Take your camera off auto mode

Taking your camera off auto mode is a big decision and involves a bit of practice, but it is the best thing that you can ever do with your camera. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and you will be fascinated by how easy it is to take pictures worth of glossy magazines.


It is not only about your personal pictures, it is also about the pictures for your business. If you work in a visual field such as the food industry, and don’t always have a budget for hiring a professional photographer, this guide will come in handy.


The pictures that people see on your website or social media can influence the way they feel about you, and create a connection, unveiling your personality.


In this post, I will only focus on the different types of priority modes, and how they can related to food photography.

Aperture priority mode

This the most artistic way to take more creative food pictures.


The parameters of good photographs are as follows. If you take overhead pictures, try to keep your ISO low and your aperture at f 11, shutter speed around 50-60. Don’t panic, they will all make sense. If you use a side shot, you can experiment with an aperture of f3.5 (or the lowest in your camera) for a blurry background, while your main subject remains in focus, shutter speed at 50-60 and a low ISO.


The main characteristic of the aperture mode is the depth of field. The large apertures have smaller numbers (yes I know quite confusing) so a f1.4 aperture is called large. The small apertures have higher numbers, so a f22 will keep as much as possible in focus in your whole shot.


In the aperture priority mode, you don’t have to worry about setting the shutterspeed, your camera will automatically do this for you. If you don’t achieve the desired shutterspeed, you can put the ISO higher and see what happens, and even open up the aperture. Bear in mind that, the higher the ISO, the grainier the picture, which is not a good thing.


For food photography and for sharpness, it is best to buy a tripod. This will ensure that you don’t get any camera shake or noise in the photograph.


Tip: sometimes it can take a lot of time to get the photo you wanted. You can rehearse before the actual photo shoot with different place holders: bowls, use napkins in the colour of the food that you are going to have, and place them in the bowls, think of composition, and use different props. Take pictures of the props and go back to them the following day. You may have little improvements to make.


Shutter priority mode

This is more about how you catch the movement, when, let’s say, you attend a car race or you photograph a speedy boat. In food, you can use it mostly when you sieve flour on your work bench or icing sugar over cakes, and you like to catch those white sprinkles falling down like a powder.


The faster the shutter the more “frozen” the powdered sugar/flour will appear. The slower the shutter, the more blurred the movement will be. You need to make sure that you are happy with the picture, before you decide to add the movement. Play around with the shutter speed and exposure to achieve the picture you wanted.


Tip: There are other things that you may want to consider in order to get the desired effect: a darker or contrasting background, straight on shot, stacked items (biscuits, brownies), mesh strainer.


Programme mode

This is the least creative mode but it’s perfect for grab shots without camera shake. I very rarely use it in my food photography, but when I do, it means that I’m in a hurry. It is when I want to take a quick photo of a dish in a restaurant (if there is enough natural light), or of the restaurant itself or members of the staff.


The difference between the programme mode and the actual full Auto mode is that, in programme mode, the camera chooses the most important 2 settings: aperture and shutter speed.  The rest is up to us. Sometimes we need to use exposure compensation and we are allowed to do this in P mode but not in Auto.


Tip: use this Programme priority mode when you want to override the auto flash. It’s also an excellent first step off auto and to more creative photographs.


Manual mode

This is where it gets fascinating. If you are confident with the Aperture priority mode, and want more from your camera and lenses, switch to manual. You can set every elements to your liking, achieving the results you want. It is the mode used by all food photographers, because they like to be fully in control of their shot.


If the natural light is quite low – think about the wider apertures ( F on smaller number) and a higher ISO. The only thing with this is to know that the higher your ISO, the grainier your photo. A shorter shutter speed (over 60) eliminates blurring. Practice a few shots on different settings and decide which one works best. Don’t forget that you can improve your image, in terms of light and vibrance, when you edit it.


If the natural light is good, choose what you’d like to have in focus. Is it the whole set or just the main subject? Leave the ISO at minimum (100) but open the aperture (smaller number) and shorten the shutter speed (higher number) It is all about practising and finding out what works for you in the environment, where you are usually photographing.


Tip: I always download the pictures in my computer, before I call it a day. Seeing them on a bigger screen changes perspective, and I always get a few more ideas that I’d like to try.

There are other things that you could do to support your off auto journey:


1. Youtube –  it is a reliable source when it comes to tutorials and learning general things about your type of camera. There are so many features displayed by  today’s cameras, that you really need a basic understanding of their functionality. However, it is  a lot of ‘noise’ out there, so be selective, and listen to your gut feeling.


2. Go on a one day course – it is the most cost-effective way to make sure you are heading in the right direction. I chose this option very early in my journey, and it gave me the confidence to achieve the kind of photography style that I was dreaming of. It’s still a work in progress, but as a photographer, you will never be 100% happy with your photos. You will have to somehow live with this. If you are in or around Cheshire, there are workshops to get off auto and food photography here.

Food Photography & Styling, Romanian Cuisine Cookery Book