Skill-Building in Isolation: A Few Things I Learned about Editing Food Photos During the COVID-19 Pandemic

When I first started this blog, the pictures were hardly ever very good. Sometimes they were not awful, but often they truly were awful, though I was earnest and sincere while devoted to making sure I stayed within the bounds of a hobby rather than a serious pursuit. I had a dissertation to write, after all.

Over time, I have learned things about taking photos that make the process a lot more fun for me, because the end product is better, even if they don't take that much more time or effort. First, leave the flash off. Second, it's typically best to take photos in my kitchen's bay window, even if I have to block out some of the light with a piece of white foam core to avoid harsh shadows. Natural light generally works best. (This would not have been an option in the apartment where this all started, where I took all the photos in a windowless kitchen, but do what you can, I suppose?) Third, you don't need a really fancy camera, but having one with macro focus is key to making sure your close-up photos are crisp. (Seriously, my camera is not that fancy. People who have seen it are known to laugh.) Fourth, you can get a lot of mileage out of some very basic photo backdrops easily found online. (I'm in love with my photo backdrops. They're the best pandemic purchase I have made, probably, though they're in competition with the pajamas I bought for my birthday.)

But the biggest thing I learned is that a bit of attention to editing is the key to getting photos I'm truly pleased to show you. This doesn't have to be expensive. I don't use Photoshop at home, although I do at work. Instead, I use Corel PaintShop Pro, which unlike Photoshop is not subscription-based, and I got it on sale for $40. It does what I need it to do. And here is an example, which you'll see coming up soon in a breakfast compilation (in which I'll tell you what this lovely porridge was!). My original photo wasn't terrible, but it wasn't ready for prime time.

Some changes are obvious. One needs to crop it to remove the wood behind the backdrop, center the bowl in the photo, and perhaps straighten it so the lines in the backdrop faux wood grain are more vertical. In some cases, if my camera angle is wrong, I may use the software to slightly adjust the perspective of the photo.

The less obvious changes this needed were to adjust the white balance (I try to have something white in my dishes to pick out for helping with this process), as well as a number of other small tweaks that, fortunately, the software will usually suggest to me. I don't always take the software's suggestions, however, and I'm getting better at knowing what a given photo needs. Food photography is, for lack of any better terms, gentler than a lot of other photography might be. So this photo needed to have the saturation dialed up just a bit (don't crank that up too high or it won't look like real food), the focus slightly sharpened (not too much--what this does is to deepen shadows to make things pop out a bit more), mildly blacken the blacks and whiten the whites, and give it a touch more brightness overall.

In this way, your experience of looking at my food online is, in my opinion, much closer to what the experience is like in real life. Cameras try to mimic our eyes, but they are not our eyes. They often need help to capture an image in a way that looks true to life. So I help mine out a bit.

I'm still learning and it definitely helps that my actual paying job involves making images look better on the internet, but I think I've learned the most about this from blogging my food during this pandemic. Have you picked up any new skills, or honed any old skills, while we've all spent so much time inside?

As for the porridge, I'll tell you about it--and nine other new breakfast ideas--tomorrow.


  1. This is cool! I use my phone camera for all my photos now, and it has a food setting that sometimes is awesome with colours and sometimes makes the colours too dramatic. I am looking at getting a new phone soon, and with that will come a better camera.

    1. My phone has a camera, which I never use! But that's more a commentary on my phone than phone cameras in general. My camera itself also has settings you can use to make things more vivid. They sometimes work and sometimes don't. But I really like being able to have as much control as I have with software.

  2. Do you have a recommendation for where to get photo backdrops?

    1. You can use a lot of things--including place mats and cutting boards!--but if you want to buy dedicated photo backdrops, Etsy has a lot of options.

    2. Here is something similar to mine:


Post a Comment

Popular Posts