You might have heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly become a master at any given skill. Is this true on your journey toward becoming a great food photographer?
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule in his 2008 New York Times bestseller, Outliers. Gladwell explains that the idea was based on Anders Ericsson's research and claimed that becoming an extremely proficient outlier in a skill requires 10,000 hours of practice.
Surprisingly, Ericsson has since stated that his research doesn’t stand to say that 10,000 hours of practice is some magic number. Instead, it was the average time that experts and elites across different skills have recorded spending to become experts in their field.
So what does this mean for you and your goal toward becoming a successful food photographer? Well, the good news is that working and practicing smarter, not just harder and longer, can help you capture delicious plates of food. Here are five steps to becoming a great food photographer in both an efficient and enjoyable way.
Finding and Refinding Your Inspiration
The only true way to becoming a great food photographer (or great at anything in general) is to find and keep an interest in it! After all, quitting at the starting line will only leave you wondering what could have been.
What excites you about capturing food digitally or on large photography prints when it comes to food photography? Why is food photography important to you? Does food mean delicious adventures of taste, or does it represent abundance and family? The best photographers can easily explain why food photography is important to them. They can also tell you how they developed their food look.
What kind of feelings do you experience when viewing pictures of food? What is it that makes you want to gift your photography to others? Find your “why” and hold it close as you pursue your goal.
Practicing Your Food Photography
Experts aren't created overnight. And while some of us learn more quickly than others, there are few things in life that we can't become skilled at over time. When it comes to food photography, practice is essential! Remember what you love about food and food images that look delicious enough to eat.
Keep a portfolio of examples of food styling and photography. Perhaps start your own online photo gallery, or use your Instagram account to document your progress. This can be a great way to store memories and provide yourself with a tangible look-back at your photo practices.
Learning New Skills
One problem with “practice makes perfect” is the boredom that can take over if you don’t keep your practice prompts fresh. If you're finding these exercises tedious, seek out new ways to make your food photography interesting again. What about photographing a new dish? Or taking photos in a new location, like a local park or cafe? Possibly photographing with a different camera angle or experimenting with overhead shots. What about something even more unique, like combining a parfait with a lawn chair or a car dash? Go ahead and experiment with how to style your food and the use of props.
Challenging yourself with new photography prompts is a great way to increase your practice time and increase motivation.
You’ll be able to build new subsets of skills in your food photography journey by exploring new settings, foods, and even methods of shooting. Keep your photography plans interesting, and you'll soon find your photos to be improving compared to photos from months or years ago.
If you’re unsure where to start with new photography skills, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Camera Settings. Simply playing with new camera settings can be a great way to learn new skills. Or only shooting in manual mode during your practice times. Even something as simple as experimenting with shallow depth of field can easily give your photos a new feel and really develop your photography skill sets.
Knowing & Improving Your Gear
In 2016, Ask Your Target Market conducted research on hobby-related purchases and found that 80% of respondents reported buying purchases related to their hobbies either often or at least sometimes. This statistic comes from a group of respondents, of which 56% have multiple hobbies, and 24% claimed to have one main hobby.
While spending thousands of dollars on your digital camera or shooting area can be enticing and fun, investing in your food photography skill (whether it's a hobby or career) doesn’t have to be extremely costly. Spend time instead on learning the ins and outs of the camera you do have and the photo editing software you do have access to. Then, practice with natural light; it's free. There are countless ways to create amazing food photography and styling on a budget.
Often, learning the nuances of your current gear (and practicing) can offer you better results than only buying the fanciest equipment. If you’ve already thrown away that user manual, no need to fear! Many user manuals are available online alongside user-generated tutorials.
When you’re ready to invest in newer or additional gear, focus on what may give you the most tangible level-up to your current set-up. For example, buying affordable lighting equipment, like a lightbox or even a simple deck of color checker cards, might quicken and increase the quality of your photos without breaking the bank.
Seeking Feedback On Your Food Photography
One of the best ways to quickly improve any skill is to ask for feedback and implement it. Find someone who shares your love for food photography, and ask them to give you constructive criticism on your work.
It can be helpful to ask a friend who has a similar taste in photography, but if they’re not available, having different opinions are alright, too! For example, try editing your photos in black and white for a friend who likes a more vintage look. Or, try adding more fantastical props with a friend with love for the unknown in mind. This is also a great way to expand your communication skills when discussing photography with others.
At the end of the day, you can always prioritize the food photo and styling you prefer. But expanding your experience to other areas and attempting edits and shoots based on other’s feedback will help you consider new solutions and creations in the future, too.
Becoming a Great Food Photographer
Whether it takes you exactly 10,000 hours to become a great food photographer or not, your food photos will only start making people feel loved, warm, and excited when you keep creating. The important steps are finding and refinding your inspiration and investing in new gear when you can.
Most importantly, keep practicing your photography and try different views from friends to expand your artist’s palette.
Ready to get started today, no matter the gear or time on-hand? Read our article on 7 Tips For Beautiful Food Photography With Your Phone next.
Join Our Five Day Food Photography Challenge
Do you often find yourself wondering how to become a food photographer? Is your goal to make delicious shots of all the fantastic foods that come in and out of your kitchen? If so, congratulations! You are on the right track.
Want to take your food photography up a notch?
I’ve been photographing food for years and have learned some tricks of the trade. Join me on this 5-day challenge where you’ll learn how to master the art of food photography, one bite at a time. You’ll be amazed by what you can do with just a few simple tips. You will learn how to make your photos pop with color, texture, and lighting. Sign up today!
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These are great tips, I practised for so long, its takes a long time to become good at it 🙂
You are so correct Bella. It definitely takes a bit of time.
Nadalie Bardo says
Such great tips for any photographer! I'd also say mastering your light source is also key.
I totally agree about mastering light sources.
Jen @ JENRON DESIGNS says
Such a great post! I am always looking for photography tips such I am self taught in that realm. Thank you!
I love this and it would totally work for my field too
Yes definitely Mimi, it's great for all types of photography
Helen Little says
This is a fantastic article filled with great resources! I think it applies to any kind of photography too!