You might think that you need the latest and most expensive gear to take mouthwatering food photos…
…but you don’t.
DON’T go out there and spend all your money because you can’t just buy your way to good photos.
Think about it, wearing Michael Jordan’s shoes won’t make you play as good as Michael Jordan.
You don’t need the fanciest gear to start off, but THERE ARE some essentials that you need:
- Artificial lighting
- Diffusion Material
- Reflectors / bounce cards
- Editing software
Before you do anything, of course you need a camera and while it may be obvious to some, you need to make sure you get the right type of camera.
The first decision is to choose between a mirrorless or DSLR camera as these will give you the choice of manual settings that will give you the most control of your final image. Both will allow you to do pretty much the same things. As a general rule of thumb, mirrorless cameras will be smaller and more portable.
The second thing to consider is whether you decide on a full frame or crop sensor camera. Both mirrorless cameras and DSLR cameras come in both forms and pretty much all of the major camera brands make solid cameras that will work fine for you.
Crop sensor cameras are more budget friendly and most people will start off on one of these before investing in a full frame camera which will be a lot more expensive. These are great if you are a beginner and are not sure that you will be fully invested into food.
You don’t need to spend thousands on a camera to get really good images so don’t feel like you have to cough up all of your money.
You would be better off investing money into better lighting and lenses.
- Get a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
- Choose between crop sensor or full frame depending on budget.
- Don’t worry about the brand too much, you can’t really go wrong.
Lenses are the second most important thing after your camera. Whenever you buy a camera kit you will normally get one kit lens which comes with it. A common kit lens for Canon is the 18 – 55 EF-S lens which has quite a few versions depending on how new it is.
Kit lenses will always be a zoom lens (can cover various focal lengths), but they will not be very fast (are unable to use a very wide aperture).
If you have just bought a camera kit, start off experimenting with your kit lens before you throw your money into a lens costing thousands.
Only get a new lens when you start to feel limited.
You may start to feel limited by a kit lens especially when it comes to the aperture. As we said they are not able to open up as wide and only reach maximum apertures of around 3.5-5.6.
This means you won’t be able to achieve as shallow of a depth of field as you would be able to with a lens that reaches lower f-stops like f1.8. Remember that a shallower depth of field allows for more of a blurred out background.
It also means you have less room in terms of opening the aperture to allow more light into the scene.
Once you decide to buy a lens beyond the kit lens you have A LOT of choice and it can be overwhelming.
What do you recommend for a beginner?
A great beginner lens is the nifty fifty. A nifty fifty is a recommended lens by experts everywhere due to its price and quality.
It is a 50mm prime lens which tends to have an aperture of about f1.8. Even with the fast aperture it is very affordable and pretty much every camera brand has its own version.
The focal length is also great for food photography. It is not too wide that it distorts anything but is also not too zoomed in that you have to be far from the subject to take the picture.
If you want to get a bit more advanced you can consider a longer focal length.
You can also consider a macro lens for food photography as they let you get really close to the subject whilst still being able to focus. This can be useful for capturing details.
Whilst you can get away without a tripod, getting one makes your life WAY easier and we believe it is pretty much essential.
Using a tripod allows you to use much slower shutter speeds which is helpful if you need more light in the photo and helps you to reduce the ISO to avoid noise.
The other benefit is that you can take consistent shots of the exact same scene and this allows you to make use of compositing later on.
It is also good if you are using a narrow depth of field.
When using a narrow depth of field, you have a small amount of the image in focus so slight movements in your hands can keep changing this. Using a tripod keeps this constant so you have more control.
When buying a tripod, don’t go too cheap. Many photographers will have made the mistake of spending money on cheap tripods which start to have issues pretty quickly. Whether they are unsturdy or a piece just breaks from use, you’ll get to a point where you will wish you invested more into a tripod.
If you need any more convincing, just think that your tripod is there to hold up your camera + lens which costs hundreds if not thousands of your hard earned money.
4. Artificial Lighting
Whilst some photographers swear by natural light, if you want consistency and control you will want to invest in some artificial lighting if you want to start levelling up your game.
Why is natural light not good enough?
Natural light can be visually appealing, there is no doubt about that.
But it is ‘natural light’ so there’s a limit to how much you can control it. The weather where you live might be cloudy one day, harsh sunlight the day after and partly sunny with cloud cover the day after that – if you live in the UK you can definitely relate.
You don’t want to set up a shoot by a window relying on some harsh sunlight which you’ve diffused perfectly only for the sun to hide behind a cloud just as you were about to take your shot.
With artificial light, you have full control of where the light hits, how strong it is and so you have much more creative control over how your final image turns out.
The best part is that you can get into artificial light with any budget. You can start off with some simple lights from any homeware store that doesn’t cost much. Alternatively, if you have big pockets you can spend thousands on studio lights.
5. Diffusion Material
Once you have a light source sorted you need a way to diffuse your light. Diffusing light makes the light soft in your scene so you can avoid harsh glares and shadows. Sometimes diffusion material is known as scrim.
With diffusion material you have plenty of options ranging from cheap DIY hacks to dedicated diffusion material.
If you are really on a budget you can use something like parchment paper or a large curtain for your diffusion material, but you can also purchase specific diffusion material on roll or at a specific size.
If you decide to buy foldable diffusion material like this diffuser you may want to buy some clamps so that you can clamp them to surfaces.
A benefit of large diffusion material is that you can also use them as backdrops for some of your shoots.
6. Reflectors and Bounce Cards To Modify Light
Whilst diffusion helps to soften your light, you will still want further modification to really step up your game.
The first step to doing this is getting yourself some white and black poster boards or foam core boards.
You will use the white to bounce light back into the image. This “fills” the image in since the white reflects light back in.
You will use the black to absorb light to take light away. This eliminates light from a certain part of your image and is used to help create shadows where you want them.
If you want, you can practice with cheap black or white paper to start to see how it works.
You can also get silver or gold reflectors which give a slightly different look to the light.
7. Editing Software
This isn’t always mentioned in equipment lists since it might seem obvious. We think it is vital that you use this. Editing software is vital if you really want to play with the professionals.
You don’t NEED to buy paid software to start, but the cost is so small for professional software like Adobe Lightroom that there’s almost no excuse not to. Besides you can just get a free trial to experiment.
Lightroom is an industry standard and you can find pretty much any tutorial you need online because it is so popular. It also has a very intuitive feel to it compared to other more powerful software like Adobe Photoshop so if you think it’s going to be too technical, don’t worry!
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