After I shared My Overhead Setup for Food Photography, I started getting a lot of questions asking for my advice for getting started in food photography. This post shares how I got started, the gear I recommend for now and extra gear for later. Full disclosure, you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. Some food photographers will tell you differently, but in my experience, the most important thing in the beginning is that you learn how to use your camera. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much gear too soon before you know what you’ll really need.
Getting Started in Food Photography
I LEARNED TO COOK
When I learned how to cook beyond using the microwave, I started seeing food a lot differently. I was an art director in advertising at the time and had just started dating Mike who is a really great cook. Experiencing his love for cooking opened my eyes to how fun the process can be. I started to see that food and ingredients are really beautiful and I would constantly take pictures with my iPhone of the things we were making together. I felt really INSPIRED for the first time in a long time and poof…! My desire to learn food photography became a real thing.
ADVICE: If you want to succeed as a photographer, I think it’s really important to feel inspired by your subject.
I GOT MY FIRST DSLR
My family surprised me with my first DSLR for my birthday back in 2012. It was a Nikon D3100 with a 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 kit lens (it’s discontinued now, but similar to this camera). I was NOT expecting a camera for a gift. I remember opening the box and thinking, “I hope I actually use this thing!” I’m not a technical person, so I really wasn’t sure what to do with a camera that wasn’t my iPhone. It just seemed complicated at first glance. But, surprise surprise, I dove head first into learning that thing and had so much fun with it.
ADVICE: Learn your camera. Don’t stay in Auto mode. Start shooting in Manual mode right away.
I STARTED A BLOG
I decided to start a blog in 2013. It was my blank canvas so that I could cook, style and shoot every week and have a place to post my work other than social media. It was originally called Up Close & Tasty and later became a secondary element to my professional website. I shared several recipes and pictures of what I was making. I knew absolutely nothing about blogging and never thought anything would come of it. All I knew was that I was feeling more inspired and more creative than I ever had before. Eventually, restaurants, editorial magazines and brands started noticing my work and I realized that I had an opportunity to turn my hobby into a career-changing passion… and long story short, that’s exactly what I did.
ADVICE: We all start as beginners and grow from there. Your drive to practice is what determines how far you’ll get to go.
Equipment I Recommend to Start
I recommend getting started with a beginner-level DSLR. I recommend this for three reasons:
1. Beginner-level dslr’s are easier to learn.
2. Beginner-level dslr’s are more affordable and it doesn’t make sense to break the bank before you know how often you’ll really be using your camera.
3. Beginner level dslr’s teach you exactly what to look for in your next camera to make the bigger investment worth your while.
Don’t overthink the brand, they’re all awesome. I’m a Nikon shooter, so below are some good reco’s by Nikon as well as some reco’s from Canon shooters who I know and trust:
THE NIFTY FIFTY LENS
If you are considering an extra lens beyond the kit lens that will come with your camera, I highly recommend the 50mm 1.8 (also known as the “nifty fifty”). It’s a lightweight, normal focal length lens which makes it incredibly versatile for different types of food shots from overhead to angled and straight on. It’s also under $200, which is a steal for a good lens. I’m listing the Nikon and Canon versions below.
For reference, the lens numbers tell you the focal length and the maximum (widest) aperture you can get at that focal length.
Here are a couple of examples:
50mm (this is your fixed focal length) 1.8 (this is your maximum (widest) aperture)
18-55mm (this is the range of focal lengths) 3.5-5.6 (3.5 is the maximum (widest) aperture you’ll get at 18mm and when you zoom to 55mm, the maximum aperture you’ll get is 5.6)
Read More About: My Favorite Lenses for Food Photography
When I first started learning my camera, I bought some books to help me get started and trust me, they were SUPER helpful. I bought one book specific to my camera model to help me learn how to use the camera. For example, if you start with the Nikon D5500, get a book that is specific to the camera model you purchased. I also bought some books that were specific to food photography to get me thinking about how to use my camera to shoot food.
Camera Model Book Example
Food Photography Books
There are a ton of great workshops that teach photography if books aren’t your thing. I’m listing some of my favorites from CreativeLive, YouTube and a Masterclass below:
Joanie is not only a great food photographer, she’s a great instructor! Her videos are really fun to watch and she gets to the point quickly of what she’s showing you how to do. I have also had the pleasure of meeting her when she was in Chicago for work and she’s just as lovely in person as she is on her YouTube channel.
I think Skyler is so talented! I love his videos and his creativity is just oh-so-inspiring. His knowledge of his equipment is spot on and he is so good at talking about it and shooting it in a really creative way.
Editing is the icing on the cake in the photography process. Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or using your iPhone, editing is what can bring your images to the next level of WOW.
Editing Software for DSLR
Editing Apps for iPhone
Equipment I Recommend for Later
A tripod is definitely something you’ll need eventually, but isn’t something you’ll need right away. When you get your camera, the most important thing is to start learning how aperture, shutter speed and ISO work together. You can simply hold your camera to practice this and don’t necessarily need extra equipment to get started.
When you’re ready to explore tripods, below are two that I recommend and have in my home studio. They’re both sturdy and can also travel well.
READ MORE ABOUT: MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY WHERE I TALK ABOUT THREE DIFFERENT TRIPOD SETUPS.
SURFACES AND BACKDROPS
Surfaces and backdrops play a significant role in food photography. They help set the mood of your image. I’m listing some recommendations that I have used a lot as a food photographer. But, you can always just use your dining table or whatever you have on hand in the house to get started.
TIP: One of my favorite boards is one that I found in our garage when we were moving into our house. Hello FREE! Keep your eyes open for those types of goodies.
Prop shopping can be addictive. Although I’m not a prop stylist, (yes, there’s a profession for that!) I do have a little collection of favorite props in a closet at my home studio. However, as I grew into this as a career, I started learning that clients usually want something pretty specific and there’s no guarantee that I’ll have it on hand. And, there’s only so much room in my prop closet. Prop stylists are pretty badass contacts to have, because they know how to find ANYTHING and will rent it to you for your shoot.
But, when you’re just starting out, it’s definitely fun to have a some cool props of your own to play with, so I’m listing some of my favorite resources below.
MY MOM’S PANTRY
I started off as a natural light shooter just like most food photographers do. Now I shoot with studio lights and it’s my preferred method of shooting. My advice, however, is to learn your camera first (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO) and get comfortable shooting in Manual Mode. Use natural light from your window while you learn this. Then, you can decide if you want to stick with natural light or step up to studio lights. It’s all a matter of preference and I’ve seen gorgeous work from both types of lighting.
READ MORE ABOUT: ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
I do recommend having black and white foam board on hand to both natural light and studio light photographers. Black will help you enhance the shadows and white will help you enhance the light.
DON’T OVERTHINK IT
My advice is don’t overthink the gear when you’re just getting started. Get a camera with a decent lens, invest in a book or workshop and get some editing software. Learn your camera inside and out and PRACTICE. As you develop your style and creative vision, you will figure out what equipment will be the most useful for you, your space and your budget.
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.