Photography Basics II

I am not a photographer.

Nor do I pretend to be one. Before my food blog I hardly ever took any pictures. But with food blogging I realized that the two go hand in hand. I need to take pictures of my food, because when I buy a cookbook myself I look inside to see if there are pictures and if there are none, then I don’t buy it. I like to see what the food will look like or it’s supposed to look life before I try out a recipe. I need to make sure that recipe is appealing to me first, so if I don’t have any idea what it looks like then how do I know I’m going to like it. We eat with our eyes first.

So what is photography? Wikipedia says the following:

Photography is the art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as a photographic film, or electronically by means of an image sensor.

The word itself is derived from the Greek word photos which means light.

So you see photography is all about light and I learned this the hard way. I used to look at other beautiful blogs and be amazed at the beautiful food photography. I used to think it’s all in the camera, they must be using some expensive DSLR camera. But not so. Beautiful pictures can be taken with regular point and shoot cameras as well.

So as I’ve said before, one thing I have learned about photography is that light is everything. Just remember that.

There are a few basics that you need to know about your camera, regardless of what camera you use. The best place for you to start learning about your camera is the camera manual itself. But here are some basics in terms of terminology that you need to understand. Your camera has 3 main controls for adjusting the amount of light in your images.

  • ISO
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed

ISO – What does it mean?

Well first of all, ISO stands for International Organization of Standardization, a governing body based in Europe that provides the standards for  a wide variety of subjects. For photographers the key standard is film speed ratings. The settings are usually 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600.

But how do these settings affect your photos? The standard that most people use is 100 which is the setting that gives you the most clean and noise free image. The higher the ISO the more noise. I normally take my pictures at 100 or 200 if I’m outside, if I’m taking pictures indoors and don’t use much lighting I may use ISO 400. So for any indoor pictures where you don’t want to use flash, you may want to use higher ISO setting, but for most of the time 100 or 200 should be enough. So one thing to remember is that higher ISO produces digital noise so quality deteriorates.

Aperture – What is it?

I had never heard about aperture until I read Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling. Nor did I care. But it has become quite important to my photography.

So what is it?

Aperture is about the size of the opening of your lens and the amount of light that gets to your camera sensor. It works the same way as the pupil in your eye. Too much light and the pupil will close to block it, not enough light, and the pupil will widen to allow more light in. The point and shoot cameras have fixed aperture lenses, but the DSLR cameras, the aperture of a lens is measured in f/stops, such as f/1.8, f/2.8, f/16, etc.

The higher the f/stop number, also referred to small aperture, the less light that comes in. The lower the f/stop number, referred to as large aperture, the more light that comes in. I know that’s confusing because it took me a while to remember that high number, small aperture, low number, high aperture. Confusing and frustrating!

So the most important thing to learn about apertures is depth of field. Depth of field is the amount or depth of the image that is in focus in your images. Small aperture (high f/stop number) will give good depth of field or more of your image is sharp, and a large aperture (small f/stop number) will have a shallow depth of field or very little in focus.

The picture below is taken with a very small aperture, f/stop 18.

As you can see most of the picture is clear. Now the picture below is taken with a high aperture, f/stop 2.8.

Only the 2nd row of the mushrooms is in focus and the rest is blurry.

Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed refers to the length of time your camera sensor is open and exposed to light. Think of shutter speed as the speed in which you blink your eyes. Shutter speed is measure in seconds or fractions of seconds, for example 1/100, 1/400, etc. The higher the number, the faster the shutter speed, resulting in less light entering your camera. The lower the number, the slower the shutter speed, the more light entering your camera.

So why do we care about shutter speed? Well truthfully, this is one setting I hardly ever use for food photography. Unless the image is intended to capture motion, like syrup being poured, or pouring wine, and so forth. A fast shutter speed will freeze motion, and a slow shutter speed will capture motion by adding blur giving movement a soft quality. Shutter speed comes in handy if you’re shooting sports, or nature photography.

So now that you know all about controlling the amount of light for your camera, go ahead and play with it. Have fun, and don’t be afraid to experiment with all those settings, until you find one that works for you.

As usual, comments and questions are always welcomed.


  1. I found this very useful because the part I dread most about blogging is taking photographs!! This is simply explained and easy to grasp!

  2. Learning a lot here, great tips!

  3. Jahsiland Hampton says:

    Thank you! You have just helped me a great deal.

  4. You really do start to notice how import your photographs are when it comes to food blogging! These were some great tips to keep in mind 🙂

  5. That’s a great article! My husband told me about them after I was frustrating my pictures were very dark in the auto mode. Right now, I take pictures 98% in manual mode and adjust those settings. I am still learning though, not only to take pictures, but to balance all those 3 well. Thanks for sharing!

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