From Auto to Manual | Food Photography + Styling Tips in 5 minutes

I am absolutely thrilled to share this post on food photography and styling tips which I picked up in 2 hrs flat. Yes, really! Depending on how fast you read, you might be able to pick up some tips in just 5 minutes.

Photography has never been a strong skill of mine and whilst it has improved vastly from my early days as a snap happy teen, there's still plenty of room for improvement. I shoot mainly on my iPhone 5s and sometimes my compact camera, a Canon S95 in auto mode. DSLR's scare me because I don't have the foggiest on how to operate one.

So when Pink Lady apples invited me to their photography workshop for bloggers last week, I jumped at the chance. The event kicked off with a Pink Lady apple martini, and a superb lunch put on by Carousel London.

After lunch, the photography session starts and is hosted by the lovely Catherine and Jen from Aspire Photography Training. In 2 hours, I learnt how to shoot from auto mode to manual, use a range of props to create textures and colours and how to shoot in different light situations. The most ah-ha moment for me was the word 'relevant' when it came to choosing props. By using relevant and complimentary ingredients and prop, the photo will come together; e.g., jelly and fork. No one eats jelly with a fork, so this prop would not fit in with relevant. Makes sense, but it only really just clicked with me!

The focus was on food photography and styling, but can also be easily be transferred to lifestyle/fashion/beauty:

General Tips:
- Shoot in natural day light
- Avoid using flash
- Avoid using the zoom tool, move closer to the subject
- Wipe your lens before taking a photo, make sure the lens is always clean
- Use the grid feature to compose and straighten lines
- Tap the screen in the camera viewer on a smart phone for an accurate focus
- Half press the shoot button on a compact camera for an accurate focus
- Never shoot into the light

Remember this formula for manual shooting:
- Set ISO to 100 (up to 200 is OK too)
- Aperture in f3.5 for images with a focus in the centre and blurred edges
- Aperture in f8 for images with a sharp focus in the whole frame, no blurs
- White balance is usually auto

Using a tripod:
- For a sharp shot the camera must be absolutely still
- A tripod with a tilt head is your best friend
- A mini tripod is better than none
- When your camera is on a tripod, set the timer function on (I used 3 seconds)
- By using the timer, there is no movement when the photo is being captured

Shoot in these 3 angles:
- Overhead. Bird's eye view
- Three quarters. The bottom 3rd of the photo will usually be the main focus, blurred middle & top
- Eye level. Sitting down at a table and looking at eye level

Diffusing light + shadow:
- A muslin cloth over a window will diffuse strong natural lighting
- White greaseproof paper will work in the same way as a muslin cloth
- Buy a small 30cm light reflector. It can bounce away those shadows
- In lieu of a reflector, any large white surface will work i.e., a piece of styrofoam

Styling the shot:
- 1 metre square is all the space you need
- Choose your background: Wood, marble, white etc
- Use relevant and complimentary ingredients and props
- Apples and cinnamon works, apples and peppercorns not so much
- Odd numbers work well. Try shooting 3 apples as opposed to 4
- Keep it simple but interesting
- Decide on what the main object of the shot is; e.g., cake or the waitress serving, never the two
- Using different material and fabrics can add colour, texture and keep it interesting
 So with that in mind, here's my homework!

There doesn't look to be a main object in this shot. Everything is equally focused.

By changing the camera angle, the apples take on more focus.

Apple in focus, is the main object.

Everything is in focus, apple is not the main object.

Another angle to play with.

Shot 1 - close up.

Shot 2 - far out.

Shot 3 - close in a bit more.

Shot 4 - the winning shot.

And this is what the actual setup looked like!

My very first shot using the manual setting on my Canon S95 with guidance from Jen. All the other photos in this post were shot with my iPhone 5s!

I have been so enlightened, and photography means a whole different thing to me now. Since last week, I have played around with the manual settings, got the tripod out, and definitely got my hands into food styling as you can see on my Instagram. Now, I might even pick up my husband's semi DSLR and have a go...!

A huge thank you again to Pink Lady apples and Aspire for putting on such a terrific workshop, I really did have so much fun.

If you guys enjoyed this post and found it helpful, please share it and I'd love to hear from you!  


  1. Looks like you've gained a lot from this Lucy! It looks like a great little workshop. Also Pinklady apples are actually my favourite apples :D I follow a lot of food instagrammers and I've learnt a lot from them actually and especially some friends who are great at prop styling and it's really inspiring! Love your pointers, the natural light is definitely the best thing and your shots here are fab - I love a good flatlay. Fab post Lucy!

    1. Thanks so much Winnie, your photos styles are one of my favourites, so I'm really flattered!
      I can't believe how eye-opening the workshop was, it was like my photographer's eye suddenly opened!! I also follow and love foodie instagrammers, but failed to learn anything as I'm always too busy drooling haha x

  2. The food looks so healthy and photogenic! Great simple tips...need to book mark this page for when I take photos but the biggest thing I struggle with is lighting because its always too bright in my apartment. Also it's a struggle to take good photos in the evening after you have cooked.

    1. Food styling really does make a difference to the photos! Using a light coloured thin sheet of cloth/material to drape over your windows will diffuse the light and take away the harshness, so you could try that. Unfortuately, there's nothing you can do about evening photos though.

  3. Well, I'm definitely saving this post! It's so helpful.. I've been wanting to do a few foodie posts but I just have no idea where to start when it comes to taking pictures of it. This is really great and it looks like you really gained a lot from it too :) xx

    Sam // Samantha Betteridge

    1. Thanks so much Sam, I really do hope you find this useful! The workshop was a complete eye-opener for me x

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