Equipment for better phone food photography

Equipment for better phone food photography

While I use my (affiliate) Canon 1300D for professional photography and images destined for the blog, having a decent-quality camera always available in my back pocket is, undeniably, hugely helpful when I’m out and about.

There’s no need to faff about getting a big DSLR out at every meal – I generally use my phone camera to snap food for Insta, right before I eat it.

I keep these three little puieces of equioment in my car though and, with my phone camera, they let me set up kind of ‘mini photography studio’ on the go.


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Affiliate disclosure: This 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.

3 pieces of kit that’ll help you take better food photos on your phone

1. Flexible mini tripod

A tripod is a great way to make the most of the natural light.

A mini tripod like this is perfect for on-the-go. It comes with a smartphone attachment, the flexible legs let you attach your smartphone to pretty much anything, and the stand-ball head makes it even easier to capture photos from almost any angle.

Find the perfect angle for your food and keep your phone absolutely still, so its easier to focus and get the perfect snap in low light. Using a holder like this also means that you can easily take photos that include your hands in the shot.

Buy this flexible mini tripod in the Fig & Fennel shop to keep your phone steady while you take food photos.

2. Mini ring light

This ring light clips onto the front of back of pretty much any phone, allowing you to easily and discreetly fill any photo with a pleasant light. Natural light is best for food photography, but thats not always possible, so using a ring light like this, on its lowest setting, allows you to take food photos on your phone after dark.

Buy this mini clip-on ring light in the Fig & Fennel shop, to improve your phone food photography

3. 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector

The wrong light source can ruin a good photo. Carrying a small 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector with you lets you manipulate the light (by diffusing bright, glaring sunlight or reflecting a single-source light to fill dark shadows).

Buy this mini 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser for better food photography on the go.


Taking food photos using an iPhone or another smartphone can be an easy and cheap way to get great food photos when you’re out and about.

You can now get these three items together as a £30 bundle in the Fig & Fennel shop.

Improve your phone food photography by keeping a tripod, ring light and mini diffuser/reflector on-hand, so you can easily take the best food photos on your phone.

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Equipment for better phone food photography

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

My Food Photography Box of Tricks

1. Tweezers

Just a basic pair of bathroom tweezers, to reposition small or delicate items in-shot.

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.

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.

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 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 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 or oil 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 sell these in the Fig & Fennel shop:

7. Cocktail sticks

like the tweezers, 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 (in the style of a tiny sieve) 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 vegetable peeler for this, but if you want to get fancy you could get one with 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 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.

Make your own marble & wood photography backdrops with the Food Photography Backdrops kit in the Fig & Fennel shop

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. Reflector or 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, 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


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.

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Affiliate disclosure: This 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.

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

Make the most of natural light for food photography in this bundle, with a reflector to fill shadows, a diffuser to soften sunlight, and clips to hold it all together.

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.

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

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. 

Affiliate disclosure: This 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.

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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 usually comes as standard with a canon camera. It’s a great midrange-to-wide-angle 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. 
  • 50mm prime lens – Known as the Nifty Fifty, a 50mm is a very versatile lens (and my all-time favourite to shoot food with). 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 perfect for shooting in low light. I sell a 50mm prime for Canon (above) and one for Nikon (below) in the Fig & Fennel shop
  • 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.

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 recommend a sturdy tripod, like the ___ from the Fig & Fennel shop, which 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 one sold in the Fig & Fennel shop (below) 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 sell one for Canon (above) and one for Nikon (below) in the Fig & Fennel shop.

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 white sheets, clamped to the blinds in my front room.

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.

I use a 5-in-one reflector/diffuser, like the one above from the Fig & Fennel Shop. 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 big white trifold 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 boards.

You can also get the sheet, clips & a reflector together in the Making the Most of Natural Light bundle here.

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 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 (I love marble effect or this wood effect) and wallpaper samples from hardware stores, usually mounted on cheap card or foamboards
  • 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

Make your own marble & wood photography backdrops with the Food Photography Backdrops kit in the Fig & Fennel shop

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 the bottles I sell in the Fig & Fennel shop, 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.

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Essential food photography equipment: Building your kit

Which are the best food photography books?

Which are the best books 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. 

Affiliate disclosure: This 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.


Find out which food photography books you should invest in to take better food pictures for your blog, website or social media

Food photography, and especially food photography for Instagram, has become a big part of my life since I started blogging.

Most food bloggers start out with a vague idea that photography is somewhat important, before realizing the learning curve that comes with shooting mouth-watering, Pinterest-worthy food photography.

And it can be a steep learning curve.

There are courses in photography (and even specifically in food photography) available but, like many other photographers and food bloggers before me, I’ve approached food photography as a self-teaching challenge.

I bought a bunch of food photography books, eventually invested in a decent camera (my beloved [affiliate link] Canon EOS 1300D) and practice, practice, practiced.

Like any other skill, practice and experimentation are essential. Yes, you need the basics of photography, styling and camera use, but really and truly, trial-and-error is your friend.

I don’t claim to be a food photography expert – as mentioned, I’m totally self-taught. So I’ve gathered the very best food photography books from the experts, to help you on your food photography journey.

You can get all of these food photography books on Amazon, except [affiliate link] The Food Photography Book by Nagi Maehashi, which isn’t available on Amazon, and to be honest, is the one I’d really recommend if you can only invest in one book)

Food Photography Books Worth Investing In

The Food Photography Book


Nagi Maehashi

This food photography book is an absolute game-changer. Nagi is the food photography expert, covering not just the technical aspects of photography and styling, but also practical how-tos and thorough tips on everything from setting up a shoot to final editing. If you only invest in one food photography book, this is the one!

Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Nicole, S. Young, 2015

From professional photographer Nicole S. Young, this is commonly recognised as the food photography bible. One of the best food photography books available on Amazon, Nicole covers aspects from the basics of digital photography and lighting, through to styling a shoot.

Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera

Dolores, Custer, 2010

This one really is an investment, but worth every penny. From a professional food styler, this book is less about the technical ins and outs of photography, and more about styling food to create that perfect shot.

Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling

Helene Dujardin, 2011.

Another real investment book, this tome takes a deep dive into every aspect of food photography, from the technicalities of digital camera use and editing, to food styling and beyond.

Food Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Appetizing Images

Corinna Gissemann, 2016

Great as another more affordable option for beginners, this book goes into detail about the roles of equipment, exposure, lighting, composition and styling in food photography

Focus on Food Photography for Bloggers: Focus on the Fundamentals

Matt Armendariz, 2012

This book has a particular focus on food photography for bloggers, and is especially useful as a guide to food bloggers ready to step up their food photography game.

Food Photography & Lighting: A Commercial Photographer’s Guide to Creating Irresistible Images

Teri Campbell, 2012

This book approaches food photography from an entirely different angle: that of a commercial photographer. With a focus on lighting, equipment and studio set-up, Teri shows us the professional side to food photography.

There’s my guide to the best books to improve your food photography. If you’re only able to invest in one, I would truly recommend Nagi Maehashi’s The Food Photography Book^ as the best first-time investment.

Which are the best books for food photography

How to take food photos without natural light

How to take food photos without natural light

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. 

Affiliate disclosure: This 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.


Learn how I take great food photos, even in the low light of winter

 I love Insta. I don’t see it as a tool to bring traffic to my blog (at the tyime of writing, less than 10% of the traffic to my blog actually comes from Instagram), which means that I get to use it for what it is meant for:

Beautiful pictures (mostly of food).

BUT winter makes it way harder to take beautiful #Foodstagrams. My number one tip for improving your foodie instagram pictures is to take them in natural light. So how do you take good food photos when you don’t have much natural light available? Here’s my method:

How to take great food photos when there's no daylight

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How to take great food photos when there’s no daylight:

Take pictures in the daytime

I’ve literally just mentioned this above, but it is super important to reiterate this in winter when there is very little daylight. It’s no coincidence that most of my insta feed is taken up with breakfast – I eat it at my desk around 09:30, which means that there is daylight outside and I goddamn make use of it

Batch shoot

When I’m shooting pictures for recipes on the blog, I always take a few with Instagram’s square format in mind (I know you can use different sizes, but I like the aesthetic of squares). Batch-shooting doesn’t have to mean taking out an entire day though: I post once a day, so sometimes I might take a picture of my breakfast in the morning, then if I’m eating a pretty lunch I’ll photograph that too, but save it for a day when I’m living like a hermit and won’t be taking any pretty foodie pictures for Instagram. In winter, daylight is precious, so make use of it when it’s there. You can learn more about my batch shooting process here.

Set up a light reflector

This goes hand-in-hand with the above point about batch-shooting your food photographs for Insta. If you get chance to take a few hours during the day to shoot a few food photos ahead of time, you can maximise the watery winter light by setting up a reflector like the ones I sell in the Fig & Fennel shop. You can see my set up below, with a reflector leant up around a low table, and the sunlight coming in through my window:

My food photography setup from in front of the camera
My food photography setup from in front of the camera

Invest in a decent camera…

I’ve written before about taking beautiful food photos on your phone and editing photos with an app. If you’re a casual Instagrammer, that makes total sense but, as the nights draw in, I find I’m shooting for Insta on my DSLR more and more often. If you’re taking food photos for business (and here’s why you should, if you have a foodie business), I’d recommend investing in a decent camera (I’m totally in love with my [affiliate link] Canon EOS 1300D). It is definitely an investment, but so worth it for the quality of pictures, ease of use, and wifi connectivity, which means that I can take a professional-quality food photo and send it straight to my phone to upload to Insta in moments.

… Or at least in some decent lighting

Obviously, nothing can replace natural light for taking gorgeous food photos, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Whether or not you have a DSLR, a couple of these softbox lighting kits are an absolute lifesaver when you can see the sun creeping below the horizon and your dish just isn’t quite picture perfect yet.

Learn to use editing software

Now, the most important thing is to take great food photos – that’s why I’d recommend investing in some kit, and shooting during daylight hours where you can, to help make the original photographs as great as they can be. But editing your photos can just give them that extra oomph: Think enhancing, not correcting.

Nowadays, you don’t need to spend loads of money to access powerful software: for phone photography, try a free app like VSCO (and check out my guide to editing food photos on your phone using VSCO). For a Mac or PC try the browser-based free photo editor Pixlr (and check out my guide to using Pixlr for food photography) – or Adobe LightRoom CC, for the best photo editing experience.

Have Fun

Every one of my food photography guides has iterated this point: remember that it is only for Instagram or social media.

I know its an important marketing tool for many foodie businesses and bloggers, but don’t let it stress you out. The nature of Instagram, like other social media channels, is transient: today’s slightly ‘off’ shot will be buried in a matter of hours.

Curate the most drool-worthy feed you can, and don’t panic about the rest.

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How to take food photos without natural light