Expert advice on how to take tasty looking food photos for your blog, website or online photo album.

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Giant chocolate sugar cookies and cherry tuiles. Mini black and whites and fig pinwheels. Peanut butter and jelly bars.

Sound like too many cookies?

Not for Andre du Broc of Kansas City, Mo., who’s baking his way through “Martha Stewart’s Cookies” (Clarkson Potter, 2008) to fulfill a pledge to donors for AIDS Walk Kansas City.

Du Broc plans to bake all 175 recipes by year-end, chronicling his efforts on Too Many Cookies (toomanycookies.wordpress.com). Du Broc, who worked as an actor and circus clown before joining Hallmark, aimed to raise $3,000 before the April walk. The cookies did the trick — more than 80 friends from as far away as Scotland donated $4,400.

Photos from Stewart’s book accompany each entry, as well as a snapshot taken by du Broc, to show both what he was aiming for and what he achieved.

“The photos are tongue-in-cheek,” du Broc says. “They’re what the cookies look like when you bake them in your own kitchen.”

Du Broc is among a growing number of enthusiasts training their cameras on food. Home cooks, culinary tourists, farmers market shoppers and restaurant diners are all snapping pictures of what they’re cooking and eating, often posting the pictures on websites, blogs and online photo albums.

Many times the photos are good. Too often, they’re not. Beautiful, memorable food can easily be washed out by a flash, go blurry or get lost in the clutter.

“Food is very, very hard to photograph,” says Ben Pieper, who created Four Foodies (fourfoodiesblog.wordpress.com) with his wife, Kim Pieper, and friends Mark Morton and Jane Kortright. “It’s amazing how quickly it can be gross.”

They launched the blog in September 2009; it drew 10,000 visitors in its first six months. All the food is cooked at home, photographed and then eaten. It’s enticing stuff, whether the foodies are demonstrating how to cut matchstick vegetables, making risotto or finishing a serving of blueberry cobbler.

And it works, says Pieper, who opened his own photography studio last year.

“Blogs with strong photography definitely have more circulation,” he says. “It’s like going out to eat. The first thing you do is eat with your eyes.”

PROFESSIONAL PRIMPING

That’s because photography is a powerful tool, says David Morris of David Morris Photography in Kansas City, Mo. To use it effectively, you must know what you want to say and how you want to say it.

“It’s all about communication,” he says.

When Morris works with clients such as McDonald’s or Applebee’s, he meets with other creative staff to decide exactly how a photo will look and feel, from the number of slices of meat on the sandwich to the color of the plate.

The day of the photo shoot, there may be as many as 10 people on hand, from a photographer, food stylist and production coordinator to various assistants, advertising agency representatives and clients. They’ll spend hours arranging the food, choosing props and prepping the image.

“It’s not uncommon to do just two or four shots in an 8- to 10-hour day,” Morris says.

That’s partly because it takes time to make food look the part. Vicki Johnson, a freelance food stylist based in Leawood, Kan., recounts frying batch after batch of French fries to sort out enough “heroes” for a photo, and going through 20 hams while trying to get the perfect shot of one being sliced.

Food changes as it cools down, warms up or simply sits waiting for its turn in front of the camera. Sesame seeds fall off, so Johnson glues them on. Blanched and cooled vegetables are added to stews at the last minute, because fully cooked veggies get mushy and lose color. Sauces get a dose of glycerin to keep them looking warm without skinning over. Peaches that aren’t peachy enough get a smudge of lipstick.

“We pick up where nature left off,” Johnson says.

While such extreme primping isn’t necessary at home, it’s worth paying attention to the plate. Johnson recommends simple serving dishes, preferably white, instead of floral or patterned ones. Remove extra silverware, countertop appliances and other clutter. Photograph each course separately, rather than piling everything onto a single plate.

Perk things up with a sprig of fresh herbs, but avoid the elaborate and heavily garnished platters that were the hallmark of 1970s food photography. The Spartan plates of 1980s nouvelle cuisine are also passe.

Be sure to wipe drips off the edge of the dish, but don’t worry too much about it — food that looks so perfect it could be plastic went out with the 1990s, Johnson says. Food photography today includes enough crumbs and crinkles to make it look real.

“Perfect imperfection,” Johnson calls it.

SPIFFING UP AN IMAGE

So how do you capture that artful image? Start by reading your camera’s manual, says Beth Bader, who keeps the Expatriate’s Kitchen (expatriateskitchen.blogspot.com).

The blog, which started in 2004, champions local food and features vibrant photos of deconstructed knobby heirloom squash, calmondin limes and many of Bader’s original recipes.

Photos create excitement, Bader says. So much so that her blog has drawn tens of thousands of page views and earned a book deal — the Cleaner Plate Club, co-authored with Ali Wade Benjamin, whose blog is Ali’s Cleaner Plate Club (www.cleanerplateclub.com). The pair met in cyberspace and, although they are working on a book together (due in 2011), they’ve never met in person.

TIPS FROM A PRO

Bader is a trained photographer and chef, which is why she can make even a plate of cabbage and bacon pasta look gorgeous. But she has easy pointers for the rest of us, too. Once you know what all your camera’s buttons are for, you can abide by Bader’s No. 1 rule: turn off the flash.

“That ugly, straight-on flash is so harsh,” Bader says.

Instead, photograph food near a sunny window, or take the plate outside (avoid the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when overhead sun creates hard shadows). Drape a white tablecloth or dishtowel behind whatever you’re photographing to soften and reflect the light.

Or, in a pinch, use a madeleine pan. That’s what Morris suggested when he went to du Broc’s midtown home to help photograph cookies at The Star’s request.

“We looked through my pantry to find a pan that reflects light back on the cookies to get rid of the shadows,” du Broc says.

It’s harder to control lighting at night or in restaurants. Your best bet, the pros say, is to turn off the flash and use manual camera settings and a tripod. Or backlight your subject by placing it in front of a window or strong light, Pieper suggests.

Composition is also important. Fill at least two-thirds of the frame with the image, focusing on the most vivid aspect of the food. Morris suggested du Broc shoot a batch of sugar cookie cutouts on the metal cooling rack, shifting the frame slightly to include part of the rack’s foot to give it perspective.

For more ideas, Morris recommends studying photos in magazines and cookbooks and on websites, thinking about why you like or don’t like them. (Donna Hay, an Australian food editor and cookbook author, Martha Stewart and Better Homes & Gardens are among his favorites.)

Du Broc had expected better photography would take extra time, space and equipment, but his one-hour session with Morris proved how simple it can be. Now, du Broc says, his photos will more accurately depict all those cookies he’s baking.

“I’m doing a better job with my photos and showing the cookies in their best light,” du Broc says. “A lot of people following the blog have said ‘thank you.”‘

PHOTOS IN RESTAURANTS

Anne Brockhoff writes from her farmhouse outside of Kansas City and blogs at fooddrinklife.wordpress.com.

People used to take pictures of each other in restaurants. Now they photograph the food.

“I have noticed over the years a significantly larger number of people wanted to photograph the food,” says Robert Krause, chef and owner of Esquina in Lawrence. “We’re seeing more and more people who are not just interested in food, but consumed by the food world.”

Photos wind up on Flickr, where more than 6 million images are tagged “food,” and social media sites like Facebook and Foodspotting. They run alongside amateur reviews on Yelp, Urban Spoon and Chowhound. They get e-mailed and uploaded to blogs.

Taking pictures is fun and helps you remember and share a culinary experience, people say. But is it polite?

During a month of experimental picture taking in area restaurants, I got reactions ranging from indifferent to welcoming. At Esquina, friends held up baskets of tacos and suggested different angles. People barely noticed at Happy Gillis. At R Bar, in the West Bottoms, I did ask permission before photographing Shawn Moriarty shaking up my cocktail. Not only didn’t he mind, he posed briefly with a bottle of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur.

“People take pictures all the time,” he says. “It’s fine.”

PHOTO ETIQUETTE

Still, there is that question of etiquette. You can’t assume that everyone is pro-photo. So play it safe by following these few guidelines:

First, turn off the flash. Flash photography is distracting to other diners, especially if you’re in a dimly lit bar or the restaurant has a more subdued atmosphere. Besides, camera flashes are harsh and can wash out the food, making it look unappetizing. No flash might also mean better pictures.

Stay seated. Standing up, kneeling on a banquette, carrying your food to a more picturesque spot — all can be disruptive to your companions.

Plus, the more you move around, the longer your food sits on the plate, growing lukewarm while waiting to be eaten.

Ask permission. If you plan to photograph each course, first ask your tablemates if they mind, especially if you want to photograph their food, too. The same goes when taking pictures of the chef, server or bartender. If the restaurant has rules regarding photography, be gracious enough to abide by them.

Finally, remember why you’re there. As much fun as it is to photograph a beautiful dish, don’t forget the best part of why you went to the restaurant in the first place — to eat.