I am not an expert food photographer. I don’t have a particularly fancy camera, I don’t spend the time or money to edit photos with photoshop (I use snapseed mostly), and I definitely don’t own the array of dishes, napkins, etc. required to really tablescape the way I ought to. That said, I think I do a pretty good job. And a lot of that is down to a few relatively inexpensive items that I’ll tell you about below. This won’t be a master article on food photography, but if you’re interested in getting a cheap, portable setup, read on.
Canon Rebel T7: Nowadays, I shoot all of my food photos on a DSLR. When I first started I would use my phone sometimes, because it was fast and easy, but the photos are simply not of the same quality. You don’t need a really fancy camera, but once you start using a DSLR and learn how to manually adjust the camera’s settings, you’ll never go back. I have an entry-level DSLR, a Canon Rebel, and mostly I shoot with an inexpensive 24mm prime lens. It’s not an expensive setup, but it produces professional-grade photos.
If you already have a camera and would like to learn more about how to use it, I would suggest this free course from Karl Taylor. It will give you the basic skills that you need to speed up your learning process and start taking really excellent photos.
My Phone (Google Pixel): All of the video I shoot is done with my phone. My particular DSLR is not particularly well-equipped for video, and the ability to quickly shoot a video on my phone, edit it right away, and post it to social media makes this my top choice to video. Additionally, having both a DSLR for photos and a phone for video means that there is not toggling between them while shooting a dish.
Photography Lamps: I do most of my cooking in the evening and that poses something of a conundrum. Food photography is best with natural, white light, but I need those hours to get everything else in my life done. The solution is a couple little lamps. You can get the set listed above that also comes with a box, or you can just invest in a couple lamps and white light bulbs. Fabric backdrops and a few lamps will do you just fine if you have room to store them. I prefer the box because it packs up small enough that I can afford the space even living in the bus.
The most important part of food photography is well-made and well-presented food. That plate looking immaculate is obviously priority number one. After that, having good lighting is the next big hurdle. Then a decent camera. If your food looks good and the lighting is right, a phone can take pretty good food photos, but not like a proper camera can. But even with those three things, the photos won’t come out quite right. And that’s because you also need to tablescape.
I resisted tablescaping for a long time, much to my own detriment. I was hyper-focused on getting the food right and figured that if the food looked good and I shot it right, the tablescaping wouldn’t matter. But that just isn’t true. If you want to take your food photography to the next level, you need to start tablescaping.
In the bus, we don’t have a ton of room for the various backdrops, extra dishes, and other props that many food photographers would use, so I rely mostly on the ingredients. When I am preparing a recipe, I buy a little bit more than I need of all the main ingredients (particularly fruits and vegetables). Then, when it is time to shoot, I have lots of related props lying around, which enable me to fill the gaps in the photo and take a really gorgeous photo for the recipe I’ve worked so hard on.
There you go. Food photography can be as complicated or as simple as you want. If you plate your food well and shoot it during the day with natural light, you can get by with nothing but your phone. However, if you want to start producing professional-quality images and not be beholden to the weather outside, I would suggest picking up some photography lamps and a DSLR and learning how to use them.
Disclaimer: many of the links on this page are amazon affiliate links. That means, in short, if you click through to Amazon.com from one of them and purchase something during that session, I will earn a small kick-back. These are all products that I use, and am happy to tell you about, the money is just a bonus if you happen to buy one.