Food Photography Gear Guide
I get a lot of questions about the equipment I use. I often include my food photography gear recommendations in different articles, but I thought having one place to direct readers would be more helpful.
Some of the food photography gear on this list is expensive! I know. So peppered throughout I have added some cheaper alternatives to the gear I personally use, however some gear can only be so cheap.
Lenses and studio lights will always be expensive. Even the cheapest of the brands cost a good chunk of money. I always recommend a healthy balance of cost versus effectiveness. I think it's good to keep in mind that DIY solutions can be great, but sometimes they add more problems then they save money.
What I absolutely will NOT do is recommend gear that is of poor quality and gives you poor results just to pander to your pocketbook.
What is great about food photography is that it is one of those art forms that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. I've included here all the food photography gear I use on a daily basis to make my art. Depending on your budget and needs, having everything on this list, as I do, might not be right for you. Above, I have included a Quick Navigation so you can skip to the food photography gear that your most interested in.
Camera & Lenses
Luckily food photographers don't have to worry about needing 90% of what modern cameras can do. We shouldn't care about autofocus, high ISO or face tracking. What I look for in a camera is the detail the camera will deliver versus the cost. I stick to full frame cameras because I prefer not to have a crop. A camera is just a box that captures light. I shoot with Canon, but I have tried almost everything and they are mostly all the same.
Features Food Photographers Should Look For In A Camera...
- Megapixels vs Cost
- Tethering ability (camera to computer)
- Amount of Noise at Lowest ISO
Features Food Photographers Should NOT Look For In A Camera...
- Autofocus Points
- Touch screen
- High ISO capabilities
The Canon 5Ds is a little bit on the pricy side, but if detail, sharpness and ultimate resolution for your food photography is what you want than this 50.6MP monster will do the trick. The incredible amount of detail this camera gives you, also makes it incredibly unforgiving. You will see every bit of shake, dust, and microscopic hair floating in the atmosphere, but when you nail the shot, the results are gorgeous. If you were thinking of getting that Maymia or Hasselblad then you have to give the 5Ds a go and with the $37,000 you'll save, you could put a downpayment on that house you always wanted.
Below are some cheaper options for cameras, some with really cool options like wifi. My favorite was the Canon 80D, but if you're just starting out, anyone of the three cameras below are fantastic buys.
When it comes to cameras, lenses are where you should spend the majority of your budget. Their high price tag should be looked at as a long term investment. In ten years, I've changed my main camera three times and my lenses only once. One of the lenses on this list I've had the whole ten years, and I still use it!
Features Food Photographers Should Look For In A Lens...
- Sharpness and quality of glass
- Minimum Focal Distance (the closer the better)
- Focal Length
Features Food Photographers Should NOT Look For In A Lens...
- Autofocus speed
- Image stablization
- Brand Name
The Canon 100mm lens is my go to lens when I'm creating food photography from in front of the food. You can read my full review of it here. The 100mm is a favorite among all food photographers, not only is this lens razor sharp but it's great both backed off and super close up. The focal length will add to the blur of your backgrounds giving it that extra creamy bokeh effect.
Canon EF 100mm f2.8L Macro Lens at f4.0 1/160 ISO100
Canon EF 50mm f1.2L Lens at f8.0 1/160 ISO100
The Canon 50mm has been a standard in photography for ever. This lens comes in three versions for Canon an f/1.2, f/1.4 and f/1.8. This is my main lens that I use when shooting from above the table. The Canon 50mm f/1.2 is on the pricy side, however for under $400 the Canon 50mm f1.4 has been touted as the best nifty fifty by photographers for years.
The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L Zoom Lens is the lens we recommend for people entering into the market. You can read my full review of this lens here. It is an all around lens, great from chef portraits to food. Although it has a hefty price tag, it was sure worth the investment. Considering all the things I have shot with this lens and the fact that it has been with me for so many years, it has definitely paid for itself.
Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L Zoom Lens at f5.6 1/125 ISO100
Studio Lighting & Modifiers
I get a lot a questions about artificial lights so it only makes sense to include them in this food photography gear guide. Alas, this subject is a tough one. There are really good (and expensive!!) lighting solutions and really REALLY bad lighting solutions. Finding the right artificial lighting setup for food photography can be daunting. You're not just buying a single light, you are buying a whole system.
Studio strobes need modifiers and often those modifiers are exclusive to the brand of light. One big thing to consider is not only the price of the lights and associated modifiers, but the build quality. Being that even the middle of the road brand of lights are so expensive you want to make sure your investment lasts.
Features Food Photographers Should Look For In Artificial Lighting...
- Ability to modify the light with grids and softboxes
- 400-500 watt power
- High Speed Flash (if you plan to photograph liquid or flying food)
- Adjustable 300w modeling lamp preferred (can be multipurpose as a light for video
- Wireless trigger
- Build quality (should last 10 years)
- Multi-voltage (in case you want to travel to different countries with your lights)
Artificial Lights Food Photographers Should Stay Away From...
- Most expensive price tag
- Cheapest price tag
- Low wattage lights under 300w
- No modifying capabilities
- Overpriced poor quality lights like the Lowel Ego (this is just a light bulb and cheap frosted plastic for $100+ price tag!!!) Spend $10 on a lightbulb, baking paper and glue then buy ice cream. Eat ice cream and start your DIY project. Write (your name + Ego) on new artificial light and sell them to lesser experienced food bloggers. Save money from light sales to buy more expensive studio strobes that you can then photograph with properly.
In this food photography gear guide I wont suggest you go buy the most expensive brand, that would be silly. However, I will recommend the medium price range of lights that I love and use on a daily basis, as well as, slightly cheaper alternatives that I have also used and loved.
The Elinchrom Pro 500w set above is fantastic. You would be hard pressed finding better quality lights for the price. These lights have a crisp consistent color with every fire. They also fire fast enough to freeze liquid splashes and come with a built in wireless system.
The modifiers are amazing as well. They are not built like tanks but they are not flimsy either. With a 300 watt adjustable modeling/prop light I use them to light my videos as well. I love them so much I bought two sets!
Cheaper Artificial Lighting Systems.
At about half the price of the Elinchroms above per strobe, the Bowens Gemini's are a great system to own. I worked with a set for about 8 years and they were still going strong when I upgraded. They have a metal casing making them feel like tanks compared to plastic casings of most strobes. The best advantage to Bowens is that the S-mount type is one of the most common modifier mounts around. Meaning that you'll have no problem finding a plethora of cheap modifiers for your strobes.
The Elinchrom 300-650w constant light is my go to recommendation when someone asks for a cheaper alternative to studio strobes. At around $500 you can get an amazing constant light that you could use for your photography or your video. Constant lights have a huge benefit of being able to always see what the light is doing. Why I recommend this light versus other, maybe cheaper, constant lighting is that you can modify this light with softboxes and grids just like you could a studio strobe. Best of both worlds for a great price!
With each light you buy, be sure to budget in a light stand and a modifier. Each brand has their own line of modifiers, but other that a few minor details they are all pretty much exactly the same. So whether you are using Elinchrom, Bowens or Broncolor these are the artificial light modifiers I use for almost every image I make, including every image in this guide.
Probably my favorite piece of equipment, the large diffusor that comes as a part of the Diffusor/Reflector Kit is a photographer's best friend. Great in so many situations where soft diffused light is needed, the diffusor is paramount to modifying natural and studio light.
I throw the rest of this kit in the bag, the diffusor with it's solid yet flexible ring is worth the cheap price tag by itself. Knocking down the light by about 3 stops it's perfect for using large apertures with both 500w strobes and hard direct sun rays.
Grids work to focus the light into a circular beam with fuzzy edges. Most brands sell grids and reflectors in a kit, but you can also find them sold separately. Grids are measured in degrees. This indicates the size of the honeycomb grid pattern. Ranging from around 10-60 degrees,
(this Elinchrom Kit comes with a reflector and a 20˚ and 30˚ grid), the lower the degree, the more focused the beam will be. I prefer to use 20-30 degree grids for shaping the light in my food photography.
The large softboxes are my favorite for beverage photography like this image as they provide nice light from the top to the bottom of the bottle.
There are tons of brands for light stands but my favorite are these Manfrotto stands as they fold to a nice flat compact size for use in the studio as well as on location.
The reason why I say to buy 3 of them is because you'll need one for each light and one to hold the diffusor. I wouldn't worry about the cost so much as they last a lifetime and you'll most likely never have to buy them again.
Overhead Camera Setup
(FOR ATTACHING THE CAMERA AT THE 90˚ CAMERA ANGLE OR A FLAT-LAY PERSPECTIVE)
Having a nice overhead camera setup is essential for food photography, unless you actually like to stand on tables, balancing on one leg over your food while holding your camera.
I use a very particular setup that gets a lot of questions. Below is a really old video of me setting mine up and the equipment you need, but below I've listed the equipment and quantities out. This overhead camera setup is really a onetime purchase and will last a lifetime. It's lightweight and fits into a bag that I carry to sets and restaurants around the world.
Another huge benefit to this setup is that because it uses light stands it is adjustable to whatever height you want and you don't have to worry about balance issues or your tripod falling over because your camera is too heavy. You could even buy longer poles and use it for really large table scenes. All you need is to make sure your camera is level and your good to go.
Spigots are probably one of the most useful little tools in studio photography. They have the same 3/4 thread size as your tripod and 1/4 thread size on the bottom of your camera. You'll use just one of these spigots to place into the grip at the middle of your extension arm.
Attach the ball head to the spigot and then your camera to the ball head and your ready to start making beautiful overhead shots.
Here is a short video of me putting the overhead camera setup together. It's an old video from a few years ago, but all the equipment is still the same.
Other Food Photography Gear
Here are all the little things that I use on every food photography shoot and couldn't live without.
Seeing your images on the computer as you take them is a huge advantage when shooting food photography. The TetherTools 15ft USB cable is a fantastic buy. I love the bright color which helps prevent trips and broken cameras.
The length of the cable allows me to have my camera on set and my computer or client out of the way. They make both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 depending on what connection your camera has.
I love these backgrounds from Soularty. They are super lightweight, but real wood that has been beautifully handcrafted specially for food photographers. Actually, right now there is a special promo of 25% off for those awesome people who purchase my course.
I use this Pelican case to transport two camera bodies and 4 lenses. It's works as a carry-on when flying and is bulletproof, crush proof, water proof, hell it would most likely withstand a nuclear explosion. I have a much larger one with wheels that I use to carry my studio lights. These are the cool military cases you see in all the action movies
What would a cool food photographer gear guide be without a little educational gear! My Food Photography Masterclass has 38 awesome food photography tutorials that will not only show you how to use all this gear and more, but how to make beautiful art worthy of the amazing food on your table.
This is not a sponsored post, however this post does contain affiliate links to some great photography gear, products or services I currently use or have used in the past. If you plan on shopping for some new great stuff, please click through the link and I'll receive a small commission. Every purchase helps me continue on my never ending quest to provide amazing content.