Kitchen Design

Hannah Messinger on Better Food Photography

October 16, 2014

We're teaming up with Squarespace to get to know a few of our favorite bloggers a little bit better. Join us as they share their tips, tricks, and, of course recipes -- commnet on the post for a chance to win a yearlong subscription to Squarespace (and scroll down for a code to get 10% off)!

Today: Hannah Messinger of Nothing But Delicious gets into the nitty gritty of good composition and developing your own style.

                                                      Hannah Messinger 

Shop the Story

Food blogging isn’t easy. Yet despite its myriad of challenges, the number of food blogs has multiplied swiftly; the very best ones employ enticing photos, great recipes, and sharp writing.   

Hannah Messinger's blog encompasses all three of these elements. She writes adroit, conversational prose, and takes dream-like photographs -- you would never guess that her journey to blogging has been a difficult one. She speaks candidly about the directionless feelings that plague many college grads as they adjust to life outside of school. Charmingly sassy and sharp as a tack, she speaks her mind and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Read on to hear Hannah's insight into simple aesthetics and how practice really can make perfect.  

What’s your biggest food styling pet peeve? 

Polka dots. Paisley. Purple. Anything that's distracting and apparently anything that starts with the letter "P." But seriously, polka dots are for Kate Spade bags, not for plates. They make a shot look busy and draw the eye away from the subject of the photo. Putting a bold pattern in a food photo is almost an insult to yourself, as if to say the food you've made and styled isn't quite interesting enough. 

What can we always find in your kitchen?
My Le Creuset dutch oven (dune for life!) on the stove and a freezer full of bones. Because soup. Even in the summer, my husband consumes so much soup that he has forgone regular bowls and eats out of a mixing bowl. I buy beef bones by the trash bag. 

More: It's getting chilly -- try your hand at this homemade stock to help you warm up.  

What props are your secret weapons? 
Painter's cloth. You can purchase it at pretty much any home improvement store and it's cheap, cheap, cheap. It's the best, neutral creamy color and can be used as curtains, a backdrop, or a tablecloth. It washes well and doesn't fray badly, so I cut it up and use it as napkins and dish towels, too.  

What’s the best “find” you’ve ever gotten at a flea market or vintage store? 
I have this turn-of-the-century work table that one of my favorite antique malls was using as a stand for their Christmas tree several years ago. I went in on my birthday and bought it for myself for $60 (thanks, me). I shoot on the top of it and use the bottom to store my cookbooks and linens. There's something touching about the fact that my table has been well loved by generations of artists before me and has the paint spills and coffee stains to prove it; its next owner will undoubtedly notice that there are fennel seeds permanently stuck in the cracks between the boards.  

More: Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser shares some of her tips for aspiring food writers.

Any tips for shopping flea markets? 
Go to the ones that are open all the time. They're full of a lot of junk, but when something nice comes in you're more likely to get a good price. Dealers at those once-a-month flea markets use the oldest, most tried-and-true sales strategy in the book: urgency. At markets that are open five or seven days a week, you have time on your side. When you do ask for a lower price, always mention that you'll pay cash. Better yet, forget flea markets. Hit up salvage yards. The one closest to my house has an incredible collection of weathered wood and cast iron cooking utensils. 

What's one thing we can do to make all of our food pictures instantly better? 
First of all, come to terms with the fact that no part of the creative process will ever be instant. I will say that the easiest way to make your food pictures better is to frequently look at other food pictures and actively note what you like or dislike about them by using tags like composition, lighting, props, negative space, editing, camera angle, depth of field. It's sort of a practice makes perfect situation, where the more good photos your brain takes in and processes, the more good photos it will create. I use Bloglovin' to follow other food blogs and I save the photos I find intriguing on my Pinterest board "Inspiration."  

How do you bring your design to life on your website? And how does your website help you to showcase what you do?
I use the same strategy on my website as I do in my photos -- just as I use white plates instead of purple polka-dot ones for shooting food, I prefer clean, straightforward templates on my website to let readers focus on the photos and content.

My website is not only a place to share my work -- it actually kind of restored my faith in my own intelligence. I had never failed anything in my entire life until I was a junior in college. I took two computer science classes and did so poorly in both of them that I was put on academic suspension for an entire year. After that I was pretty dang sensitive surrounding all matters of website construction and coding. I had absolutely no confidence in my ability to build a functional website until one of my friends showed me her Squarespace site, and I thought, "Holy crap, I absolutely CAN do that!"

Heirloom Tomatoes 

All photos by Hannah Messinger

This article was brought to you by Squarespace! Use code FOOD52 to get 10% off, and leave a comment below for a chance to win a yearlong subscription --we'll pick a winner by Friday, October 24.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Swapan Mukherjee
    Swapan Mukherjee
  • Matilda Luk
    Matilda Luk
  • Jessi Singson
    Jessi Singson
  • Becky Morris
    Becky Morris
  • Natalie Forteza-Amendola
    Natalie Forteza-Amendola
Editorial Intern at Food52


Swapan M. October 21, 2014
So young and yet so mature in her thoughts and visual observations, evident in her writing and her wonderful food photography. Will put to shame many a seasoned food photographer!
Matilda L. October 20, 2014
Great tips--I especially like the one about the painter's cloth. I LOVE Hannah's confession about the failures that led to her success.
Jessi S. October 19, 2014
It's always fantastic getting a bit of insight into the world of food blogging and photography! Respect to Hannah, and thanks to Food 52 for sharing. Time to have a stalk of her pinterest now!
Becky M. October 19, 2014
So glad I stumbled upon her blog! Thank you for posting such great talent. Very helpful to an aspiring photographer! :)
Natalie F. October 19, 2014
visually delicious! ;)
maci B. October 18, 2014
Such good tips! And her blog is gorgeous :)
Julie W. October 18, 2014
Great tips
Miss H. October 18, 2014
Love her work and the simplicity. Stunning!
Sini |. October 17, 2014
Love Hannah's work! Great interview and thoughts on food photography and being creative.
Karsten R. October 17, 2014
Great little interview. I think the single biggest thing people should think about is light. If you can, just turn off the lights in the room/kitchen/whatever and just use the natural light from a window. Don't shoot in midday and learn to love grey flat days. The little props such as bits of cloth, boards, or utensils make a big difference. Finally (while I'm at it), angle. If you shoot with a phone, turn it upside down, and shoot closer and lower.
DocLsk15 October 17, 2014
Thanks Hannah for reaffirming there is beauty in simplicity. You capture in your photos the qualities I aspire mine to have. Getting them from my head to the 'page' is my journey. Maybe my next trip to a salvage yard will be successful!
Robin M. October 17, 2014
Beautiful photography. Vivid colors and deep moods. Nice!
Chelsea October 16, 2014
I love Hannah's work and I love squarespace!
Miyuki M. October 16, 2014
Great photos! Very Inspiring!
Jessica October 16, 2014
This is an awesome article and I adore Hannah's attitude toward life AND her incredible photographs. Definite new follower!!
Cynthia C. October 16, 2014
Yay for this interview! Love Hannah and her work.
Lindsey S. October 16, 2014
a+ interview and advice!
molly Y. October 16, 2014
mmmmmm i love hannah's photos!
Shannon October 16, 2014
Thank you Hannah Messinger! Your blog is beautiful, your photography lovely! I really appreciate this series Food52!
Christina S. October 16, 2014
LOVE These tips - as a "new" blogger starting to write about food more often...this post (and others like it), really really help! Thanks so much!