Iron Chef Shellie

{Photography} Tips & Setting Up For Winter

“Disclaimer: I’m no expert on photography, nor do I profess to be one. Never would I have thought people would ask ME for photography advice. So I’ve compiled this post, with some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way. It was mainly going to be able me setting up a lightbox for...”

Recipes | May 3, 2011
{Photography} Tips & Setting Up For Winter

{Photography} Tips & Setting Up For Winter

Disclaimer: I’m no expert on photography, nor do I profess to be one. Never would I have thought people would ask ME for photography advice. So I’ve compiled this post, with some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way. It was mainly going to be able me setting up a lightbox for winter photography, but my fingers couldn’t stop typing! Hope you enjoy.

So I started blogging about 3 years ago now, and those of you have been with me from the start have seen my photography (especially as of late).

I found I really learnt a lot about photographing, styling and editing in the last few months. It didn’t just happen overnight. Sure I did upgrade from a point and shoot to a DSLR, but I still have taken some good shots with my point and shoot camera since learning some simple rules. It’s all about doing the best with what tools you have. Learn your camera. I know a few people with the best camera on the market, but they couldn’t take a good photo to save themselves. I did some reading, looked at lots of photos, and learnt a bit more about my camera. I’m never going to stop learning – which excites me. It means I can only get better!

But now, with the end of daylight savings, I fear my photos will return to the horribleness that comes with photographing food under artificial light.

I tend to take most of my photos at dinner time, which is great when it’s summer; but come winter time, it’s trying to make food look good in artificial light. I didn’t want to be limited to just photographing on weekends during the day, so I had to do something!!

So after discussing my frustration about the end of daylight savings with a few other bloggers (Ellie, Thanh, and April), we were all eager to learn how to avoid the winter photography trap.

I went to Ikea to suss out some lighting options and walked away with one Tertial lamp, but when I got home, and did more research I found I would at least need one more. So luckily Thanh was heading into Ikea with a similar plan of action, so I got him to pick another one up for me! (Thanks Thanh :) ) I would suggest 20-24W COOL DAYLIGHT bulbs. Try to avoid using the ‘warm’ bulbs. But you may need to experiment and see what works best for you.

After some googling around, and suggestions from Ellie about a lightbox which I’ve been told one of my favourite food bloggers use, it was time to make one. I could have easily bought one from eBay, but I thought I’d give it a go first. I was ready to hack up my Airfryer box, until a random mid week trip to Costco found me the perfect box, precut. I came home, added white matte paper to the back for the backdrop and one layer of white tissue on the 3 cut out areas (right, left and top). If you light is to strong, just add more layers of tissue paper, or get a lower wattage light globe.

So the purpose of the lightbox is to provide a simulation for natural light. The tissue paper helps to diffuse the lamps; without something to diffuse the light, the lighting would be too harsh. Multiple lights help with preventing shadowing. You can also put a light at the top of the box so you have 3 lights in total, but it’s all about finding what works best for you in the space you have.

Oh and you should ALL know by now, NEVER, EVER, EVER use the flash on your camera for food photography. You will get shocking results like this, and this.

I know you ask, “But I’m in a restaurant and it is le dark, I have to use my flash!!” NO MY FRIEND!! Don’t do it….unless you have no choice, but you might start looking like a strobe light in the restaurant if there are many dishes to snap. I recently learnt how to overcome this problem with the Flashlight app for my iPhone when dining at the Werribee Manion 19th Century Decadance Dinner. I could have used my camera flash but my photos would have been gawd awful. Whilst the Flashlight app doesn’t provide perfect lighting (although I’m not thinking as I type… hmmm what about 3 iPhones in a similar lightbox set up, but that’s taking it to the extreme!), it’s far better than making your food look like a deer in the headlights.


Don’t be afraid to use a tripod.I bought a cheap full length one from eBay. I also own a small and large Gorilla Pod tripod for my small point and shoot and DSLR. The Gorilla Pods are great as they are flexible and can grip onto pretty much anything. Great and lightweight for travelling.

Instagram is probably my favourite app on the iPhone and I’m always instagram-ing my day. If you don’t have an iPhone, I also upload most of my instagrams to my flickr page. (It’s pretty obvious which is my favourite filter when it comes to food photos!).

Some other top tips I’ve picked up by reading various blogs are:

  • The rule of thirds – to help create interesting photos, rather than placing your key compositional element smack bang in the middle, put it off to the side. This will help draw the eye and make your photos more visually appealing. Some cameras even lay over the grid when looking through the view finder.
  • Custom white balance will not only cut down your post processing time, but will make such a difference to your photos. How many times have you taken a photo and it’s turned out way too yellow, or green? Check your camera’s settings for white balance to help correct this problem. For more information about white balance:
  • Try to shoot near a window where natural light is available. When shooting indoors it’s good to useful to use a tripod to help avoid the fuzzies. As you’ve already seen, when natural light is not available; craft yourself a lightbox.
  • Always shoot square plates on an angle. You will never get the plate properly aligned in the photo. I always used to shot them head on until I read Billy said they were EVIL!!
  • As food can look quite flat, use portrait orientation rather than landscape.
  • When shooting food, don’t over style. Too many props can be distracting. I once read, adding cutlery to suggest human presence can make all the difference. It wasn’t until I actually tried it I realised how much more I liked my photos. That’s why you’ll generally see some cutlery now in my photos, or if it’s finger food – perhaps a napkin.
  • Plate up less than you would actually eat – no one wants to see a big mountain of food.
  • Always make sure your plates are clean!
  • A couple of dollars at Lincraft / Spotlight buying a meter of black and a meter of white material are essential to providing a nice clean background for you to style on.
  • A couple of dollars at the op shop also can’t go astray – you can find a range of plates and props that you can style your food with.
  • For tips on styling ‘ugly food’ this link came in handy when trying to make pork hock look good at the David Thompson Cooking the Books.
  • RAW vs JPEG – I shoot in RAW and edit in Adobe LightRoom. Editing RAW images is a lot more flexible than editing a JPEG. RAW files are bigger, but I have a big memory card. Most cameras these days come with their own editing software, or you can easily find some free ones out there to download.

So I hope that’s been helpful. Now you know my tricks! They weren’t really that complicated really where they? If you liked this post, let me know and should I pick up more tricks I’ll be sure to share them with you all. AND if you have any other tricks I didn’t mention, please let me know!

And a special thank you to Ellie to brought those Zumbo macarons at the start of the post from Sydney to Melbourne. They were delicious, even that satay one!

Some of the many great sites that inspire me and have taught me a lot include:

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{Photography} Tips & Setting Up For Winter

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45 comments on “{Photography} Tips & Setting Up For Winter
  1. Mark @ Cafe Campana - May 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Great post. I am just starting to get the hang of my new camera. Gradually my photos are getting better. I think lightbox is the next step.

  2. laura - May 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I’m probably at the point you were at 3 years ago – just bought my DSLR, loving trying new things out, finding shooting evening meals a nightmare, but get much better results during the day.
    thanks so much for all these tips, so helpful! – looking forward to checking the links already

  3. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite - May 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Shellie this is a great post. Some really useful tips there. Thanks! I am very happy that we are finally back into summer light over here but I am definitely looking at getting a lightbox (or making one) next winter.

  4. Paula - Flamingpot - May 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Thank You for sharing this post. I always find difficult taking a photo during this winter daylight saving.. Oh how I miss summer.. Your tips really help on how I should keep in mind.. Thanks..:))

  5. Erin@TheFoodMentalist - May 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Great post! I need to work on mine and have to learn more about my camera. Lots of great tips!!!Thanks xx

  6. April @ My Food Trail - May 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I can see how much your photography has improved and you’re an inspiration to me! All your tips are great!

    I gotta learn more about food styling my own home cooked food now that you’ve given me some tips about lighting!

  7. Queenotisblue - May 3, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Great post Shellie. Thanks for sharing this info, much appreciated. Still working out the photography side of things, so this is all very helpful.

  8. Erwin@TheLearnerChef - May 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Awesome tips Shellie!!! Never thought of using a lightbox, i love side projects. I just need to follow through now.

    I’m not familiar with Nikon lenses and saw that you were using a strange looking lens. If I may ask what lens or lenses do you use? Is it a macro lens?

    Instagram is the best!! :)

  9. Carmelia - May 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading your post more than watched tonight’s MasterChef :=)
    Really liking the tips “if all fails, instagram it”

  10. Simon @ the heart of food - May 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    This is a nice primer post with some useful info/resources. It’s amazing how a little knowledge and a lot of practice can go a long way, huh? :)

    Whilst I don’t feel worthy of such an honour, I’m humbled that you’ve consider my blog to be one of your inspirations.

  11. Helen (grabyourfork) - May 4, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Well done on the random pre-cut box find. I can imagine everyone will be hunting down boxes at the local supermarket. lol.

  12. Michelle - May 4, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Thanks for the tips!

  13. Martyna (Wholesome Cook) - May 4, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I love your tips! And thanks for suggesting the tripod – I was in need of one and now there is one on it’s way to me from Ebay. I might experiment with my own lightbox set up too, sounds super easy and cheap :-)

  14. Janine - May 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I recently started my blog and like yourself, have been learning a lot about photography and styling these past few months. Some of your inspirational blogs are what I turn to for inspiration too! And I’ve been wanting to do the lightbox trick for a while now, but have been turned off by what seems a lot of hard work – I guess I really should get cracking soon!

  15. Ellie (Almost Bourdain) - May 4, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Fabulous write up. Thanks for sharing all your insights and tips. Great effort.

  16. Cherrie - May 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing what you havelearnt along the way! Great post, Shellie

  17. Apex@blueapocalypse - May 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I always try to cook my food and photograph it while there is still sunlight and I consumer dinner earlier and earlier when it comes closer to winter. Thanks for this post, I’ve never thought of setting up a lightbox before.

  18. Heidi - Apples Under My Bed - May 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Fantastic post!! All these tips are much appreciated. What a fabulous light box, so creative! I adore your shots. This has been so helpful in beginning my food photography and styling journey!
    Heidi xo

  19. Chanel - May 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Awesome post, so many great tips. I love the light box, and I definitely need to learn my camera and get a little tripod. Hopefully mine will improve in time. Thank you :-)

  20. Jennifer (Delicieux) - May 5, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Great post Shellie! Lots of great tips there and it’s so wonderful of you to share your tips with everyone. I love the lightbox!

    I agree with the cutlery point, I think it adds a human element and helps make the food look like you are about to eat it.

  21. betty - May 5, 2011 at 9:53 am

    great pointers thanks so much :O)

  22. Nic@diningwithastud - May 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Such a great post! I got a new Canon recently and am slowly learning how to make my photos a little more fancy :) Im off to Lindcraft tomorrow!!

  23. chopinandmysaucepan - May 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    You may profess to not be an expert but your photos are anything but amazing! I just got a new camera and is still having nightmares :(

  24. muppy - May 6, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for all the tips, I just love to cook and have really struggled with the photography aspect. i know the first thing i need is a better camera. I don’t want to stage my meals though, most of the point to my blog is sharing my meal time. it is just so frustrating since the end of daylight savings.

  25. Relishment (Rory Hart) - May 9, 2011 at 10:19 am

    For photo editing I cannot praise the free GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP for short, funny name I know) highly enough. For those that have grown out of MS Paint then GIMP is for you. It can do everything Adobe Photoshop can do bar some of the super fancy what-would-I-use-this-for features, and even then lots of people write plugins that do a lot of those features. There are plenty of tutorials out there and the learning curve is on par with Photoshop.

  26. Jenn@eatcakefordinner - May 9, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing all of your tips with us. I know it must have taken a lot of your time learning all of them! I hope that I can take beautiful pictures some day.

  27. msihua - May 10, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    HEY.. those are the ice-cream cups you said you have! Yayy *high-five*.. need to get my lighting box soon as well.. shall go hunt around Costco and accost strangers for boxes.. hee hee

  28. Susan - May 13, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Very good tips. I love reading about how people create great shots and before and after shots are good too.

  29. Karen | Citrus and Candy - May 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Oh wow epic post Shellie and *blush* thanks for the shout out! I agree, winter and the end of daylight savings are the worst for food photography and I hate struggling with it every year :(

    I think it’s time to look into artificial lighting options like you have because it’s getting mighty difficult to cook dinner and take photos before 4:30pm!

  30. Helena - May 14, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Thank you for the tips! :) I will definitely add cutleries to my food photography! Sure adds that “human element” to the picture

  31. Petra - May 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Great tips! I am looking to buy an SLR camera as am using my iPhone to take all photos at the moment.. what would you suggest as a starter?

  32. Dressed and Eaten - May 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    This is such a great post! Thanks so much. I’ve been subscribing to your mailing list for some time now and been meaning to post and say thanks! I’ve only recently started my blog so I need all the advice I can get. Keep up the great work. :)

  33. Sarah - May 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! Just out of curiosity, what was the lightbox that Ellie suggested if you were buying one?

  34. leigh - May 30, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    You are a gem! I was just grumbling this very weekend about the lack of light now that winter is setting in so finding this post was perfect timing on my part. Can’t wait to hit Ikea on the weekend! Thanks so much!!

  35. Forager @ The Gourmet Forager - May 31, 2011 at 8:58 am

    What a comprehensive post – great read and I’ve lots to learn evidently!

  36. Ali - August 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment :) …and for sharing these tips!
    Having never really photographed food before I started my blog, I must admit I am finding it a bit of a challenge…and yes, especially the past couple of winter months! I love Instagram and I have started using that quite a bit for my food pics as the different effects really help make them better photos when I just can’t get the lighting right inside!
    Maybe I’ll have to experiment with a light box…that sounds like a good challenge for me!

Shellie Froidevaux

All content on this site by Shellie Froidevaux, otherwise known as Iron Chef Shellie. Her skills include food styling in her kitchen studio, lifestyle and travel photography across Australia, restaurant photography on location, styling and shooting social media for her clients, recipe development with love and photography workshops for people with discerning tastes :)

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