pop of green is always a good idea; for whatever reason, it seems to make photos come instantly alive.

4. Create Depth. If you have a zoom lens, try this trick: stand the appropriate distance away from your subject so that you can zoom all the way in and still have the framing you want. I know next-to-nothing about photography, but I’ve found that this technique creates the awesome depth of field (with that blurred-out background and sharp focus on the subject) you see here. (So does a 50mm lens, but if you’re only going to invest in one lens a 50mm fixed lens is a lot more limiting than a good-quality zoom lens.)

5. Take Some Time To Edit. I own Photoshop, but still haven’t been able to force myself to sit down and watch a freaking YouTube tutorial (zzzzzzzzz can’t do it), so I do all my editing on the Photos application on my computer. It’s pretty basic, but whatever: it works for me. What I typically do is add a Chrome filter that brightens the colors and whitens the whites, and then dial up the exposure a touch to create a slightly blown-out effect that I personally gravitate towards (but you should play around with exposure, saturation and filters to find an effect that you think suits the vibe of your own site).

And there you go: what blogging really looks like, IRL.


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