I’m so excited you’re here reading this post, because you must have an interest in getting started in food photography. I remember when I was first getting started. I went from knowing absolutely nothing about food photography to practicing everyday and eventually I quit my day job to do it full time. In this post, I’m sharing how I got started and some equipment and resource recommendations that will help you grow into yourself as a food photographer. Suuuuper exciting!
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Getting Started in Food Photography
When I first started teaching myself food photography, I knew nothing about cooking or photography. I just had a desire to learn and what started out as a hobby turned into a career-changing business.
I LEARNED TO COOK
When I learned how to cook, I started seeing food differently. I was an art director in advertising at the time and was feeling incredibly burned out by the industry. I didn’t feel like I was being truly creative and in a nutshell, I felt stuck. On a positive note, I 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 also started to see that food and ingredients are actually really beautiful. I couldn’t help but take pictures with my iPhone and used natural light from our apartment window. It sounds so simple, but for the first time in a long time, I started feeling creatively inspired again. And, just like that, my passion for food photography was a real thing.
Read More About: iPhone Photography Tips
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 is 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 what I was doing with my iPhone camera. This picture of strawberries was one of the very first pictures I took with my new DSLR… I was SOOOO excited!
I STARTED A BLOG
I decided to start a blog in 2013. I wasn’t intending to be a food blogger, but I was cooking, styling and shooting every week and wanted a place to post my work other than social media. My old blog was called Up Close & Tasty and shared the recipes that I was making while practicing food photography. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my food photography career took off because of my blog. Restaurants, editorial clients and brands started noticing my work and I was even a Best Food Photography Finalist with SAVEUR. Before I knew it, I had an opportunity to turn my hobby into a career-changing business and now I shoot commercial and editorial photography for a variety of clients.
Ok, so what equipment do you need and how do you choose?! The truth is, you really don’t NEED a lot of gear to get started. You need a camera (duh), a good lens and a desire to learn. The extra gear that I’m including in this post are things to consider as you grow.
“You don’t have to be great at something to start, but you have to start to be great at something.” -Zig Ziglar
GET A DSLR
There are SO many camera options out there, but I recommend getting started with a beginner-level DSLR. I recommend this for two reasons:
1. 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 ‘into’ food photography you’re really going to be.
2. 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 more advanced features to do what I wanted to do with my images. It was a really good feeling.
Try not to overthink the brands. They’re all awesome. I’m a Nikon shooter, simply because that was the brand I started with. Below are some great beginner-level cameras by Nikon and Canon.
RELATED POST: 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 adding another great lens, I can recommend one 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. It’s a steal for the price and I still use this lens in my line up of lenses today. Here are the Nikon and Canon versions of the nifty fifty.
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS ON LENSES ACTUALLY 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.
- 50mm is your fixed focal length.
- 1.8 is your maximum (widest) aperture.
18-55mm 3.5 – 5.6
- This is a zoom lens.
- 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.
RELATED POST: My Favorite Lenses for Food Photography
After I got my first camera, I realized I needed some extra help to really 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.
I recommend getting a book on your camera model to help you learn what all the buttons and dials actually do and how to use them. For example, if you start with the Nikon D5500, get a book about the camera model you purchased.
Here are the two books I started with:
There are a lot of other great book recommendations that are more specific to how to shoot food photography as well. These books helped me learn how to adjust my camera settings to shoot food in different ways.
- FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY: FROM SNAPSHOTS TO GREAT SHOTS
- FROM SNAPSHOTS TO GREAT SHOTS (SECOND EDITION)
- THE FOOD STYLIST’S HANDBOOK
- THAT PHOTO MAKES ME HUNGRY
RELATED POST: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
There are a ton of great online workshops that also teach 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
Editing is a big part of the photography process. Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or using your iPhone, editing brings your images to their final form.
TIP: If you are shooting with a DSLR, I want to suggest getting a tether cable to connect from your camera to your computer. Make sure to get a tether cable that is compatible with your camera, because they vary per model. This will allow you to see your images on a larger screen as you shoot. Yes, you can rely on the small LCD screen on the back of your camera, but seeing your images larger will help you catch details you want to fix.
Check out my favorite software, editing apps and editing workshops below.
EDITING APPS FOR SMART PHONES
As much as I like to detach from my tripod, having a good tripod to work with is definitely going to come in handy. I’m sharing two different tripods that I have used in my home studio and on location for my food photography.
The Manfrotto is a really solid tripod for the studio and can also travel well. 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.
RELATED POST: MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
SURFACES AND BACKDROPS
Surfaces and backdrops play a significant role in food photography, because they help set a mood and tell more of a story. I’m listing some recommendations that I have used a lot as a food photographer.
- 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. 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. If you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate towards props, consider renting them from prop shops and prop stylists.
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. 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.
RELATED POST: ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
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:
Related Post: Natural Light Food Photography Tips
Overall, getting started should be oh-so-fun, not overwhelming. My advice is not to overthink the equipment when you’re just getting started, because you really don’t need a lot in the beginning. I listed quite a bit of suggestions, but the main thing is to get a camera, a good lens, editing software and start playing. As your skills improve, you will start to figure out what you really need to continue growing as a photographer. Reach out with questions anytime!
RELATED POST: My Current Gear for Food Photography
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.