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The food industry has exploded in the past few years and along with it a new breed of foodies has sprouted. You’ve seen them at restaurants documenting every bite and morsel or their meal with their smart phones. With a quick stroll through Yelp restaurant reviews you can see that most of the images are poor at best. You can take great looking food images without investing a lot in equipment by learning just a few simple techniques.

Use Natural Lighting

Use a room with lots of windows. If you’re in a restaurant, ask to be seated near a large window. Natural light will give you a beautiful, diffuse light with soft shadows and make the color and the texture of the food pop. If it’s midday, hang a white sheer in front of the window to diffuse the light. If you’re at home take multiple shots at various times during the day to see what effects you get.

Creating Professional Food Photos Without Expensive Gear


Reflectors help tremendously with contrast as well as to fill in the shadows. They will help to evenly distribute the light and pick up more of the details in the food, making the overall image more appealing. All you need is an inexpensive piece of white cardboard (or white foam core) and place it on the opposite side of the food facing the window.

Use a Tripod

Tripods are great investments and can be purchased fairly inexpensively. If you are shooting frequently, you will want to get one. And, tripods are a must when it comes to food photography. It allows you to set up the shot and tweak the compositional elements. Additionally, you’ll be able to use the timer to avoid any shake from pressing the shutter.

If you do not have a tripod, set your camera up on a table, prop it up with some books or buy a Gorilla pod that lets you wrap the legs around any type of surface. 

Interesting Surfaces

Be sure to factor in the type of surface you shooting on. For elegant meals, you’ll want an upscale looking black marble and for a homemade, farm to table supper on piece of wood will work perfect to enhance the atmosphere of the image.


Keep a cache of various fabric colors and textures on hand to swap out.


Find a local stone or marble store that caters to the kitchen refurnishing industry. They’ll often have inexpensive cast off pieces you can purchase in a variety of colors and textures.


Local plastic manufacturers are also a good source for obtaining low-cast surfaces. If you want to spend a little extra money, have the edges rounded off. You’ll be able to choose from hundreds of different colors as well.


If you are looking to convey a more bold, retro or exotic tone, consider a paper backdrop. You’ll have over 65 different colors to choose from, all offering a seamless, clean look.

Creating Professional Food Photos Without Expensive Gear

Play Around with the Composition

If you really want to get serious about food photography, you’ll want to learn how to use “stand in” food. Even over a brief period of a few minutes, some foods can wither or become lifeless – especially if you’re using hot lights. Have your final plating of food in the fridge or on a low oven so that it’s ready to go once you have the composition and lighting nailed down. 


There is absolutely no harm in using Photoshop as a tool to help you adjust your settings after they are taken. White balance, contrast issues, and sharpening are all tricky to master in camera, so if you need to adjust these settings on a bigger scale in post-production, go for it! Be sure to shoot in RAW so that you can get the most detail out of your image. 

Food photography can be extremely creative – from the textures and colors of the food to the plating and composition of the photo. Equipment is expensive, and for most it is not necessarily practical. Many photographers (pros or not) have been able to capture images that emphasize the creative nature of the food with out having to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment. These tips will help you to take the best image you can and will look like they where taken by a pro.  

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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