I have been deep in the amazingly fun and complex world of food photography for 3 years now and it’s one of my greatest passions. Ever since I started sharing my food photos on social media, I get asked questions all the time about my food photography. This still takes me by surprise because not too long ago I was the one asking others the exact same questions like:
- Where do you get your backdrops?
- Do you have alot of windows in your kitchen? Is that how you get such bright photos?
- What kind of camera do you use?
- What do you use to edit your photos with?
I don’t consider myself a food photography expert by any means; but that’s the beauty of the food photography and culinary world, it’s ever-changing. The learning NEVER stops. With that said, I’m super excited to share with you what I have learned so far; let’s get started.
Five Steps to Improving Your Food Photography:
- INVESTING in a DSLR camera and a tripod
- ENROLLING in food photography courses
- LEARNING how to correctly use natural light
- USING quality backdrops/surfaces
- EDITING photos in Adobe Lightroom
1. INVESTING IN A DSLR CAMERA & TRIPOD:
A DSLR Camera
You can indeed use your smartphone for food photography. But I firmly believe that there is a HUGE photo quality difference between a smartphone photo and a DSLR camera photo. If you’re serious about pursuing food photography, a DSLR camera is a MUST.
I was lucky, my then-fiance-now-husband Jarryd gave me my very first camera as a Christmas present back in 2013. And guess what? It’s the SAME DSLR camera that I use for all of my food photography today! It’s definitely not the “cadillac” of Canon’s, but it absolutely gets the job done! And most importantly, it still takes better photos than my iPhone.
My Camera (Great for Starting Out!):
Canon EOS Rebel T3. It’s actually been discontinued by the manufacturer because of its’ age, but you can buy it used on Amazon for $198.99! Much cheaper than what my husband bought it for!
Canon E0S Rebel T7 is the newest model of my camera and the specs look incredible. There’s a 2 Lens Kit deal for $499.00 AND it has built-in WIFI. (Something I wish my camera had!)
Canon Extension Tube For when you can’t afford to break the bank on a pricey macro lens, this little attachment is a great alternative! I love it for my super up-close drool-worthy shots like these two:
My Dream Camera and Lenses (For the Food Photography Professional):
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV This is my ultimate dream camera! It’s incredibly light, has a 20.2 mega-pixel full-frame sensor, and is complete with built-in GPS and WiFi.
Canon EF 24-70mm A versatile lens that’s perfect for all food photography angles (flat-lay, straight-on, 45 degree) and other interior shots like portraits!
Canon EF 100mm A gorgeous MACRO lens, perfect for those up-close shots that give you every detail of the food.
I can’t even describe to you how much I LOVE my tripod; it was hands down the best purchase I made toward my food photography. After the first time using it, I couldn’t believe how long I’d gone without one.
Tripods = Sharper Photos
Tripods make photos look so SHARP for two reasons:
- They eliminate the inevitable human hand shaking.
- They allow for lower shutterspeeds. Shutterspeed is the speed at which the shutter closes when a photo is taken (it’s the clicky sound).
The lower the shutterspeed, the brighter the photo because the shutter is closing at a slower rate allowing more light into the camera.
Before getting a tripod, I was so limited as to when I could shoot because the later in the day, the darker and blurrier the photos would be. But now by using a tripod, I don’t have to worry about losing light because the tripod holds my camera still, allowing for a lower shutterspeed, meaning a bright and sharp photo!
I’ve noticed that the brighter my photos are during my shoot, the easier and therefore faster it is to edit them later on in Lightroom. (Less time spent in the editing room is always a plus!)
Tripods Allow for Action/Pour/Drizzle and Self-Timer Shots.
I love the human-element that a tripod allows for in food photography. With a tripod you can now feature YOU in your photos. You can capture that beautiful action shot of your hand slathering chocolate buttercream onto a sheet cake. You can capture that drizzle of honey in the air as it hits the biscuit.
I used to attempt pour shots by holding my camera in one hand and awkwardly pouring something with the other hand; not only was it messy and blurry, but the angle of my hand always looked SO awkward!
And a quick tip: to do a sprinkle/drizzle/pour shot, you’re gonna want your shutterspeed to be super high so it snaps the shutter closed real fast. This allows you to capture the tiniest of elements in mid-air like sprinkles and powdered sugar!
Plus, a tripod allows you to record VIDEOS of you developing a recipe or showing a little behind-the-scenes of your food photography!
Manfrotto Aluminum 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column. It’s incredibly solid, smooth, and can adjust to every angle. The horizontal column is awesome, allowing for those sharp popular flat-lay food photos.
Manfrotto XPRO Ball Head. This connects to the top of your tripod, you need this to attach your camera to the tripod. It adjusts so smoothly and allows for total stability.
2. ENROLLING IN FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY COURSES
The main reason I decided to take an online food photography course was because I had a DSLR camera, but I had no idea how to shoot in manual mode. In fact, I didn’t even know what shutterspeed, or ISO meant (or whatever that F3.5 was on my screen).
Basic Food Photography
You can definitely learn alot online for free just by scouring google or watching endless youtube videos. But I wanted something that would teach me specifically about photographing FOOD and have it be all in one place, and a place I could go back to and re-watch. I learn best visually, so I enrolled in Minimalist Baker’s Food Photography course and watched over 100+ videos about the basics of food photography.
Advanced Food Photography
I then took Broma Bakery’s Advanced Food Photography course where I learned all about symmetry, composition, and the psychological principles of photography. It was also in video form which helped me so much. Check out the photos below. The one on the right was my food photography BEFORE taking any courses, and on the left is AFTER taking courses. (The proof is in the cookie dough, y’all!)
Some super crucial things these courses taught me were: the importance of shooting in RAW, how to use my camera, how to edit in Lightroom, how to manipulate light, and awesome things like the business/marketing side of food photography and blogging!
3. LEARNING HOW TO CORRECTLY USE NATURAL LIGHT
It’s important what direction the windows face:
I used to think that shooting with “natural light” meant putting your dish in a beam of direct sunlight. I cringe at the thought of that now. You want to shoot right next to windows that are facing NORTH or SOUTH, because the light is always more diffused through those windows. (The sun rises in the east and sets in the west so those windows get direct sunlight, which is what you don’t want!)
When I first started out, we lived in an apartment that had only East facing windows (see above photos). I felt like my photos could never get that crisp looking. Now years later, we moved into a house that has North facing french doors that I shoot in front of and my work has vastly improved!
The best time of day to shoot:
The “golden hours” for natural-light food photography is between 11 am to 3 pm. Unfortunately the winter season can be so limiting for natural-light food photographers because it gets dark so early. (Sigh, it’s just another reason why winter is the worst.)
If you’re finding yourself behind schedule in shooting and the sky is getting dark, a GREAT trick is to set up white foam core boards around the subject (but not between the subject and the window, obviously). Even if it’s not that dark I’ll still set up the foam core boards just to get as much light as possible.
But remember, the boards diffuse shadows on the subject so be careful because sometimes the contrast from shadows compliment food really well! A.K.A- sometimes shadows and contrast are GOOD!
And of course, using a tripod is a fantastic way to lower the shutter speed, letting more light in, and still getting crisp photos despite the low light settings.
4. USING QUALITY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY BACKDROPS
I had no idea that food photography backdrops were a thing. I honestly used to think that food photographers all had the most beautiful kitchens with tons of windows and gorgeous white marble counter tops. Little did I know, 99% of them don’t take photos in their kitchens. They set up make-shift studios in front of their living room or bedroom windows, sometimes using backdrops that look like countertops. Some even go as far as sticking peel-n-stick backsplash onto a piece of plywood and successfully creating the illusion of a bright kitchen.
My Food Photography “Studio”
When we lived in our apartment, we had the darkest kitchen. It had zero windows, black cabinets, and brown countertops. Therefore, I did all of my shooting in the spare bedroom beside the window because it was the room with the most light. It was annoyingly far from the kitchen but I did what I had to do!
Now, we live in a house that has big north-facing french doors right NEXT to the kitchen. (This makes grabbing extra last-minute ingredients during a shoot way less of a hassle!) I want as much light as possible coming from one direction (the North french doors) so I push my dining room table right up to the doors. No worries, it’s a light table.
I love using my dining room table because gives me plenty of room to set my backdrops and beside it, all of my additional ingredients/props.
Inexpensive backdrop ideas under $20:
- WHITE FOAM CORE BOARDS: Not only can these be used as light reflectors, but backdrops too. I used these boards for SO many shoots and they served me well. They’re a nice length and SO cheap comin’ in at $1 from the Dollar store, but you get what you pay for. The major disadvantages are that they dent and crack really easily, and are absolutely NOT stain-resistant. (This means alot of time spent in Lightroom editing out all the stains and dents until you buy new ones.)
- WAINSCOTING: I picked up a nice white sheet of this from Lowe’s for under $20 and I loved it. The stripes added some direction and texture to my photos. It’s sturdy, dent/crack resistant and mostly stain-resistant. (Greasy food will leave a mark though.)
- FLOOR TILES: I love marble texture for food photography, so I bought a stone floor tile from Lowe’s for like $8.00. I also got a wispy textured grey tile. They looked great in photos but the major downside was that one tile is a little small. I also tried out vinyl floor tile, which was much lighter.
- WOODEN BOARDS: At Walmart I stumbled upon a wood surface in the craft section that is essentially 8 small boards attached together, so it has lines between the boards. I grabbed myself some white paint and painted the board white. It definitely added a nice texture to my photos.
Invest in high quality backdrops
As you can sorta glimpse in the photo above, my cheap-o backdrops are BEAT up! There’s permanent coffee ground stains on my wooden board; my foam core board is full of dents and cracks, and there’s so much food stains that you can’t see!
Therefore, the backdrop ideas above are good for when you’re just dippin’ your toes in food photography. Or are still trying to find your personal style/brand/color scheme. However, if you’re wanting to take your food photography to the next level, then invest in high quality backdrops!
Can you imagine landing a photography gig at a local bakery and walking in there with dented up/food-stained backdrops? That would not look good to the client at all! Which leads me to…
My FAVORITE FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY BACKDROPS EVER:
Mandy, the founder of Replica Surfaces was SO kind to send me two surfaces of my choosing (talk about feelin’ like a kid in a candy store) along with a set of two stands! My personal brand photos are light and bright, and I love marble so my first choice was White Marble. A direction I’ve been desiring to go more towards is to have more pink in my photos. Everyone who knows me knows that pink is my favorite color in the world, so why not let my brand reflect that? Henceforth, my second choice was: the gorgeous Rose Marble.
This was my first time using high-quality food photography backgrounds and I cannot go back to what I was using before! Wouldn’t you agree just by looking at the two photos above that the quality of my photos have drastically IMPROVED?
I LOVE my Replica Surfaces because they’re:
- Just plain BEAUTIFUL–the subtle marble textures compliment the food in my photos SO much.
- LIGHTWEIGHT and so easy to transport from room to room, or to and from your car.
- SOLIDLY MADE and won’t dent or crack just from normal use, unlike all of my other backdrops.
- A nice LARGE 23 x 23 square!
- You can purchase stands to connect two surfaces together (one flat and one vertical). This way you don’t have to worry about the surface falling over from leaning on an object for stability.
- FOOD AND STAIN RESISTANT! This is a HUGE win for me. I now spend way less time in Lightroom editing out old food stains on my backgrounds. YAY!
- They make me feel like a professional! There’s something sophisticated about shooting on solid surfaces rather than on cheaply made Dollar store surfaces.
They’re so beautiful that I pretty much consider them as art pieces when not in use. (Don’t they look so pretty in my office?!)
5. EDITING PHOTOS IN ADOBE LIGHTROOM
Lastly, and also coincidentally the last step of the food photography process is using a superb photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom. When I was just starting out, I edited all of my photos using Apple Photos on my desktop. The amount of tweaking I could do to my images was minimal, tedious, and mediocre in quality. Adobe Lightroom however, is incredibly complex, detailed, and PACKED with “shortcuts” to aid the editing process.
I currently am subscribed to the 20 GB “Photography” plan, which gives me access to Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, and Photoshop. It’s $9.99 USD/month subscription, that’s 100% worth it in my opinion.
3 Reasons Why I love Lightroom:
- SYNC: Every single tweak done to one photo can be synced to the REST of your photos from your shoot. Saves so much time!
- COLOR: You can adjust each individual color to your liking. Example: You can deepen the reds, while adjusting the shade of red. (Do I want my strawberries to look more orangey-red or a pinky-red?). You can also adjust the brightness of the red.
- CLONE: You can use the clone button to copy and paste more of a certain element onto your photo. If one side of the photo is lacking in chocolate chips, I can use my clone brush to put more chocolate chips where there were none before. And it looks SO real.
Just Kidding, I Can’t Only List 3!
- RADIAL FILTER: While editing you can add a circle where all adjustments can be made either only inside the circle or only outside the circle. This is so great for when my subject is the perfect brightness, but my background is way too dark; I can adjust the background without it effecting the subject, and it looks flawless.
- WHITE BALANCE: Before editing, my whites always have a blue tint to them, With Lightroom I can desaturate my blues and whiten my whites. It makes ALL the difference.
- ADJUSTMENT BRUSH: I can choose whatever effect I want, like sharpness or shadows, or whites and brush that effect onto as small or as large of an area as I want. I ALWAYS add a sharpness and shadows brush onto up-close berries because I want them to jump off the screen!
Those were just a few of the tools that I love about Lightroom; there’s so much more to explore on there. I feel like I’m constantly learning new things every time I sit down to edit my photos.
I WANNA HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY:
There you have it, my 5 steps to improving your food photography! I sure do hope that was helpful for you guys. Honestly, if you have questions about something you read above, leave me a comment below or through my Contact page. I’d LOVE to connect and see YOUR food photography!
Want more? Check out my How To Style Food For Food Photography post!
Do you have any tips of your own that really helped you through you food photography journey? Share them in the comments below! Thank you everyone.