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Friday, September 26, 2008

Photos: Photography Tips, Storage, and Watermarking

It's lovely that everyone was impressed with my stats but they're really quite modest. While I'm celebrating nearing 90,000 hits this month, Elise of Simply Recipes gets 4 to 5 million hits a month!

Hmm. Maybe I should downgrade my stats from "modest" to "pathetic." This is what I use. And yes, that's my messy kitchen in the background. Just showing you reality folks! There's harsh overhead florescent lighting at night and little natural light during daytime.

How to Start a Food Blog - Photos 1

I was amused when I noticed that someone had searched to see what type of camera I use. My photos are adequate for food blogging, but any nice photos were shot purely by accident. I can't afford a nice camera, don't understand what aperture and F stops are, and am much more concerned about improving my writing than my photography.

So if you want real advice about photography, I defer to:
Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi's Do-It-Yourself Tabletop Lighting System
Digital Photography School's How to Make an Inexpensive Light Tent
Kitchen Wench's Basic Photography Tips for P&S Cameras
Pioneer Woman's Photography (For Photoshop tips.)
Steamy Kitchen's Lowel EGO Lights for Food Photography
Vegan Yum Yum's Food Photography for Bloggers

And for food porn, well, there's just way too many blogs to list.

So this section of "How to Start a Food Blog" isn't about how to take photos, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. It just means you don't need a fancy camera to start, or have, a somewhat successful food blog. It just backs up my first point, that content matters, whether that content is the writing or the photography.

Litsa's Kitchen said in my previous post that my dishes look real and homecooked, that people wouldn't get frightened from looking at too unrealistic photos. Instead, she just gets the urge to cook. Hey, thanks Litsa, you get it! ;)

But seriously, my feelings about my photography for this blog are that the photos give an accurate example of what the dish should look like, whether it's created at home or in the restaurant. The photography serves to complement the writing. With some blogs, it's the other way around.

I use a Canon SD1000 and prior to that, a Canon SD110. While not every photo comes out perfect, there are a few things I learned to do with my point-and-shoot camera. Turn off the flash. It makes food look flat. Natural lighting is best, but if you don't have it, try and increase the ISO on your camera to let in more light. If you don't know what that means, read your camera's manual. A higher ISO adds graininess to the photo, but sometimes that can't be avoided because the alternative is a photo that's simply too dark. And lastly, turn on the macro function. That's the little flower symbol on a Canon. That's it for my photo tips. I have no fancy tricks. I just take lots of photos and occasionally get a few usable ones.

I'm not sure about other services, but Blogger limits free photo storage to 1024 MB. With my penchant for step-by-step large photos, that meant in about one year of active blogging, I was nearing my limit and debated whether to pay for extra storage. Then I started playing around with Flickr in order to watermark my photos. That turned out to be a great thing as the bigger and better photos you've seen since March are a result of that.

I use Flickr so I can't speak about other websites. Those of you who use other photo services, please chime in with advice about what you like or don't like about what you use.

So why Flickr? I already had an account with Yahoo photos. When they closed down, everything was automatically transferred over. Flickr's editing tool made it quick and easy to watermark my photos. I tried doing that with Photoshop but all the "layers" thing just confused me. Mainly, it's because Flickr makes me a better photographer. I couldn't find the original article, but a while back when I had difficulty uploading images to BiggestMenu, one of its creators BuddyDVD, sent me a link about how Flickr automatically sharpens images when I upload them. So the result is actually better than what came from my camera.

Here's what I mean. This is the original photo uploaded to Blogger in size large. Perfectly adequate for my purposes.

This is the same photo untouched, except for adding a watermark, but uploaded on Flickr in size medium. Sharper, brighter, and larger. A better image yes?

Sup Mang Tay Cua  1

Also, the watermark helps deter content thieves. Or at the least, when people steal my photos, they'd have to go to the trouble of cutting out the watermark. And for people who cut and paste my photos and republish it on their blogs, the watermark means that someone stumbling upon it will at least know where to find the original source.

Another benefit is that using Flickr means the photos don't eat up my Blogger storage space. It's super-easy to figure out, but if there's enough interest in a specific tutorial, I can do a separate post. Flickr gives you an HTML code, which you paste into "Edit HTML" format and that's it. A free account gives you 100 MB of space to upload each month. You also have access to making mosaics like what I did with my "100 Vietnamese Foods to Try" post using Flickr tools by Big Huge Labs, created by John Watson of Flagrant Disregard.

Blogging is a great way to record and share what I make and eat, but I'm not going to take 100 photos and let my food get cold before I eat it. I'm not going to wait until the right time of day to cook so I can get the right lighting. Some bloggers do, and they've got gorgeous photos to show for it. That's just not me.

How about you? What camera do you use? Where are your photos stored? Do you use any photoshopping tools? How do you feel about watermarking photos? Any other advice about photos to fill out my woefully inadequate suggestions?
  1. How to Start a Food Blog
  2. On Blogging and Food Blogging
  3. Choosing a Blog Host
  4. Picking a Name: Be Clever, Original, and Memorable
  5. Posting: Frequency, Topics, and Accuracy
  6. Giving Credit: The Right Way to Link, Copyright, and "By," "Inspired," and "Adapted"
  7. Your Online Identity: Blogging Interactions and Comment Policies
  8. Photos: Photography Tips, Storage, and Watermarking
  9. Design: Layout, Navigation, and "Above the Fold"
  10. Blogrolling: Will You Be My Friend?
  11. Building Traffic: Participate in the Community and Respond to Your Stats
  12. Measuring Success: Cheerleader or Nerd?
  13. Public Relations: Handling the Freebies and the People
  14. Monetizing Your Hobby: To Ad or Not to Ad
  15. Bottomline: Have Fun, but Protect Your Work
Did you find this series useful? I'd appreciate credit if you use any of the information. Thanks!

1 year ago today, Ravioli with Basil, Squash Blossoms, and Ricotta.


  1. I think I need to give you a hug!! Before starting my blog, photography was (still is, sometimes) a big concern for me. Because they looked REALLY BAD..and (sigh) my line of works involve a lot of visual aspect so I have this 'thing' about visual images.

    However, I too don't want to eat cold food!! And don't want to spend more than few seconds in editing my photo - I spend a lot of hours working on design software at work. And food blogging should not be 'another work', to my opinion.

    That said, I care bit less now, though it is also because I found 'the' spot to take photos that I think is pretty good. When winter comes, I don't know how it'll work out.

    All and all, I just want to thank youuuuu for posting such a to the point blog and not ranting about F stop and fancy lenses and fancy camera. :)

    I am using old Nikon Coolpix and using MAC iphoto to crop and such. That's it. Nothing fancy. I think all photos should have watermarking, yet..I don't. :( iphoto does not has that option, and I am too lazy to export it to Photoshop.

    Sorry for such long comment, this can be a post on its own!! Thank you!

  2. If your hits are pathetic, then mine are poop;)

    I've got the SD 850 or 950, I can never remember. And I just use the macro with the auto iso on. I only up the iso if i'm in a restaurant (which isn't that often these days). I also just store my photos on my computer and just upload to typepad from there. I don't use photoshop because I don't have it, and I only use iPhoto to crop my pictures, nothing else.

    I have no idea what the photo storage space is for typepad, but I guess I should figure that out. And that's awesome that Flickr sharpens your pictures for you, I didn't know about that either.

    I do "try" to take nice photos, but I don't go to great lengths for lighting and styling and all that. Like you, I don't like my food to get too cold.

  3. There's no shortage of tips on taking pictures of food on the Internet, but I find that the best way to learn is practice a lot and be a little bit experimental. Take lots of shots, tinker with the features, try different angles and lighting and see what yields the best results and what could be improved. Likewise, study the photos that are most appealing to you and try to figure out why it is so nice to look at. Is it the perspective? focus? how it relates to the background?

    I am not as photo-heavy in my posts (used up only 2% of the 1GB limit in my two years of blogging) so I stick to blogger for simplicity sakes -- thinking about using Flickr though for all the other photos that haven't made the final cut.

  4. Wow! The differences are really big. I think it may be the uploading to Blogger in which may have made your photos look fuzzy...and Flickr takes more of the info of the photo in which makes it looks better on the web. I do Tripadvisor and when I upload my photos online the photo had to become smaller and the details didn't look as nice.

    Good tips!

  5. I am trying to learn how to take better food photos just because I like photography in general. I interchange between my Nikon D70 and my Canon point and shoot (for on the go) but photos on either can be bad depending on conditions. Everytime I cook it is around 5 or 6 and now that fall is here, I am having to retake some photos in the AM using leftovers if I want to set it up for submission, which so far has only been once. Most of the time, it's just take photos at night and do the best you can. As for storage, I use Picasa to organize and edit photos, so I just upload it directly to Picasaweb (basically the same thing blogger uses) and haven't really looked at the decline or not of the quality. I'll have to pay more attention to it next time I upload. I also just opened up a separate Flickr account because I like they offer Pictobrowser, which is great for those long how-to posts. Great tips with the point and shoot. I just discovered the Macro setting myself.

  6. i think this series is very helpful, it's food for thought. there's a lot of content, so much so that i have to promise myself to go back to re-read certain passages. also, it gives ME a clearer picture/idea of what i want for my own blog, what its purpose is.

    i use a simple point/shoot camera, my first ever that is actually mine and not a hand me down. i use www.picnik.com for post editing and load up on flickr.

    i've come to realize that my main readers are my friends and pham-ily, and while they encourage my writing, they still only look at pictures and scan the words real quickly (hence, they call me at odd hours for recipe help). so i try to find a balance, i try to take pretty pictures and keep my writing to the point and direct.

    btw, i wanted to mention, your last post about online identity and how people perceive you. it really came in handy for me recently. so thank you.

  7. I use an ancient Coolpix and struggle with lighting--flash is flat, no flash is fuzzy. Will try the ISO tip: good to know! Currently I just upload straight to Blogger but hadn't realized I might reach a limit someday. I have a Flickr account too so perhaps I'll switch. I'd be interested in learning more about watermarking and also how to put nice frames around photos. I've poked around Flickr's many links but haven't figured either of those out yet. I'd like to watermark, though one of the links from your previous how-to posts (afraid I can't remember which link at the moment) said that he's found that people who are unethical/dim enough to steal photos often don't care if they're watermarked or not--they use them anyway. But perhaps this was just 1 personal experience. Thank you so much for this series, I'm learning a lot and looking forward to more!

  8. Cecil,
    Your photos are quite lovely. I don't think you have anything to worry about. Flickr lets you crop and watermark. Don't know if that makes a difference for you, but it certainly helps me out.

    Your food is often very nicely styled so that counts for a lot too. Plus, you make the coolest recipes. I'm still waiting for my duck a la'kalamansi. ;)

    Only 2%? That's so little! I might not take 100 photos but I sure take a lot b/c a lot of them get discarded. That's really what works best for me, take a lot so I get a wider pool to choose from. Although, sometimes then, my photos still don't come out nice.

    It's not taking in details, Flickr actually has a program that automatically sharpens the images. So they look nicer on Flickr, and people would use them more. Which is exactly why I use it.

    Nikon D70 is my dream camera. If only I could afford one. :( The lighting is so crappy these days. But my kitchen has bad lighting no matter what time of the year.

    Glad you're enjoying the series and finding it useful. Hmm. Now I'm really curious what happened and how my last post came in handy!

    It's sad but sometimes the people stealing the content get made at the person they're stealing from. They think we should be grateful that they want to take our stuff. That's so not right.

    Prof Kitty,
    Yup, people who steal images don't care that they're stealing it. That's why with watermarking, at least someone reading it will know that they're not the original source. Of course, they could still cut out my watermark and all that, but that's more work and most people steal by cutting and pasting. In Flickr, go to "edit photo," then "create." Click on "text" and you can type in anything you want for your watermark. There's a tab for "frames" too so you can add a border. It's quite easy to play around with. A lot easier than Photoshop for me anyway!

  9. w.c. - it wasn't anything major. i just had a random rude comment and my initial reaction to it was one of anger but i let it sit for awhile and i decided that i didn't have to be rude back. i would've looked as ill tempered as the commenter, which isn't nice.

  10. Lan,
    Well, just keep in mind, that it's perfectly OK to delete rude comments. Some internet trolls live to be rude, and I don't bother giving them a platform to do so.

  11. Waaah :D I get mentioned so prominently and do not even notice! I just got curious what happened, after looking into my Google Analytics, and realizing a huge amount of new visitors from Wandering Chopsticks :D Ha, now I am famous :D

    Thank you very much for the friendly remark. I hope I can learn enough from you, so one day I may have a few more visitors too *sigh*

    But honestly, one can really tell that you have a good blog, because you have so many visitors - despite not being mentioned in dozens of famous magazines, not being guest in any TV shows, not manipulating, not using sneaky SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and no Photoshop or fancy $10,000 camera and super-professional-artistic photos. In other words, try to find a lot of other bloggers who achieved this!

  12. Litsa,
    Aww, thanks sweetie! But really, my blog isn't that successful. I bet if I had a fancier camera it'd get a boost in traffic! Or not, considering I suck at taking photos. :P

  13. Hey
    I just came to your blog while wandering on Internet and was amazed by your recipe treasure box plus the photography.I am very new to blogging and was getting disappointed as I am not able to put the taste of my food in my pictures :(
    Your article helped and gave some good ideas.Keep up the good work for naive bloggers.

  14. I'm working my way - slowly through your how to start a food blog, and tips. I just want to say a thank you for a great resource. Although I am almost scared to post this, since you said don't post "thank you" posts, but I'm hoping I'll be forgiven this one. I'm using Flickr and I did not realise that they even had a watermark feature. Honestly though I am not sure anyone would bother with stealing one of my photos, since Tastespotting seems to deem them unflattering on a regular basis ;)
    I'm very glad I happened upon your blog :)

  15. Just wanted to pop in to say I'm really enjoying this series of posts (yes I know I'm wayyyy behind...)

    I recently got a lot more interested in photography and figured out some of the settings on my (basically point & shoot) camera - previously I just used auto mode!

    The manual mode really makes a difference for me, especially to brighten up the pics in the absence of flash.

    I hate letting my food get cold, so I normally take pics and then re-heat the food, or take pics of the leftovers the next morning. Works like a charm and also gives me chance to "plan" my photos according to what the food tastes like/makes me feel like.

  16. Dips,
    Glad to be of help. Don't get discouraged. There's a learning curve for all of us.

    Oh, no! I never said not to say thank you. In fact, I always say the opposite. People far too often don't bother these days. Any thanks is much appreciated.

    You've had better luck than me. Auto mode just doesn't cut it for me.

  17. I think it's fabulous that your food looks real and homecooked. I'm just starting out with blogging and had been feeling so frustrated with not being able to make my food look as fancy as some other blogs' photos. But now I realize that's ridiculous- because the point is that the food pictured should seem real, not fake and intimidating to make. Thanks, again for such an enlightening post!

  18. Leah,
    I don't think you have anything to be worried about, your photos look great to me.


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