Getting started in food photography is exciting, but what photography equipment do you need? The truth is, you don’t need to get too much too soon. You will need a camera, a good lens and some editing software… oh, and some food. 😉 The rest will all fall into place as you grow into food photography. This post shares some equipment considerations to get you started.
This post contains affiliate links. Read the affiliate disclosure.
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 practicing with it. I have a post that shares iPhone Photography Tips, which could be a great place to start if you want to use your iPhone.
There are so many DLSR cameras out there and it can be really hard to know which one to get. My advice is to start with a beginner-level model. I recommend this 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 learning 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 (Nikon D3100). It was a sign that I had outgrown it and needed a more advanced camera… and it was a really good feeling for me.
Try not to overthink what brand to choose. They’re all pretty awesome. Below are some great beginner-level DSLR cameras by Nikon and Canon to review.
As I mentioned above, mirrorless cameras are also great options. They are basically more compact DSLR’s which make them lightweight and much easier to carry with you. One thing I need to note is the battery life isn’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. All cameras will come with battery chargers and you can always have extra (charged) batteries on hand. Mirrorless cameras are a great option if you want to look into something smaller than a DSLR. I’m listing the two FujiFilm cameras that I own below:
If you want to dive in deeper on what to look for in a camera, check out my post about the best camera for food photography below.
READ MORE ABOUT: THE BEST CAMERA FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
It’s important to note that when it comes to lenses, you need to make sure the lens is compatible with your camera. If you decide to go with a Nikon camera, for example, you’ll want to get Nikon lenses or third party lenses that are compatible with Nikon. Sigma Art is a good third party brand that has lenses compatible with several different camera brands.
Most 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 that won’t break the bank, check out the 50mm 1.8 (also known as the “nifty fifty”). It’s a lightweight, prime lens and it’s a very versatile lens for different types of food angles. It’s a steal for the price (under $200) and I still use it in my line up of lenses today.
Below are the Nikon and Canon versions of the nifty fifty.
If you decide to go with a mirrorless camera, you will need to get lenses that are compatible with the brand you choose. Much like DSLR’s, sometimes they’ll bundle the camera and lens together into a package, which could ultimately save you some money.
Since I shoot with FujiFilm, I am sharing the lenses I currently have below:
You can read more details about the different lenses for food photography below, but the kit lens that comes with your camera or the nifty fifty is definitely a great place to start.
READ MORE ABOUT: THE BEST LENSES FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
Now that we’ve covered some different cameras and lenses, let’s talk tripods! Holding the camera is totally fine when you’re just starting out. But, having a good tripod to work with is definitely going to come in handy down the road, especially for food photography.
Tripods help stabilize your camera to avoid camera shake and blurry images. When to use a tripod depends on the types of images you’re shooting, your camera settings and the light you are working with. I’m sharing two different tripods that I own and love below.
Manfrotto is a really solid brand and offers a variety of great tripods.
I have the Manfrotto 055 with Center Column & Ballhead. The legs adjust easily and lock securely. The center column adjusts horizontally for overhead shots and 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 for overhead shots.
I also have the OBEN CT-3561. The Oben is a light weight tripod, which makes it super easy to adjust on set and take with you. The legs also flip upside down so you can shoot overhead without needing an extension arm.
The drawback to flipping the legs upside down is that you may have to shoot on the floor (depending on your setup), which makes it difficult to shoot other angles.
Books & Workshops
After you get your camera and lens, now you need to learn how to use them. After I got my first camera, I bought two books to help me.
One book was specific to my camera model called PLATE TO PIXEL. This book helped me learn where the settings are and how to use them.
The other book was more food-photography focused called NIKON D5500 GUIDE TO DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY. This book helped me learn how to adjust my camera settings to take different types of food images.
Some other photography books I highly recommend are:
- 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 & Tutorials
Photography workshops and online tutorials are a great way to learn food photography. There are a ton available online and you can work through them at your own pace. 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
Editing Software & Apps
Editing is an important part of the photography process. Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR, Mirrorless camera or using your iPhone, editing brings your images to their final form. I highly recommend checking out Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One. I started with Photoshop, then added Lightroom to my workflow. Eventually, I got Capture One. They are all great and honestly I still use all of them for different purposes.
How To Shoot Tethered
Shooting “tethered” simply means that your camera is hooked up to your computer and software through a tether cable. This allows you to see your images on a larger screen so you can make adjustments during the shoot.
When I was first starting out, I would take pictures and review them on the back of my camera on the LCD screen. This is totally fine to do in the beginning. You can transfer your images from your SD card to your computer when you’re ready to edit.
As you grow, however, it’s a lot easier to capture beautiful images when tethered so you can see your images as you shoot and make adjustments as you go. It saves time during the editing process and prevents you from taking more pictures than you really need to. I can’t believe how many images I would take in the beginning that were ever-so-slightly different, but not quite right. Now, they’re just sitting on an old hard drive somewhere not doing anything except taking up space. 😉 Tethering helps you avoid this.
Tether cables vary per camera model, so when you’re ready to start reviewing images larger as you shoot, get a cable that is compatible with the type of camera you have. Tether Tools offers a quick and easy way to figure out what tether cable is best for your camera. Go to this page and select Search By Camera in the menu. Then, you can plug in your camera brand, model and type of computer port and it will tell you exactly what to get. Easy peasy!
Computer Editing Software
Editing Apps for SmartPhones
Surfaces & Props
Selecting Surfaces & Backdrops
Surfaces and backdrops play a significant role in food photography, because they help set the mood of your images. 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 recos and venders below:
- WHITE FOAM BOARD
- BLACK FOAM BOARD
- COLORED FOAM BOARDS
- BEST EVER BACKDROPS (USE CODE: REGANBARONI FOR 15% OFF)
- ERICKSON SURFACES
- INK & ELM
- TEXTURIT (USE CODE: REGANBARONI10 FOR 10% OFF)
Prop shopping can be addictive for food photographers. Props include plates, bowls, linens, glassware, silverware and other objects that can add visual interest to your food images. I’m not a prop stylist (yes, there’s a profession for that), but I do have a little collection of favorite props in my home studio. You can use a variety of whites, blacks, grays, neutrals and colors in your props. The options are endless, but it’s important to consider your storage space before investing in too many props.
If you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate towards storing props, start slow and just get a few things. You can also rent props from prop shops and prop stylists when you need something extra special and want to save room at your home studio.
Most food photographers start shooting with natural light. One easy way to learn how light will affect your images is to buy one ingredient and place it near a window. Try moving yourself around the subject and watch how the light changes. Move your subject into different positions and watch how the light affects it from different positions.
The thing to keep in mind is that natural light is constantly changing, so you will need to make sure you adjust your camera settings accordingly to properly expose your images the way you want. Check out my post below that shares some tips for shooting with natural light.
READ MORE ABOUT: NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
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 have the ability to make it do whatever you want. When I finally started learning artificial light, I was happy to learn how easy it was and how much fun it was to be able to make the light do what I wanted it to do.
There are three popular artificial lights in food photography:
I started off with one speed light and grew from there. I have a full post that talks about getting started with artificial lights below that you can check out when you’re ready to start experimenting.
READ MORE ABOUT: GETTING STARTED WITH ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS
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.
Some examples of light modifiers are listed below:
- WHITE FOAM BOARD
- BLACK FOAM BOARD
- 5-in-1 REFLECTORS & DIFFUSERS
- SOFT BOXES
- DIFFUSION PAPERS
Overall, getting started in food photography is a lot of fun and shouldn’t feel overwhelming. My advice is not to overthink the equipment, because you really don’t need a lot in the beginning. The main things you need are a camera, a good lens, editing software and a desire to learn and practice. As your creative vision and skills improve, you will figure out what you will really need to capture the types of images you want.
Reach out with questions anytime!
READ MORE ABOUT: FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY 101: THE FUNDAMENTALS
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote products that I actually use and support.
All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.
Absolutely amazing pictures. Thank you for sharing
Thank you so much! 🙂