I am not going to pretend that I am an expert food photographer. I don’t have a particularly fancy camera, I don’t spend the time or money to edit photos with photoshop (I use snapseed mostly), and I definitely don’t own the array of dishes, napkins, etc. required to really tablescape the way I ought to. That said, I think I do a pretty good job. And a lot of that is down to a few relatively inexpensive items that I’ll tell you about below. This won’t be a master article on food photography, but if you’re interested in getting a cheap, portable setup, read on.
Light Box: If you are looking for an all-in-one setup for shooting food or general product photography, this is a pretty sweet little bundle. It is a box that comes with a few backdrops as well as a few lamps. It packs down fairly small and helps quite a bit in producing high-quality images. For about $40, I don’t think you can do much better.
USB Splitter: That particular box comes with 4 lamps with usb plugs. Each lamp also comes with a brick to plug that USB into a standard 110v outlet, but 4 plugs is kind of a lot to handle. You can keep a power strip with it, or you can just spend $10 (like I did) for a 4-way USB splitter. Then you can plug in all 4 lamps with just one 110v plug.
Photography Lamps: I do most of my cooking in the evening and that poses something of a conundrum. Food photography is best with natural, white light, but I need those hours to get everything else in my life done. The solution is a couple little lamps. You can get the set listed above that also comes with a box, or you can just invest in a couple lamps and white light bulbs. Fabric backdrops and a few lamps will do you just fine if you have room to store them. I prefer the box because it packs up small enough that I can afford the space even living in the bus.
Table-scaping Props: Like I said above, I do not have the proper dishware, silverware, placemats, napkins, rustic wood table, granite countertop, etc. to take the best photos that I could. But I do occasionally make a run to the thrift store to buy new props. Above you can see probably the most intense table-scaping I’ve ever done. It does look nice, doesn’t it?
Tablescaping is a super important part of food photography. I often eschew it for a simple picture with a dish against a white or black background (which I like), but you won’t find many images like that in Bon Appetit. They prefer a scattering of ingredients, a napkin, a fork, a beautiful stone countertop that screams of wealth and class, all that junk. I don’t have it, so I don’t use it. But, by all means, if you have a white stone countertop, use it. That’s halfway to a good food photo all by itself.
My Phone (Google Pixel 2): Most of the pictures on instagram and the website are shot on my Google Pixel 2. I also shoot all food with a DSLR so that if I need a print-quality image later, I have it, but for instagram, the phone is just so much easier. I remember reading about a top wartime correspondent who was lauded for his photography, most of which was done on his iphone. He, of course, traveled with a nice camera as well, but the ability to whip out his phone quickly to capture a moment meant that many of his best shots were on his iphone. We all have a really nice camera in our pocket all the time–might as well use it.
Canon Rebel T7: I do also shoot on a DSLR sometimes. Whenever I do a food shoot, I make sure that I use both in case I need a higher-quality image later (got to be ready for that book deal someday).
I have an entry-level DSLR, a Canon Rebel. Mostly I use the kit lens for food photography, though I do also sometimes shoot with a 50mm.
There you go. Food photography can be as complicated or as simple as you want. If you plate your food well and shoot it during the day with natural light, you can get by with nothing but your phone. If you want to tip the scales in your favor and give yourself some additional flexibility, a few of these products will help.
Hope that was useful! Good luck!
Disclaimer: many of the links on this page are amazon affiliate links. That means, in short, if you click through to Amazon.com from one of them and purchase something during that session, I will earn a small kick-back. These are all products that I use, and am happy to tell you about, the money is just a bonus if you happen to buy one.