The Amateur’s Guide to Food Photography

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Image Source: Unsplash | Alexandra Golovac

Are you an aspiring food blogger, food entrepreneur, or restaurateur who wants to capture alluring, professional-quality photos of your culinary masterpieces? If you have a large budget, you can hire all the professionals you need to help bring your vision to life: art directors, food and prop stylists, photographers, as well as assistants.

On the other hand, if you’re just getting started, you most likely don’t have the budget to assemble a professional food photography team. Fortunately, you can learn how to take professional-quality food photos on your own. All you need are the right tools, the right sensibility, and the determination to improve your craft through lots and lots of practice.

  1. Choose the right camera and lenses.

Instagram and the latest iPhone won’t do if you want to take polished food photographs. You’ll need to invest in a good DSLR or mirrorless camera, the right lenses, and miscellaneous photography gear.


When it comes to choosing a camera, there is no right or wrong camera. While professional and amateur food photographers swear by different brands (such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax), in terms of overall image quality, the differences among the major brands are pretty minimal.

The right camera for you will depend on many factors, including your budget and needs. The camera’s weight, size, and grip are also important. DSLRs are generally heavier and bulkier than mirrorless cameras. Hence, those who find a heavy camera difficult to operate would be more comfortable using a mirrorless camera.

Before committing to a particular brand or model, do all the necessary research, note the features you find most useful (such as touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity), and test drive each model.

If you’re into Canon DSLRs, many professional and amateur food photographers recommend the EOS 5D Mark III (paired with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L). Another highly recommended Canon DSLR is the EOS 70D. Both the 5D Mark III and the 70D are highly praised for their ability to deliver vibrant colors and superior image quality.

Highly recommended Nikon DSLRs for food photography include the D7200, the D610 (paired with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G), and the D810 (also paired with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G).


Your lenses will have a greater impact on the quality of your food photography than your camera. Many food photographers prefer prime lenses over zoom lenses. Even though prime lenses cannot zoom in and out, they have distinct advantages over zoom lenses.

Prime lenses tend to produce images of better quality, weigh much less, and are priced more affordably. Since food is stationary, many food photographers prefer to move their cameras manually rather than rely on zoom lenses.

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Image Source: Flickr (Photo by Felipe Neves / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you like shooting close-ups of your dishes, you should consider investing in macro lenses. While macro lenses should never be used as the primary lenses for your food photography, they’ll definitely come in handy when you want to shoot detailed close-ups of dishes.

Miscellaneous Photography Gear

  • Reflectors and diffusers: To control the light in your photos, you’ll need to invest in some inexpensive reflectors and diffusers. You can use white foam boards to bounce light back onto the plate and reduce shadows, and black foam boards to bring out more shadows. Other objects (such as shaving mirrors) can also be turned into reflectors. As for diffusers, while there are many diffusers available for your camera, you can turn sheer white fabrics into DIY diffusers by placing them over windows and other light sources to soften the light.
  • Tripods: While some photographers prefer to shoot with their hands, others prefer to work with tripods. Manfrotto tripod kits are a pretty solid investment and won’t disappoint (unlike some cheaper tripod kits).
  1. Learn the art of food styling.

Food styling is the art of arranging and presenting food so that it looks delicious and appealing. The work of professional food stylists can be found in cookbooks, magazines, advertising, and TV shows. While the work of a food stylist may seem daunting to an amateur, you can master many of the fundamentals of the craft and style your own photo shoots like a pro.

Follow culinary and food styling trends.

You can tap into the zeitgeist by following the latest culinary and food styling trends. There’s a strong emphasis on organic produce, healthy living, and sustainability, and this is reflected in many of the dishes produced by top chefs and food stylists. Open any cookbook or food editorial, and you’ll see dishes that look fresh and wholesome and are simply arranged. Contrast this with cookbooks and food editorials produced three to four decades ago, and you’ll see how dramatically conventions have changed.

For inspiration, watch cooking shows, study food editorials in top magazines and websites, and study the work of famous chefs and food stylists. Take note that not everything arranged on a plate is edible. Food stylists use a number of tricks to make food more appealing and better able to withstand the rigors of photo shoots. Food might be glued to plates to keep them from sliding off, or might be undercooked to make them appear more succulent, and shoe polish might be applied to food to enrich their color.

While you may choose to apply some of these tricks to your dishes, remember not to overdo it as your dishes could end up looking artificial. Remember that the colors and textures in the food should always look true to life. Minor touch ups on the photos can be done later using editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

Source appropriate tableware and props.

Carefully consider the tableware your dishes will be served on. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a fortune on plates, bowls, and cutlery, as you can get interesting tableware from garage sales and flea markets.

The design of your tableware should reflect your particular aesthetic. Consider how certain designs, textures, and colors on plates and bowls might complement or contrast with the food that will be served on them.

For better results, your photo shoots should center on a particular theme or series of themes. For example, if you’re doing a Fourth of July photo shoot, source the tableware and props that go with the theme (e.g., white plates and bowls and small American flags to pin on the dishes).

Shoot in awesome locations.

While many food photo shoots in the past took place under harsh studio lights, the current trend is to shoot with natural light in natural surroundings. Many contemporary food photographers prefer to work with the available natural light and keep artificial lighting sources to a minimum.

Shabby chic, Asian Zen, and modernist interiors feature prominently in many contemporary food photo shoots. Contrast plated food with distressed wooden tables, tatami mats, or solid granite counters. These are just suggestions, of course. You’re the artist—let your creativity run wild!

  1. Shoot food from the right perspective.

Image Source: Unsplash | Dragne Marius

A lot of food photography is shot from a bird’s eye view. This works especially well for “panoramic shots” that incorporate several dishes and other elements, as well as flat food such as pizza.

Solo dishes look great when shot from the angle we normally see our food. When choosing an ideal camera position, consider starting from slightly above the plate, as if you were about to sit down and eat. The final photograph will possess a depth that will make the dish look more appealing.

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