Category Archives: Photography

Why You Need A Tripod


Let me start out by saying I’m not a member of the tripod guild of America and I’m not getting any kickbacks from Best Buy for writing this post; I just really think that anyone from a part-time food blogger to a photography hobbyist should own their own tripod.

I’ve been using a tripod on and off for a couple years now. After my first starting to get rough around the edges I upgraded to a Manfrotto 3-section tripod and pan tilt head last month and haven’t looked back. A good tripod might seem like a large, frivolous and expensive piece of equipment but it is anything but unnecessary. Compared to hand-held shooting, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your pictures.

Increased Detail:


One of the biggest freedoms of using a tripod is eliminating shaky hands. When I’m holding the camera, I can’t push the shutter speed faster than 1/40 or 1/30 without risking camera shake; with a tripod you can set the shutter for as long as you’ll need and never have to deal with a blurry picture again. Longer exposures also let you use a good ISO value for crisp, clean detail and very little noise.

Free Your Hands:

Vegetarian Buffalo Chicken Dip

It’s a pretty obvious fact that you can’t be behind the camera and in front of it at the same time. I know this because whenever I go on vacation I have a hundred pictures of the people I was with and very few of myself to look at. For food bloggers, using a tripod means you can take pictures of yourself actually handling the food and cooking the recipes, letting you create more interesting shots. For hobbyist photographers it means being able to take a family photo without awkwardly deciding which family member sits out and takes the picture.

Low-Light/Night Photography:

July 16th 080

If you’re working with natural light, you have to time your day around the patterns of the sun. Sometimes that just doesn’t fit everyone’s schedule. With a tripod, you can set the camera to take long exposures so that even dark scenes come out bright and full of contrast.

Less Editing:


This is by far my favorite part about using a tripod: On average I take 70% fewer photos when using a tripod. That means 70% fewer photos to upload to the computer, 70% fewer photos to comb through for decent ones, and 70% fewer photos to edit in photoshop. All of that combined saves a lot of time.

Have I convinced you yet? Do you have anymore questions? Feel free to comment with them and I’ll help however I can.

Just Photos: Graduation

May 26th 029

May 26th 035

May 26th 039

May 26th 036

May 26th 053-2

May 26th 061

May 26th 062

DIY Photography Reflectors

May 3rd 028-2

Photography is expensive.

Anyone who has picked up photography as a hobby or who does it professionally will tell you that. And my wallet has definitely felt that crunch over the past few years, too. Last May I upgraded my camera to a pre-owned Canon 7D which I absolutely love. At the time I was looking into getting even more photography equipment but my good sense convinced me to stop at the necessities.

Still, good lighting is just as important as a good camera. I always work with natural light, but that’s not so easy when your natural light is one 2 x 4 window on the far wall in your bedroom. These DIY light reflectors have been a saving grace.

May 3rd 016

Both of these photos were taken in the same place with the same light source and all of the same camera settings. I edited them slightly but you can still see the huge difference in the shadows between the two. The difference is that the bottom photo had a reflector bouncing light back onto the subject.

You probably won’t believe how simple or cheap the reflector is to make yourself. You probably have all of the materials already.

May 3rd 042

All you need to make a reflector is cardboard, aluminum foil, and tape. That’s it. Simply cut the cardboard into an oval or a rectangle, wrap the aluminum foil around it and tape it into place. For the round one I use 2 chip clips to make it stand on its own but you can use any number of materials. This clearly isn’t rocket science.

May 3rd 032

My set up usually involved a large, rectangular reflector on the side facing opposite to the light source and a smaller one I can move around and position to target the focal point or any shadowy areas.

You don’t want a light source too powerful hitting the aluminum foil or else it will look like you’re shining a flashlight onto the food. Just soft, natural light is all you need to make a big difference in your photos.

May 3rd 030

Once again the same photo only without and with the reflectors. It’s incredible what about 50 cents worth of material can do.

Hope this was helpful! With all of that saved money you can go out and buy yourself a slice of cake.

Smartphone Camera Apps + an HTC One X Giveaway

September 25th 033

Back at the beginning of September I wrote a post about how I’m a part of AT&T’s “It’s what you do with what we do” campaign. AT&T gave me an HTC One X phone to test out(and one to giveaway in today’s post!) and see how I could make it fit my lifestyle as a food blogger. Immediately I set it up to use for social media and photo sharing. Over the last month I’ve had a lot of fun using the camera phone and 4G to tweet and post on Facebook more candid photos while I was cooking and setting up shots for blog posts. Thankfully I really haven’t ran into any bumps with the phone; you can read all about how I set it up in my first post.

The main thing I was interested in was using the 8 megapixel f2.0 camera to get great shots on the go and finding apps that would help enhance them. I found it really easy to take photos, work with them between apps, and upload them to the internet quickly. The big screen and big buttons makes it easier to see smaller details and work through the phone. And I found an Android app for just about anything I could need, from tweeting to reading my Kindle ebooks. I focused a lot on finding and trying photo apps that tied in with the great camera; I thought I’d share some of my favorites that I came across.

As a sidenote, I use Instagram a lot(@EvanThomas) but don’t talk about it here. It’s not one of my favorite apps for taking and editing photos, but it’s the only one with a social component. More often than not I’ll edit photos in one of the other apps and upload it to Instagram.


My favorite photo for editing photos was a new one I found in the app store called pixlr-o-matic. I’m hardly exaggerating when I say this app has just about any effect you could ask for. There are literally hundreds of filters, borders, and textures to choose from. If you’re getting bored of the standard old Instagram features, this is definitely the best one to switch to.

Lightroom Photos47

I love the texture effects that add flares to the photos. As someone who’s worked with developing film, those are very hard to get naturally, so having the option to digitally manipulate them is awesome. Some of these filters and textures are so great that I’ve been using their online version to edit photos I take with my DSLR before sharing them online.


My favorite app is still Pudding Camera. I’ll usually take photos with this app and edit or share them in others afterwards. The interface is simply fun and easy to manage and it has just the right options so that there’s something for every occasion.


I’m really obsessed with the motion x4 setting which takes 4 different exposures. It’s useless for food photography but adds an interesting touch to pictures of large spaces. The fantasy setting is great if you want a focus center and soft blur around the edges to give a low aperture impression.


Not a photo app but an app I’ve really loved nonetheless—Out Of Milk is an app that keeps track of your shopping and other lists. There are a lot of apps like this but this one was my clear favorite. You can have different groups, such as items you always need to get every week. You can also cross an item off your list without deleting it, which I found helpful for the items I knew I’d need to add back on the list as soon as I got home. And there’s a part that keeps track of what you already have in your pantry.

September 1st 055


ATT is letting me giveaway one HTC One X phone($500 value) without service to a reader! To enter, comment below with how you use technology to help with your cooking adventures. Also leave a separate comment for any additional entries.

Additional entries:

  • Like The Wannabe Chef on Facebook
  • Like AT&T on Facebook
  • If you have twitter, tweet “I want to win an @ATT smartphone #ItsWhatYouDo”

I will randomly pick a winner out of the comments on Friday, October 5th. Good luck!

Using Your DSLR For Food Photography


More pancakes anyone?

Like I said, I haven’t been cooking much this week. So instead of a recipe I’m hoping a post on photography with pictures of food is almost as good.

I got my Canon Rebel for Christmas in 2010. I wasn’t really into photography back then but I figured I should get one like any good food blogger, and I’m pretty sure I’d dropped my old digital camera on the ground one too many times. For a long time I shot in automatic, because that was really easy and the pictures looked fine. But the more I used it, the more comfortable I felt playing with the buttons and nobs. And this year in my photography class using Manual was required, so the training wheels came off and I haven’t looked back. 


There are 3 functions to keep in mind in a camera, and they all work together proportionally: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.

The shutter speed is how fast the shutter opens and closes. The longer it’s open, the more light that gets in. It’s the easiest thing to control and usually the last thing you want to decide for a photo. If your shutter speed is too slow(1/30th of a second or slower) you might have to start worrying about shaking the camera and getting a blurry photo.

ISO is simply the quality the picture will have. A low ISO like 100 has a lot of detail, even if you make the picture big. A high ISO like 1600 comes out grainy when you try to stretch the photo. However, if you use 1600 ISO, your camera’s shutter speed can shoot 4 times faster than at 100 ISO, so it can be useful to stop blur. Generally, 400 ISO is a good compromise between quality and speed because it’s half way between 100 and 1600(I know it sounds like it’s a quarter way between the two, but trust me. It’s half).

Aperture is the depth of field of a photo, or how much of the photo is in focus. This is easier seen then told:

Lightroom Photos5

The left one has a low aperture(5.0) and the right one a high aperture(22). You can see much more is in focus in the right one. Because of this, the shutter speed on the right one had to be about 10 times as long, which is when a tripod really comes in hand.

Lightroom Photos4

This time, the one on the left has a high aperture(22 again) and the one on the right has the low aperture(5.0).

In this case, I think the pictures with the low aperture look better, mostly because you can’t see the faux wood board I’m using as a table. Also, if you didn’t have a tripod, you’d want to use the lower aperture so that your hand won’t shake while you’re taking the picture. But neither one is universally better than the other; it all depends on what you’re shooting and what effect you’re going for.


This photo has a really low aperture(2.8) so that only the lip of the cup is in focus. In this case, that was too low and I should have used a higher aperture for a better photo. A general rule is that, when there’s something in the foreground and something in the background, what’s in the foreground should be in focus over everything else. Then again, rules can be broken and no one’s going to arrest you for a bad photo; if that were the case I’d have a life sentence by now. 

So how do you know if you’ve got it all right besides taking a photo and seeing how it looks on the back of your camera?


You’ve probably seen this little meter at the bottom of the screen when you look through the view finder. It measures the light in the photo before you actually take the photo. If the exposure is right, the arrow at the center should be at the middle(generally for food photos I think they look a little better if it’s closer to the 1 but that’s another story). If you’re letting too much light into camera, the arrow will be on the + side and you should either lower the shutter speed, lower the ISO, or raise the aperture. If there isn’t enough light in the photo, the arrow will be on the – side and you should slow down the shutter speed, raise the ISO, or lower the aperture.


*Not a food photo*

When you’re taking pictures of family or friends(or dogs), this can be a lot to keep track of and you might be tempted to put your camera back on automatic. Compromise. Put your camera on AV, which stands for aperture priority. This lets you choose what aperture you want and it will automatically calculate the rest which makes it almost just as easy and you get total control of what’s in focus.

If all of this sounds confusing and overwhelming, that’s OK. This is much easier learned through practice than reading it on a computer screen, so pick up your camera and just start snapping. It’ll all make sense with enough practice under your belt.

9 Lessons From My Photography Class

For the past 12 weeks I’ve been taking a photo course at RISD; our final presentations are on Monday and to say I’ve learned a lot would be an understatement.

The class itself is a black and white film course. I thought there was no way the skills used in film photography could carry over to what I like to do in digital. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I know so much more about how to set up a shot, how my digital camera works, and even how to edit photos on a computer because of the work we did with film. The two pretty much go hand in hand and I feel like I take stronger photos because of it. 

Here are the 9 most valuable tips I’ve learned from the past semester; I’d suggest that you don’t just read them, but take them in, grab a camera, and practice. The best thing you can do to strengthen your photos is get hands on experience, and no amount of reading can match that.


Check the light meter

That little thing in the bottom of your viewfinder actually turns out to be incredibly helpful. Before I was shooting in manual but always looking at the screen to see how I needed to adjust the shutter speed. That meant having a lot of shots that were horribly, horribly exposed. Using the light meter has cut down on bad shots tremendously.

Food photos in general look better overexposed by a stop I think but with a properly exposed file there’s nothing you can’t do in a digital editing software.


Pay attention to lighting

Lighting is pretty much everything in a photo. The best way to practice finding good lighting isn’t taking pictures at all; just simply observe the light in a space at different times during the day to see how it changes and how the shadows make things look. Lighting really is essential to taking a good photo so figure that out before anything else.

Also, avoid flash whenever possible. It just makes people’s skin look like reflective vests and that’s never attractive.


Crank down the ISO

I was always shooting in 1600 ISO because I thought that was “good enough”, but after working with photos in 400 ISO the quality isn’t even comparable. ISO measures the amount of detail in a photo, the lower the ISO meaning the more detail. Setting your ISO to 400 means you’ll have to use a slower shutter speed, but for well-lit shots like outdoor photos on a sunny day there’s no reason not to use it.


The whole frame matters

It’s easy to get caught up in a subject and start taking pictures not paying attention with what’s around it. The problem is other people will pay attention to it when they look at the photos. If it’s not meant to be part of the photo, it probably is just a distraction and shouldn’t be there. You could crop it out during editing, but it’s so much easier to pay attention to the whole frame when you’re shooting than manipulating things after the fact.


Tripods are your friend

I got a tripod for Christmas this past December. I hardly used it at all until a few weeks ago, and now I can’t stop. It’s just so much better for when you want to take low ISO photos and the lighting isn’t that great. It doesn’t have all the mobility of using your hands, but if you’re savvy you can get some pretty great shots. I’ll definitely be using mine most of the time when I’m taking food photos from now on.


“Stealing” is fine

Stealing a recipe from one website and posting it on another is bad. Stealing a car is worse. But “stealing” a photo is fine—or rather, the concept of the photo. Stealing in art just means seeing something that someone else did well and that you like and trying to recreate it yourself. So if you have a particular favorite photographer who does great work, why not try to make your photos look just like theirs? As long as you’re the one taking the photo, it’s not breaking any rules.


Prints are never out of fashion

With everything being digital today, no one has prints of their photos anymore. They’re a lot of fun to keep around, put on display, or even give as gifts. Get your favorite digital photos printed once and a while and do something fun with them; otherwise they only live on your computer and where’s the fun in that?


Find your style and stick to it

Everyone has a different style. Even after 12 weeks of class with people I never knew before, it’s easy to tell who took what photos based on the subject matter and style. Likewise, I can spot a lot of my favorite food bloggers just by how their photos look because they’ve stuck with one style and gotten really good with it. It’s great to try new things but start with a strong foundation by working on your own look.


Get feedback

Of course you should always please yourself with your work, but sometimes we get too attached to make objective decisions; that’s when having people who are going to tell you the truth is most important. Don’t go asking your mom or best friend who’s never said a mean thing in her life how your photos are—find someone unbiased who knows a thing or two about photos and ask what you could do to improve. Most of the time, we aren’t our best critic. In the words of Tina Fey, “If you’re ever feeling too good about yourself, there’s this thing called the internet.”


Hooked On Lightroom

I can’t remembered if I mentioned it here but last month I won Attune Food’s October recipe challenge. They’re hosting another challenge for December which you should look into entering, blogger or not. Anyway, that came with a nice $200 prize, and while at first I wasn’t sure what to do with it it pretty soon became clear.

I took the plunge and finally bought Lightroom. Up until this point I’ve used free photo editing software(Picasa Photo Viewer and Microsoft Live Photo Gallery) but I figured since I’ve gotten more serious as a food blogger and am taking a photography class next semester it would be a good investment. Besides, the student and teacher version is on sale on amazon for only $89 now so I would highly recommend students and teacher readers taking advantage of that.

New folder1

Since it came in the mail on Thursday I’ve been playing around a lot on it. While I’m still far from understanding it all, I must say it’s done a tremendous job at editing photos. With all of the controls, it’s very easy to get the tones and clarity of a picture exactly where you want it to look its best. You can see the Lightroom version on the right is a lot brighter and clearer than the one on the left that was edited with free software.

New folder2

I’ve started to use it on food photos for this week’s post and again it doesn’t disappoint. Look how much better the color and contrast is in the photo on the right! 

New folder

Lightroom also does a great job at fixing white balance issues, which I apparently have a lot of because my photos always end up being too blue or too red. I love that you can edit each color hue individually to get something more natural looking.

New folder3

This is the only one where I’m not sure the photo edited with Lightroom looks any better than the other. I like them both very much. The Lightroom photo(on the right) has a more chocolaty look to it, but I like the brightness of the other photo. I wouldn’t say you need anything more than a free photo editor to get good photos but Lightroom makes it a lot easier to recover the nuances of photos that aren’t so great to begin with.


And now that I can edit RAW files I’ve changed my camera settings to shoot with them. I’m certainly no camera expert, but from what I understand the RAW data is a lot less compressed and gives you a wider variety of things in the photo to edit. I find the best way to learn things is by getting your hands dirty with them so I guess I’ll just keep trying new things and seeing which ones work.

Finding The Light


I hate Daylight Savings Time. Hate it. I don’t care about that extra hour of sleep I got; it’s not worth the trade-off of it becoming dark outside by 5pm. That is a nightmare for a food blogger.

Something I haven’t talked about much is how frustrated I’ve been with my photography over the past 2 months. A dorm room—as you can imagine—has very limited space and this makes setting up elaborate scenes difficult. After 8 weeks of trial and error(and error and error), I think I’m just now starting to pick up the tricks of how to work with limited light and limited space.

Oct. 31st 074

My usual set up is to put a flat, textured surface on top of a storage bin set up in front of the window with a neutral background behind propped up with a chair to reflect the light. Once I have that set up, I start adding plates of food and other props around it to make it look like a more permanent tablescape.

Oct. 31st 080

I think one of the most important things is knowing when the light is “good” in a room. This is just something you have to observe about the space over time. For me it seems like there are a few hours in the morning and a few in the early afternoon when the most light comes through the window, so I try to arrange taking photographs around those times.


When everything else has come together, all that’s left is to find the right angles and start shooting. I’m a big fan of the take-many-photos-and-hope-one-isn’t-blurry method. A tripod to hold the camera, lengthen the exposure, and allow for more detailed, lightened photographs would be a good investment; but it’s one that I haven’t made yet.

Nov. 9th 018

The latest thing I’ve done to improve is switch from a white to a light grey background. The problem with white is that it’s often too bright and makes the rest of the image look dull in comparison. Depending on how the camera’s white balance is set, it might throw off the colors of the objects in the photo, too.


White balance is something I admit that I understand very little of; but certainly it’s one of those things that you notice in a photo when it’s well done and notice when it’s not. I’m looking forward to trying more with grey backgrounds with a grey posterboard I just bought(much better than an inside-out shirt).


Another option I’ve used is my homemade light box, which is good because it allows me to take photos at any time no matter how light it is outside. However, I’m not a huge fan of using it because I think it ends up looking too artificial and overexposed and the only way to change that is by making another larger light box. That being said, this is the first photo I’ve had accepted onto Tastespotting and Foodgawker in months so I shouldn’t knock it too hard.

Why all this about photography? Fore one, it’s probably the part of food blogging that comes least naturally to me. I feel very confident cooking for any number of people under whatever conditions and being able to make something satisfying. But photography takes work. Another reason is that I just found out I’ll be taking a photography course at the Rhode Island School of Design next semester. While the thought of being graded on something so far removed from my studies makes me a little nervous, I know in the end I’ll gain a lot from the experience and hope that shows through on the blog.

Double Take: Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies


One of my most popular recipes on this site is the almond flour chocolate chip cookies. I never understood why it was so popular; sure, it’s a good recipe. But it didn’t get too much attention when I posted it and the pictures weren’t that great. It all made sense one day when I realized it was the #1 google search result for “almond flour cookies” and “almond flour chocolate chip cookies”. Well I felt humbled.


Ever since I found that out, I’ve been wanting to make these again and take better photos. I mean, if people I don’t know are visiting this website, it’s good to make the best first impression you can, right?

It also so happens that this week was one of my good friend’s birthday, and homemade baked goods sounded like a great gift from someone whose home is 2000 miles away from campus. So cookies it was, with about twice as many chocolate chips as the recipe calls for because who wouldn’t love that for their birthday?


A funny thing happened when I made these this time around: They didn’t spread out nearly as much as I expected, making more of a doughball than a cookie. The taste and texture was nearly the same cooked either way: Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. As long as they taste good, I don’t mind so much how they came out.


And then I held on to them just long enough to get these photographs + more before I gift wrapped them and handed them off to the birthday girl. If you want to see more photographs and the recipe, click over to the original recipe page. These make great birthday cookies or just anytime cookies. Of course they’re gluten-free, and also fairly low in sugar for a cookie(since almond flour is naturally sweet) and grain-free, too.

Improving Food Photography From Criticism

Have we all seen the show Toddlers and Tiaras?


If not, you’re missing out on one of the finer parts of life, like fireworks on the 4th of July and jumping into a pile of leaves in Fall. More importantly, you’re missing out on this simile:

Food photography is like Toddlers and Tiaras. You spend so much time building up something you love, dressing it with all the bells and whistles, giving it a touch of digitalized make-up and send it off to the judges. When you’re photo wins grand supreme(or just gets posted along with all the other grand supremes on food sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting), you’re elated for it. But when it doesn’t, it’s crushing. Like a pageant mother wearing way too much sparkly make-up, you feel like you were rejected right along with the photo.

So what’s a pageant mother—I mean, food blogger—to do? Take the words of the judges and use them to make your next performance stronger. Most food sites will give constructive criticism which can be broken down to fix minute(or big) mistakes.



Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars, rejected by Tastespotting

This is perhaps the most annoyingly subjective criteria on which food sites judge food photos. What it boils down to is whether they like the picture or not: Are there extra things in the background that are distracting? Do the elements make sense? Does the food look presentable? What’s good composition to one person might seem poor to another.

July 17th 040

Raspberry Tofu Mousse, rejected by Tastespotting

There’s absolutely no way to fix composition after the photo’s been taken unless you want to try and submit another day and hope they change their mind. Generally good composition should have the food be the star of the photo without other distracting elements. Tastespotting is even stricter about this insisting no hands or teeth marks. The bottom line is that it’s subjective and rather than catering to critics you should take and submit a photo that you enjoy and hope that the food sites enjoy them, too.

Harsh Lighting/Overexposure:

Gluten-Free Pancakes, rejected by Foodgawker

Just like it sounds, harsh lighting refers to the amount and intensity of brightness in a photograph. Too bright a photo can distract from the colors and contrast. Luckily, this is easy to fix by adjusting the brightness, contrast, shadows and highlights of a picture.

Low Lighting/Underexposure:

July 2nd 065

High-Protein Mock Thai, rejected by Foodgawker and Tastespotting

Low lighting can equally ruin a photo like harsh lighting in not letting all of the content be seen. Again, this one is easy to fix by adjusting brightness, contrast, shadows and highlights. It’s also important to make sure there isn’t too much black or dark brown present in the photo to begin with since this can easily overwhelm the food.

White Balance:

June 26th 033

Gluten-Free Whoopie Pies, rejected by Foodgawker and Tastespotting

The white balance of a photo affects the colors and tones by designating the contrast between colors and “true white”. Most cameras automatically adjust the white balance but it can be specified for different lights. Unfortunately the white balance of a photo cannot be fixed on a computer unless you shoot and edit RAW files.


July 12th 098

Tofu Ricotta, rejected by Foodgawker and Tastespotting

Dull/Unsharp images are usually a result from the camera focusing on the wrong part of the picture. It could also happen if a photos quality is drastically reduced. While most photo editing programs have a “sharpen” option, the result is usually poor and grainy. The best practice for sharp photos is making sure the camera is focused.

Does It Really Matter?


Peanut Butter Magic Shell, rejected by Foodgawker and Tastespotting

I attended a food blogging conference 2 weeks ago called Techmunch where one of the panels talked about improving food photography. Inevitably the conversation moved towards Foodgawker and Tastespotting and general grievances about being rejected. Brian gave a helpful reminder that, no matter what the critic thinks, no rejection defines you or your photos. You can still totally love a photo or photo set that gets rejected; one person’s opinion doesn’t make them good or not, so worry less what the critics have to say and take photos to please yourself.