Getting started in food photography involves getting a camera, a good lens, editing software and taking the time to practice. This post walks you through different things to consider including photography equipment, books & workshops, editing software, props & surfaces and lighting.
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Getting Started In Food Photography: Equipment Recommendations
When I was first getting started in food photography, I started off using my iPhone and natural light from my apartment window. The cameras on iPhones are really great, so don’t be afraid to start there. However, to truly learn the art of photography, I recommend learning how to use a DSLR.
GET A DSLR
There are so many camera options out there and it can be really hard to know which one to get. My advice is to start with a beginner-level DSLR. I recommend this to new photographers for two reasons:
- Beginner-level DSLR’s are more affordable cameras. You can also buy a used camera to save even more money. It doesn’t make sense to break the bank on a camera before you know how serious you’re really going to be about food photography.
- Beginner-level DSLR’s will teach you exactly what to look for in your next camera to make a bigger investment worth it. One of the greatest moments for me was when I started noticing the limitations of my beginner level DSLR. It was a sign that I had outgrown it and needed a more advanced camera. It was a really good feeling.
Try not to overthink the brands. They’re all awesome. I’m a Nikon shooter, because that was the brand that I started with. I stuck with it, because I liked the brand, the ease of usability and the way it renders color. Below are some great beginner-level cameras by Nikon and Canon to review.
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 great to start out with. However, if you’re interested in using another great lens, 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. It’s a steal for the price and I still use this lens in my line up of lenses as a professional food photographer. Below are the Nikon and Canon versions of the nifty fifty.
Read More About: My Favorite Lenses for Food Photography
GET A TRIPOD
Holding the camera is all good, but having a good tripod to work with is definitely going to come in handy as you start learning your DSLR and using different camera settings. Tripods help stabilize your camera to avoid camera shake and blurry images. I’m sharing two different tripods that I have used in my home studio and on location.
The Manfrotto is a really solid tripod for the studio and also travels well. The legs adjust easily and lock securely. The ball head allows for smooth, easy adjustments to position your camera correctly. The one drawback is that the center column 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. It attaches to your tripod easily and allows for more flexibility with overhead shots.
The Oben is a lighter weight tripod than the Manfrotto, which makes it a really great tripod to travel with. The legs also flip upside down too so you can shoot overhead without needing an extension arm.
Read More About: MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
Getting Started In Food Photography: Books & Workshops
After I got my first camera, I realized I needed some extra help to learn how to use it. I bought two books to start. One book was food photography focused and the other book was specific to my camera model to help me understand what all the different settings did and how to adjust them.
The two books I started with were:
There are a lot of great food photography books available today, so I’m listing some additional favorites below:
- FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY: FROM SNAPSHOTS TO GREAT SHOTS
- FROM SNAPSHOTS TO GREAT SHOTS (SECOND EDITION)
- THE FOOD STYLIST’S HANDBOOK
- THAT PHOTO MAKES ME HUNGRY
Photography workshops are a great way to learn food photography. I’m listing some of my favorites from CreativeLive, YouTube and a Masterclass below:
- CREATIVE LIVE
- FUNDAMENTALS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
- MANUAL MODE MADE SIMPLE
- FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY WITH ANDREW SCRIVANI
YOUTUBE CHANNELS & VIDEOS
Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
Getting Started In Food Photography: Editing Software & Apps
Editing is an 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. I highly recommend checking out Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One.
When I was first starting out, I would take pictures and review them on the back of my camera. This is totally fine to do when you’re first starting out. You can transfer your images from your SD card to your computer when you’re ready to edit.
However, the screen on the back of your camera is pretty small, so it’s really hard to see what the image actually looks like. As you learn and grow, you may want to start reviewing your images on a larger screen as you shoot. This method is called tethering where your camera is connected to your computer. It allows you to see your images on a larger screen so you can make adjustments during the shoot. Tether cables vary per camera model, so be sure to get a cable that is compatible with the type of camera you have.
COMPUTER EDITING SOFTWARE
EDITING APPS FOR SMARTPHONES
Getting Started In Food Photography: Surfaces & Props
SURFACES & BACKDROPS
Surfaces and backdrops play a significant role in food photography, because they help set a mood and tell more of a story. They sit beneath or behind the food creating more of a scene depending on the mood you are going for. I’m listing some surface and backdrop recommendations below:
- WHITE FOAM BOARD
- BLACK FOAM BOARD
- COLORED FOAM BOARDS
- BEST EVER BACKDROPS
- ERICKSON SURFACES
- INK & ELM
- TEXTURIT (USE CODE: REGANBARONI10 FOR 10% OFF)
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. Consider your space before investing in too many props. If you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate towards storing props, you can also rent them from prop shops and prop stylists.
Getting Started In Food Photography: Lighting
I started off as a natural light shooter, but now I shoot with studio lights which is 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 before diving into artificial lighting. 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 start experimenting 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.
There are three types of artificial lights that most food photographers use including:
The beauty of using artificial light is that you have complete control over your lighting. You control the power of the lights, the position of the lights and the type (or mood) of the lights. Natural light is always changing, so it’s never consistent, which causes you to have to adjust your camera settings often. When I finally started learning artificial light, I realized how much I love controlling light. I started off with one speed light and grew from there. I have a full post dedicated to Artificial Lighting for Food Photography that you can check out when you’re ready to start experimenting.
Whether you’re shooting with natural or artificial lighting, I always recommend having different light modifiers on hand. These include diffusers, reflectors and black and white foam boards. Light modifiers help soften, direct and shape your light to hit the food juuuuuuust right. Some examples of light modifiers are listed below:
- WHITE FOAM BOARD
- BLACK FOAM BOARD
- 5-in-1 REFLECTORS & DIFFUSERS
- SOFT BOXES
- DIFFUSION PAPERS
Read More About: ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
Overall, getting started in food photography should be fun, not overwhelming. My advice is not to overthink the equipment, because you really don’t need a lot in the beginning. I listed some recommendations to consider, but the main things you need are a camera, a good lens, editing software and a desire to practice. As your creative vision and skills improve, you will learn what you will really need to capture the types of images you want. Reach out with questions anytime!
Read More About: My Favorite Food Photography Equipment
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.