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:

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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.

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My (non-technical) food photography essentials