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


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


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.



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!


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

73 comments on “Food & Light: Photography Tips from Diane Cu”

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

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

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 ;)

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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 :)

    • your welcome and glad you’re enjoying them.

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

      • 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 ;)

  13. 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!!

  14. 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!

  15. 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!


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

  17. 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!

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

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

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

  22. 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!

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

  24. :| 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!

  25. 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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *