Food Photography for Bloggers: Interview with Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz is one of my favorite people and my biggest regret it that we live about 6000 miles apart. We’ve had fun trips to Provence and Mexico together, and he even invented a cocktail after me. Although I have to clarify that I invented it, but he gave it wings – and a name. But no one can take credit for the beautiful photography on his site except him. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to spend a few vacations with him, and we’ve also pulled up at the same table more times that I can count (and I’m not complaining!)


Matt is a self-taught photographer who made a name for himself by shooting light-filled photos of food, amazing portraits, and working with national magazines, major retail stores, and cookbook authors. He’s also been really helpful giving advice to a number of non-professionals (like me) about photography, and his advice is always spot-on and he’s especially good at explaining things that even I can understand. So I’m thrilled that he’s finally written it all up for everyone to benefit from in his book, Food Photography for Bloggers.

chocolate chip cookies 2 chocolate chip cookies

In addition to gorgeous photography (and a few not-so-gorgeous ones to help you see that you see how a subtle change can turn a mediocre photo into something sensational), there are tips about how to shoot food – and chefs – in restaurants, how you can get the best shot by moving the food you’re shooting to find the right light (which isn’t necessarily where we think it is, I learned from teh book), and a chapter on equipment subtitled “Using What Ya Got!” focusing on how to get better shots without buying any additional equipment. I loved reading and seeing in action how just by changing an angle or your perspective, you can dramatically improve the shot, and make the food look extra-enticing.

roasted chicken picture roast chicken

I wanted to ask Matt a few questions to share with you. So here we go…

David: Hi Matt. So, first up – what’s a good food photograph, to you?

Matt Armendariz: A good food photograph accomplishes its key goal, depending on whatever that goal is. Is it supposed to make you buy something? Does it inspire you to put the cookbook down and make that recipe on the page? Does it whet your appetite? Does it transport you to the place it was taken and tell part of the story? If so, that’s a good food photograph in my opinion. And of course, if I’m talking technical aspects, a good food photograph is in focus (or deliberately out of focus, as the case may be), visually interesting, strikes a mood or spirit, and makes you hungry.

DL: What makes an unappealing food photograph, to you?

MA: The opposite of above! Ok, seriously though, not really. What makes it unappealing is when there’s no story or no spirit within that frame, when it doesn’t help the subject, when it’s brown gloopy gloppy mess photographed without finesse or intent. And flash.

DL: Unfortunately I have the hardest time shooting melted chocolate. It never looks right (or as good as yours!) What is the hardest thing for you to shoot?

MA: Don’t be too hard on yourself, David! You’re trying to shoot something EXTREMELY reflective, picking up every single light and highlight in your kitchen and it doesn’t help to think that it doesn’t have a shape – it’s molten! But when you get it right, it’s one of the most beautiful things to photograph, ain’t it?

These days I’ve just about shot it all so there’s nothing that sticks out as the hardest thing to shoot. It’s usually unreal conditions and requests that make food difficult to shoot. (“Will you photograph this soufflé in the middle of a lavender field in July with 12 people standing around while a vintage jet with our corporate logo flies overhead?” that kind of thing).

matt armendariz blogging book

DL: I had a pretty funny experience food styling a soufflé for one of my books. A friend who is a profession food stylist suggested I add a little yeast, to help keep it up. Unfortunately he didn’t say how much and when I opened the oven door about ten minutes later, my soufflé had risen so high, then curved up and over, then fallen down, that it looked like a caramel Slinky! How many shots does it take you, on the average, to get the one perfect shot that you’re looking for?

MA: It depends. You have to remember that I’m now entering my 5th year as a professional food photographer so I’m able to take fewer photos to get where I need to get when it comes to that perfect food photograph. I understand light, the food’s inherent properties, color theory, style, and the technical aspects of the camera so at this point it really only takes me 3,872 tries to get that perfect shot.

DL: Well, I now I feel better because it takes me 3,873 tries. What trend is food photography should be curbed immediately?

MA: We all used to joke about ribbons tied around cookies and washed out sets, and from that grew this very dark, grey, somber style that’s trickled down from professional stylists and photographers to bloggers. It’s beautiful when done right, but when someone jumps on the bandwagon stylistically it looks drab, sad, and as if you’ve prepared lunch in the metalsmith’s shed.

DL: Someone asked me what kind of camera I used in my Twitterstream, because they liked my photos so much. Another person piped in and said “Why do people assume it’s the camera, and not the photographer?” I normally just send people to my equipment page, but I thought that’s true, that people often think it’s the equipment and don’t consider other factors. What percentage do you think is the equipment, and what percentage do you think is the person behind the camera?

MA: 100% Person. 0% Camera.

I’ll repeat: 100% Person. 0% Camera.

Let me backtrack: Having a great camera and wonderful lenses will get you that much closer to where you want to be, but equipment doesn’t determine what a great photo is. It’s the vision, the intention, the time you spent making that dish in your kitchen, the expertise of the chef, the love and experience that makes the photo.

It’s very easy to get mesmerized by a shallow depth of field with an expensive lens, or the weight of a very hefty camera, but that’s never what makes a great photo. Again, it’s the vision of the person behind the camera. That’s what it’s all about.

Matt Armendariz Holiday Meal with Dani and Adam

DL: What’s the one piece of equipment, other than your camera, that you insist on having with you on a photo shoot?

MA: My Passport Color Checker. It’s a small little portable “book” with color swatches inside that give you a neutral color point when you photograph it next to your subject for post-processing. For example, say I’m photographing aïoli in Southern France that you made for dinner, and the light is changing in intensity and color. I simply take a photo after I’m done of the color swatches next to the dish so that later I can get the proper, real-world color in Photoshop.

I photograph with many different cameras (Sigma, Canon, Hasselblad) in many different lighting conditions (strobe, natural light, studio, outdoors) so color accuracy is crucial for me and for what I do.

DL: Yes, I remember seeing you with that color card and telling me that I should get one. But you didn’t offer to give me yours, so you must like it more than me. I’ll get over it soon, but in the meantime, what’s the one object that has nothing to do with photography that you insist on having with you on a photo shoot? (And don’t mention the thong, please.)

MA: Great question! Can I give you a few? Thanks David.

1) Music. (Sometimes very quiet, other times it’s blasting bad 80’s or lots and lots and lots of R&B.)

2) A great notebook and my trusty Pilot Hi-Tec-C .04 Millimeter Pen. (I take tons of notes during photo shoots!)

fried chicken

DL: You must get a gazillion questions about food photography, which is probably the reason you wrote this book, to share that knowledge with others. What tips in the book are the most important ones that you wanted to share?

MA: I wanted to stress that anyone and everyone can make photography a part of their lives. If I had a dollar for every “Oh I really suck at photography!” I’d be rich. In no point in history has photography been more accessible than it is today, so I want people to know that with practice it can be accomplished and that you can create beautiful photos for yourself. Oh, and that natural light is your friend. Use it. Use it often.

DL: I like that your “voice” is so present in the book, as well as on MattBites. It’s just like having you right there, telling me what to do. Speaking of wishing you were here, teaching me how to take better pictures, in Paris, the winter light can be flat and gray. And even harder, by late afternoon, it’s nearly dark. What can someone do in my situation, where natural light isn’t ideal or present, to get a good shot?

MA: For starters, I want to apologize that you must deal with Paris. How utterly terrible that must be, all that history and style and culture and amazing architecture and cheese. But if you’re in Paris in the wintertime – or Alaska or even Seattle – a tripod and color card (or 18% grey card or White Balance device, whatever) will be your best friend for two reasons. One, it’ll allow you to use longer exposures to take advantage of what little light you have; you can’t hold a camera in your hand for too long without it being blurry and a tripod solves that! Second, if you use a desk lamp since it’s dark (it’s totally possible!) you’ll want to be able to balance the color temperature properly so that it doesn’t look like harsh bright yellow light on your food.

DL: Okay, I’m going to ask for one of those color cards for my next birthday (hint, hint.) However I do sometimes resort to using a Speedlight flash, and find the results are pas mal, as we say in Paris. You often write on your blog that you eat most of the things that have been in front of your camera. I know from being on set of food photo shoots there are sometimes things that aren’t supposed to be consumed. Have you ever goofed and eaten something you shouldn’t have?

MA: Yes, I have eaten things that the stylist told me not to eat because they were using it for another shot or needed to hold every dish until the very end when we wrapped for the day (it’s very normal to do that just in case). I just apologize profusely, pretend I didn’t know, and move on. But for the most part I always ask just in case the ingredients were bad (ancient oil used for frying or reeeeallllly old past-dated condiments, etc).

I did make the mistake of jumping into a beautiful avocado salad once, only to find halfway through that the avocados had been soaked in vodka to stop them from oxidizing for the photo. No, you don’t get that Bloody Mary thing at all but a really terrible, disgusting taste. I don’t recommend it.

DL: I’ll take you word for it on those vodka-soaked avocados, and keep them separate from now on. I love the section of your book on “What are you trying to say?” I see so many photos that are perfect and lovely, but there’s something missing. Pretty is nice, but I like seeing how people actually cook and bake, and the process, in addition to just a beautiful shot. Do you strive to “tell a story” (which I suppose is similar to “what are you trying to say?”) with a picture? If so, how do you achieve that?

MA: I always strive to say something, even if the message is blank and just for aesthetics. Photography is just another form of communication and sharing, like writing or painting. And sometimes I’m just relaying the message from the subject to the viewer. But it always starts with an internal question: “What am I trying to say?”

Most of the time the discussions on set are actually about this, as I’ll say “sure the food looks fantastic and the set is amazing, but is it saying what it needs to say?” This drives what I do over and over again. That’s the communicator in me.

DL: Speaking of blogs, what attracts you to a food blog? (In addition to a “hot” profile pic – okay, just kidding!) Is it the photos, the personality of the author, the recipes, or something else?

MA: It’s a combination of everything, but mostly the personality of the author. All the beautiful photos in the world don’t matter if the author isn’t enjoyable to me. And I know how to cook so I can forgive unbuttoned up recipes for the most part. Blogs ask us as readers to invest a significant amount of time in reading them, so I have to like the person putting it together.

DL: I know a lot of people who think being a photographer is sexy. Have you ever had a sexy experience on the set of a food shoot?

MA: I run a photography studio, not a restaurant, David! But I did have a woman flash her boobies at me at a culinary conference once. And just last week a hooker tried to solicit me in Las Vegas. Seriously. Does that count?

DL: Not sure if that counts or not. But I do remember the boobie incident, although you must have had too many cocktails that night at the conference…because – um, that was me. Speaking of which, what’s your favorite cocktail?

MA: The Lebovitz Isle.

Followed by anything with citrus.

DL: When can I have one with you?

MA: Not soon enough. How about Paris in the fall? Or maybe somewhere on a tropical beach? I’ll bring the Champagne, you bring the thong.

Thanks Matt for taking the time to chat, and sharing your secrets of great food photography, as well as a few of my secrets (including my preferred choice of swimwear!)

Check out Matt’s book, Food Photography for Bloggers and visit him at MattBites, and follow him on Twitter @mattarmendariz.

(All photos on this post courtesy and copyright of Matt Armendariz, except for the picture of us in New York, eating – of course.)


  • January 17, 2013 12:32pm

    Very informative and hilarious. Always nice to know even the superstars have challenges. Too bad you two don’t seem to like each other at all (very fun interview). Reply

  • January 17, 2013 12:38pm

    What a hilarious interview – enjoyed reading every bit of it! x Reply

  • January 17, 2013 12:43pm

    Thanks, David and Matt! This is incredibly helpful. When I think of food photographers, the first person I think of is Matt Armendariz, so I’m pretty excited about that book. I hope there is a section specifically on taking photos in dungeon-like basement apartments. :-) Reply

    • January 17, 2013 12:50pm
      David Lebovitz

      Perhaps Matt will pop in here to answer any questions, but I face the same problem in the winter with disappearing light. In addition to my Speedlight flash (which you can point right at the ceiling for results that look similar to daylight), using a tripod and long exposure is another technique. In his book, Matt really recommends people use a tripod. You can get an inexpensive one to use – I use mine for shooting later in the day, when the sun is disappearing. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 2:04pm

    There could be something wrong with me but with the two side-by-side examples which picture is suppose to be the ‘better’ one? One doesn’t really jump out at me as OMG I want to make it more than the other. Interesting read though. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 2:28pm

    I have to say, I agree with Explody Full… in fact on the cookies images, I suspect the one on the right is supposed to be the better one, but although the color correction and light is more vivid in the second one, the angle kills the notion of height of this “cookie tower”, and although the picture on the left looks a little like an old commercial, is still strikes me as better looking and “telling more of a story” (making a building of cookies).

    But maybe it’s actually the one on the left that is supposed to be the better one ? In that case I apologize for this comment, but I still feel the difference is not that striking. Reply

    • January 17, 2013 2:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      The idea of that chapter of the book, and those examples, are to demonstrate that there are different ways of looking at nearly the exact same thing. And how camera angle, as in the case of the roast chicken (and others in the book), can make a difference. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 3:06pm

    I would love to have you and Matt stop by my blog. Would love a few pointers.
    Really interesting blog. Love when there is some variety in subject. Takes time to get to know bloggers but I love when I find like minded people to visit in the blog world. Reply

    • January 17, 2013 3:56pm
      David Lebovitz

      The best way to improve your photography, as Matt said, it just to practice. Books like his also help because of the simple tips that you can incorporate into what you are doing, including changing the way you look at things, moving a plate to it catches better light, etc. There are also post and interviews with good food photographers online that are interested reading as well.

      The best way to meet other bloggers is to network. Not everyone can go to one of the food blogging conferences but on Facebook, Google+ and elsewhere, there are forums where people network, chat, and discuss. Reply

  • Musing Mar
    January 17, 2013 3:30pm

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative post, and for introducing me to Matt and his book. Like many food bloggers, I suspect, the photography was incidental when I started out, but I’ve discovered how much I enjoy it and am pleased at the improvement over time. I’m always looking for ways to get better and am looking forward to reading Matt’s book.

    And by the way, David, I think your food photos and writing are so appealing. It’s been a pleasure to follow your blog this past year or so. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 3:47pm

    To Explody Full & By T. Tilash: David’s correct, those images are only to illustrate different angles and how much (or little) can change. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 4:07pm

    Great article, hilarious as well. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 4:52pm

    Haha, what a wonderful interview! I love both of you guys, and it was so fun to read through all the banter (and of course the helpful tips and information underneath). I got Matt’s book for x-mas and read it before the day was out – so well done! I can only hope he’s got another book where that came from. :) Reply

  • January 17, 2013 4:53pm

    One thing that frustrates me about these kind of “food photography tips” type posts is that they invariably come out hard against a flash and/or non-natural light. I understand that natural light is much easier, but there is an entire body of work dedicated to professional photographers using speedlites to light their pictures. The idea that a food blogger can’t do this seems ludicrous to me. Yes, it means spending more on gear than simply taking your point and shoot and plated food into a mythical room of big bay windows and perfect afternoon sun… but some of us live in tiny apartments with very little natural light and so solutions (other than “move”) need to be found. Reply

    • January 17, 2013 5:06pm

      JW Hammer, I can’t speak for all the photography tip type posts on the web, but I can speak for this book which is aimed towards beginners. Of course there is a large group of professional photographers who use speedlites (I am one of them, I use strobe all the time!) but again, I’m speaking to those who haven’t made the investment into an expensive speedlight or power pack and heads. I’ve never said a food blogger can’t use those tools. And you might like my book: I address exactly what you’re talking about, speaking directly to those who don’t have much light, and no, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve it, nor do you need to move. Check it out! Reply

    • January 17, 2013 6:45pm
      David Lebovitz

      I finally broke down and bought a Speedlight, which I mentioned in the interview. I have a photographer friend who is always mad at me and says that I should never, ever use a flash. I think when people are “down” on flashes, they mean – don’t use the one on the camera. There are ways to make that flash work (some people say to filter the light with something, so it’s not so harsh.) As Matt mentions, Speedlights are useful although they are a bit of an investment. Reply

  • ClaireD
    January 17, 2013 5:13pm

    What beautiful pictures and such an interesting topic. I can see a vast difference in the comparative photos. It’s amazing what a slight shift of angle or change in light can do in a photograph. Thank you for a hilarious and informative interview.

    Now I have to know, what were you all eating in New York? That meal looks incredibly delicious! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 5:36pm

    Seriously, such a fantastic interview! Thanks to Matt for being so generous with his hard-earned knowledge and thanks to you , David, for asking such great questions! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 6:00pm

    Wow, thanks David! I had no idea Matt put out a book… I will definitely be buying it. I could use some help with my food photography! That fried chicken sure looks good… Reply

  • January 17, 2013 6:03pm

    Love all the great information…I could do with some help! Thanks David and Matt and I look forward to picking up the book.

    Nazneen Reply

  • January 17, 2013 6:17pm

    Great article! It comforts me to know you also (and still) sometimes take a million shots to get the “right” one. The self-doubting side of me is often telling me that it’s just a rule of averages and eventually everyone is bound to get a good shot if you are persistent enough. The optimistic side of me says, “So why is that a bad thing?”… The hungry side of me just wants to eat whatever I’m photographing, Tastespotting be damned.

    PS – Any advice on getting more background into shots? I have a smaller kitchen (and house for that matter) and often find myself building makeshift surfaces to shoot on. I want to get more visual “pop” into shots that aren’t just my subject in a close shot. Is it wrong to want to rearrange entire rooms and buy a new (larger) dining room table just so I can capture more interesting shots? Have you done this at all yourself? I hope so, I want the encouragement! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 6:27pm

    I loved this interview– I’ve long been a fan of Matt (and you know I’m a fan of yours!). You accomplished just what a good interview should: now I am not only a fan of Matt’s work, but of him, as well. Perhaps some day he can join us on a trip to visit randy pigs…
    Meanwhile, I have ordered his book. It is incredibly helpful that he shows the before and afters. (If only so many of my photos didn’t look like his before’s!). It is less helpful to my suffering ego when he speaks the awful truth: It ain’t the camera that is to blame. Alas.

    Thanks, David, for a great interview. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 7:13pm

    LOVE this interview! Hilarious as well as packed with tips. I became fascinated with food photography since starting my own blog and always look for tips to help me improve. I am so glad you mentioned the washed out sets and ribbon wrapped cookies as a trend “that should be curbed”. Thanks, guys! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 7:35pm

    Love this! I think I’m going to pick up the book- I want to take my food photos from barely mediocre to the next level- which would be… incredibly mediocre??? Ah well, a girl can try! Maybe some day my photos will be this beautiful. Thanks! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 7:36pm

    Great interview, David and Matt! I’m looking forward to making a careful study of this book. Reply

  • jake
    January 17, 2013 7:37pm

    shoot in RAW (no, not with your clothes off) mode, instead of jpeg. a lot of lee-way when toning images. Reply

    • January 17, 2013 8:04pm
      David Lebovitz

      Matt makes a pretty big point of shooting in RAW in the book, however I still haven’t made the switch. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 7:41pm

    Thanks for sharing such an entertaining interview. For space reasons, I have imposed a temporary moratorium on cookbooks, but Matt’s book seems like fair game to add to my collection. Looking forward to diving in. Reply

  • Cath
    January 17, 2013 8:00pm

    A big thanks for you both for the interview. Going to check out the book now! Love your blogs David. xo Reply

  • January 17, 2013 8:04pm

    I’ll think of that every time I take a photo for my blog now – what’s this photo saying? As a writer trying to take photos, I should’ve thought more like this sooner! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 8:08pm

    Hey David and Matt – thanks for clarifying re the side-by-side images. I don’t feel like there’s something wrong with me now :) Reply

  • January 17, 2013 8:23pm

    Thanks for an info-packed and also entertaining story. I was nodding along the way at pieces of advice–especially the using a longer exposure in dreary light, but you’ll need a tripod advice, which I just recently started doing. The color card though was brand new to me–will have to look into that. And I gotta now go buy Matt’s book.

    Have to say that I do think the camera matters some–simply can’t get anywhere near the same quality with my Nikon D 40 that I can with my secondhand D 200. Reply

    • January 17, 2013 8:44pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think having a decent camera is important, but there are examples in Matt’s book of pictures taken with cheap point & shoot cameras that look pretty good! (And I’ve taken acceptable pictures with my iPhone with no filters or Photoshop.) I do think a decent camera makes a different but I have the cheapest Canon Rebel and sometimes uses the cheapie 50mm 1.8 lens and get good shots out of it. I keep thinking that I should upgrade but I like my camera and I finally understand all (well, most…) of those dials! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 8:26pm

    Oh, I just love this guy Matt; what a treasure box, and so witty and hands on…. And you David, I love for everything i tell you so often – not last your beautiful photos!!! So, there you go, if you say you’re a non-professional food photographer I can only say that your unprofessionalism (that can’t be English, can it? I apologize) is sky rocketing more professional than a lot of stuff I see elsewhere – in fact it’s so good that if you can’t make a living any longer with sweets, or with fabulous story telling, you can still work as Matt’s assistant and make a successful go…
    I shall NOW finally invest in a tripod and as I have not the first idea what a colour checker is (not even after looking at the link…) – so I stay play a bit more with the tripod buying idea, it sure would have come in handy more often than I can count on several hands!
    You know which sentence I liked best? Yes, that one!
    MA: 100% Person. 0% Camera. Wonderful.
    Thank you both so much – I shall buy Matt’s book which is more than I ever promised you David, as I’m not really very much (only a little!!) a dessert person. (she said with a lovely ‘galette des rois’ for ‘pudding’) Reply

  • January 17, 2013 8:47pm

    David, Matt,

    Thanks for clarifying this. I now understand there wasn’t supposed to be a good or bad picture, just two different perceptions.

    And by the way I agree with you 100% that it’s all about the person not the camera… A very close friend of mine has won photography awards shooting with a shitty 4 Mpx, when she was against some hardcore “technicians” with DSLRs…
    It is the same with cooking when people ask you “what is your secret” for a certain dish, as if there was this magic tool or ingredient that would change everything. How about working at it, and repeating the steps countless times to improve ?

    The book sounds interesting I’ll check it out. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 8:56pm

    One thing that has held me back is the ugly food I make. :-) I’m not sure it is possible to take a good picture of slop. Maybe I just need to refocus and call it “rustic!” Thanks for a great article. Picking up the ColorCheck and book now. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 9:24pm

    ha! ha! Love this interview because it’s the heart of what you both about a blogger. Your voice and personality must shine through. Now I must go and order Matt’s book, not just to learn something, but to laugh and look at the pretty pictures! Reply

  • John
    January 17, 2013 10:02pm

    Great interview! Not only informative but hilarious. It made me want to meet up with both of you in the fall, in Paris, or that tropical island. Don’t worry, I would never be caught wearing a thong! Reply

  • January 17, 2013 10:07pm

    That was a hilarious post – and some great tips. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 10:16pm

    Excellent interview & very enjoyable – got to get one of those X-Rite ColorChecker Passport :-) Reply

  • January 17, 2013 10:52pm

    MA: 100% Person. 0% Camera. Bullsh*t! A good camera and a 50mm lens helps do the trick as well! it’s not enough to be a good photographer without the right equipment! Reply

    • January 18, 2013 3:12pm

      Shelly, I must respectfully disagree. Of course “good” equipment helps, but it’s not the equipment that makes the photographer. I’ve known too many amazing professional photographers who can pick up anything and create wonderful images. Reply

  • January 17, 2013 11:19pm

    Loved reading it ! you guys are hilarious, I love the way you write….and the food – DL and Matt the pictures are breath taking gorgeous. I think am getting the book ! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 12:40am

    I have an ancient Olympus E500 DSLR which came with a couple of stock lenses, and I actually paid real money to buy the 35mm macro. I won’t use the camera flash because it makes everything come out looking flat, so for food I shoot everything out on the terrace, in natural light because it looks so much better. I still take crap photos, but I’m working on that. Reply

  • Pam
    January 18, 2013 12:46am

    Ok I still confused about a color card?
    Does one help regular folks like me?
    Do you need one if you’re not photoshopping? Reply

    • January 18, 2013 3:17pm

      Yes! A color card (or even just a piece of 18% grey card) can help anyone! You can use it to properly color balance the camera WITHIN the camera, skipping the post-photoshopping part if you’re not a PS user. You have to take a photo of it (make sure the area is large enough to fill your frame) and set your camera to use that particular shade of grey as the balance. Each camera handles this differently, just be aware. But you don’t need photoshop necessarily :) Reply

  • January 18, 2013 3:29am

    Such a fun interview! I have Matt’s book sitting on my shelf, and can’t wait for a quiet weekend to read through it. Matt’s advice at Food Blog Camp truly changed my approach to food photos (until then, I was using a flash!), and I love to keep learning and improving. Reply

  • January 18, 2013 4:36am

    I especially like that Matt and David responded to the comments. I found that to be as good as the post itself.
    I am so happy to read that Matt is self-taught, as am I, and it has been almost six years of food photography and blogging…I am proud of the process and results, and look forward to learning more! Absolutely ordering Matt’s book. And hope to attend one of his seminars in Long Beach (I live in San Pedro). Best wishes for super-success with the book Matt! Thanks David.
    Lori Lynn Reply

    • January 18, 2013 3:15pm

      Lori Lynn, hello neighbor! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 4:41am

    And in continuing to what I said before; and lighting and food styling help as well. Reply

  • Gavrielle
    January 18, 2013 5:35am

    Fascinating article! I only agree with Matt about the 100% person thing up to a point, though. It may be a little different with wildlife photography as opposed to food photography, but I’ve returned from several wildlife trips with photos that would be fantastic if only the camera had been able to capture more detail (I was using an ultrazoom with a much smaller sensor than a DSLR). And I’ve noticed occasionally on the blog a photo that wasn’t up to your usual amazing standard, David, and found that you were using your point and shoot (although to be fair you’ve taken plenty of excellent point and shoot shots as well). All in all, though, I’ve decided to make the jump to DSLR – and have found your photo equipment page really useful in making my decision as to which camera and lenses to get. Reply

  • January 18, 2013 8:44am

    Great interview David. Been reading your blog for a while now and found the time to start one of our own.

    I’ve always been interested in photography, being a designer, but always been pretty terrible at it. I thought the comment about planning a shot and what you want to ‘say’ with the shot was very useful and I’m going to etch that on my brain from now on!

    Think I’ll put in an order for Matt’s book too :) Reply

    • January 18, 2013 3:14pm

      Peep, I began as a graphic designer myself. And many food stylists and photographers I know have design and fine art backgrounds. You’d be amazed at how fluid the process can be based on your background, and things like color/proportion/positive&negative space translate so well into photography! Reply

      • January 18, 2013 5:36pm

        What made you make the move from designer?

        It’s a pretty transferable occupation but will still need some serious focus. We took a year off to travel and its coming to an end soon so we’re pretty excited to get home to the UK and get going. Do need to start paying the bills again which is a daunting thought! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 11:33am

    This was so fun to read and informative too. Reply

  • One of the best interviews I’ve lately read. Reply

  • January 18, 2013 2:49pm

    Dear David

    I’ve now met you twice! The last time was in December at the book signing at La Cuisine de Paris. Fun interview, you should do more of your friends, too. And I want that color checker now too, not that I know how to use photoshop though. You mention there are places on facebook where bloggers convene to chat, where might those be please? Reply

  • January 18, 2013 5:42pm

    Both of you are two of my favorite people in this world of food. Thanks for your great interview. I really love Matt’s book- I think it’s one that is easy to navigate and speaks in terms that us normal not-so-knowlegeable-about-camera-stuff folks can understand. Great tips and tricks throughout. Reply

  • January 18, 2013 5:58pm

    I love Matt’s blog and photography! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 6:09pm

    Thank you for this :) Some great tips here – especially since I’m learning how to shoot in winter at 60 degrees north – I have a two hour window of natural daylight to work with! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 6:16pm

    Funny, entertaining, and educational interview, well done! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 6:28pm

    Great article! Thank you! Learning the hard way I completely agree on no flash. I also have found that when one is photographing something bland or washed out the use of bold color and textures surrounding the subject matter helps infinitely. Thanks again! Y’all should consider meeting. Sounds as though you’d get on really well! bahahaha! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 6:30pm

    Love this interview, thanks so much for sharing! Reply

  • January 18, 2013 6:40pm
    David Lebovitz

    Lori: awww – thanks! : )

    Elizabeth: Yes, it’s a challenge. But can be done. One good thing to have is a “fast” lens, such as one with a f/1.8 – I have a 55m Canon lens that costs less than $100 like that which works well in low-light situations. As mentioned above, if you have a tripod, you can also shoot in low-light situations and have longer exposures. And I’m sure Matt would agree that for most photographers, an inexpensive tripod is fine for most purposes.

    Beth: I’m in a few, but one is Food Blogger Friends. I don’t know how folks get into Facebook groups, but there is also Food Blog Forum which has bulletin board, and you can certainly start your own group amongst like-minded friends online, which are good places to forum and exchange ideas. (I’m in one for Europe-based food bloggers and folks are organizing prop exchanges!)

    Gavrielle: I sometimes use a Canon G12, which is a point & shoot, which I’ve started taking when I travel (like on this trip to New York or the Mediterranean) because it’s just so much easier and lighter to travel with the more compact, lighter camera. Incidentially I took a trip with Matt and he took a lot of pictures with his Canon G12, which looked a lot better than those that I get out of mine. So it kind of proves that it is the person, more than the camera, for the most part. Reply

  • January 18, 2013 8:13pm

    Hi, David–

    I bought Matt’s book a few weeks ago and while much of the information I’d seen before A LOT of it was new to me. His use of scrims to modify natural light alone was worth the price of the book. I’d recommend it to anyone, even someone with a bit of experience under his or her belt, er, camera bag.

    Ken Reply

  • January 18, 2013 8:15pm

    My new year’s resolution was to improve my photography and this was a great post to read to inspire me. I’ll def. check out his book – how about a giveaway !?!? Reply

  • January 19, 2013 4:19am

    A wonderful profile and a great round up of one of my favorite people! Matt constantly inspires me with his beautiful photos, use of natural light, and his uncanny ability to be crafty in his compositions. You’re so good to share the good news of Matt with the world! xoxo Reply

  • January 19, 2013 10:51am

    I’ve been using a Canon G12 for the last few months: achieves everything I want but is pocket sized.
    I must get a colour card and a tripod, especially with this dull European light when it’s practically dark by 3.30pm (and I’m not a morning person). I do envy the light in US and Australian blogs but London/Paris light has its own charms I guess. Woody Allen loves it.
    Fun interview from two blogging behemoths! Reply

  • January 19, 2013 11:04am

    Thanks for the introduction to Matt and his fantastic site… I don’t know why I didn’t know of him before… Anyway… great interview.. would love to try ‘your’ cocktail.. and his new book is a brilliant idea… just what we all need… Happy weekend… xv Reply

  • January 20, 2013 7:00am

    This was a fantastic read, thank you. Loved it! Reply

  • January 20, 2013 3:38pm

    Love this interview, David! Your questions were spot-on. I got some good photography tips, as well as some good laughs. Reply

  • naomi
    January 20, 2013 8:58pm

    This is timely as I just upgraded cameras (I use the term “upgrade loosely; the previous is a twenty dollar one). I’ve been intimidated by cameras for years, but decided with digital I can afford to make bad photos as I learn. Though I’m not really taking pictures of food, I have tiny sculptures – do you think this would apply? The normally sized pieces are not as much a problem, but those small ones, some are the size of a teaspoon’s bowl.

    I check your blog several times weekly, and have since I found it several years back. I’ve found others which over time I’ve forgotten, finally deleting from my bookmarks, but yours, David, I pass along to others, and always enjoy your voice. Thank you for sharing your life. Now I suppose after giving such a review of Matt, I need to check his. Reply

  • January 22, 2013 2:39pm

    Wonderful interview! Thank you, David and Matt, for sharing your experience with us.

    I also love your readers’ comments here. So many ways to look at and take a photograph, it’s mesmerizing to see how other people react to them.

    Btw, I just made a batch of your popovers, David. Merci from the bottom of my heart for the recipe. Next to a Gourmet recipe for brownies, it’s my family’s most used and loved one. xxx Reply

  • Jimmy Jay
    January 22, 2013 9:32pm

    Thank you for posting this. I just ordered this book & got it from Amazon. I love Matt’s approach to choice of camera & equipment in general. I’m always seeking help with light issues. Reply

  • January 23, 2013 12:50am

    It’s so heartening to hear a professional (whose work I truly enjoy) say that it’s okay to dive in head first and shoot with whatever you’ve got. That’s not something you hear a lot of creative milieus. Relearning photography after a decade+ hiatus, especially in digital, is daunting, but Matt’s outlook makes me feel downright brazen. I think I will get all up in that monkfish’s face! Thanks to you both for letting us in on your wisdom. Reply

  • January 23, 2013 8:51pm

    Funniest interview ever – love you boys! I’m all over Matt’s book – thanks, both of you.

    Quick question – I’m wondering whether the color card is better at correcting colors than a grey card? (My grey card still seems to make things too pink, so I end up balancing the colors with my eye in Lightroom, which is annoying, though perhaps I’m using the card incorrectly.) No need to answer if this is covered in the book – I’ll have it in my hot hands soon. : ) Reply

  • January 24, 2013 12:02am

    THANK YOU for the “100% person, 0% camera”!
    I’m no professional AT ALL but some people have asked me in the past what my camera is; I never really dared tell them it’s not really about the camera but more about the light, the angle, the background, all working together in one magic second. I’m always using my camera with the “default” settings as I’m not patient enough to read the instructions… :-)
    Stephanie Reply

  • January 24, 2013 9:27pm

    I picked up this book over the weekend and I’ve already read over half of it. That’s saying something, as I’m required to read over 100 pages day as a grad student. It’s been so helpful already — I’ve been using foam core and a desk lamp for lighting tweaks, and he was right about the tripod thing, as much as I resist. You’re right, too–his voice really comes through. Thanks for the recommendation, David! Reply

  • January 26, 2013 10:14pm

    Wonderful post, it inspired me to buy the book, thanks. Reply

  • January 28, 2013 11:44pm

    I love the last picture, it has a way of creating a communal atmosphere where no one goes away hungry! Reply

  • Brendan
    January 29, 2013 2:05am

    I’d fallen out of the habit of reading Matt’s blog, so thanks for the reminder, and the heads up about the book. Reply

  • February 2, 2013 2:54am

    My mom just sent me Matt Armendariz’s book as a gift and I’m so very excited to spend this snowy Friday evening cuddled up in bed reading it! I wouldn’t have known about the book if it wasn’t for this post, so thank you! :) Reply

  • February 9, 2013 5:03pm

    Hi David, I loved the interview, but hope I’ll love the book even more (no offense!). I’ve been blogging about soup and generally feel as if I’m waging a losing battle every time I pick up my camera. To say I dread the encounter is an understatement! I’m certain Matt’s book will help me persevere.

    Should you have time to check out my blog, I made your Potato Leek Soup. You’ll find it under The Temper Tantrum. Thanks for all the inspiration…. Reply

Leave a comment


Get recipes and blog posts sent right to your Inbox!


Subscribe and receive David's free guide to the best pastry shops in Paris