Photo Retake ~ Classic Potato Salad and Food Photo Tips for Dummies

I am no profesional food photographer. I am actually quite stupid when it comes to my camera and taking photos. With a lot of trial and error over the past 2 years of blogging I've learned a few things here and there. I still have tons to learn and hope to do so with every photo I take.

When I started my blog in June of 2011 I had just purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D3100. This is Nikon's entry level DSLR. At the time the package I purchased retailed at just under $1,000 today.. you can buy that same kit for $600-700. When people come to me and say " I want to start a blog, what kind of camera do you use?" I praise this camera any way I can. Until you learn how to use a basic entry level DSLR there is no need to run out and buy a $3,000 camera!

After two years of fiddling around with this thing, I have not mastered it. I have gotten some tips from friends who are professional photogs. I play around here and there with manual modes and all that fancy techy camera stuff. Can I let you in on a little secret? I only shoot in manual about 50% of the time. Reason?

Because I have not mastered what settings will do what in what lighting and all that stuff I should know by now, it takes me forever and about 100 photos to get the shot right. So what do I do? Auto.... flash off.

Why flash off? Look at the photos below....

I recently made one of my favorite family recipes. My husband's grandmother's potato salad. This also just so happens to be one of the first recipes I ever blogged. Pictured above is the photo from my original blog post in 2011. This photo was taken using my trusty Nikon, at night after the kids went to bed, with an over head light on and the flash on my camera. Photo on the right, natural lighting, no flash.

Carrie's basic tips for dummy proof food photos:
*No flash, don't shoot at night and if you can use your natural lighting
*Use the lighting you have. My kitchen has little to no light. I take my plated food outside or in my daughters room depending on the day and the position of the sun.
* Photo back drop ideas: The back of an old cookie sheet, an old table, a homemade photo board, tile purchased at Home Depot or other building supply store, marble pastry boards, large cutting boards, fabric scarps, burlap sacks, old news papers... get creative and random.

For the longest time I shot my photos on an antique table I keep in my kitchen. It's small and just the right size. Best part is it has great wood grain and antique nails/screws that really add to that rustic look I love. Recently however I been a big fan of using old cookie sheets or the $1 place mat I found on clearance at TJ maxx that looks like wood... seriously $1 cleans up easy and looks rustic and woodsy. Love it.

I like to take a photos from every angle so I have a selection in each blog post. Pictured at the bottom of this post I did the plate shot. I placed the place mat on the floor and staged my food. Stood above it and took the photos. In the other side shot photos. I placed the place mat on my table backed up against a wall and placed a cookie sheet behind the food/place mat. With the help of Adobe Photo Shop or a free website I am able to play around with the shadows to create a dark back ground and then highlight my salad.

I wanted to do more of a tutorial style post today, however I came to realize two things.... I am not an expert, and I am a horrible teacher! Luckily there is tons of info out there on how to take great food photos. Check out the following articles and blog posts for some great tips from pros!

Photo boards and photo props:

DIY: How to make wood photo boards from Bakers Royal

Finding Props for Food Photograhy - Naomi Robinson from Bakers Royal on Gourmand in the Kitchen

Don't have natural lighting and have to shoot at night?

Katie's Cucina has a great set up for those who are not always able to shoot in the daytime

Don't have a ton of money to spend on props and lighting?

Food Photography Tips on A Budget from Family Spice

For my Classic Potato Salad check out my original blog post from my blog's early days for Grammy In Law's Potato Salad. This is a recipe I developed to copycat my husbands Grammy. She is one of the best cooks I know and never ever uses a recipe or writes anything down. When you ask her how she made something it's always a little of this and a little of that. After a full summer of obsessing over how to make her salad I think I nailed it. Yes it's that good... I spent an entire summer one year making potato salad!


  1. This is a great post, Carrie! I'm STILL struggling through the lighting thing with my photos. I never use auto, always trying to change my settings which results in 150+ shots to get 3-5 for the blog. Thanks for your tips, I'm going to try auto on the next shoot, to see if that helps. Love the potato salad! The photo lighting is perfect!

    1. I wish I shot on manual all the time. It's not second nature for me yet.... so about 20 minutes into taking photos and fiddling with my settings I switch to manual. I'm a total cheater!

  2. How funny we both had such similar posts today :) Isn't it fun/slightly embarrassing to look back on the old ones? I may have gotten sucked in to that for about 30 minutes while writing my post yesterday...
    Can't believe you sometimes shoot in auto, you'd never know by the pics. When I got my DSLR about 2 months after starting my blog, I never allowed myself to shoot in auto at all. I figured if I was going to spend the money, I needed to learn how to actually use the thing. So I'm not sure I've ever actually taken a single picture in auto on mine which is crazy having had it almost 2 years now!

    1. I am so lazy. I always start in manual but I never get it just right then I get frustrated and switch to manual. I tend to have all three kids up my butt while I'm taking photos so I want to do it as quick as possible! My goal over the summer is to learn how to use my freaking camera.

  3. I love this post, Carrie! I think one of the things I've learned over the years with my point-and-shoot (and my phone mostly, crazy!), is to take photos from unusual angles. WHy would I ever be laying down on my table, next to the item, with the camera/phone at such a weird and wonky angle...or standing on a chair above the couch? Well, you just never know where that perfect shot will come from, that's why!

  4. I totally cringe at some of my earlier photos. But I leave them up as a reminder that we all have to start somewhere! I'm still constantly learning...I find my camera features completely daunting. Your photography is beautiful, Carrie :D

    1. I like to leave them too... It's nice to see how much the blog has grown and to seem any improvements! I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one that things camera settings are daunting. I feel like I will never fully understand how to use it!

  5. Such a wonderful post! I'm a total dope with camera knowledge, and definitely love reading new tips and tricks! And I friggin love me some potato salad! Yum.

  6. Wow that potato salad needs to be in a bowl in front of me now! It looks amazing, grandmas always have the best recipes :) You're photography looks beautiful today ;)

  7. I luuuuuuuurv potato salad something awful - if it's there, I'm guaranteed to eat it. Yours looks wonderful - I'll definitely check out the original post. As for photography...I think yours is stunning. You always manage to make food that really isn't easily photographed (like potato salad!) and make it look beautiful and appetizing. Food photography and styling are two areas that I really struggle in. I don't know how to use my camera either although I'm slowly (painfully slow, I think) learning. I definitely don't photograph at night because I don't have any fancy schmancy lighting equipment and I hate the sad yellow colouring of nighttime photos. Thanks for all these tips and the links to other posts.

  8. These photos are gorgeous! I'm with you, I have a fancy camera but am just now learning to use it out of auto mode and the lighting part it so tricky for me! Great tips though!

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