Building Your Food Photography Kit

Food photography service in Yorkshire

As a food blogger or business-owner, the food you serve, sell or blog about should always be the star of the show.

I get it, I really do. Photography is hard. It’s a whole new skill set to learn.

And surely, if the food is good enough (whether that’s recipes on your blog, dishes in your restaurant or product on your shelves) then word will spread with or without the imagery?

Yeah, not so much.

Especially nowadays, content has to include images as a bare minimum to have a chance at making an impact.

This is especially true for food content. Up to 95% of food’s taste may come from its smell, but most of us don’t yet have the ability to push the scent of freshly baked bread via a screen.

Visuals are all we have, and words may be powerful, but a good image can be visceral.

Food Photography Kit

My focus, passion and skillset have always been about creating delicious food (that fits into my restrictions), and sharing that through food writing (both here on my food blog, and for various freelance clients).

I don’t have any background in photography, and honestly, when I started my first food blog back in 2016, I had zero knowledge of food photography. It was a steep learning curve, and I’m still nowhere near as good as I’d like to be.

But my food photography skills have definitely improved since the early days.

The top things that have helped me to improve my food photography?

  1. Putting in the time to practice practice practice
  2. Getting my nerd on with a stack of food photography books
  3. Investing in a few essential pieces of kit
Essential Food Photography Kit
An early image from my first blog
Orange, Tomato & Sunflower Seed Salad
A more recent image of a similar dish

Why do you need food photography equipment?

I’m going to assume by now that you have a good understanding of why quality food photography is essential for food businesses.

But do you need to spend lots of money to get there?

Imma be honest, I don’t think you do. At all.

The phones in our cameras are getting more and more advanced, and natural light is arguably the best source for food photography, even compared with expensive lighting setups.

So do you need to spend a bunch of money on fancy equipment to get a good picture? Absolutely not.

Will buying up all the latest photography gear naturally make a terrible photograph great? Also a no.

However.

Once you’ve got the basics of lighting and composition, a few well-chosen pieces of kit can improve your food photography by leaps and bounds.

Essential Food Photography Kit for Bloggers and businesses

Do you have to spend lots of money on photography gear?

Nope.

This is the section where it would be in my best interest to flog you the latest photography tech and hardware and sh*t.

But yeah, I’m not going to try to do that.

You can get great photography accessories on Amazon for a good price.

The main thing that’s worth splashing some cash on, if you’re ready to swap out your phone camera for the next level, is a DSLR camera and some quality lenses (and later in this post, I’ll go into a little more detail about the camera and lenses I use).

Other than that though, it’s probably not worth spending tonnes of money on food photography kit. This post covers the nine pieces of photography equipment I think of as essentials, and (other than the aforementioned camera, and the lenses) they’re all (at the time of writing) under 50 quid (and most cost less than 20).


Food photography Setup
My food photography setup from behind the camera
Food photography essentials
My food photography setup from in front of the camera

This is part of my series of posts on food photography. Other posts cover:

Affiliate disclosure: this post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. You can read my full policy here.


Essential Food Photography Equipment

What food photography kit do you need?

This may be controversial, but I don’t include any freestanding lights on this list. I’ve used them before, but honestly, they just don’t stand up to the real thing. Use indirect or diffused natural (day) light wherever you can.

1. Camera

Okay, Captain Obvious.

A (decent) camera really is the quickest way to improve your food photography, once you have the basics down.

And by decent, I mean a full-body DSLR.

I’ve been using my trusty (affiliate link) Canon EOS 1300D for a few years now, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It can connect to the WiFi, which means that I can send photos straight to Google Drive without having to mess about with cables or converters. This is handy for a food shoot but indispensable for when I’m out and about.

Really though, any fairly modern, full-body DSLR should do the trick. You can usually pick up last years model in good working condition on eBay or GumTree second hand. I’ve even borrowed my dad’s decade-old model in a pinch – as long as you treat them well, these cameras are built to last.

2. Lenses

I’m definitely not an expert on lenses. I’m only just beginning to explore the use of lenses beyond the 18-55mm zoom lens that came with my Canon.

However, any list of food photography kit wouldn’t be complete without a mention of lenses. If you want to learn more about lenses, check out Lenses 101 from Digital Photography School.

As a (very) basic overview: the lens is the glass front of your camera – its probably the most important part of a DSLR, in terms of image quality.

The key veriations to look out for between lenses are:

  1. Prime lenses (which use a fixed focal length, making them lighter, cheaper and slightly sharper than zoom lenses))
  2. Zoom lenses (what use a range of focal lengths, making them bigger, heavier and slower to use, but offers more flexibility than prime lenses)

Your camera will probably come with a basic lens. My Canon came with an 18-55mm zoom lens, which has served me really well so far and should definitely be enough to get you started. The lenses currently in my camera bag (& on my wishlist) are:

  • 18-55mm zoom lens – This is the lens that came with my camera. Its a great midrange-to-wideangle lens, though it does distort a little at the wider end, and allows you to get much closer to your food than a 50mm prime. A basic 18-55mm lens is a really versatile option, with the ability to get high-quality shots at a variety of angles and distances. Try this (Affiliate link) Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens, if your camera came with a different lens size. 
  • 50mm prime lens – Known as the Nifty Fifty, a 50mm is a very versatile lens. It allows you to get a short depth of field (so the food is in focus and the background is blurred), with minimal distortion (great for overhead shots), and has a large aperture, making it great for shooting in low light. Try this (Affiliate link) Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Lens.
  • 100mm macro lens – Macro lenses are used for beautiful, sharp close-ups, especially for 45-degree angles, or side-on shots of taller items. I’m including this lens for the sake of completeness more than anything else – at almost 500 quid, it’ll remain on my wishlist for quite some time to come, but if you can afford it, try this Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens.

3. Tripod

Useful for when you want to include hands in a shot, which adds a sense of personalisation & realism, but you can’t blackmail persuade anyone into playing hand model.

A tripod is also a great way to make the most of the natural light, by allowing you to take easily photos with a longer exposure, without the shakey blur you’d get shooting handheld.

I use and recommend this (affiliate link) Manfrotto Compact Tripod with 3 Way Head – it has a built-in arm for hands-free overhead shots. I’ve used cheap tripods before, but they always feel kinda flimsy, and I’m not sure I’d trust my precious camera to something that might fall over in a slight cross-breeze.

If you already have a regular tripod that you’re happy with, I recommend adding an arm or extender to your kit, so you can take those oh-so-popular overhead shots way more easily. something like this (affiliate link) Manfrotto Single Arm should do the trick

4. Remote Shutter Release

A remote shutter release is a handheld button that allows you to operate your camera (that is, take photos) from a distance. You need to make sure you get one that’ll work with your camera. I use this (affiliate link) Canon Remote Switch RS-60E3, which has a two-foot cable and works perfectly with my camera.

A remote shutter release is particularly useful for:

  • Shooting in low light – there’s no point using a tripod to keep the camera steady if you’re going to jog it by leaning in to press the button
  • For awkward angles, like overhead shots, where its a pain to hold your camera in your hands for an extended amount of time
  • When you have multiple moving parts in a shot – if you need to drizzle, pour or sprinkle, or you want to include your hands, a remote shutter release is the only way to make that happen (without roping in reluctant friends/family members/ neighbours/strangers off the street) 

5. Diffuser

If the light is falling directly onto your shoot, the lighting can be way too harsh, creating deep shadows and overexposure. Diffuse the light by hanging some thin, white fabric over the window, to give the scene a softer look.

I know that there are fancy-pants options out there, but I literally just use a set of (affiliate link) cheap-o white sheets, pegged to the blinds in my front room with bull clips.

6. Reflector

Like a diffuser, a reflector does what it says on the tin: it reflects the light back onto a scene, filling in some of the harsher natural shadows daylight can leave.

recently I bought one of these 5 in 1 Collapsible Photography Reflector/Diffuser Kits from Amazon. Less than a tenner, and brilliant. the silver cools down the light, the gold heats it up, the black lends a moody air and the white gives a clean light. This kit can also be used as a diffuser, but the windows in my house are too big for it to work for me.

An alternative option is plain white card or foam board. For years, I used (affiliate link) big white tri-fold presentation boards as reflectors and they do a good job, but they take up a lot of space, and they tend to get battered and need replacing frequently.

As the reflector above is actually about the same price as a presentation board, I’d definitely recommend buying the reflector kit over the boards.

7. Props

Building Your Food Photography Kit

Really, I’ll never be done collecting bits & pieces to use in my food photography.

As far as props like cutlery, crockery, bakeware and napkins, I pop into any charity shop or discount homeware store I pass, picking up bits and pieces on the cheap as they call out to me.

If I like them enough to use in photography, they will generally just become part of the flora and fauna of my kitchen – I definitely come from the ‘haphazard’ school of home decor.

8. Backdrops

Backdrops are a little trickier, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve:

I shoot on a low table (either my coffee table or an IKEA Lack table). Its low enough that I easily get a full flatlay without doing any acrobatics, and takes up relatively little space when not in use (the legs on a lack table actually screw on and off, so it can even be stored flat).

in terms of the actual background surfaces, I use a combination of:

  • Solid: Old pieces of wood & laminate (mostly cut-offs from hardware stores and ‘donations’ from friends & family who’d be throwing them out anyway)
  • Paper: Rolls of patterned sticky contact paper (like (affiliate links) this marble effect or this pale wood effect) and wallpaper samples from hardware stores, usually mounted on cheap card or foamboards (like this pack of ten)
  • Fabric: Scarves & blankets (like, actual scarves & blankets that I use), the odd yard (or two) that takes my fancy in fabric shops, tablecloths & sheets picked up at charity shops, and odds & ends of fabric left over from sewing projects

9. My Food Photography Box of Tricks

This isn’t so much a single ‘piece of kit’ and a collection of bits and pieces to keep on hand when shooting, to make the setup easier.

I’ll go into details about my box of tricks, and why certain items are especially useful, in another post, but here I’ll just list them out:

  • Q-tips – to wipe up tiny spills & drips
  • Makeup sponges – to wipe up slightly larger spills & drips
  • Kitchen cloths – to wipe up disaster-level spills & drips, and to wipe down surfaces & backdrops before and after a shoot
  • Tweezers – helpful for re-positioning tiny garnishes or crumbs
  • Cocktail sticks – also helpful for repositioning or nudging tiny garnishes or crumbs, as well as for ‘artfully’ dripping sauces
  • Teaspoons – for repositioning larger items in a dish, or for drizzling a little more sauce
  • Pippettes – another way to artfully drizzle sauces
  • Tea strainer – the kind of tea strainer that looks like a tiny sieve is great for dusting a cake or pie for a shot
  • Zester – an easy way to add a little colour to a lacklustre shot, if  fresh herbs aren’t doing the trick, is with  some citrus zest
  • Water Mister – adding a fine mist can bring a shot to life, particularly for fresh foods, like fruits and salads. I prefer to use something reusable like this (affiliate lint) Airless Aerosol Mister, rather than branded canned water.

You definitely don’t have to spend a lot of money on photography gear. Aside from a good DSLR (equipped with a quality lens), you can start adding pieces to your for just a few pounds.

Essential kit for food photography

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