After I shared my overhead setup for food photography post, I started getting a lot of questions asking for my advice on getting started in food photography. So, let’s dive in. I’m going to talk about how I got started, equipment you’ll need to start now and equipment you may need further down the road. To get started, you DO NOT need a lot of equipment. In my experience, the most important thing in the beginning is that you take the time to really learn how to use your camera. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much gear too soon before you know what you’ll really need.
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Getting Started in Food Photography
When I first started teaching myself food photography, I knew nothing about cooking or photography. Today, I’m a professional food photographer working with brands, restaurants and hospitality clients. Let’s go back to the beginning of my story.
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 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 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.
If you want to succeed as a photographer, 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 can figure out how to use this thing!” I’m not a technical person at all, 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 how to use a DSLR and had so much fun seeing my images improve with each shoot.
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 was cooking, styling and shooting every week and wanted a place to post my work other than social media. My blog was originally called Up Close & Tasty and 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. All I can say was that I was feeling more creative than I ever had before in my 12-year career as an art director.
Soon restaurants, editorial clients and brands started noticing my work and before I knew it, there was an opportunity to turn my hobby into a career-changing business… and long story short, that’s exactly what I did.
The secret to beautiful photography is lots and lots of PRACTICE.
Photography Equipment to get started now
Now that you have a brief summary of how I started to teach myself food photography, let’s start talking about the gear you’ll want to consider. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need a lot to get started. Learning your camera is the first step towards real growth as a photographer. So, let’s discuss…
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, I can also recommend an even better lens that’s under $200.
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 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. I’m listing the Nikon and Canon versions below.
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 to get me thinking about how to use my camera settings to shoot food.
CAMERA MODEL BOOK EXAMPLE
FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS
Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
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.
Skyler is a super talented food photographer! I love his videos and his creativity is 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 a very important part of the photography process. Consider it the icing on the cake. Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or using your iPhone, editing is what can bring your images to the next level of WOW. Check out some of my favorite software, editing apps and workshops below.
EDITING SOFTWARE FOR DSLR
EDITING APPS FOR SMART PHONES
Photography Equipment I Recommend for Later
A tripod is definitely something you’ll need eventually, but isn’t something you’ll necessarily need right away. When you get your camera, the most important thing is to start learning how aperture, shutter speed and ISO work together. This is called learning Manual mode. You can simply hold your camera to practice this.
When you’re ready to explore tripods, below are two that I have in my home studio. They’re both sturdy and can also pack up and travel well.
Read More About: MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY Where I Share Three Different Tripod Setups.
SURFACES AND BACKDROPS
Surfaces and backdrops play a significant role in helping your food images tell a story. 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.
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 textured goodies.
Prop shopping can be addictive. Although I’m not a prop stylist — yep, there’s a profession for that — I do have a little collection of favorite props in a closet at my home studio. As I grew into food photography 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. There’s also only so much room in my prop closet before I have too many props taking over the house. 😉
Prop stylists are pretty awesome contacts to have, because they know how to find ANYTHING and will rent it to you for your shoot.
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 for both natural light and studio light photo shoots. The black boards will help you create deeper shadows and the white boards will help you bounce light back to your subject.
Read More About: Natural Light Food Photography Tips
DON’T OVERTHINK IT
My advice is don’t overthink the “all 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.
Read More About: My Current Gear for Food Photography
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.