If you’ve dreamed of creating your own food blog but don’t know where to start, we have just the answer. Sarah Fennel started out as a professional food photographer and baker before deciding to showcase her passion through blogging. Introducing: Broma Bakery. Complimented by her immaculate Instagram feed (boasting nearly 100,000 followers), she’s worked with everyone from Sur La Table to Blue Diamond. We picked her brain to get to the root of her success and shed some light on how you can find your own.
What’s a good food to start with? Are there any that are easy to shoot?
Definitely. Anything with texture or layers. So, things like grain bowls, loaded salads, or layered sandwiches. I absolutely love photographing layer cakes, because they’re naturally so beautiful. Things I would not shoot right away? Pizza, enchiladas…anything with cheese or that is baked and will only look good for five minutes before it seizes up.
What basics should a photographer be focusing on as they shoot?
I always say that composition is 51 percent of a photo, editing is 49 percent, and lighting is 100 percent. Lighting is everything. Think about what a camera is: it’s a box that lets in light. Beyond that, composition is the foundation of your photo. Because composition is based on universal visual principles, it’s the thing that’s going to make your photograph universally appealing. That being said, editing is the thing that’s going to make your photograph even more attractive. Basically, think of composition like bone structure and editing as your makeup.
1/250 sec | F4.4 | ISO320
What composition tips would you share with your younger self or an aspiring food blogger?
Oh, I love this question because I believe that learning composition is hands down the most important thing you can do as an aspiring food blogger. I don’t know why, but I’ve found that sometimes there is a disconnect between photographing food and understanding the value in using more traditional artistic conventions. So, composition is so important!
I would say that the easiest compositional technique is utilizing the Rule of Thirds. It’s the idea that you put the most important part of your subject on or adjacent to either the vertical or horizontal third of your photo.
What settings do you usually start out with and how do you know when to make adjustments?
I love shooting in the aperture priority setting. My favorite setting on my camera is F4.5! Food photography lends itself well to the shallow depth of field you get from shooting wide because it makes the food pop.
1/125 sec | F4.9 | ISO500
What’s the difference between shooting solid food and drinks?
Drinks and cocktails are difficult because being in a see-through vessel, you have to be very particular about where you focus your camera. I like shooting drinks from a near bird’s eye view but tilted down slightly so you get just a hint of the side wall. I find drinks much more difficult to photograph than food.
1/125 sec | F4.9 | ISO500
What should aspiring food bloggers be aware of when photographing restaurants?
The three most important things to have when shooting in a restaurant are good light, a good surface to shoot on, and good food. To be honest, I’ve turned down shooting at certain restaurants because the food didn’t look appetizing. And if it doesn’t look appealing right in front of you, it’s going to be three times as difficult to photograph it to look appealing. As for good surfaces to shoot on, this means both plates/dishes and the table you shoot on.
My biggest piece of advice in restaurant photography: don’t be afraid to ask to change things up. If a plate is looking awful, ask the chef if they can replace it on a different plate. Even go into the kitchen with them and see what they have. Same goes for surfaces. Sometimes shooting on the ground can look way better than shooting on a table. Just don’t be afraid to do what you have to do to get “the shot!”
Restaurants are often low lit. How do you shoot in this lighting?
I don’t. Well, I do, but I basically MacGyver the situation. I shoot solely in natural light, so in order to do my job well, I need to photograph in good light. The OM-D E-M10 Mark III performs remarkably well in low light situations.
Also, when shooting at a low-lit restaurant, I ask ahead of time if I can move a table towards a window in order to shoot closer to the light. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve shot on a flat roof because outside had the best light. Ha!
1/125 sec | F4.9 | ISO500
What’s your favorite travel cuisine that you’ve both eaten and photographed?
I was incredibly fortunate to be invited on a week-long tour of Israel to experience Israeli food. It was absolutely extraordinary, as Israeli cuisine is a melting pot of food and cultures. This one day we were invited to a young female chef, Atalya’s, home in the hills outside of Jerusalem, and the six-course lunch we had was life-changing. I felt instantly connected to her as a person, and sincerely inspired by her philosophy on food and life. That’s what’s so beautiful about food: it has the ability to transcend the act of eating to become an emotional, interpersonal experience. You can see all the photos from that trip here.
1/200 sec | F4 | ISO500
Do you think new technologies are making it easier or more difficult to develop a unique photographic style?
Both, for different reasons. I think technical advances make it easier to develop a photographic style in the sense that photography has become an instantaneous thing. Anyone can snap a photo on their smartphone, throw a filter on it, and call it a “style.” But to me, that’s lazy. That’s not good photography.
My photography journey started with shooting analog photography in high school, photographing on an old 35mm camera, developing the film myself, and then developing my photos in a darkroom (to this day I love the smell of fixer). I realize now that because I had that foundation, I am more critical in the way I photograph. Because for years, I only had 20-25 clicks to get a good shot, which is why, I think, that I feel so strongly about composition. Because without good composition, photography becomes less about art and more about snapshotting.
So, in that sense, technical advances are making it more difficult to develop a unique sense of style because, for one, you almost have to ignore the effortlessness of digital photography, not relying on the fact that technically you can shoot 300 pictures of a brownie and based purely on numbers, one photo will probably be good. And secondly, it’s much harder now to be unique as a photographer because everyone is photographing everything. Instagram is the most used form of social media amongst young people, and everyone seems to have a perfectly curated feed. We’re inundated with photos every day, every hour.
How did you build up your following? What tips can you share?
I live by the adage “Content is King.” Without good content, why should people follow you? I’ve never done share groups or IG pods or whatever they’re called. I have just spent hours and hours studying photography, and have tried my best to translate the things I’ve learned into my food photos.
For someone just starting out, I would say focus first on creating the best content you can, listen to what performs well (if you get two times the number of likes on brownies as you do on a salad, photograph more brownies!), and post as consistently as you can (ideally once a day). In order to get a consistent look and feel to my photos, I try my best to shoot at the same focal length for each shoot. I’ll set my focal length and try my best not to touch it throughout the shoot. All of these things will really help in terms of building your following.
I discuss this more in-depth in my online Foodtography School course — how it’s incredibly important to listen to your audience and to give to them and not just take their likes. I’ve consistently found that the accounts that perform best on Instagram provide value to their audiences. So think about the ways that you can enrich and enhance your followers’ lives and implement that on your page to give your audience more of a reason to hit follow.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.