A No BS Guide to Food Photography

March 25, 2014

It’s obvious that over the past year my food photography has improved immensely. This occurred for two reasons: 1) I am obsessed with food porn and could stare at it all day and 2) People eat with their eyes so there’s no point in me writing a food blog if my recipes don’t look appetizing. So I made it my mission to seriously improve my photography skills.

A No BS Guide to Food Photography


I am not the first and I certainly won’t be the last to write a post on this topic. But today I wanted to give it to you straight. I get that not everyone wants to improve their food photography, and that’s totally cool. But if you do want to get serious about it, here’s my No BS guide on how to start.

1. You have to WANT to improve. This means accepting that you will end up spending a lot of time and money. That’s just the reality of it.

2. Invest in a good camera and learn how to use it. Some bloggers will tell you that you don’t need one and can make it work with your phone or digital camera. I think they’re lying. I bought a DSLR two years ago and rarely touched it until I started the blog. Even then it intimidated me so most of my first recipes were shot with my iPhone. When I finally picked up my SLR I was only shooting on landscape mode because the manual setting overwhelmed me. Eventually  I sat down with my camera manual and googled everything I could on aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Once I came to understand how my camera worked I started practicing a TON. Eventually I figured out which aperture and ISO worked best in different lights.

Don’t ever shoot on auto mode or anything with a flash. There’s no point in using an SLR if you do.

Here is the camera gear I use:

Canon Rebel T3i | Canon 50 mm lens f/1.8 lens | Manfrotto Tripod


3. Always ALWAYS shoot in natural light. Find a window and set up shop. If you’re working 9:00-5:00 this news sucks for you, but there are ways around it if you are seriously dedicated.  When I was working at the hospital this meant cooking and shooting 3 recipes in one weekend or cooking the night before and early morning photo shoots before work the next day. I know some of you have asked how I do it now. Well my job is super lenient so midday photo shoots are an option. Don’t bother with those fake artificial lights that allow you to take “natural” pictures at night. There ain’t no competition for the sun.

4. Start stalking. My friends used to joke how I majored in “foodgawker” because I spent the majority of my college years perusing foodgawker instead of paying attention to lectures. Years of Foodgawker, Tastespotting, and Healthy Aperture browsing have totally paid off. I’ve also created a “Food Photography” inspiration board on Pinterest. Watch for the angles other food photographers are shooting at and the food props they use. Look for text placement, garnishes and backgrounds. Eventually you will absorb these things and develop your own eye.

Pinterest-food photography5. Buy some descent food props. You don’t need to go crazy or spend a ton but have some staples. I recommend a black slate board, white bowls, pretty spoons or forks, colourful ramekins and a small collection of dishtowels and napkins. I buy most of mine at the dollar store, Home Sense (Home Goods in the US) and my mother’s basement.  If you’re in Toronto go to Tap Phong in Chinatown and try not to spend your life savings. I should add that you shouldn’t go crazy with food props either, let the food speak for itself.

6. Don’t bother with a lightbox. I’ve seen about a million bloggers do tutorials on how to make your own, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend it. For the first few months I used one but eventually I found it very limiting and my pictures became kind of stale. Even cheaper (and easier!) just buy two pieces of white poster board and two pieces of black poster board. Place one on the bottom and prop one up behind. Set it up so that your window is at the food’s side (rather than behind or in front-though more skilled photographers know how to shoot as these angles) and on the other side of the food use something white to act as your “bounce”.

shot 1

7. Take more pictures than you could possibly imagine. I take at least 30-50 pictures (and sometimes more) for each recipe. It usually takes me a while to get into the groove and I rarely use my first 10 pictures. Odds are that if you take enough pictures a couple will turn out well.

8. Get Photoshop or some editing software. 90% of food bloggers use some form of editing software. I would NOT recommend picMonkey. Some bloggers use it with some success (maybe they’re buying the upgrade?) but in my experience nothing compares to Photoshop (Illustrator is great too!). It allows me to play with the lighting and saturation to make the food look as accurate as it does in person. More than anything it gives me an array of fonts that PicMonkey does not offer. It’s also incredibly beneficial when creating graphics and workouts.

picmonkey vs photoshop

9. You’re going to suck at first and you will still have sucky days. This is pretty self-explanatory. You will suck for a while but with practice you will get better. I still have photo shoots I hate and recipes I haven’t posted because I need re-shoot them. Accepting that not every picture will turn out well is part of the process. But you will 100% get better with practice. None of the above matters if you don’t start putting it to use. So pick up those cameras and start clicking!

Sorry for the information overload and possibly bursting your food blogger bubble. I always promised to keep it real!

Do you enjoy photography? Have I missed any tips? Am I being too harsh?


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  • Reply
    Arman @ thebigmansworld
    March 25, 2014 at 5:18 am

    Love the brutal honesty here- and it’s so true- you need to be committed to it. Can’t wait to get a personal tutorial.

    and lol- legit told spoons earlier I was going to build a light box. Womp womp. No more.

  • Reply
    Ksenija @ With An Open Mind
    March 25, 2014 at 5:30 am

    I LOVE THIS! Lovie, you are such an inspiration and this guide is hilarious. I made a lot of the experience myself and still learned something (might get myself some poster boards soonish 😉 ). But I also feel like part of point 2 is not completely true, though I think food photography is tons better when you use a DSLR I know some food bloggers who started out with cheaper cams or even their iphone and managed to get pretty pictures plus I do use the automatic setting once in a while – never at home when I shoot recipes, but when I am eating out and am sitting outside it’s the easiest way to take a pretty picture without bothering anyone, or when I am being a tourist and don’t want to switch around manual settings all day. But I definitely never use my flash. It just makes pictures look way to artificial. Thanks for this great read, now I am so excited to get back to my tripod and food props and other lenses *swoon*

  • Reply
    meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles
    March 25, 2014 at 6:08 am

    This is a terrific post – super informative! I hate photography, never had an interest in it which really makes me a terrible parent since one needs to take photos of their child…Having a blog and hating photography? Not a great match lol.

  • Reply
    Kelly @ Kelly Runs for Food
    March 25, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Love this! This is super helpful I think for people just starting out with photography. I’ve accepted the fact that at least right now my blog is not about good photography. I have an iPhone and about 30 seconds to take pictures, so I’m always super jealous of those that are able to take the time to do it right. Your pics are always gorgeous, so thanks for sharing the advice!

  • Reply
    March 25, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Thank you Darling!! Totally love it. And how are we supposed to learn if not with all honesty?
    You reminded me to study the guidelines for my camera….after almost a year. Oops.

  • Reply
    Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli
    March 25, 2014 at 6:58 am

    I totally agree with you on the food props and the flash, but I have to say, albeit with a little shame, that I have NEVER read the owner’s manual to my DSLR…actually, I’m pretty sure I lost it! Ha! Also, I only use iPhoto for my editing and Pic Monkey for my fonts/collages and both seem to serve me pretty well! 😀

    Love the tip about the poster board! I actually went out and bought a black foam board after first seeing your egg salad pull back pic and used it for both my beet smoothies and my caramel apple cashew butter recipe photos and I thought they came out GREAT!

  • Reply
    erin @ The Almond Eater
    March 25, 2014 at 7:02 am

    I love this and agree with everything you said, probably because I can hear you saying it via text. Ya the 9-5 is definitely limiting so I’ve been trying to make the most of my weekends. Doesn’t always happen but I usually get at least one good photo shoot in. I agree–nothing compares to natural lighting. I’m still learning and I loooove this guide. You rock.

  • Reply
    Elise @
    March 25, 2014 at 7:11 am

    I love this post! lol I love how you said if you work 9-5 “this news sucks for you” haha it’s so true. that’s why when I cook it has to be on the weekends (hence why I’m slacking lately opps)

  • Reply
    Nicole @ FruitnFitness
    March 25, 2014 at 7:54 am

    A nice camera is on my birthday list! I agree with you that people eat with their eyes first, but sadly I currently take horrible pictures. In hoping to work on it this summer once grad school is over and I have a little more free time and daylight hours.

  • Reply
    Kim @ BusyBod
    March 25, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Love how honest this post is. I feel like understanding what goes into the beautiful pictures makes everyone feel better when their pictures aren’t so beautiful. When you’re shooting at night with an iphone, of course they won’t be! I don’t mean that in a feel bad way, I just mean understanding how much effort food bloggers put into their pictures makes it clear that beautiful shots are a product of that effort.

    I like to think that someday I will invest in a real camera and photoshop and learn to use both, but the reality is that is years away, if ever! Ah a girl can dream…

  • Reply
    March 25, 2014 at 8:09 am

    Couldn’t have said it better myself! I tried making my own light box after daylight savings since I work 9-5, but I hated it so I try to cram all my recipes in on weekends. Light boxes DON’T WORK!!

  • Reply
    kathy @ vodka and soda
    March 25, 2014 at 8:17 am

    yes to all of this. everything you need to learn about your camera can be done via google!

  • Reply
    Suzanne @ hello, veggy!
    March 25, 2014 at 8:30 am

    LOVE this! It’s such good reinforcement. I have you to thank for my somewhat improved photography skills!! (PS did I tell you I got a submission accepted at Foodgawker?!?!)

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      March 25, 2014 at 8:32 am

      OH EM GEEEEEE!!!! i’m so freaking excited for you! Wear that badge loud and proud my dear and we’ll celebrate next time we see each other!!!

  • Reply
    Alexis @ Hummusapien
    March 25, 2014 at 8:33 am

    I need me some photoshop, like yesterday. I totally rock the white posterboard….aaaaaaand pics with my iPhone. OMG. Get me a legit camera right meeoowwww.

  • Reply
    Jess @dearhealthyness
    March 25, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Love thisss!! I think everyone out there would enjoy reading this! Is craaaaazy the amount of things to do for a photoshoot! You are very creative and you photos are great!! Thank God my blog isn’t recipes related, maybe in a very far future when I’ll be able to do all the work that food photography requires 😀 Thanks for sharing!!

  • Reply
    Sam @ Better With Sprinkles
    March 25, 2014 at 8:45 am

    So I’ve committed at least two of your ‘do-nots’…oops. Photography is something that I’m definitely trying to work on on for the blog – it makes such a huge difference! My dad has adopted photography as his retirement hobby, so one of these days he’s going to sit down with me and show me how get the most use out of it.

  • Reply
    Ang @ Nutty for Life
    March 25, 2014 at 9:22 am

    No BS here. I definitely want to improve my photography, but like you said it takes $$ resources, which I do not have. For now, I’m trying to improve using my limited “sets” and my phone. It’s actually taught me a lot about light, anyway. One day that camera will happen…

  • Reply
    March 25, 2014 at 9:40 am

    This is a great post! I know I want to improve my photography skills but just haven’t made it a priority. A lot of these tips are easy for me to start incorporating and start practicing. Of course some will take more time but I feel like I can get on my way with this! Thanks for such an awesome post Davida! 🙂

  • Reply
    Parita @ myinnershakti
    March 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

    While I’m far from a food blogger, I love these tips. I just got a DSLR camera and love learning about how to take pictures with it – so this is a very timely post! The one thing I’ve learned in a few short weeks is that you have to practice…A LOT! More than you probably want to.

  • Reply
    Amy @ Long Drive Journey
    March 25, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I think these are great tips! I agree that having the expensive equipment and editing software is the way to go, but I think that for those who aren’t ready to invest, there are ways to still improve your photography until you can take that plunge. I use a combo of iPhoto and PicMonkey and while my photos aren’t anywhere near food porn status, learning some other things about my camera and about lighting has helped immensely. And using my point and shoot instead of my iPhone. I guess what I’m saying is that to be a professional, you definitely need ALL of the stuff you mentioned, no question, but to improve, I think you can work with what you’ve got until you’re ready to get it!

    • Reply
      Davida Kugelmass
      March 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Yes, definitely ways to improve before taking that plunge. I guess I should have prefaced the post by saying that it is more targeted towards those who are looking to define themselves as “food bloggers” and get a higher reach through sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting, which are annoyingly picky about food photography.

      Nothing wrong with not wanting or needing these things!

  • Reply
    Beth @ The Small Victories
    March 25, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I really have very little interest in getting better at food photography, but it’s interesting comparing these to street/people on the street photography. For one, it’s okay to use the auto modes–I actually use the aperture priority quite a bit. Another tip I once read was you should try to get the shot you want in the least amount of shots possible. But when you’re out on the streets, things can change so quickly that both of these are necessary to catch some of the better shots, whereas with food photography, your food isn’t going anywhere. 😉 (Or hopefully it’s not…)

  • Reply
    Heather Murphy
    March 25, 2014 at 10:25 am

    It is refreshing to hear that even you professionals have bad days and started out not knowing what the crap to do. This is so helpful, girl!

  • Reply
    Archana @ThePerfectZest
    March 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

    great tips. I own a DSLR but still shooting on the iPhone. Im starting my transition over to to the DSLR.
    Do those poster boards hold up on their own or do you need to support them or put them on a stand?

  • Reply
    Shashi @
    March 25, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I am still blown away at your use of natural light only! Yes, I def. do wanna improve my food photos – maybe following your tips will land one of my photos on FoodGawker!!!

  • Reply
    March 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Davida, love love love the brutal, yet hilarious honesty of food photography. It ain’t pretty at first, that’s for certain! I’ve only had my blog for almost 6 months (YAY!) and to look back and see how much my photography has improved…it’s down right embarrassing some of my first posts! Haha! Truly admire all your tips, they’re great!! Pinned this to look back at. Always room for improvement in this department 🙂

  • Reply
    Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat
    March 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Improving my food photography is something I want and need to work on! Thank you so much for these tips! I know they’ll definitely come in handy!

  • Reply
    Deryn @ Running on Real Food
    March 25, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Great post, Davida! I do work 9-5 and it’s a real pain…I try to shoot everything on the weekend or do the late night cooking and early morning photoshoot so I can get some natural light. If you already have a DSLR, all you need is the time and desire to learn! I just got my first submission to FoodGawker a few weeks ago, (yay for Suzanne too!) it only takes a wee bit more effort to take your pics to the next level. I was being lazy and using my lightbox here and there but it’s just not worth it, the pics aren’t great and then the post doesn’t do well either. I’m lucky enough to be able to work in PS and AI, I know they’re intimidating programs for a lot of people, but certainly worth learning. Lightroom is a good option too!

  • Reply
    Christine@ Apple of My Eye
    March 25, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Great guide! Natural lighting is everything when it comes to food photography. I personally find that the iPhoto that comes with my mac works just fine for editing. Might invest in some fancier editing software in the future, though!

  • Reply
    GiGi Eats Celebrities
    March 25, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Aw damn. My iPhone just ain’t gunna cut it huh?
    And I totally have photoshop – but it’s like looking at a map in Chinese! I need to take a class.

  • Reply
    Alisha @ Alisha's Appetite
    March 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    You are seriously awesome. I’m always uber impressed when I read any of your posts – you are so talented in so many different ways. Keep being awesome girl.

  • Reply
    Amanda @ .running with spoons.
    March 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Love, love, LOVE. These are great tips, especially for someone who’s just starting out… which is, lets face it, freaking daunting. I remember hating food photography and thinking that I would never improve, but lo and behold, all it takes is a little practice… and a lot of patience 😯 I do think you missed one tip, though. Never, EVER, try and shoot when you’re hungry… Worst possible thing you could do 😆

  • Reply
    March 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    I suck at all things photo related!! I think that I would love to have a nicer camera but I’m afraid I would never learn to use it correctly.
    And, I know this is totally ridiculous, I’ve never used photoshop and don’t have a clue how to edit photos.
    Pathetic. I’m going to pin this and read it a few times – maybe something will sink in!!!

  • Reply
    cait @pieceofcait
    March 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    great post and awesome tips! I love your foodie mouth watering pics<3 I am totally interested in buying a GOOD camera in the new few months – so thanks for the tips!

  • Reply
    Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health
    March 25, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    practice, natural lights, and amazing food pictures are the key. i have the exact same camera but dont know much 🙁 since i have 9-5 job it sucks that i have to use poor lights or schedule things on the weekends for decent photos.

  • Reply
    Lauren @ Focused To Be Fit
    March 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Such good info! Natural light really is the best, with daylight savings my pictures are so much better. Well, they weren’t great to begin with, but now they’re a little better anyway!

  • Reply
    Kristina @ Damn Ten Pounds
    March 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Your pictures are always so beautiful and make anything look appetizing. I wish I had your skills but I have an iphone, a poorly lit kitchen and black dishes. It’s a hot mess photography trifecta up in here 🙂

  • Reply
    Megan @ The Skinny-Life
    March 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    These are all great tips! I definitely need help with my photography and food staging skills. It’s a matter of finding a time to figure it out. It’s too bad that technology hasn’t come further yet to make picture taking easier for dummies. Womp…womp…

  • Reply
    Kim @ Hungry Healthy Girl
    March 25, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks for an awesome post! I totally agree that you not get near the quality of photos using your iphone. I tried that too. I really need to get photoshop and ditch the picmonkey for most pictures. Good to know that the light box is pretty much a waste of time. I had been thinking about creating one. I’ve also been wanting to create a photography inspiration pinterest board… you can bet many of your photos will be included! 😉

  • Reply
    Chelsea @ Chelsea's Healthy Kitchen
    March 25, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    This is awesome!! I’m really struggling with improving my photography right now and you’ve really given me the kick in the pants I need to ditch my point & shoot and learn to use my DSLR.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2014 at 9:28 am

    The second you get a 50mm you are going to pee on yourself. If you get the 1.8 (which is what I currently have), it’s only like $200. BEST INVESTMENT you can make for your food photography. Make Sugar Daddy Curtle buy it for you!

  • Reply
    Gabby @ the veggie nook
    March 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Great tips! I’m totally going to try that poster board recommendation!

  • Reply
    Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits
    March 27, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    I’m saving up for a Canon 3ti and I can’t wait to get one, but in the meantime I have been able to get some very good pictures with a Sony point and shoot. I just can’t do anything with a diffused background and that sucks. I really like your tip about using two black boards and one white board. I haven’t seen that tip anywhere else yet, so I learned something new, yay!

  • Reply
    Tina @ Tina's Chic Corner
    March 28, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I love your tips! 🙂

  • Reply
    Ursula @ Northern Ambitions
    March 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Reply
    Consuelo @ Honey & Figs
    March 28, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    You’re not harsh at all girrrl. THIS is real life. Bad pictures happen, you don’t become an expert overnight,and you’llhave to spend lots of money – and I’m okay with it all because I love photography yup.
    Thanks for the honesty, I loved reading your post!
    Hope you’re having a great Friday!

  • Reply
    Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut
    March 30, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Yeah…I’m one of those with the dslr that still has no real idea what she is doing. I get a couple of the manual settings, but when I was home last my brother set it to the aperture mode and now when I switch back to manual..everything is black haha. I wonder where that dang instruction manual is…

    I’m adding posterboard to my “to buy” list for the week. Thanks for the no-bs tips!! Sharing this post everywhere!! <3

  • Reply
    March 30, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Seriously I love these posts. I was just thinking yesterday I need to take the plunge and take a photography course. Then I need to take a deeper plunge and buy a DSLR. I’m so scared of them but good food photography makes a world of difference. I bought this computer with all the upgrades for the purpose of photo editing and use iPhoto like a lame-o.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Well I guess I can check Make Lightbox off my list. Actually since it’s now staying lighter longer here, the odds of me making a light box in the next several months were slim anyway.

    I do use Pic Monkey though (the free version too) and I really like it. I find it incredibly easy to use, but I’ll check out Photoshop now too. It certainly can’t hurt.

    I love the idea of using the poster board as a background. Very clever; I need to get on that.

    Great tips. I appreciate them.

  • Reply
    Heather @ Run Like a G!
    March 30, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    This was a great post! Definitely different and I liked that. I also liked how honest you were about it! It takes practice!

  • Reply
    April 3, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Thanks for the tips! My photography needs serious work. Time to retire the iPhone and maybe quit my day job to get some natural light 😉

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  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Hi..could u please tell me what’s thé size of thé black & white poster boards that uve used in thé picture.thé black size seems just perfect & I was interested in buying for my photography. Please please reply asap.

    • Reply
      March 22, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      Also please tell me what do u use as a bounce? I really need to know.ur little help with be worth it.

  • Reply
    March 28, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    WOW! Great post, and I think your photos are turning out wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    April 15, 2017 at 7:01 am do u use the poster boards? These r just paper sheets without a firm board to stick .how did u make a board with them?Please reply asap.

  • Reply
    June 12, 2017 at 3:42 am

    Decoration for the egg picture looks so awesome! One of my friends gets a brilliant idea for his food blog after reading the entirety of the post. I love your technique. Thank you so much for this kind of sharing!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    Excellent post and very informative! I have to admit that I have been using a lightbox kit but after reading your post will consider your suggestions for sure. Thanks!!!

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