5 Food Photography Essentials All Beginners Need

June 24, 2020

Are you new to food photography but don't know where to begin? I'm sharing five food photography essentials to help you get started!





A lot of you have been sliding into my dm’s lately (cheeky) to ask me questions about my photography. So I’ve decided to start a mini-series on my blog: the photography series!

Over the next 5 weeks, I’ll be sharing my tips and tricks for beginner food photographers to take your photos to the next level. I’m talking everything from props to lighting to editing – there’s a lot of juicy content coming soon!

Don’t miss a post! To stay in the loop, sign up to my mailing list below:

For the first edition of the series, I’m sharing five food photography essentials that all beginners need. What’s great about food photography is that you don’t need a lot to get started, so once you have these five things you’ll be ready to take some awesome photos!

So grab an iced latte, take a seat in your favourite chair, and let’s do this!

1. a DSLR camera.

If you are serious about taking quality food photos you’ll need a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera.

Here are some key things to look out for when choosing a camera:

  1. Does the DSLR have Bluetooth capabilities? Bluetooth allows you to instantly transfer your photos to your smartphone or tablet for editing. This also great for holiday snaps you want to share on the ‘gram quickly!
  2. Can the model shoot RAW photos? RAW photos are very large files which contain maximum detail about our subject. Even if you are not shooting RAW, it is best to have a camera which can shoot RAW than one that cannot.
  3. How big is the sensor? A popular myth is that megapixel size determines a camera’s quality. In fact, the sensor size is what you should be looking for! A larger sensor will let in more light and yield higher resolution photos. However, larger sensors are also heavier and more expensive, so this is something to consider.
a DSLR camera next to some smoothies

The model I use is the Nikon D3400. It’s a fairly inexpensive model as far as DSLRs go, and I highly recommend this model for beginners.

Once you’ve bought your DSLR, you’ll need to learn how to use it to take full advantage of its capabilities. Spoiler: auto mode is NOT the way forward!

Stay tuned for part 2 of the photography series where I’ll take you through the basics of using a DSLR in manual mode!

Whilst a DSLR is a worthy investment in my opinion, you use your smartphone for food photography if you or are working on a tight budget. As you progress and develop confidence behind the camera, you may later decide to invest in a DSLR to take your photography further.

close up photograph of a vegan chocolate chip cookie

2. good lighting.

People always ask me ‘how do you get your photos so airy and bright?’. And the key is in good lighting!

The best type of lighting for beginner food photographers to use is:

  • Natural lighting
  • Near to a window
  • Diffused light
  • In the right direction.

Let’s explore those terms in a little more detail.

Natural lighting, as opposed to artificial lighting, is the light available naturally from the sun.

The best place to find natural light in your house is near a big window. If you have patio doors those are great too. Experiment with different areas in your house until you find the lighting you like!

This brings us onto diffused light. During the middle of the day, sunlight can be harsh and create strong shadows. When the sun is masked by the clouds, the result is the soft, diffused light that we like for food photography.

Note that harsh light can work well as an artistic choice for some photos! It’s definitely fun to experiment with, but the for the majority of my shoots I use diffused light.

harsh light food photography of pancakes

Finally, you’ll want to make sure your light is in the right direction.

As a general rule, don’t shoot with the light source behind the camera. This can make your food photos look dull and uninviting.

The purpose of light in food photography is to accentuate the food and bring out its colours and textures. Therefore we want the light to be either coming in from the side or the back (or at any angle in between this).

Take a look at the two photos below – where do you think the light source is in each photo?

The photo of the carrot cake pancakes on the left was taken with the light coming from the left hand side. The photo of the hasselback potatoes on the right has the light source from the back.

3. food photography backgrounds.

Backgrounds are one of the most important food photography essentials – they really help to set the vibe in photos!

You guys always ask me where my backgrounds are from, and the truth is I make them myself. Some food photography backgrounds cost hundreds of pounds, but I could buy a lot more important things with that money. Like a lifetime supply of chocolate chip cookie ingredients. Priorities, right?

I have 3 backgrounds which I use (pictured below). The first two I painted myself using acrylic paint on MDF board, and the third background is marble contact paper stuck to the reverse of the second background.

When starting out with food photography it’s best not to have too many backgrounds. This helps to cultivate your signature style!

It’s also a good idea to avoid bold prints or distractions in your backgrounds. We want the main focus of our photos to be the food, and the backgrounds to help set the vibe.

If you are painting your backgrounds yourself, a good way to avoid creating distractions is to use a sponge to blend the paint.

4. props

Props are probably my favourite food photography essentials – using props in your food photos can instantly take them to the next level! A prop can be anything from a spoon, bowl, napkin, or even some ingredients used in the recipe.

Props are like accessories: you don’t always need them, but when you use them, it really looks like you’ve made an effort!

To continue with this analogy, you could say that napkins/tea towels are the ‘hoop earrings’ of food photography props. They can make a simple dish look fabulous. I’m not sure of the science behind it, but we don’t question the magic of hoop earrings, and we’re not about to start questioning the magic of tea towels.

thick smoothie in a bowl with a spoon

Have fun experimenting with different props to tell your story. And you don’t have to buy a whole new set of kitchenware for this! Some of my favourite props are those I already had lying around the house.

Stay tuned for part 3 of the photography series, where I’ll show you how to source great props on a budget!

5. Editing software.

The last and final food photography essential is editing software, which is so important!

Unedited photos can look dull and uninviting. Editing our food photos is a way of enhancing the light and bringing out the true colours of the food.

before and after of editing a photo of a matcha latte

I edit my photos in Lightroom on my iPad. Lightroom is completely free to use and has some fairly advanced editing tools which are great for food photography.

Stay tuned for part 4 of the photography series, where I’ll take you step-by-step through my Lightroom editing process!

What next?

I hope you enjoyed this installment of the photography series! Stay tuned for part four next week, where I’m taking you through the basics of using a DLSR camera in food photography. To be the first to hear when it’s live, sign up to my mailing list – you’ll also get TWO free recipe eBooks just for signing up!

Please take a look at my photography portfolio if you are interested in working with me. You can also come say hello on Instagram!

Happy photographing,

-S.

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Shivani Raja
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