Food & Light: Photography Tips from Diane Cu

Meet Diane Cu.

She’s half of the White on Rice Couple team.

She’s a blogger, food stylist, and professional photographer, in conjunction with her husband, Todd Porter, who makes up the other half of White on Rice Couple.

If you’re not familiar with her work

It would be in your best interest to get familiar with her work, their work, because it’s phenomenal.

That image on the screen? One.Shot.

She styled the peapods in just a couple minutes and clicked her camera once. 

I take 20 minutes to food style, she takes 1.

I take 20 pics, she takes 1.  

Must be nice.  <—No, it just means she has practiced, practiced, practiced along with having natural gifts!

The salad?

A whopping 2 frames to get her money shot.

Shooting teathered, i.e. the image from the camera appears on a screen in real time, is cool!  I could theoretically shoot teathered in my house.  May help me take less frames of images that look nearly identical.  But I haven’t tried that yet.  And probably won’t.  A bit much for household photography.

These notes from Diane’s lecture at Food & Light are worth their weight in gold.

Story, Mood, & Feel

Your message, voice, what you want to say

Your eyes are your best lens; your heart is your shutter

Don’t pick up your camera until you know what you want to say and convey.  Create pictures in your sleep, in other times of your day so that when you do pick up your camera, you have your story, mood, and feel ready.

Focus on:

The hero/beauty

Balance

Texture, i.e. Napa Cabbage on a plate as a bed for chicken wings; can be thick, thin, Julienned, etc.

Color

Lines & Symmetry (both horizontal & vertical)

Movement/motion; we see in 3D with our eyes but photos are 2D.  Challenge is to bring out the 3D qualities.  i.e. For something like a cherry stem, use a curved one, not a straight one, because the curved will add movement.

Height

Motion

Choose the Best Possible Subjects

Highlight individual ingredients:  Choose your star

Smaller scale

Less is More – Don’t prop hoard the food shot

Simple.Less is more. Monochromatic.

Styling tips:

Huge wood panels at Home Depot for $20.  Can cut them down and paint them as needed for backdrops to go under food.

Cheese boards that are wood, $3 each, from a cheese store.  Paint them.

Tiles from Home Depot as backdrops

Book Cloth (like linen but it doesn’t wrinkle, comes in big rolls and sheets.  Can get it at art supply store, or Papyrus).  Gives both texture and an add color without having to use linens, i.e. iron or have the linen be too small

Men’s handkerchiefs

Cocktail napkins.  Smaller size, cheaper, than regular linen napkins.

With linens don’t have it be perfect, have some of the fabric raised because it creates movement

Parchment paper on top of dishes, will give texture and movement

Add some height to the food, i.e. stacking it

When adding accessories & props to the shot, i.e. small bowls or other dishes in the frame, cut it off, keep on the corner.  Or it will detract from the main ingredient/image.  Focus on the main dish in frame; accompaniments secondary.  The more you add, the more it detracts from the main element.

Always work with your light.  Think light, texture, shape.  Rotate ingredients/items so the light hits them optimally.

Be Bold.  Color.

Don’t be afraid of color

Always change your angle.  And move around.

When you’re styling and placing, place it closer than you would normally do because you lens sees things wider apart than your eye

Style for all perspectives, overhead, 3/4, straight ahead so when you’re moving around & changing your angle the food is styled

Asymmetrical is beautiful.  Don’t have to be symmetrical and balanced.

Impressionist paintings as inspiration (not fine art)

Work with positive and negative space

Don’t need 5 huge stems of basil, 3 pretty leaves is all you need

Tiles from Home Depot as backdrop behind the food; not just for underneath the food

Pick the best food & Cut things up

Start Simple: Easier to add to the frame rather than take it away

Water in the background can add texture and height

Take 3 or 4 pictures and then stop shooting from that angle.  Nurture a shot but don’t obsess.

If it’s not working in 3 or 4 frames, then change something, i.e. angle, perspective, or something within the frame.  Don’t be afraid to walk away and change things.

When shooting top down, you can use a lower aperture number, i.e. use a 4.0 rather than 5.6, compared with shooting straight ahead or 3/4

Practice, practice, practice

Don’t compare yourself to others

And with that, we started shooting and practicing!

Here are another couple cupcake pictures of mine

The actual food itself, i.e. storebought cupcakes, are just so-so to look at.

It was my job to style them, plate them, compose a scene and a shot

And attempt to make these storeboughts look like gems.

My other cupcake pictures are here

And check out this post if you missed Jen and Matt’s Photography Tips.

For those of you who said they were helpful, I’m glad!

Questions:

1. Have you ever watched someone in action doing something and you think to yourself, this person is just truly gifted in this particular endeavor or pursuit?

And isn’t it just magical to watch someone do something that they truly excel at!

They have found their calling, their path.  And to see watch it is beautiful!

Diane is to food styling and photography what Tiger Woods is to golf, or what Michael Jordan was to basketball or what a wonderful pianist can bring out of a Beethoven piece or what a talented makeup artist can do with the blank canvas of the human face.  Enhancing and bringing out the natural beauty.

2. What do you feel like you’re good at?  What comes naturally to you?

For me, I am a natural sales person.  I can talk.  I can sell snow to Eskimos and have the ability to persuade, convince, and win over.  I can make a friend with a stranger, and sell them something.  It runs in the family on one side.  My uncle is the same way.

Photography?  Cooking?  Recipe development?  Blogging?  <– Some of those things come more naturally than others to me.

With varying results.  <–Ahem. 

P.S. Reminder about the Healthy Cookie & Brownie Giveaway

   

69 Responses to “Food & Light: Photography Tips from Diane Cu”

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    mi-an — August 3, 2011 at 10:51 am

    hey averie, it’s so nice to see you really pursuing one of your passions!! i’m so proud of you girl!!

    Reply

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    Suzanne — August 3, 2011 at 10:54 am

    1. Yes
    2. Natural problem solver…..sounds corny but I am. I think simple and uncomplicated

    I love the tutorial! Thank you so very much. I will use some of the tips but unfortunately I have a less than stellar camera to work with.

    Reply

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) replied: — August 3rd, 2011 at 10:55 am

      It’s more about everything else other than the camera!!! Just keep practicing!

      Reply

      • Suzanne replied: — August 3rd, 2011 at 11:00 am

        And THAT my dear Averie is why you rock………..thank you

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    cathy — August 3, 2011 at 10:56 am

    wow, between yesterday and today, you are sharing a GOLDMINE of tips, averie. thank you from the bottom of my heart because these are suggestions that ANYONE can make use of. if you shared tech details, i’d be so lost – these ideas, i can understand, apply, benefit from.
    so glad you are getting this opportunity!!
    i just came back from a yoga class – yogis inspire me and i am in awe of the grace and power i see in various poses.
    i feel i’m good at my job. talking running, sales – it feels very natural, very fun to me. it’s not work!

    Reply

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    kris (everyday oats) — August 3, 2011 at 11:00 am

    It looks like you’re having so much fun! Thanks for sharing all these awesome tips! Enjoy the rest of your time in Boulder :)

    Reply

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    Claire @ Live and Love to Eat — August 3, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Definitely craving one of those little cupcakes now… glad you’re having a good time!

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    Beth — August 3, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Practice, practice, practice. Doing things over and over again until they are almost second nature is key. Then people will call you a natural too ;)

    I’m not a food photographer, or even a blog writer, but I love that you are including your notes. Fantastic stuff there!

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    Holly @ The Runny Egg — August 3, 2011 at 11:11 am

    That is so cool Averie — I love all of the tips (the wood planks, handkerchiefs, etc) — I can’t wait to see those tips show up in your future posts!

    I love seeing people in their element, doing something they are excellent at: sports, salespeople that I work with, Jason schmoozing with people (that is definitely his gift and not mine!), my Mom playing the piano, my Dad telling a story, etc. People just SHINE when they are doing what they love.

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    Christine (The Raw Project) — August 3, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Wow, Diane is awesomely fast with food styling! Thanks for the amazing notes, some wonderful tips here. I’m inspired to find better back drops now. :-)

    1. Yes, many times. The most recent was Cherie Soria in action preparing food at the Raw Health Fest.
    2. Computers, I can usually figure new technology out quick. And I’m getting a lot more comfortable with flavor pairing and food photography.

    Reply

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    Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary) — August 3, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I love the White on Rice Couple! This post was very helpful Averie. Thank you for taking the time to right out all your notes. When I shoot, I just do it and not much thought goes into it… I think I definitely need to find a better place to take pictures, but unfortunately that would involve moving or not shooting at my home (which obv isn’t realistic)… so I work with what I have. I end up not being able to take very many variations of angles, but I’m going to try and really work on this. I also like the less is more theory. Sometimes I see pictures on FG or TS with a bunch of ‘ish in the picture that would never ever be there in real life. I try not to do this, but it’s hard! I’m going to try and implement the ‘instead of a huge bunch of basil, use a few leaves’. So many great tips here!!

    I feel like I’m a ‘natural’ at recipe creation, but not as great as ‘being a blogger’. I love taking pictures and feel I’m better at that than the actual writing in my posts. For me it goes like this… I’m a good cook that likes to take pictures of her creations and then posting it on her blog for fun ;)

    Reply

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    Jess — August 3, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Wow. Breath-taking photos! I love natural lighting the best. Dinner in the winter is the WORST/HARDEST to photograph well!!

    Reply

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    Alex@Spoonful of Sugar Free — August 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

    oh gosh, she looks like a fabulous photographer! Garsh!!!

    And I think that everytime I see Roger Federer play tennis-he is absolutely amazing. He makes it look way too easy!

    Reply

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    Michaela — August 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    first of all: Thank you so much Averie, for sharing your experience with us. That is so incredibly kind of you.
    1) yes! And I love watching.
    2) I am a sales person, too ;) Also, cooking and “being with children” comes super natural to me, as well as swimming does. And I do have an eye for photography :)

    Reply

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) replied: — August 3rd, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      your welcome and glad you’re enjoying them.

      and being w/ children? the world needs more people like you…teachers, caregivers, nurturing types…yes!! :)

      Reply

      • Michaela replied: — August 3rd, 2011 at 1:48 pm

        I enjoy them immensly!
        haha, thanks, but I am actually studying marketing and communications ;) BUT: I am currently an aupair for the second time around and I am planning on having 4 children :) So, there you have it, very nurturing indeed ;) And like my mum, a home birth midwife, I am very caring ;)

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    Ragnhild — August 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Wow, food photos can be SO beautiful! And so ugly.. :S Its like art, and good photos are amazing! Your pictures always makes me hungry!!

    Reply

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    Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles — August 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Oh Averie, your photos are just gorgeous!! I just started following White on Rice Couple. Thank you so much for sharing your notes, I can’t wait to put them all into a little cheat sheet and keep them in my “studio”. It’s almost as good as being there!

    What comes naturally? Not photography. School definitely comes naturally to me. Not too much work, but a lot of success. I wish I were more creative though! I used to be a natural writer, I’m getting back into it!

    Reply

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    Brooke — August 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I am really good at making little crafty things. Nothing major, just hair bows and such. I’ll be selling them soon on my blog to help us raise the rest of the money we need to complete our adoption!

    Brooke
    http://www.TheAnnessaFamily.blogspot.com

    Reply

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    Krystal@Mrs.Regueiro's Plate — August 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    What a great opportunity Averie!! Thanks for sharing the tips, your photography skills are on the fasttrack! Keep it up!

    Reply

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    katie @ KatieDid — August 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you thank you for your notes! It’s so helpful and kind of you to share these tidbits, as I find them really interesting and useful. Your pictures are looking more and more beautiful every post you put up. Something that comes natural to me… being a good listener. I’m not as much a talker, but I prefer to listen, ask questions, and give advice and I think I’m good at it!

    Reply

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    Lori @ RecipeGirl — August 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    omg, you’re learning all the great stuff! I’ve seen Todd & Diane before- went to Food Blog Camp in Mexico w/ them. They’re amazing. Truly. All great tips. Bookmarking for future needed inspiration!!

    Can’t wait to *finally* meet you tomorrow night for dinner! yay!

    Reply

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) replied: — August 3rd, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      in retrospect to be with you, marla, todd & diane, matt & adam in the caribbean…not going on that trip (didnt really know til it was too late)…is one of the biggest regrets of my 2010!

      can’t wait to see you!

      Reply

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    Snippets of Thyme — August 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I loved her styling shot of the salad! Thank you for showing some of the “behind the shoot” photos. I feel like I am in a bubble and have no real idea how other people photograph. Oh, BTW, you might want to mention to White on Rice couple that their website seems to be acting funny. When I click onto it, some advertisements pop up instead of their site. Hope its temporary. Keep clicking!

    Reply

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) replied: — August 3rd, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      their site was fine for me but so many people are having issues with their sites lately! glad you like the tips.

      Reply

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    Emily — August 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Love this post! It looks like you’re having a great time and learning a lot! :)

    Reply

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    Katie — August 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I’m so impressed with everything here. And you!

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    lynn @ the actor's diet — August 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    love that you met diane! she is one of my virtual buddies – i knew her before i started blogging b/c i was in a movie called “white on rice” and we would get confused for one another!

    Reply

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    Maris (In Good Taste) — August 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Well I think you succeeded. These cupcake photos are great!

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    Leanne @ Healthful Pursuit — August 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    :| okay… I seriously need to come to the next workshop, where ever and when ever it is. I WISH I could get the money shot in one go. Just wow. You did a fantastic job on the cupcakes. Can’t wait to see how you translate these new skills into the food photography on your blog!

    Reply

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    Pure2raw twins — August 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    what an awesome experience, seriously so jealous that you are there with such amazing people!! and thank you for sharing what your are learning there ;)

    and I am the same as you, I take a ton of pictures before I get the shot I like…guess I need to practice more

    Michelle

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    Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg — August 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    DAMN. Those are some skills to get those shots in ONE take!!!! Oh, jealousy :-)

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    laura — August 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    What a great opportunity! I’m so jealous of all the camera knowledge you have!

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    chelsey @ clean eating chelsey — August 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Wow – that photographer is amazing. I take about a zillion pictures for my “money shot” and even then, they’re not that good!

    Reply

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    Aggie — August 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Fantastic post!!! I spent some time with Diane recently and have been inspired ever since. Thanks so much for recapping all of what you learned, this is great!!

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    Marla — August 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Averie, such a fun post. Thanks for sharing Diane’s tips with us. She is a wonderful teacher & person :)

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    betty — August 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    oh i would love to attend a class like this i could totally do with alot of photo tops :)

    Reply

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    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen — August 4, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Those are some really great tips, thank you for passing them on. I particularly liked this – “Don’t pick up your camera until you know what you want to say and convey. Create pictures in your sleep, in other times of your day so that when you do pick up your camera, you have your story, mood, and feel ready.”

    Reply

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    Katie — August 4, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for all the photography tips you’re learning! Really wish I could go to that I just recently got into food blogging more and my pics could use a little help! :)

    Reply

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    Callie {Rawxy} — August 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    This is fabulous – thanks so much for reposting her notes! I must get to this next year – that is, if they hold another one! One thing I really need to get wired up, is the tethering – it would cut down on my shots tremendously! I’m finding I shoot a million images because I have a hard time checking the focus on the LCD and then never erase them from my computer – Insert: computer crashing :) So many things to do (and/or buy, haha)

    Reply

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    Heather — August 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Great photo information. I take the photos for my blog and am always trying to improve them. I am excited for my son who will be studying photography at college in the fall.

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    Nathalie — August 6, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your notes and for not keeping them to yourself; I’ve no clue about food photography, but would like to know more, so your posts are immensely helpful and inspiring! x
    PS: I am also going to purchase the Plate to Pixel (?) book based on your rave review ;-)

    Reply

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    Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) — August 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Hmmm, I would say school comes naturally to me … I excel in school, but other than that … I don’t know if I have any specific talents.

    Reply

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    Heather @ Pinfluence — January 28, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Oh my goodness! This is awesome! I found your blog via Pinterest & this post was so helpful to me! :) I know it will help improve my photography! I featured this pin on my blog as one of my favorites from last week::: http://www.pinfluence.com/2012/01/28/pinfluence-saturday-stumbles-1-28-12/

    Reply

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    Bailey Ana — April 12, 2012 at 5:38 am

    That was a brilliant write up of the workshop, thanks for sharing!

    x

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    island girl — June 29, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Fabulous post, thank you so very much! So helpful! Enjoy the day :D @littleislandstu

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    Nisha — July 3, 2012 at 9:09 am

    after all these months of my search, this has been by far the best summary, tips, and short quick notes on internet in one page for food photography, at least for beginners.
    checking out your other posts now.

    Reply

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    Rachelle King — December 28, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Thank you for sharing this blog post! Such a great read and tips for food photography!

    Reply

    • Averie @ Averie Cooks replied: — December 28th, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Thanks for stopping by – the post is a little older now but glad you still liked it!

      Reply

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    Kelli Nicole — February 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I was at one of Diane’s workshops where she shot a harmburger & chips. It was one of the coolest workshops and I learned so much. It wasn’t even hands-on, so I can’t imagine how cool it would be to take an interactive workshop. Awesome post!

    Reply

    • Averie @ Averie Cooks replied: — February 12th, 2013 at 6:11 pm

      It was such an amazing experience…loved every second of it!

      Reply

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