Liz Nyland of Guilty Kitchen goes over one of the most basic food photography skills - understanding your camera's exposure modes. It's time to leave auto behind!
For more help with photography check out our entire Food Photography Archive.
When Ethan, Melissa and Mardi asked me to write an article on beginners photography, I was confused....and flattered. Why me? My photos aren't the best. I often get rejected from food porn sites such as Foodgawker and Tastespotting. In fact 9 times out of 10 I have to resubmit two or more times. So why would anyone want my advice?
So I went back to the beginning of my blog and I did a little research on myself and I reflected on where I've come from, how far I've made it in two years. It's been a long journey. Here are some of my very first photos from my blog:
I had a new camera (a Nikon D60), a stock lens (18-55mm), and no idea what I was doing. I loved food and I wanted to photograph it, so I jumped right in.
Then I realized my photos didn't look the way I imagined them to in my head. They didn't have any oomph, they didn't reflect any feeling of emotion and they just didn't cut it.
So I sat down and I read my manual, front to back. I Googled countless websites for help in any number of topics, lighting, camera settings, camera basics, setting up props, how to make the food look good, etc. And I absorbed information. I engaged in the communities on Flickr and asked the stupid questions.
I put a little money into it bit by bit. I bought props at the Salvation Army and other thrift stores, I collected friends and family's throw away kitchen linens, I bought paper and white card stock to use as reflectors from dollar stores.
Leave Auto Exposure Mode Behind
I went from the full Auto setting to manual in a matter of months. And my photos stared looking more like this:
Understanding Camera Exposure Modes
I'll be honest with you. There is no shortcut to great photos. Learning to use your camera, be it a point and shoot or a digital SLR is not going to be easy. You have to read your manual first.
Every camera is different and each has their own intricacies. A good first step is getting out of the habit of using the auto programmed modes, which are usually labelled as little pictures of mountains, running people and the very basic Auto mode.
Learning to use the semi-manual options or "exposure modes", most often labelled P, S and A on Nikons, Sonys and Olympus cameras and P, TV and AV on Canons and Pentaxes. P stands for programmed auto, S (TV) stands for shutter priority and A (AV) stands for aperture priority. Let's explain these first.
Programmed Auto Mode
In P mode, the camera adjusts the shutter and aperture for optimal exposure but the user can choose different combinations of the two to achieve the same exposure. Confused yet? Basically the difference between Auto and P modes are this: in Auto, the camera chooses everything (flash, white balance, ISO, etc.), in P mode you can control whether the flash fires, how high the ISO value and also the white balance (we'll get into these next).
Shutter Priority Mode
In S (TV) mode (Shutter Priority) the user can choose the shutter speed to achieve certain effects in low light or capturing fast moving sporting events and the camera chooses the rest of the settings.
Aperture Priority Mode
In A (AV) mode (aperture priority) the user chooses the aperture of the lens and the camera choose the rest. What is aperture? Aperture is the size of the opening inside the lens, basically the entry point for light. The wider the opening, the more light is let in. Also aperture creates that fuzzy background look (or bokeh).
And then, there is my favourite: M (full manual mode). We will discuss using Manual mode in a future post, but for now, get out there, read your manuals and start using those semi-manual modes
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This article was written and photographed by Elizabeth Nyland, author of the food blog Guilty Kitchen. She is a photographer, chef, fitness lover, wife and mom to two young children. Liz lives just outside of Victoria, BC. Twitter: @GuiltyKitchen