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
    [email protected]
    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
    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
    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
    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
    Ursula @ Northern Ambitions
    March 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for the tips!

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

    I love your tips! 🙂

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

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

  • 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
    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
    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
    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…

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