My (non-technical) food photography essentials

My (non-technical) food photography essentials

Since starting Fig & Fennel, I’ve built up a photography kit of sorts.

This isn’t the technical stuff – I’m not going over the lenses, lights or tripod I use.

Whenever I go to shoot onsite, I bring a box of tricks to help me take the best photos I can – whatever the situation. This list of things is definitely not exhaustive, but should help you to start your own food photography kit, to keep on standby for taking better food photos:

Affiliate disclosure: his 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. Learn more here.

Essential kit for shooting food photography

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

My Food Photography Box of Tricks

1. Tweezers

Just a basic pair of bathroom tweezers, to reposition small or delicate items in-shot. If you want to get really fancy, a set of multiple sizes like these are perfect.

2. Notepad

Now, a notepad is great for taking down a shot-list onsite, but paper can also double as a photography tool. Fold up small squares to lift dishes to a very slight angle, or to stack between heaped items (like pancakes), to give them height. A ball of paper is also great for bulking out a bowl, making it look full and appetising, whilst minimising wasted food.

Literally, any notebook will do the job, though I go for spiral-binding (so pages are easy to tear out) and recycled paper, where possible. Something like this is perfect.

3. Bull clips

Bull clips, in a variety of sizes, come in handy onsite for all sorts of things. From hanging a (basic) light filter to holding and positioning food and props for the perfect shot. Some small assorted ones like these, plus a few sturdy letter clips like these will give you a good range.

4. Double-sided tape

Another essential from the stationery cupboard, you wouldn’t believe how much double sided tape I use. Especially helpful for sticking down those rolled-up backdrops, keeping that damn napkin/lettuce leaf/garnish/other small & likely-to-blow-away item in place for a shot, and hanging light filters or reflectors when there’s nothing to bull-clip them to.

Cheap tape like this is actually better, as it’s less likely to leave any residue (if it does leave a residue, use nail polish remover to clean it off)

5. Twine

Twine like this, is super-handy for tying back things like how-hanging lighting and ugly curtains, as well as for prettying-up a shot that just lacks a little something.

6. Water spray

My water spray bottle is an absolute essential – I’ve mentioned it in other posts, but it’s just amazing what a little spritz of water will do to liven up a dish that’s been sat out on a shoot for a while and is starting to look beyond it’s best. I just use a little travel spray like this, but if you want to be really fancy try a misting bottle like this one.

7. Cocktail sticks

like the tweezers, these cocktail sticks make it easy to accurately reposition tiny details in a shot. They are also great for adding height and stability to stacks, like sandwiches and burgers.

8. Squeezy sauce bottle

Artfully drizzled sauces can make or break a food photo. Keeping a few empty squeezy bottles handy can make the difference between an ‘artful drizzle’ and a ‘random splodge’.

I actually love empty sriracha bottles for this – the nozzle is finer than most sauce bottles, so you can be much more precise with your drizzle.

9. Tea strainer

Especially when shooting baked goods, a little sprinkle of flour or powdered sugar can really bring a shot to life. A tea strainer like this (in the style of a tiny seive) can make powdering much more controlled.

10. Peeler

I like to keep a little peeler handy as a way to add interesting, pretty garnishes to any dish that just isn’t quite popping. I just use a standard vegeable peeler like this, but if you want to get fancy you could get one of these peelers, that has attachments for spiralising and curling.

11. Citrus zester

As with both the previous items, a citrus zester lets you add a little pop of colour and interest to a ‘flat’-looking dish. Use a standard citrus zester or one like this, that’ll also grate small shavings (for example, of cheese or nutmeg).

12. Fabric napkins

I keep a variety of fabric napkins and cloths in my food photography bag. They make great props to add interest to an empty-looking shot. Start with a pack of basic cream or white napkins and add others as you go along.

13. Roll-out backdrops

I’ve written before about using rolls of patterned sticky contact paper (like this marble effect or this pale wood effect), wallpaper samples from hardware stores, and even quality wrapping paper. While I mount my favourites on foamboard to use again and again at home, having a few rolls in my kit can save the day when I arrive at a shoot to find only ugly or reflective surfaces.

14. Thin white sheet

I use a thin, white sheet as a diffuser when the light is falling directly onto a shot and causing harsh shadows. This is where the bull clips or double-sided tape really come in handy.

15. Big white card

The other side to diffusing harsh light with a sheet is reflecting bright, one-directional light back onto a shot with a reflector. While I do use a 5 in 1 Collapsible Photography Reflector/Diffuser Kit, a big white tri-fold presentation board works just as well and has the added bonus, when I’m out onsite, of being able to stand unsupported, being basically worthless (so I can leave it laying around without worrying about security), and doubling as a plain backdrop, in a pinch.

Everything I take onsite for food photography

Other items

I’m going to be honest, not everything in my food photography box of tricks made it into the abve photo. I also throw in:

Q-tips

Wipe up tiny spills & drips with q-tips.

Makeup sponges

Wipe up slightly larger spills & drips with makeup sponges.

Kitchen cloths

Wipe up disaster-level spills & drips with microfibre kitchen cloths. You can also use these to wipe down surfaces & backdrops, and to give crockery and glassware a quick polish mid-shoot.

Teaspoons

Like tweezers and cocktail sticks, teaspoons can be useful for repositioning small details. They can also be helpful for drizzling and dropping sauces that won’t go into a bottle. I prefer disposable biodegradable spoons – they’re lightweight, so much easier to handle than regular metal teaspoons.

Pipettes

Pipettes are another way to artfully drizzle sauces and liquids, great if you only have a very small amount of sauce to work with.


These are just my basics – they may be added to, depending on the shoot. Most of the things on this list cost just a few quid but can be absolute lifesavers. When you’re onsite and everything is going wrong, my food photography box of tricks can usually step in to save the day.

My (non-technical) food photography essentials


Camera settings for food photography: Start using your camera in manual mode

Camera settings for food photography: Start using your camera in manual mode

Recently I started this brand, Fig & Fennel, as a way to professionalise (is that a word?) the freelance photography side of my business.

My food photography has improved massively over the years since I started my blog (if I do say so myself), and especially in the past months since investing in a photography course at the local college.

For a long time though, I was terrified of taking my camera off auto settings and into manual mode.

A DSLR can take great pictures in its automatic settings – cameras are very clever these days.

But without the control of manual mode, it is hit-and-miss. By switching your camera to manual you can make huge improvements to your food photography.

Affiliate disclosure: his 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. Learn more here.

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Camera settings for food photography

Lets start with the basics, shall we?

NB. While this information should apply to most DSLR cameras, it is based on my own experience and knowledge using my (affiliate link) Canon 1300D. I have tried to make the information about settings, etc. as generic as possible but if you use a different brand you may need to look up the way Canon’s settings ‘translate’ to your own camera.

Photography is all about light

There are three key settings on your camera that affect the amount of light coming in and hitting the sensor. The amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor is also referred to as the exposure. An over-exposed shot looks very pale and washed-out, and an under-exposed shot looks very dark and gloomy.

Examples of camera settings and exposure for food photography
Over exposed | Correctly exposed | Under exposed

Aperture

The aperture can be dilated, like the pupil of your eye, to allow more or less light into the camera. Each time you move the aperture setting up, the amount of light entering the camera doubles.

The aperture is measured in f/stop. A large aperture lets in more light and a small aperture lets in less light, however, f/stop numbers run in the opposite direction: The higher the number, the smaller the aperture (and vice versa). f/11 lets in less light, for example than f/8.

Additionally, f/stop numbers don’t double with each setting – even though the amount of light let into the camera does. f/stops can typically run from around f/1.4 at the largest aperture to around f/32 at the smallest aperture.

The aperture is set in the lens, not the camera body. My Canon 18-25mm lens though gives a range of f/4.5 to f/29, which is plenty of scope for normal food photography. The aperture ‘scale’ goes:

  • f/1.4
  • f/2.0
  • f/2.8
  • f/4.0
  • f/5.6
  • f/8.0
  • f/11.0
  • f/16.0
  • f/22.0
  • f/32.0

With each stop letting half the amount of light into the camera sensor as the one before

Though your camera may show settings in-between these, only these stops allow fully half (or double) the amount of light than the subsequent f/stop.

This article on photographylife.com gives a much more in-depth explanation of aperture and f/stops.

How to use AV aperture settings in food photography

The other thing to note about aperture is that a large aperture (ie. a low f/stop number) gives you selective or differential focus (where part of the image is in sharp focus and part of the image is in soft focus). Equally, a small aperture (ie. a high f/stop number) gives extensive depth-of-field, where everything in the image is in sharp focus.

I like to keep the aperture as large as I can when shooting food side-on or at an angle, as a sharp subject and blurred ambient background work really well for this type of shot. For overhead or flatlay images, a smaller aperture works well to keep the whole arrangement  in sharp focus.

Chaning the depth of field in food photography

Shutter speed

If the aperture is like your eye’s pupils, then the shutter speed is like your eyelid. They act as a pair of blinds that open and close extremely quickly.

The longer (or slower) the shutter speed, the more light is let in, and the shorter (or faster) the shutter speed, the less light is let in.

Shutter speed is measured much more simply than aperture – the setting is typically shown as, for example, 1/250 or 1/60, which means that the shutter is open for 1 250th of a second, or 1 60th of a second. You just have to remember that that’s what the number means. One 60th of a second is a longer length of time than one 250th of a second, so a shutter speed of 1/60 is a slower (or longer) shutter speed, and a shutter speed of 1/250 is a faster (or shorter) shutter speed. 

What shutter speed to use for food photography

Faster shutter speeds (for example 1/1000) let in less light. A fast shutter speed is great for getting a sharp image of a moving subject as they freeze action – for example in sports photography. A fast shutter speed will only work with ample lighting – in low light, a fast shutter speed will produce a very dark image.

Slower shutter speeds (for example, 1/15) let in more light. Slow shutter speeds can be useful for creating image movement blur (for example, when pouring a liquid) or when shooting in lower light. Be aware though that the longer the shutter speed, the more likely you are to create a blurry image by shaking the camera – for shutter speeds below 1/60 or so, use a tripod to keep your camera completely still.

Generally, I keep my shutter speed as fast as I can, depending on the level of light. As I prefer to shoot handheld than on a tripod, this allows me to be flexible and experiment with angles more easily. My go-to shutter speed is 1/250, though I may go down to 1/200 or 1/125 before I resign myself to being tied to a tripod for the whole shoot.

Photographing pouring liquids
A slower shutter speed (3.2 seconds) causes ‘motion blur’ with the moving liquid | A faster shutter speed (1 500th of a second) captures a ‘freeze action’ shot of the moving liquid

ISO

ISO is the measure of how light-sensitive your camera’s sensor is.

A lower ISO indicates that your camera is less sensitive to light (so the picture will look darker) and a higher ISO indicates that your camera is more sensitive to light (so the picture will look paler). As with aperture, as the ISO setting doubles, the amount of light hitting your camera’s sensor doubles too. You can learn more about ISO at ShutterMuse.com.

Set your ISO depending on the availability of light. Generally speaking, the lower you can set your ISO (and still get a good image), the better, as a high ISO can result in ‘noise’ or grain in an image. As a (very) rough guide:

  • 100-200 for outdoors or in daylight
  • 400-800 indoors or in the evening
  • 1600 at night
Which ISO to use for food photography

Anything over 1600 will result in a very grainy image, so avoid higher ISOs, even if your camera offers them. If your ISO is set to 1600 and your images are still coming out very dark, adjust the aperture or shutter speed to get more light to your camer’s sensor.

What is the best ISO setting for food photography

Manual camera settings

On most DSLR cameras there are 3 ways to use manual settings:

TV

TV stands for Time Value, and is sometimes called Shutter Priority. Some brands of camera label this ‘S’.

For this setting, you set the shutter speed and the ISO, and allow your camera to set the aperture automatically.

In TV, start by setting the shutter speed to 1/250 and the ISO to 100 or 200, depending on the available lighting. Now, have a look at your images and adjust your settings as needed:

  • Are they coming out very dark?
    • Raise the ISO to 400 or 800
    • Or increase the shutter speed to 1/200, 1/160 or 1/125
  • Still too dark?
    • Increase the shutter speed even further (and use a tripod and external trigger to remove any shake from the camera)
    • Or switch to full manual mode and make the aperture larger (using a smaller f/stop)
  • Are they coming out very pale?
    • Lower the ISO to 100, if it isn’t there already
  • Still too pale?
    • Reduce the shutter speed (but watch out for ‘shutter shock’ – when the shutter moves so quickly that it is captured at the edge of the image)
    • Or switch to full manual mode and make the aperture smaller (using a larger f/stop)

AV (Aperture Value)

In Aperture Value, or Aperture Priority, you set the aperture and the ISO yourself, leaving your camera to set the shutter speed automatically.

Using aperture priority allows you to set the f/stop, which can be useful for controlling the depth-of-field.

  • For a limited or selective depth of field:
    • Eg. a stack of pancakes shot side-on in crisp focus, with the rest of the room out of focus, or blurred
    • Use a large aperture by setting a low f/stop like f/2.8 or f/4
    • Set the ISO as low as you can (100 or 200 is best), to make up for the large amount of light let in by the wide aperture.
  • For an extensive depth of field:
    • Eg. an overhead shot of lots of different dishes on bowls and plates at various heights, where you want everything to be in sharp focus
    • Use a small aperture by setting a high f/stop like f/16 or f/22
    • While a lower ISO is generally better, you may need to change the ISO up to 800 or 1600, to make up for the smaller amount of light let in by the small aperture.

M (Manual)

M stands for Manual. In this setting, you control the aperture, shutter speed and ISO all at once.

What are the best camera settings for food photography?

Not to take the cheat’s way out but the best settings do, of course, vary depending on the situation.

As a rule-of-thumb I generally prefer to use AV, so I can set the f/stop and ISO to suit the available light and the required depth-of-field, but I can trust my camera to adjust the shutter speed dynamically, which gives me one less thing to worry about.

Food photography normally involves a static subject – not a moving one – so I don’t generally need to consider shutter speed effects like freezing action or creating motion blur.

If I’m shooting in a busy kitchen or onsite at an event though, I’ll use TV and as fast a shutter speed as I can get away with, to capture the action in sharp detail. This can also be useful for creating freeze-action shots of a liquid being poured.

Sometimes – particularly indoors and in winter – natural light can be scarce. If I don’t have access to lights (which I usually don’t when I’m shooting onsite), I’ll either:

  • Continue to use AV, so I can control the depth-of-field, but use my tripod and external trigger to avoid any shake when the shutter speed decreases
  • Switch to full manual mode, so that I can set the shutter speed high enough to shoot without a tripod, and balance the ISO and aperture to avoid any grain and get sharp, properly-exposed shots

The most important thing though is to do what works best for you. Practice, at every opportunity and try taking a number of shots for every setup, using different settings.

Camera settings for food photography: Start using your camera in manual mode

Döner Summer

Döner Summer

I’ve worked closely with Döner Summer on a number of marketing projects (I am married to their co-founder, after all), not least of all shooting onsite at events.

In addition to a styled shoot using their vegan kebab product, I frequently attend events to help out and get some great pictures of the product and the atmosphere of the event itself.

The photos have been used to promote Döner Summer on Instagram, as well as their other social channels, on their website and in the marketing materials for their wholesale business The Vegan 3 too.

Pavement Vaults 2017

Having shot Tapped Leeds ‘ menu on multiple occasions, I was approached by another venue in the Tapped Brew Co. chain to shoot the menu and their York venue, Pavement Vaults.

I spent the day onsite at Pavement Vaults, shooting every item on the menu, with styled flatlays featuring multiple dishes anddrinks, as well as compositions showcasing particular deals and ranges.

Pavement Vaults now have 70+ high-quality, styled, on-brand images to use on their website, across social media channels, and in print advertising too.

Tapped Leeds 2017

Food Photography for Tapped Brew Co.

Andy Tordoff, head chef at Tapped Leeds (and, in the interest of full disclosure, my husband) was struggling to post consistently appealing images of the food produced in his kitchen to the business’ social media channels.

He would post a couple of great images when he had a quiet moment, followed either by dark, grainy shots, or complete radio silence

Tapped hired me for the day to shoot their menu. I shot every item on the menu, including styled long shots that convey the atmosphere of the venue, and flatlays featuring multiple dishes and items.

The team at Tapped now have 70+ high-quality, styled, on-brand images to use on their website, across social media channels, and in print advertising too.

The best VSCO filters for food photography

https://figandfennel.photography/blog/the-best-vsco-filters-for-food-photography/

This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Affiliate disclosure: his 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. Learn more here.


I’ve been posting a series on food photography for bloggers and food businesses for the past few years now, and something that repeatedly comes up is the best VSCO filters to use for food photography.

While I use my DSLR for most of my professional food photography (both for freelance work and for the recipe shots I take for this blog), a lot of the food photos on my Insta are taken with my phone.

I always use VSCO to edit my photos (I have a post on my editing process in VSCO here) but sometimes a simple filter is all you have time for.

This is going to be a quick post on my favourite filter in VSCO for food photos.


What is VSCO?

VSCO is a freemium photo editing app, available on Android or iOS.

While there is functionality that you can choose to pay for, I’ve been using the free version of VSCO on Android for years and have never felt like I’m missing out on features that I could access in the paid version.

In the app, you can upload your photos and then edit them, either by manually adjusting settings or by applying a pre-set filter.

Why edit in VSCO instead of in Instagram?

Firstly, VSCO offers more editing options than the Instagram app, so you have more aspects of the image to play with.

The key draw of VSCO against editing directly in Insta though is that it allows you to edit a few photos and then export them to a scheduling app like Planoly (which I use) or LaterGram. This gives you the freedom to arrange & preview your grid, compose your captions and schedule out a few posts in advance.

The options to export also mean that you can edit a photo and then re-use it on other platforms, like Facebook, Twitter or on your stories, instead of it being ‘locked’ in Instagram.

How do you edit food photos in VSCO?

I won’t go into too much detail here, as I actually have a full step-by-step post on editing your food snaps in VSCO here.

When I’m editing food photos on-the-go using VSCO, I normally bring the exposure & contrast up, sharpen the image, take the saturation down and play with the white balance a little (usually taking the temperature down and the tint up a tiny bit).

My editing style has evolved over the years, and this is the way I currently have my Insta aesthetic styled (very pale, with moody pastel tones)*

*I’m very aware that using phrases like ‘my Insta aesthetic’ and ‘moody pastel tones’ makes me sound like a millennial wanker, but I don’t even care. I love working on having a pretty ‘gram so just let me live, mmkay?

Before 'manual' editing in VSCO
Before ‘manual’ editing in VSCO
After 'manual' editing in VSCO
After ‘manual’ editing in VSCO

What are the best VSCO filters for food photography?

Quick and simple as that manual edit was, sometimes you just want to get your photos out there fast.

As with Insta, thats where filters come in. The VSCO filters are a bit more subtle than the Instagram ones, so I still prefer to use VSCO even in a filters-only level rush.

There are 10 filters to choose from in the free version of VSCO. I tend to use F2 as my go-to filter on VSCO, but it really depends on the overall look and feel you’re going for.

Lets take a look at all the free filters, shall we?

VSCO filter B1
B1
VSCO Filters F2
F2
VSCO Filters M5
M5
VSCO Filters X1
X1
VSCO filter B5
B5
VSCO Filters G3
G3
VSCO Filters P5
P5
VSCO Filters C1
C1
VSCO Filters M3
M3
VSCO Filters T1
T1
  • B1 – Monochrome filters aren’t the best for food, so I wouldn’t recommend
  • B5 – Again, monochrome isn’t great for food, but if you prefer the black & white look, B5 is probably the best for food
  • C1 – A bright filter, perfect for busy, colourful feeds
  • F2 – This is my go-to VSCO filter for food photos, keeping them crisp but not over-saturated
  • G3 – G3 probably comes a close second as my favourite VSCO filter
  • M3 – This filter is best if you prefer the dark & moody look, again keeping the food crisp and not over-saturating the colours
  • M5 – As with M3, this filter can be good for a ‘moody’ look, but with a little more colour
  • P5 – P5 is a very dark filter, with lots of blue tones that can make food look quite unappetising
  • T1 – I love T1 for moody landscapes, but it just makes food look indistinct and grey – probably my least favourite of the colour filters for food
  • X1 – As with B1 and B5, monochrome just isn’t well-suited to food photography

The best VSCO filter really depends on the look and feel you’re going for. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but my personal favourite is F2.


The best VSCO filters for food photography

Essential food photography equipment: Building your kit

Essential food photography equipment: Building your kit

This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Affiliate disclosure: his 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. Learn more here.


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 gear

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

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
Improving your food photography with Pixlr
An early image from my first blog
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.

What equipment do you need for food photography?

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).


My food photography setup from behind the camera
My food photography setup from behind the camera
My food photography setup from in front of the camera
My food photography setup from in front of the camera
My food photography setup from above the camera
My food photography setup from above the camera
The final image
The final image

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 (affiliate link) 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

Food photography props

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 harder, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve:

I shoot on a low table (either my coffee table or an (affiliate link) IKEA Lack coffee 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 go into details about my box of tricks, and why certain items are especially useful, in this post, but here I’ll just list some of 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 food photography equipment: Building your kit

Why is photography so important to food businesses?

Why is photography so important to food businesses?

This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Affiliate disclosure: his 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. Learn more here.


Digital & online should be an essential part of the marketing strategy for any food business

If your business deals exclusively online – in eCommerce – you already know this. Hell, even if your business isn’t exclusively online, you probably already know this.

All kinds of food businesses rely on online platforms in some way:

  • For restaurants, foot traffic and random walk-ins are a rare occurrence these days. When deciding where to eat, the first port of call is typically Google (‘Korean restaurant in London’) or even voice search (‘Siri, where can I get vegan food in Edinburgh?’), followed closely by review sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp.
  • Speaking of TripAdvisor, restaurants live and die by their online reviews.  From TripAdvisor and Yelp to bloggers and local directories, online reviews all have an influence on where people choose to eat. Clearly, you can’t control everything said about your business online, but by having on online presence you’re able to counter unfair claims and give potential customers to opportunity to see a more rounded picture of your business.
  • And that’s not to mention social media recommendations. Couple search and reviews with ‘I heard about this new Barbecue place on Instagram’ and your online presence can reach far and wide.
  • If you sell online (whether that’s your artisan bread, the latest gluten-free energy bar, the next sous-vide style food prep craze, or even just allowing customers to make reservations) an online presence is even more important.

Now, all of these things could magically come to you (fingers crossed, eh?) but a focussed digital marketing strategy (or at least a home online – your own website and social media channels) is a much better bet.

So, where does photography come into this?

The prevalence of online & digital makes it even more important for Food businesses to use high-quality, original food photography.

3 reasons why good food photography is important for food businesses

1. Draw people in

Online, the adage that an image speaks a thousand words is doubly true.

People like the easy option – if you can get all the information you need by looking at a picture, why would you read the article?

All this to say, pictures stand out – in social media feeds and on your website.

Great food photography can draw people into your business’ online home (and even into your bricks-and-mortar store). The hunger that you want people to feel when they see photos of your food has an emotional pull. Use it.

2. Stand out from the crowd

I’m afraid a stock photo just won’t cut it if you’re selling something like food, which relies so heavily on experience.

For example, we all know, roughly, what a burger looks like, and we can all spot a stock image of one from a mile off.

What does your burger look like? What does the specific burger that someone will sit down and eat in your restaurant, receive in your delivery bag or tip out of your box and onto the grill, actually look like?

And more importantly, and how do you want people to feel when they see it?

3. Highlight your best stuff

This goes hand-in-hand with standing out from the crowd as a good reason to use original food photography for your business.

Your food photos should be an extension of your brand voice and style, and you should use them to show off your most impressive dishes and products.

Free app like photoshop to edit food photography

Great, original food photography doesn’t have to cost the earth.

But bad quality photography (or generic-looking stock photography) can damage your brand. It can make you look cheap, and make your food look gross.

Why is photography so important to food businesses?

How to Edit Food Photography in Pixlr

How to Edit Food Photography in Pixlr

In this post, I’m going to show you the method I use to edit food photography in Pixlr, for use here on the blog, and in social media. Scroll down for step-by-step instructions & a quick video.


This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Affiliate disclosure: his 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. Learn more here.


As with any hobby or new skill, the more you practise and invest in food photography (from investing the time to learn the basics, to investing in new photography kit), the more you’ll start to improve.

It might be slow at first.

But after a few months and years of persistance, you can sit your earliest photos side-by-side with your newest ones, and I promise they will have improved immeseaurably. Just look:

This was the header shot for one of the earliest recipes on my first blog Lentil and Mushroom Salad

Improving your food photography with Pixlr

And this is the header shot for a recent Orange and Almond Salad recipe on my food blog

So yes, my actual photography has improved.

I’m better at composing and styling a shot, I’m better at taking my camera out of auto, I’m better at finding (and making the most of) the best light source.

I’ve invested in a much better camera, too.

But the skill that gave my photography the most noticable jump in improvement?

Learning to polish my photos in an editor.

I’m not talking Adobe photoshop or lightroom (which can be pricy for someone like me, who just wants to touch up the odd photo here and there). Imma be honest: I’ve barely used photoshop.

When I’m taking food photos on-the-go with my phone, for use on social media, I just use a free editing app VSCO (you can get my tutorial for that here)

But you might be ready for something a bit more serious, that you can use on the big screen of your PC.

About Pixlr

Pixlr is a browser based application for editing photos. Its completely free to use.

You can access the editor at pixlr.com/editor.

It lets you make simple edits to your food photos (or any photos for that matter).

Pixlr might not be able to replace Adobe products for advanced users, but the software functionality is comparable to programmes like Gimp, PaintShop Pro and Photoshop.

Pixlr offers more advanced options for editing than the native Windows or Mac photo editing apps.

Before

Using Pixlr to edit food photos

After

Free app like photoshop to edit food photography

How I edit food photography in Pixlr

Firstly (and I cannot say this enough) you need a basically decent picture to begin with

Learn the basics of photography (try some of these books, if you’re not sure where to start) and use the best lighting you possibly can (hint: its 100% free, so long as you can carve out a little bit of time during daylight hours).

The best editing only involves very light touch-ups. See it as enhancing, not fixing.

It’ll be very difficult to make a terrible photo look good with any software, this tutorial is more about making a decent photo look awesome.

What’s that saying? You can’t polish a turd.

The next step, before you even open Pixlr, is to know your style

This is something that eventually starts to come naturally – the result of playing around.

The style of photos I aim for is light and airy, with pops of brightly coloured food.

If you prefer a moodier or brighter style, adjust your editing steps accordingly – it may be that, where I turn the saturation up a notch, you prefer to turn it down, or that you prefer the lightness a little higher than I do. Experiment and find your own signature style.

Ready to edit?

Here’s a run-down of each step I normally take when I edit food photography in Pixlr:

  • Open the image you want to edit – you can import images directly from Google Drive, or open them from your PC once you’re in Pixlr
  • If the image is a little ‘wonky’ or off-kilter, straighten it by going to edit > free transform, and rotating with the little arrow in the corner
  • Crop your image to get rid of most of the ‘white’ exposed in rotation, and to re-frame the subject. Select the constraint you prefer:
    • ‘No restriction’ gives you free reign over the image dimensions
    • ‘Aspect ratio’ lets you choose from common aspect ratios, like 1:1 (perfect for Instagram) or 16:9 (standard ‘full screen’ dimensions)
    • ‘Output size’ is based on the actual image size (rather than dimensions) that you’ll get. By default, this is set to the same size as the original image
  • The ‘clone stamp’ tool can be really useful for tidying up the edges and background of the image. Select the tool, then right-click or control-click to select the area to clone from and use the pointer as a brush to paint the cloned area
  • Use the ‘spot heal’ tool, with a wide brush, to mitigate any  obviously copied areas left by the ‘clone stamp’ tool
  • Make the ‘spot heal’ tool bruch much smaller to remove small mistakes, like misplaced crumbs and splashes, or small areas of bruising, discolouration or other minor imperfections on food
  • Next, adjust the tone of the whole image with settings under ‘Adjustment’. Normally, I use:
  • Brightness & Contrast (I increase both a little)
  • Hue & Saturation (I tend to leave the hue where it is, but increase both the suturation and the lightness a little)
  • Colour Balance (offset red, blue and green colour balance – I don’t normally use these, though they can be helpful for editing out the slightly orange tones of electric lighting)
  • Colour Vibrance (increase or decrease the vibrancy of colours in the shot. Again, I don’t normally use this, but I can sometimes be useful for making colours pop)
  • Levels* (as in Photoshop, levels are used to fix colour balance and tonal range of an image. Using levels is a little more complex than the other settings, and I don’t normally adjust the levels in a quick edit of an image)
  • Curves* (like levels, curves in Pixlr serve the same function as they do in Photoshop: they adjust tones to brighten, darken, add contrast and shift colours. Curves are a little more advanced to learn, and I don’t normally use them in quick & simple edits)
  • Exposure (Artificially increase or decrease the exposure of your shot. As with any other setting, its better if you can get this right when shooting, but that may not always be possible. I like my shots on the mose-exposed end of the spectrum, so I often turn the exposure setting up a notch or two)
  • Another way I use the ‘adjustment’ tools is to adjust only part of the image – to make the colour of the barries really pop, or to create a little more contrast in the main subject than in the background of the image. There are a few ways to select a specific area of an image:
    • The ‘wand’ tool lets you ‘magically’ select an area with a specific tone. This can be really useful for selecting only the plain backdrop of an image, for example. Adjust the tolerance to select more or less of the image
    • The ‘marquee’ tool selects a rectangle or an ellipsis. This can be really useful for quickly selecting a bowl or plat in an overhead shot
    • The ‘lasso’ tool is the one I’m using in the example. Use the freehand lasso tool to select any area completely freehand, or the polygonal lasso to essentially join-the-dots around an area you want to select.
  • Finally, save your image to your PC or your Google Drive

*I’m planning a detailed post about using levels & curves in Pixlr to take your food photography to the next level – keep checking the blog to know as soon as it goes live

Watch this quick overview video to see exactly how I edit food photography in Pixlr:

How to Edit Food Photography in Pixlr