The Ratio’s Bryce Longton on What Makes a Great Photo

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Today: The Ratio’s James Ransom and Bryce Longton share their tips for beautiful photos and no-fuss styling. 

The Ratio  The Ratio

How do you take great photographs? We’re lucky enough to turn to James Ransom, our resident photographer, and Bryce Longton, our Shop Editor & Stylist, when we’re looking for inspiration. They’ve recently collaborated to launch The Ratio, a styling and photography site whose main goal is to teach blog and shop owners how to take better photographs of their products. Through in-person workshops and online classes, they’re planning to teach people how to make a DIY studio, how to better understand lighting, and how to properly shoot and style products. 

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We chatted with Bryce about her styling techniques, her pet peeves, and her favorite flea market finds — check them out below.

How do you bring your design to life on your website? How can you use imagery and copy to make your website better?
Having a simple blogging system is key — we use Squarespace. Having used many CMS systems before, this one is far and away my favorite. 

Imagery tells a big story about what you’re trying to showcase, teach, or sell. You can use photos to tell a visual story on your site — start with images on a clean white background, using natural light (make sure you turn off all ambient light in the room), and create a compelling shot by trying different compositions and different angles. Take your time and take lots of photos (we sometimes take upwards of 50 shots to get one good one). Adding short, clear copy always helps, too. 

The Ratio  Lemons

What’s your biggest food styling pet peeve? 
Random items in the shot that have nothing to do with what you’re photographing! Like if you have empty, cracked eggshells in the shot, but no egg yolks or batter. Another pet peeve is when the props take over the shot — if your props (bowls, cups, napkins) are too colorful or too attention-grabby, it takes away from the the real star: the food.  

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What can we always find in your kitchens?
Lemons. Salt. Sparkling water. Garlic. Chocolate (usually in the freezer). Almonds. Jam. Also an iron (you never know when a linen will need freshening up), and many, many small dessert-size plates and trays of vintage silverware. 

What props are your secret weapons? 
Succulents. Magazines. Bottle caps. Reamed lemons. Vintage Flatware. Fresh ingredients make amazing props, too, so make friends with your local farmers market vendors, and go early to get the best stuff. 

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The Ratio  The Ratio

What’s the best “find” you’ve ever gotten at a flea market or vintage store? 
Scads of vintage flatware for pennies! Beautifully patinaed silver trays, and amazing old framed artwork — it makes for great backgrounds for shoots. (Also, an amazing costume jewelry tennis bracelet.)

Any tips for shopping flea markets? 
Go early. Go often. Go out of the city (any big city, really). Choose “one thing” you’re looking for — like old linens, or a cake server or a set of nesting mixing bowls — and get hunting! At the same time, be open to finding serendipitous items (I found a pair of vintage Frye motorcycle boots for $20 in LA once, as well as a gorgeous old table top that I use for photographs now). 

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What’s one thing we can do to make all of our food pictures instantly better? 
Find out where the best natural light in your house is, and what time your “magic hour” is with that natural light, and set up your camera there; good light generally comes from a northern-facing window (which naturally diffuses light). The next thing you can do is use a tripod: It makes all of your photos steadier and easier to take. 

What’s the biggest mistake that people make when lighting a photo?
They use a flash or ambient light (overhead light) instead of natural light. 

All photos by James Ransom

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