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Hannah Messinger on Better Food Photography

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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 

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.

Tags: Community, Lists, Photography & Styling, 5 Questions