I get a lot of questions asking for my advice on getting started in food photography. I love this question because I remember how I felt back when I was first getting started. I knew absolutely NOTHING. Today I want to share how I got started along with equipment that you may want to consider as you improve your skills. You definitely don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. Get a camera and learn how to use it. As your skills improve, you’ll learn what other gear you’ll want to get. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much “stuff” before you know what you’ll really need, because equipment needs will vary for all photographers.
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Getting Started in Food Photography
When I first started teaching myself food photography, I knew nothing about cooking or photography. Don’t feel bad if you’re in the same boat as you read this. Even if you haven’t ever held a DSLR camera before, you can still learn photography. I literally started from scratch and after lots and lots of practice, I’m now a professional food photographer shooting with a variety of brands and restaurants.
Here’s how I got started:
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 was feeling completely burned out and lost within my career. I had also just started dating my husband (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 would take pictures of the things we were making together with my iPhone. For the first time in a long time, I started feeling creatively inspired by food.
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. The camera I started with is 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 can figure out how to use this thing!” I’m not a very technical person, so I really wasn’t sure what to do with a camera that wasn’t my iPhone. But, I decided to dive head first into learning my DSLR and it was amazing to see my images improve so quickly in comparison to my iPhone camera.
Learn how to really use your camera and start shooting in Manual mode right away.
I STARTED A BLOG
I decided to start a blog in 2013. I wasn’t intending to be a blogger, but I was cooking, styling and shooting every week and needed a place to post my work other than social media. My old blog was called Up Close & Tasty and only shared the recipes I was making to practice teaching myself food photography. I knew absolutely nothing about blogging and never thought anything would come of it. Long story short, my food photography career started with my blog. Restaurants, editorial clients and brands started noticing my work and before I knew it, I had an opportunity to turn my hobby into a career-changing business. Now, my work has brought me back to my blog so I can share more educational content around food photography and business.
The secret to becoming a good photographer is practice.
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. The gear I’m listing are things to consider as your skills improve with your camera.
GET A CAMERA/DSLR
I recommend getting started with a beginner-level DSLR. I recommend this for three reasons:
1. They’re easier to learn.
2. They are more affordable cameras and it doesn’t make sense to break the bank before you know how often you’ll really be using your camera.
3. They’ll teach you exactly what to look for in your next camera to make a larger investment worth it.
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.
Read More About: The Best Camera for Food Photography
GET A GOOD LENS
Most beginner-level DSLR’s will come bundled with a kit lens. These lenses are totally fine to start out with.
However, if you’re interested in something other than the kit lens, I can recommend a good lens that’s under $200. Check out 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 including overhead, angled and straight on shots. It’s a steal for the price and I still use this lens in my line up of lenses today. Below are the Nikon and Canon versions of the nifty fifty.
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS ON LENSES MEAN?
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:
This is a prime lens and 50mm is your fixed focal length.
1.8 is your maximum (widest) aperture.
18-55MM 3.5 – 5.6
This is a zoom lens and the 18-55mm is the range of focal lengths it offers.
3.5 is the maximum (widest) aperture you’ll get at 18mm.
5.6 is the maximum (widest) aperture you’ll get when you zoom in to 55mm.
Read More About: My Favorite Lenses for Food Photography
When I first started learning how to use my camera, I bought some books to help me. I bought one book specific to my camera model to help me learn what all the buttons and dials actually do. 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 how to shoot food photography. These helped me start thinking about how to adjust my camera settings to shoot food.
Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
There are a ton of great online workshops that also teach photography if books aren’t your thing. I’m listing some of my favorites from CreativeLive, YouTube and a Masterclass below:
Editing is a very important part of the photography process. Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or using your iPhone, editing brings your images to their final form. Check out my favorite software, editing apps and editing workshops below.
EDITING SOFTWARE FOR DSLR
EDITING APPS FOR SMART PHONES
A good tripod is definitely something you’ll want to get eventually. I’m sharing two different tripods that I have used in my home studio.
The Manfrotto is a solid tripod that can also travel well on location. The legs adjust easily and securely and the ball head allows for smooth adjustments to position your camera correctly. The one drawback is that the arm isn’t very long and won’t reach very far over the table for overhead shots. I recommend getting an extension arm that is longer, if you plan to shoot overhead images with this tripod.
The Oben is a lighter weight tripod than the Manfrotto, which makes it a really great tripod to travel with. The legs flip upside down too so you can shoot overhead without needing an extension arm.
Read More About: MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
SURFACES AND BACKDROPS
Surfaces and backdrops play a significant role in food photography, because they help set the mood of your image. I’m listing some recommendations that I have used a lot as a food photographer. You can also use your dining table to get started.
TIP: One of my favorite surfaces is an old wood board that I found in our garage. Hello FREE! Keep your eyes open for those types of goodies.
Prop shopping can be addictive for food photographers. I’m not a prop stylist, (yes, there’s a profession for that) but I do have a little collection of favorite props in a closet at my home studio. I don’t hoard props like I used to, though. As I started working with more clients, I learned that clients usually want something pretty specific and there’s no guarantee that I’ll have it on hand. There’s also only so much room in my prop closet before I have too many props taking over the house. 😉 If you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate towards props, consider renting them or contacting a prop stylist to rent props from.
I started off as a natural light shooter just like most food photographers do. Today I shoot with studio lights and this 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 get to know your camera. You can decide later if you want to stick with natural light or experiment with studio lights. It’s a matter of preference for each photographer and I’ve seen gorgeous work from both natural lighting and artificial lighting.
Read More About: ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
I do recommend having different modifiers like diffusers and black and white foam boards for photo shoots. Modifiers help soften, direct and shape your light to hit the food juuuuuuust right. Some examples are listed below:
Read More About: Natural Light Food Photography Tips
DON’T OVERTHINK IT
My advice is don’t overthink the equipment when you’re just getting started. I listed quite a bit of suggestions, but the main thing is to learn your camera. As your skills improve, you will learn what you need and don’t need depending on your space and budget.
Read More About: My Current Gear for Food Photography
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.