How I Shot Raw Ingredients for Recipe

Peanut Butter & Jelly Pavlova with Eva Kosmas

In this series on how to photograph food, we talk about how to photograph raw ingredients for your recipe. In this post, Eva Kosmas shares how she shot this photograph of Pavlova raw ingredients.

Eva goes into details about her food photography process, food styling and prop selection. She talks about using light for this food photo. There is lot of valuable information in this post.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below the post.

About the Photographer

I am from Oregon and grew up helping out at my family’s Greek deli all throughout my childhood and teenage years. Food was always very important to my family and both my parents are wonderful cooks so I learned a lot from them. I went to college in California  to study Film Production and still reside here.

I worked in the entertainment industry for several years but had the realization that food & photography are what I am most passionate about and those have become my focus now. I learned about photography at school but never applied it to my food photos until I started seeing the beautiful images coming out of other blogs like Cannelle et Vanille and What Katie Ate, and found myself very inspired.

I am a self-taught food stylist and my ability to photograph food effectively has dramatically improved over the past couple years. Since the photography has improved, I have received much more traffic and have been able to reach a larger audience, which is wonderful because it means more readers to interact with!

Her Food Photography Process

I usually think about the ingredients that I am using and what colors will go best with them. I also think about the feel I am going for with that dish.

For example, when I am making a roast chicken I would style it darker and more rustically because it is very much an artisinal and simple dish, and the dark background would look beautiful contrasted against the crisped golden skin.

When I am making something fruity and light, I’d be more likely to go with a cleaner brighter background. Something like a fruit cheesecake would be a good example.

I try and match props and fabrics to the overall style I am putting together, but I love using mugs of tea in almost all my photos. I just feel like it gives the image a warm and homey touch.

Camera, Lenses for Food Photography and Backpack

I use a Canon 5D Mark ii, but I only recently upgraded about a month ago. Up until that point I was using a Canon Rebel T2i.

The lenses I use are a Canon 50mm 1.8 and a Vivitar 35mm 1.4. But since upgrading to the 5D Mark ii I have noticed that the vivitar is creating some serious vignetting since I am actually able to see the lens in full frame now, so I will likely upgrade my 35mm to a better brand soon.

I use a LowPro Flipside 500 AW backpack to store all my gear. It’s not pretty but it sure keeps everything nice and protected and organized, which is my foremost concern for my equipment. The images I take are all about looks, obviously, but when it comes to storing my equipment I am much more concerned with the practicality of it rather than a pretty bag.

And I actually don’t use a tripod at all. I tried using one a couple times but I find them to be tedious and enjoy the freedom that comes from shooting handheld.

Photographing ingredients for Pavlova recipe

First Decisions – Deciding the recipe and the look

I came up with the recipe through a comment from my friend Brianne about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and it got me thinking about the flavor combination of peanut butter and jelly and I decided to recreate it in a pavlova with strawberries and peanut flour. I took this photo with a 50mm 1.8 and was still shooting with my Canon Rebel T2i at the time. I like to use my 50mm when I’m getting a bit tighter on the subject, which were the strawberries in this case. I was shooting freehand at the time and I always take photos of the raw ingredients for my posts before making whatever I’m about to cook or bake, which is why the strawberries and peanut flour are in the photo.

Food Styling and Prop Styling Decisions

Since a pavlova is light and fruity, I decided to go with a white shooting surface. But I decided to use a darker wooden background to keep the rustic feel going since it is openly stacked (i.e. not frosted on the outside) so to me being able to see the layers of a pavlova makes it more of a raw, exposed dessert that definitely garners a slightly rugged touch.

I had originally started out with just a white piece of fabric underneath the strawberries, but felt that it was too plain so I added the navy striped towel to break up the purity of the white and add a fun pattern to the picture.

I had the teapot and mug int the background from the start to give the image a cozy feel, like it was happening someplace you would feel comfortable in. And I added the scoop of peanut flour to keep the photo from being as balanced.

Sometimes its nice to have a completely centered ingredient, but I felt like with the white bottom it would be too clean just having the strawberries alone in focus.

Creating Light and Modifying it

I shoot using only natural lighting and honestly use the blinds in the windows of my home to control the light.

I have experience with c-stands and reflectors and flags from my days in film production, but when I am shooting in the controlled environment of my home with predictable natural light I don’t need those extra elements.

If I were shooting on location, however, I would definitely have all of those on hand to be able to better control the various types of light I might encounter.

I’ve found that the light in the late morning looks the best in the area of my home I shoot in, and try to get most the shots taken between 10 and 11:30 am.

What would you like to share with our readers? Words of encouragement and advice for new photographers?

I would advise new photographers to practice practice practice. That is what will make you better, the more you do something, the more you learn about it, and the faster you will hone your eye and photography abilities.

Also, invest in some fun props! They don’t have to be expensive, either. You can get great finds on Etsy.com and check your local fabrics store for sales on scrap fabrics that might make for cute place settings.

And you don’t have to start with the most expensive lens and the most expensive camera to be a good photographer. Look around for what’s within your budget and read lots of reviews before purchasing.

You can find a lot of pretty good equipment used for very affordable prices.

And my last words would be to read food photography blogs. Lots of them. You can learn so much just from looking at other people’s images and dissecting why you like them and why the image works so well.

One Question for You

I hope you learned how to shoot raw ingredients. Don’t forget to leave a comment and share what you liked about the food photo. Ask any questions that you may have about this photograph too.

  • Love the image of the strawberries and thanks for explaining your process! I always find it interesting to learn how others look at their photography!

  • I can’t tell you how helpful it is for me to read these posts – thank you!

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  • John

    Thanks for posting the details of your intent for this photo. It’s very revealing to hear about others’ techniques and thought processes. It gives me some ideas for my next photo shoot!

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