Photography 101 – An introduction

Now, we’re all aware of the beautiful images that dSLR cameras can produce. Smooth images with razor sharp clarity and beautiful depths of field that make the subject matter really stand out. While we all pine to be able to afford the few thousand dollars for the SLR setups that would allow us to take these sorts of images, the fact of the matter is that most of us will not make the transition from the compact but quite limited point-and-shoot cameras, and perpetually look at our equipment with disdain, putting the poor-to-average images down to the camera in hand.

How wrong we are.

Whilst point-and-shoot cameras will never have the quality or the ability of SLR cameras (after all, those cameras are expensive for a reason!), by learning a little about how digital cameras work, as well as some of the basics of photography, we are more than capable of using our little point-and-shoots to take some stunning images in our own right!

Case in point: Beef stroganoff comparison photos

This is a photo I took for this blog when it was about 4 months old. At this point, I had only been using the camera for about 4 months as well, and I had not bothered to learn anything about how it worked, feeling content to leave all the settings on ‘Auto’.And despite the obvious lack of thought that went into the planning of this shot, at the time I still dismissed the awfulness of the photo as the camera’s fault.
Beef StrogHere’s a reshoot that I recently did for the beef stroganoff recipe on this blog – can you see the vast difference between the previous photo and this?Mind you, I did upgrade to a slightly more expensive point-and-shoot (after accidentally destroying the previous one whilst drunk on NYE), but bear in mind that it IS still a point-and-shoot camera that I’m using.

There are a million and one photography guides out on the internet, but while I was learning I found that almost none were written exclusively for the beginner point-and-shoot user, full of terms and concepts that I had never heard of before and that were far too technical for me to understand. After continuously hassling a few photographer friends of mine, I gradually came to understand the medium, and decided that a guide needed to be written in layman’s terms, that anyone and everyone with a point-and-shoot camera could understand – and so this guide was born!

Of course, learning your equipment backwards and forwards won’t suddenly give you amazing photos – as my friends say, photography is 99% about the eye behind the camera, and 1% about the equipment…and while this may be true to some extent, understanding the equipment in your hands will certainly go a long way to helping improve your shots!

And now, onto the lessons!

Lesson 1Learning about white balance
Lesson 2Working with your natural light, ISO and exposure compensation
Lesson 3Using your on-camera flash effectively
Lesson 4How to manage focus and Depth of Field (DoF)
Lesson 5How to choose a camera and a basic setup for shooting small objects

Right, so you’ve read the guides, your camera’s user manual, and you’re ready to shoot? Here’s your action plan as it should go:

  1. Concept – think about the shot you want to take. What colours does your object/dish feature, are they mostly light colours or dark colours? For example, does the cake have a white icing? If so, you probably shouldn’t shoot it against a white backdrop – the icing and shape of the cake will be lost. Instead, try a few contrasting colours to really make the cake stand out.
  2. Light – check out the available light sources in the area and the direction the light is angled at. Remember, light casts shadows, so try and angle your plate so that you don’t get any shadows that are too deep in areas of important detail, such as the inside slice of a pie.
  3. Set up & Controls – set up your shot and adjust your camera settings for the environment you’re shooting in!
  4. Angles & Focus – looking through the camera lens, test out a few different angles and distances from your dish and also play around with focusing on different areas. Which angle will make the dish look 3D and not flatten it out? Where should you focus in order to get the best/most-appetizing depth of field? You’re using digital, so don’t be afraid to fire off as many shots as you need, checking after each one to see whether you like it and whether it is clear and in focus. If not, you can always take another! (If it’s any consolation, I generally take between 10 – 35 photos of every dish I cook…and even then, I may decide later that I don’t like any of them and do a reshoot later!)
  5. Post-production – upload the photos to your computer and give them a proper look-over. Are you relatively happy with them? If you have about 10 minutes to spare, pull them into an image editor to tweak them a bit, proper post-production can take an OK photo and turn it into something quite pretty!

For now, you can download and try any of the image editors I’ve listed on this page, and once my studies are done, I’ll write a detailed guide on how to effectively edit your photos!


  1. Hi Ellie, these tips are fantastic. I just came across these the other day. I am a complete amateur and desperate to improve my photography skills. They have been so helpful. Over the weekend I literally took about 500 photos testing out some different functions and features you reference. I have a long way to go, but definitely on a better track now. Thanks again. P.S. Love your blog.

  2. Thanks Julia :) I’m glad that these posts came in handy for you :)

  3. This is brilliant! Thanks so much for being so generous with your knowledge, my photography is terrible and you have taught me a lot. Great site.

  4. Thanks Prue :) I’m so glad you found it useful!

  5. Thank you SO much for the help and direction in taking good food pictures! I’m just getting into blogging and photographing and your tips and tricks are great for a beginner like myself!

  6. Great concept! Thanks for the tips and advice.. I’m planning to start a food blog soon but was worried that I wouldn’t get “pro” pictures with a regular digital camera… Cheers!

  7. Thanks folks :) Please let me know if you have any questions regarding these posts, I’d be more than happy to help out!

  8. I am so glad I found your tutorial. I am new to food blogging and photography, and really needed some help to improve my photos. I googled blog photography and found you..thank you google! :)

  9. Amber – Thank you so much for taking the time to leave your lovely comment :) I hope that you find the series here helpful, and please feel free to email me directly if you have any questions :)

  10. OMG, I am in the same boat. My first pictures were horrible and I was using a point and shoot that was literally falling apart. I finally gave in and bought a canon rebel but I am so clueless. The pictures that I’m getting that are good are because of the camera. Like you, I blamed my camera when the pix were bad so I might as well give credit for some of the good ones! I am going to read all of this tips and try to get better at this. Thanks so much!

    Sugar – a soon-to-be decent food photographer for my blog!

  11. @Cooking with Sugar (Arlene) – Good luck, Arlene :) I hope that this guide helps!

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