When I decided to start Life As A Strawberry, I had zero experience with food styling and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know there were manual settings on my camera. Fortunately, there are some awesome products and resources available that helped me learn to use my equipment, as well as develop a shooting style and workflow that are all my own. I’ll update this list whenever I find new and helpful resources – if I missed something that you think should be included, drop me a line and let me know!
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, and I’ll earn a small commission if you purchase something through them. All products and services listed here are things that I use, love, and have paid my own hard-earned money for!
Canon EOS 7D Mark II // I just upgraded to the 7D Mark II from my old Rebel T3, which I’d been using for about 4 years. I’m in love with this camera – its low-light capabilities and ultra-fast autofocus have made a world of difference in both my food photography and my live-event shooting. If you’re looking for a lower-cost option I’d recommend checking out Canon’s Rebel T5, which costs a lot less but is still a powerful tool and a great camera if you’re just getting started.
A note about buying cameras: I highly recommend buying only the camera body (rather than a “bundle” that includes a kit lens or an assortment of accessories) and then buying one or two good lenses separately. The reason is that the accessories and “kit lenses,” as they’re called, tend not to be very high quality – if you’re serious about photography, you’ll likely end up needing to upgrade your lenses and equipment regardless of whether your camera kit came with a bunch of other stuff. You’ll also get into a comfortable workflow as you practice more with your camera, and you may realize that the equipment a camera kit comes with doesn’t have the features you want or need. Buying a whole kit and then upgrading to higher-quality pieces ends up costing you more money in the long run: my advice is to say “no thanks” to the camera bundles and put that extra money into a few select high-quality pieces (like the ones below!) instead.
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Lens // I use this lens to shoot almost all of my food photos, and lately it’s also been my go-to lens for live event shooting (food festivals, press tours, etc.). I’ve been using it since the end of 2012, and it’s great for getting close-up, detailed shots.
The large f/2.5 aperture is also ideal for getting a nice blurry background in those close-up food photos. This is a macro prime lens, which means it has a fixed focal length (doesn’t zoom in and out) and has a nice 1:1 magnification (basically, the food you see in your image will be the same size and scale as the food in real life). For a more budget-friendly option, check out the similar EF 50mm f/1.8 prime lens.
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4 Telephoto // This is a good, solid, budget-friendly telephoto lens. I like using it to shoot portraits, since I can zoom in and out if people are moving around while we shoot, and in any situation where I’ll be a little too far from my subjects to use the 50mm macro above.
I also use it when I know I’m going to be stationary but the scenery around me will be changing, like if I’m on a boat. It’s a handy lens to have, especially if you’re just getting started with photography.
Eventually, I want to upgrade this lens to a more advanced version, but I’ve had it for four years now and it’s still going strong.
Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod // I upgraded to this tripod at the end of 2014. Before I bought this, I really wasn’t using a tripod much – I felt like it took so much time to set up and move all the pieces around that it wasn’t worth it. But this Manfrotto Tripod has been awesome – I’m using it alllllll the time.
The camera attaches with a tiny circular bulb that snaps off and on in no time, and the top piece is on a ball head that’s controlled by a single dial on the handle – I can loosen or tighten the tripod head with my thumb while I move the camera around. Super simple!
This is the most user-friendly tripod I’ve tried, and it’s made it a whole lot easier to set up more complicated shots. I wouldn’t call it “heavy duty,” but it’s light and compact, which makes it easy to travel with, and I love how easy it is to maneuver.
UV Protection Filter // If you only buy one accessory for your camera and lenses, buy a protective filter.
They’re cheap and, in addition to protecting your lenses from too much UV light, they act as a barrier between your expensive lens and, y’know, the rest of the world. I have a UV filter on every one of my lenses, and if it gets scratched or dirty or smudged with chocolate during a photo shoot (which it does occasionally, because I’m Jessie and I break things) I just replace it with a new one.
WAYYYYYY easier to replace a $7 filter than it is to replace a $300+ lens.
Adobe Photoshop and Creative Cloud // I don’t know how I ever lived without the Adobe Suite. As a graphic designer, I use the entire suite – including Illustrator and InDesign – on the regular, but if all you need is the photography tools this subscription package is a great deal.
You get Lightroom and Photoshop – Adobe’s two photo editing programs – as well as Adobe Bridge, which lets you manage your photo files quickly and easily.
I use Bridge to import my photos and Photoshop to edit and resize. Lightroom is kind of like “Photoshop Light” – it has a nice user interface and has most of the tools you’ll need, but Photoshop has a few more options if you want to get into more serious editing.
White Foam Board // This is totally the most exciting thing on this entire list, I know. But a sturdy piece of white foam board is probably the most-used piece (other than my camera) of all my food photography equipment.
Place it on the side of your food opposite your light source (see my “Setup” section below for an example) to “bounce” the light back onto your food and help fill in any shadows.
This simple bounce can make a huge difference in moving the light around so your food looks its best!
Tasty Food Photography Ebook // Lindsay (you know her from pinchofyum.com) did such an amazing job with this ebook – she covers camera lingo, how to use your manual settings, food photography basics, and includes all kinds of helpful examples to help you improve your photography skills.
This is what my photography setup generally looks like:
I’ll switch the setup around depending on what I’m shooting, and if I want to light the subject from behind I’ll shift the foam core I use as a bounce and the tripod around to accommodate the change in lighting choice. I also use a very small depth of field (generally around an f/2.5 or f/2.8) when I shoot, so that only a small piece of a dish is in focus.
MY TOP 10 FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
1. Photograph food while it’s fresh. Wilted herbs and old sauce do not a pretty picture make. If I want some extra time to style things or arrange my setup, I put an empty plate down where my food will ultimately be, then take some test shots and rearrange things so it’s ready to go when my food is done.
2. Use natural light whenever possible. I am a huge advocate for natural light and most of the time you can find me shooting food right next to the side window in my kitchen. Occasionally – especially during the winter – I have to make do with an artificial lighting setup, but even though I have fairly nice indoor lighting equipment I feel like nothing compares to the daylight. I just love me some o’ that sunshine!
3. Change up the angles. I’m totally guilty of falling into an “angle rut” every once in awhile, where I end up taking what feels like the exact same picture over and over again from the exact same angle. But it’s no fun to always photograph looking at food straight down, or straight on from the side. Remember to move around a lot to take shots from different angles. I also like to change things in the shot itself every few minutes – like dishing up a casserole onto a plate or changing the arrangement of the food – to give the photos a little more character.
4. GARNISH. A plain bowl of soup is boring. But a bowl of soup with chopped parsley and bacon bits sprinkled on top is much more interesting. Adding fresh herbs to a finished product will also give you a pop of color in your final photo. I always like to garnish a dish with ingredients I used in its preparation. Garnishes don’t have to be fancy – it can be as simple as throwing some chopped parsley across the top of the setup on your table (bonus points if you get it onto the food itself!)
5. Add texture. A glass of water behind the dish in focus, a plate-full of an ingredient from the recipe in the background, a hunk of bread in a soup shot, or a pile of fresh herbs off to the side will add texture and depth to any photograph. Even if your “props” aren’t in focus, the color and texture they lend to a finished photo make the picture much more interesting. I like to add pieces that vary in height so the photo isn’t flat.
6. It’s okay to edit. At first, I was really reluctant to make any digital adjustments to my images in Photoshop. But sometimes, correcting the white balance or evening out a shadow you didn’t notice at first can make a huge difference. I still don’t make any drastic changes to my pictures, but I like having the option to brighten them up and fix the balance if I need to.
7. Experiment. The best way to take great food photos is to practice, practice, practice. Play with the settings on your camera, experiment with different light sources, and try new styling techniques until you find a groove and develop a style that’s all your own!
8. Add something white. Something as simple as a white plate or a white napkin gives you a reference point for white balance when you look at your images on the computer – if you notice that white napkin is coming off kind of blue-ish in your photo, it’s a good indication that you need to adjust the white balance.
9. Don’t stop learning. I’ve been a food photographer for years now – occasionally, people even pay me to do it (wowza) – but there is still a TON I don’t know about photography. My favorite thing to do on a lazy weekend is search “photography tutorials” on YouTube and just absorb a few hours of tips from other photographers. Constantly exposing myself to new techniques and ideas means that my style is always evolving and that my skills are always improving.
10. Have fun! Ok, that one’s a little cliche. But life happens, and things get stressful, and sometimes it can feel like a chore to set up a whole shoot and take a bunch of food photos. When that happens, it’s ok to take a break! Get a glass of wine. Go for a run. Play some Scrabble. And then remind yourself that the reason you’re doing this is because you love to do it – and come back the next day reenergized and ready to go!