Starting out in food photography can feel a little overwhelming. You might feel like you need the latest gear, all the props and a range of software to get the perfect food photo. When I started out, I was still working a full time job and simply loved taking photos of food. I didn’t even own a DSLR! All of my learning came from styling food, analysing light and shooting off my iPhone. So, what do you actually need to start food photography? Where do you begin?

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Why you don’t need the most expensive camera:

I’ve been asked numerous times what camera and lenses I use, but let me tell you something. When you’re starting out in food photography, taking great photos isn’t about the camera. You could have state of the art equipment, but if you don’t really know how to use it to get a specific look, your images aren’t going to look any better than those that are taken on a great entry-level camera or phone. In my opinion, at this stage, it’s best to invest in understanding the foundations of photography before leaping into expensive gear.

Want to discover the secrets to taking stunning photos of food with the camera in your pocket? When you subscribe to my coffee chats community, you’ll receive a FREE resource all about how to master taken photos with your phone.

Your first lens when starting out in food photography:

If you’ve spent some time learning the basics of photography and have invested in a camera body, you might be wondering what the first lens purchase should be. While the lens that comes with your camera body (the ‘kit lens’) is great, you can also buy bodies second hand and grab a lens separately.

Depending on if you have a cropped sensor or full frame camera, the ideal starting lens may vary but the Nifty Fifty is a great lens for good quality and affordability. You can read more about lenses in general in this blog post should you have more budget to spend.

I also recommend renting lenses if you’re not sure so you can see if it’s right for you and the work you want to create.

Starting out in Food Photography

What about the food?

You might be thinking you need to bake a B-E-A-Utiful pie to shoot, but grabbing fresh produce and focusing on how the light hits it can be the best thing when starting out. As photographers, there are so many elements to control to create that final shot. That’s why we need to first be great at composition, styling and identifying where our light is coming from and how shadows fall – before we dive into prop sourcing, baking and cooking or going all out with editing software.

Focusing on too many things at once can be the quickest way to give up. That’s why giving yourself one goal and focusing on shooting simply things is the best option when starting out.

Exercise: buy some fruit / biscuits / cake from a local shop, and try and shoot it with what you have. Study the light. Do you want side light, backlight or that 45 degree light on your scene? Add some black card to “fill” in areas where it’s too bright and white card to “reflect” light back onto your scene. Watch how the light changes.

Staring out in Food Photography

Starting a prop collection:

I absolutely adore collecting props, and I truly invest in the pieces I buy. However, it’s easy to want to buy anything and everything simply because you feel you ‘need’ it – and it’s seriously addictive! My prop collection has grown over the years and truly represents the kind of clients I want to work with, the style I want to evoke and props that work with all kinds of briefs.

Etsy, EBAY and charity shops are great places to find pieces that don’t break the bank. Otherwise you can also save and spend wisely on more expensive pieces. Remember you’ll want all your pieces to work together in some capacity. I also always choose pieces that will make the food look bigger, like cake plates or side plates.

So, what should you invest in when starting out in food photography:

Once you’ve decided you’re really committed to learning about food photography and honing your skills, there are certain things that you should consider investing in. This is my personal opinion, but you may want to take a different journey and that’s entirely up to you!

  • Start with your phone camera if you’re not ready to invest in a DSLR
  • Take a course to learn all about natural light and how to manipulate light
  • Buy a DSLR camera
  • Start to practice shooting in manual mode, and get good at it!
  • Learn how to compose and style a scene
  • Learn how to edit using software like Lightroom
  • Add lenses, tripods and lighting to your gear

How I personally started out:

If you’re dipping your toe into food photography, or on a limited budget, there are ways to get into it without breaking the bank. Here’s how I started, saved and invested as I took on clients and built my business:

  • Use my iPhone to take photos & VSCO to edit
  • Took courses about styling, composition, editing
  • Used “props” directly from my kitchen and didn’t buy anything new
  • Bought a second hand full-frame DSLR camera off eBay
  • Bought the Nifty Fifty 50mm lens
  • Continued working in my full-time job and viewed it as an ‘investor’ in my business
  • Saved up for and bought a 24-105mm lens (a great all-rounder)
  • As I took on clients I used that money to re-invest in my business and buy equipment and props
  • Started a small prop collection with unique purchases I’d saved for
  • Bought a reflector-diffuser
  • Bought cheap pieces of white and black card for filling and bouncing light
  • Started my backdrop collection slowly and steadily
  • Bought a cheap tripod off Amazon
  • Saved up to buy additional kit like LED lights, speedlites and modifiers

If you’re looking for everything I use in one useful place, you can find all my equipment categorised here at my Amazon Storefront:

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