Photo Peas Classroom~ Food photography tips

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Posted 5/11/2010 by thevalerie in General Photography
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picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
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Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/11/2010 12:45:21 AM
Just a few tips from me. I don't profess to be some kind of crazy amazing food photographer, but I enjoy cooking a lot, and trying to make my food look pretty, and I enjoy taking photos, so it stands to reason that I would end up taking photos of food.

I think back to my own childhood, and I think of all the memories I have that are kind of hazy- or just not there. This is in the back of my mind a lot when I take photos of my kids' everyday lives, just little details, their toys, their activities, the things they make. I want them to have a picture of their childhoods to look back on, and what they eat is a big part of it. (It's a bigger to some than others- my Nicholas is a real little gourmand.)

So, anyway, I just want to share some tips that I use, some examples of food photos that I like, and am proud of, and I want to encourage everyone to take photos of your own food, especially things that you make that are special, or that are real standby's in your home. Write your recipes down (or type them) and pass these down to your kids. I think they'll be happy to have them when they are older.

My first tip is that anytime you make something special, or that took a lot of time, take photos of it! How cool will it be some day when your kids are talking about those cool cookies Mom sent to school for Halloween to be able to show them the photo.

Another tip is to start collecting some cool dishes or serving platters to use. I find a lot of cool plates and stuff at TJ Maxx. I also keep my eyes open after the holidays to get nice trays and things on clearance. JoAnn's and Michael's really mark their stuff down after the holidays. the Halloween plate above came from JoAnn's after Halloween, and I think I paid $2 for it.

My challenge to myself for this summer is to see if I can find some cool, vintagey looking stuff at yard sales or flea markets to use in food photos. I want some cool looking old silverware.

One technique I use a lot is to open up my aperture and focus in one one food item, while using more of the same food item and/or ingredients from the recipe in the blurred background.

Get close to the food.

Arrange things so they look cool. Try stacking cookies instead of piling them on a plate.

You can't really go wrong with cookies though. They look good piled on plates too.

Or just on the cooling rack.

I like food to be photographed in an appropriate setting, so I use my kitchen a lot, with a wide aperture to blur out the BG. (My kitchen looks a lot nicer with a little blur on it)

A word to the wise- be super careful photographing soups, stews, or anything that might be confused with a pile of regurge on a plate. If you are very conscious with your setup, you'll have no problems.

I used a round cookie cutter to help mold my rice into a perfect circle to hold this gingered beef.

You want to avoid anything that would end up looking like this:

If you have any friends who own restaurants, offer to take food photos for them, if you have an interest in food photography. My friend Charlie produced some amazing stuff for me to photograph, and he has used a lot of my photos on his websites and menus and stuff.

Having plenty of time, and plenty of space, and tons of natural light can also make a pretty huge difference in the kind of photos you can get. His restaurant was perfect for photos.

Here are some websites that have inspiring food photography

Pioneer Woman


La Tartine Gourmande

There are many other peas who take beautiful food photos too.

Anne- Paintedmoon's beautiful cake photos from her daughter's birthday party come to mind.

Celine- Redsie takes beautiful food photos and posts yummy recipes, too.

Barbie- In Focus makes me drool every time she makes chocolate covered strawberries.

I'm sure there are more peas who take beautiful food photos. My list is not all inclusive.Identify yourselves!!

If you take any food photos, please share them with us!

mama to 3 now!

PeaNut 305,846
March 2007
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Loc: Australia

Posted: 5/11/2010 12:55:24 AM
mmm yummy! Great class Val. I love the photos of your food. In reading this I wish I lived closer to my brother as he is a chef and then I could bug him

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PeaNut 15,356
May 2001
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Posted: 5/11/2010 5:23:11 AM
What a great lesson! I gotta tell ya it made me very hungry, I think I drooled Great pictures

My Gear: Nikon D300; Nikon D70s; 50mm 1.8; 85mm 1.8; 18-70 kit lens; 70-300mm; 80-200mm 2.8; Tamron 17-50mm 2.8; SB800 speedlight

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Molly C
PhotograPea Enabler

PeaNut 49,752
September 2002
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Posted: 5/11/2010 5:52:00 AM
What does it say about me that I think the first time I really "remembered" who you were is from your shrimp cocktail photo?

Okay, I really like this lesson, I actually suggested it way back when we were brainstorming ideas for this series.

But, can you tell me what kind of angles and lenses you use? I get the whole open up and get bokeh thing, but my 50 always seems to get way too much "stuff" in the background (unless you are cropping a lot in post) and my macro, which I think would be well suited this sort of thing, actually gets too close. And my 85 doesn't focus very close. I bet you are using your 50 on your crop body?

And how do you angle yourself, like for the stuff on the counters? Do you stand up on a step to get a bit higher than the counter? Mine always look so flat.

I do like the idea of collecting some pretty plates. And I actually do have a couple of sets of vintage-like silverware I could use. I need more platters anyway, so it would do double duty.


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PeaNut 286,202
December 2006
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Posted: 5/11/2010 7:02:57 AM
Crap, shouldn't have looked in here before breakfast.

Beautiful, Val!! I LOVE the way you're always sharing your food photos. You had already really inspired me to take more food photos, but mine never turn out as, um...appealing as yours do. So, thanks for doing the lesson---I can't wait to apply some of these tips. Except we're having taco soup tonight, and I'm thinkin' that one is probably on your 'don't' list!!

Like, Molly, I would like to know a bit more about the logistics of how you position yourself, etc. Seriously, mine just never look that good.


Nikon D700
50 mm 1.4
85 mm 1.8
Tamron 28-75 2.8

picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
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Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/11/2010 7:11:40 AM
I use my 50 pretty exclusively for food shots (and pretty much everything else too... lol), and it is on my crop sensor 40D.

If I want a shot looking straight down on my food, I use this super safe method. Place a stepstool on top of one of my dining room chairs, climb up, say a little prayer and start shooting.

As far as getting a lot of stuff in the background, when I shoot from the side of my counter, I get as close as I can with my camera, and don't usually end up having to crop much in post. I'm sure that's my crop sensor though. Molly, you'll just have to deal with the full frame hardship.

Also, the counter I usually use is actually a little rolling island thingie that is in the center of my kitchen, so there is enough space between it and anything around it to let things blur out pretty well, with a wide aperture.

picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
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Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/11/2010 7:15:53 AM

Except we're having taco soup tonight, and I'm thinkin' that one is probably on your 'don't' list!

Totally on the do list. Just make sure to put it in a nice bowl and if you're having any accoutrements, place them nearby. Cornbread, maybe? Or a dish of sour cream, and a nice spoon resting ont he side of your soup bowl. Shoot from the side and just slightly above, so that you get the side of the bowl, with the soup visible inside in your photo.

Taco soup, or any soup, really isn't the kind of thing you want to climb up on the chair and shoot from straight above. That's when you get the look.

picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
Posts: 19,396
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Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/11/2010 7:20:15 AM
Here is a soup photo example for you. Notice the angle, and the bread in the background.

I didn't share it initially because I'm embarrassed of the horrible green cast it has, and of the fact that despite that, I won TWO photo contests with it.


PeaNut 430,898
July 2009
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Posted: 5/11/2010 7:22:48 AM
Wonderful class. Thank you so much for sharing! I'd take pictures of my food if I could cook, but no one wants to remember the meatloaf I burned for the 6th time! Yours looks so yummy!!!


PeaNut 246,670
February 2006
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Posted: 5/11/2010 8:03:04 AM
Now I'm hungry! These are fabulous.


Nikon D90 | Nikon 85 mm f/1.8 | Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 | Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 | Tokina 12-24mm f/4 | Tamron 90 mm f/2.8 macro | SB-600 | PSE7 | JoTote!

Steph, the midnight crafter


PeaNut 216,945
July 2005
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Posted: 5/11/2010 8:12:13 AM

OK, this has been one of my favorite lessons so far, because I love looking at all that food! Beautiful shots!! My DH is a great coook and I love to take pics of his food, too. I really wish I had more natural light in my house though. I am also known to take photos of meals in restaurants, esp. on special occasions or when we are on vacation, etc. I am sure people think I am nuts!

I also love the idea of using vintage plates/silverware/etc. - I have lots of stuff that belonged to my grandparents that I will have to start incorporating into shots. Thanks so much for sharing!

Shauna P.G.
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PeaNut 232,321
November 2005
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Posted: 5/11/2010 8:14:57 AM
I don't post much but I just had to say that I've been waiting for May to get here as I've been anticipating this class ever since the Two Peas Classroom began! Thank you for your tips Valerie..... and your illustrations......ummmmmm, delectable!

Jamie S.

Brenda in TX

PeaNut 286,123
December 2006
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Loc: Deep in the heart of Texas

Posted: 5/11/2010 8:27:44 AM
Love this lesson! I find food photography very hard - I just never seem to get the right angles and my photos look very blah. I'm going to read and reread this - many thanks!!!!

~~Brenda in TX~~

D700 | D300 | 18-70mm | 50mm 1.8 | 24-120mm | 70-200mm 2.8 | 85mm 1.8 | 105mm 2.8 | 35mm 1.8 | Sigma 10-20mm | SB-800 | CS5

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PeaNut 365,669
March 2008
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Posted: 5/11/2010 9:13:53 AM
I was waiting for this lesson and you didn't disappoint!

I adore taking pictures of food, much to my families chagrin. Especially when I make them wait to eat or take pics in restaurants. One of the first "good" photos I took after getting my camera was of a sandwich...ham & swiss on rye.

I use my rolling kitchen island also. I love that I can move it around to help with stuff in the background or to get better light. I also have taken food downstairs to shoot on the my big white "farmer's" sink. Remember the pull back from my peeps baby shoot? That's the sink. The white makes a perfect backdrop and the light is good there. (sliding glass door to the left of the sink)

Well, I was going to share my sandwich shot, but I can't find it. I may have deleted becasue I had already did a scrapbook layout about it. It may be on the ehd. If I find it, I'll come back.

Thanks for a great lesson, Val!

Blessings, Rebecca

My gear:
Nikon D700-a dream come true
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Ancient Ancestor of Pea

PeaNut 150,843
June 2004
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Posted: 5/11/2010 9:15:25 AM
There are so many great tips in this lesson, and the food looks yummy!

Thank you for the compliment on the birthday cake/cupcake photos, but I'm a total food-photographer fraud LOL. That's the only time of the year I take food photos, and I always have to take a bunch of different ones from different angles because I have the hardest time "seeing" ahead of time which angle will look best, LOL.

Of course, then there's Barbie, who is busier shooting her food rather than eating it!

Great stuff here! Thanks for putting this lesson together.


PeaNut 405,632
January 2009
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Posted: 5/11/2010 9:52:58 AM
Thank you. Once I ransack the kitchen for something to munch on, I'll have to go back and read in more detail. Yum!


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PeaNut 39,805
June 2002
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Posted: 5/11/2010 10:12:16 AM
Oh, thank you, Val!!! This was amazing, and your pictures and your food are incredible. You make me want to eat everything in your post...and that's saying something for the shrimp cocktail!

You're awesome! Thanks again for doing this.


Life in Moments Photography Blog

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Ancient Ancestor of Pea

PeaNut 100,139
August 2003
Posts: 5,209
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Loc: Boston, MA

Posted: 5/11/2010 10:13:39 AM
Val, fantastic lesson!! I love all your shots and terrific ideas and tips for getting them. Especially the stool on the dining room chair. . .LOL!!

I have never done food photography, but now I can't wait to try it out!

Thank you!!!

~ Karen


PeaNut 270,684
July 2006
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Loc: Quebec

Posted: 5/11/2010 10:19:00 AM
Val - thanks for the lesson - love food photography!! And your pictures are making me soooo hungry right now!!! And thanks for mentioning me - I love photographing desserts (especially muffins and cupcakes) - just need to expand a bit!!


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PeaNut 254,107
March 2006
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Loc: Texas

Posted: 5/11/2010 11:06:20 AM
Oh, this was really neat to read! But darn you, I'm freaking hungry now. Thanks a lot.

That soup picture you added is a great example of the difference your angle makes.

Thanks for putting all this together! Now I'm off to rummage through my pantry.


PeaNut 335,445
September 2007
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Posted: 5/11/2010 11:30:00 AM
Thanks for the great lesson and the beautiful photos. I love to cook and bake, now to combine with photos.

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PeaNut 89,428
June 2003
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Posted: 5/11/2010 1:02:56 PM
Fabulous lesson!!!!! As I knew it would be!

I was so excited when you agreed to do this since I have admired your food photography for such a long time.

Thanks so much, Val!


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PeaNut 409,602
January 2009
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Posted: 5/11/2010 1:40:22 PM
What wonderful tips! Thanks, Val! This thread is enough to make a pregnant woman starving! Would you mind sharing what the font is in the tortellini soup photo?


My Gear -
Canon 50D
50mm 1.4
Tamron 28-75 2.8
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picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
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Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/11/2010 1:53:16 PM
Katie, I'm pretty sure it's either Susie's Hand, or Ali's Writing. I did it so long ago, I can't rememeber which i used- but they are essentially the same.

And listen, you guys. I will not be responsible for anyone climbing up on chairs with stepstools on them, so don't even try to hold me to it. Seriously, be careful. My husband just loves wandering out into the kitchen and seeing me perched precariously up on top of crap and still stretching myself up as high as I can, on my tiptoes, holding the camera to my face with one hand and holding the other arm out to balance myself.

Thanks for all the nice comments on my lesson. I'm such a charlatan here, compared to many-most, and it feels so nice to have you guys say nice things about my attempts.

picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
Posts: 19,396
Layouts: 491
Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/11/2010 1:58:34 PM
Oh, and I just thought of a cupcake tip i didn't mention. When you make cupcakes, after they come out of the oven and cool, put them in a second cupcake liner. It makes them look so much nicer!

You can use plain ones to bake them in, and then use cute colored or patterned ones to place them in after they cook. The unbaked liners will be nice and crisp and not get that greasy translucent look that baked ones get. Much better for photos.

And, frosting cupcakes with the swirl on top is SO easy. I use a Wilton 1M tip, and a disposable piping bag, if I have any. I use a big freezer bag with the corner cut out if I don't. Just pipe away. The faster I pipe them, the better they look. The only thing is, it uses a lot more frosting to pipe swirls on top of your cupcakes. If I frost with a knife, I use one can of frosting for a batch of cupcakes. If I pipe swirls, I use almost 2 cans. If I make homemade frosting, the batch is usually big enough to just use one.

The {Pea}J's Girl

PeaNut 87,750
May 2003
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Posted: 5/11/2010 2:12:47 PM
I'm hungry now!

Jennifer G

PeaNut 338,317
September 2007
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Loc: Canada!

Posted: 5/11/2010 6:12:37 PM
Val, you've made me hungry, and I just ate!

Jennifer G.

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PeaNut 395,876
October 2008
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Posted: 5/11/2010 6:37:10 PM
I am hungry in so many ways! For food, for new cool platters, for amazing food to take pictures of!! Nice lesson!



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PeaNut 138,098
March 2004
Posts: 6,558
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Loc: NC but wishing I was somewhere else

Posted: 5/11/2010 7:20:14 PM
Thank you for your wonderful lesson and extra tips, Val. I'm pretty sure I gained 10 lbs. just looking at your yummy pictures! LOL. Now you just need to put together a recipe book to go with your scrumptious pictures.

Seriously though, thanks for your time.


PeaNut 329,611
July 2007
Posts: 1,161
Layouts: 65
Loc: Illinois

Posted: 5/11/2010 7:39:01 PM
Thank you so much for this lesson I love taking photos of food for special occasions (Mother's Day, for example) and I have a hard time getting good angles and liking the end result. I appreciate your tips and I'm going to give them a try. I have some vintage dishes that I bought from a garage sale that I LOVE and will use them next time for sure



PeaNut 95,497
July 2003
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Posted: 5/11/2010 8:12:07 PM
Val - Your photos are mouth watering. I love knowing that there are other foodographers [my own made up word - like it?] out there. I used to feel self conscious when we'd go out to eat and I'd take photos, but now no one in my family even bats an eye.


PeaNut 284,112
November 2006
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Loc: Illinois

Posted: 5/11/2010 8:51:14 PM
Great lesson! When I take food photos they NEVER look this good. I never seem to have the right light or angle on them. Oh - and now I want some frosted sugar cookies . . . your Halloween ones looked so good!


My equipment:
Nikon D90, Nikon 35 1.8, Nikon 55-200, Nikon 18-55, Tamron 18-200, Nikon 85 1.8, Nikon 50 1.4, Tamron 28-75, SB600 (though I have no clue how to use it yet!), 5 in 1 reflector and a few other misc. photography gadgets! Plus theres plenty on my wish list!!!


PeaNut 378,146
June 2008
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Loc: Hawaii

Posted: 5/11/2010 9:33:51 PM
Such a wonderful lesson! Love your food photos. Thank you soooo much for sharing with us.

For your cupcakes, do you make your own frosting?

So yummy!


To pea or not to pea that is the question.

PeaNut 355,331
January 2008
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Loc: utah

Posted: 5/11/2010 11:21:04 PM
You rock the food photos lady!!!

Nikon D90
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18-55 mm
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Going Up

PeaNut 311,912
April 2007
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Loc: Washington

Posted: 5/12/2010 12:19:25 AM
Ooooh, is that toasted marshmallow over chocolate cake??? This is me right now drooling onto my laptop . I love the persective you have with the food, especially the cupcakes. Oh, and your snowball cookie recipe you shared some time ago, are now my dh's most requested cookie.

Baby Pea Step

PeaNut 270,156
July 2006
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Posted: 5/12/2010 2:20:14 AM
Hi !

I love your class...thanks so much for sharing these great tips.
I immediately fell in love with the font you've used on the chocolate cake that reads 'The Sweet Hereafter'.

Could you please share the name of the font ?
I would love to use it for journaling.

Thanks in advance,


picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
Posts: 19,396
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Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/12/2010 7:22:33 AM

For your cupcakes, do you make your own frosting?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. The pumpkin cream cheese cupcakes I have photo of in the OP have homemade frosting on them. It s so ridiculously delicious, melt in your mouth heavenly that it was worth the time it took to make it.

The chocolate cake with the marshmallow on top is actually a S'mores Brownie. I don't even remember where I got that recipe!

As for the font on that photo, I did that one a very long time ago too, and I absolutely can't remember what font it is. I have wiped my computer back to factory settings since then, too, and I don't have a lot of the free fonts that I once did, so I can't even look through my fonts to see if I can find it for you. I'm sorry!!


PeaNut 126,816
January 2004
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Loc: New Hampshire

Posted: 5/12/2010 9:04:51 AM
These are beautiful! Great job!

Mind sharing the recipe for the chocolate cookies with the white frosting??


picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
Posts: 19,396
Layouts: 491
Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/12/2010 9:21:14 AM
For the choclate cookies with the white drizzle I used the recipe for the chocolate cookies with the Rolo candy inside them, but I used a Nestle Caramel Treasure instead.

The white drizzle is just melted white chocolate chips in a zip lock baggie with the corner snipped out.


PeaNut 378,885
June 2008
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Loc: BC, Canada

Posted: 5/12/2010 10:34:56 AM
Oh! My! Gosh! Isn't good photography supposed to envoke emotion? Holy emotional eating coming on! Those are beautiful!!

I've never seen your food photography before, LOVE it! Thanks for the inspiration.

CC and plays always welcome and much appreciated!
Cannon Rebel XT ~ 17-55mm 2.8 ~ 50mm 1.8


PeaNut 371,428
April 2008
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Layouts: 0

Posted: 5/12/2010 12:50:08 PM
I love the egg plate in your photo. So cute! Of course, I love your photos too. Thanks for the tips.

Thinking Hap-Pea Thoughts

PeaNut 63,394
January 2003
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Loc: Pacific Northwest

Posted: 5/14/2010 2:04:08 PM
Excellent lesson Val, thanks for sharing your tips. Your food looks so delicious


I'm a Nikon Girl!
50mm 1.8

picture perfect

PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
Posts: 19,396
Layouts: 491
Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/14/2010 2:46:31 PM

I love the egg plate in your photo.

JoAnn's easter clearance


PeaNut 261,991
May 2006
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Loc: Houston

Posted: 5/16/2010 1:44:30 AM
this lesson! I love cooking, and am always wanting to take
"pretty" pictures of stuff, but kind of run low on time once it's done. Kids and dh are always right behind it being done, and wanting to devour it! you're photos are making me INCREDIBLY hungry now, and it's LATE!!

Great lesson!


Canon 50D-gripped & loving it| Canon Rebel XTi | 18-55mm | 50mm 1.8 | 24-70mm 2.8L | 70-300mm | CS3

SJ Photography

PeaNut 311,426
April 2007
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Loc: Michigan

Posted: 5/16/2010 12:10:08 PM
Very nice! You are so creative! These photos make me want to learn how to bake! Seriously!


Canon 5D, 24-70 mm 2.8, 85 mm 1.8, 50 mm 1.4, 100 mm 2.8

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Ancient Ancestor of Pea

PeaNut 343,224
October 2007
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Loc: Sometimes GA, sometimes NC, Wyoming whenever possible!

Posted: 5/16/2010 12:45:18 PM
Val--your food photos are wonderful! But, I really just want to come to your house and eat.

1 DH, 1 DD, 1 DSIL, 1 DS and 1 Beagle
Nikon D7000 | 18-270mm VR | 70-300mm VRII | 105mm VR micro

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. Will Rogers
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for. Will Rogers


PeaNut 366,039
March 2008
Posts: 4,324
Layouts: 1
Loc: So Cal

Posted: 5/16/2010 1:48:18 PM
Great post Val! I HATE to cook but I LOVE LOVE LOVE to photograph food! Ha! When I shoot events, I'm all over the food, more than the people. I WISH I liked to cook and had nice light and space in my kitchen! Lol! Love your shots! Thanks!

~Crystal aka Momaziggy AT yahoo DOT com ~

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PeaNut 42,646
July 2002
Posts: 19,396
Layouts: 491
Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 5/16/2010 2:39:09 PM

ut, I really just want to come to your house and eat.

I love to feed people. It's how I express my affection. lol Which is so healthy for everyone involved, you know.


PeaNut 261,991
May 2006
Posts: 1,466
Layouts: 10
Loc: Houston

Posted: 5/17/2010 8:32:26 AM

I love to feed people. It's how I express my affection. lol Which is so healthy for everyone involved, you know.

You can come feed us!


Canon 50D-gripped & loving it| Canon Rebel XTi | 18-55mm | 50mm 1.8 | 24-70mm 2.8L | 70-300mm | CS3


PeaNut 275,639
September 2006
Posts: 2,959
Layouts: 136
Loc: Layton, UT

Posted: 5/19/2010 1:06:59 PM
Mmmm. . .I love to eat food, but I am not a fan of making it myself, and I very rarely take photos of what I make, except for my cakes (I used to be a cake decorator).

Here are some of my faves. I LOVE using natural light. For some reason it just makes everything look yummier, don't you think?

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