When I started this food blog, I used artificial light. The girls were little and often literally underfoot. I’d set up a shot, turn my back to grab one more thing, and come back to find a curious toddler nibbling away at the food I was about to photograph.
So I moved my photography shoots to after the girls went to bed. I’d photograph recipes from 9 to midnight with Rockford Files on in the background. Side note: If Rockford had just gotten the down payment each time, several of his problems would have been solved. Actually, there might not have been a show! 😂
Then the girls grew up, I got a new camera, and natural light became my bread and butter. For better or worse, the options are endless with natural light photography. And with so many possible variables to work with, having the right natural light food photography equipment is paramount to achieving the results you want!
Here’s what I keep in my natural light food photography equipment collection:
While you can actually shoot your photos outside in direct sunlight, most food photographers work indoors near a window. Light looks different throughout the day, so it’s a good idea to take test shots at different times to see what light you like best.
These are a must, and they don’t need to be fancy. There are reflectors available specifically for food photography, but you don’t necessarily need them. Something as simple as a foam board cut to size and scored in the middle to make it foldable will do. Or an avocado box cut to size and covered in white kitchen towels and a photography backdrop (if you have one) will do!
In addition to reflectors that cascade light across the food, you’ll also likely need diffusers to reduce the amount of light in the photo. A window with shades or blinds is a great option. Am I using the organza from my wedding over 15 years ago? I am. Thank you for understanding.
I have photographed food on kitchen tables, utility tables, and even the floor. My favorite is a 4-foot utility table I found at Aldi! It’s large enough to hold my setup and small enough to maneuver around in my studio (that also doubles as my home office).
The table you work with might also double as your work surface. Or you might have a separate surface, too. In my case I photograph my food on a marble slab (with a chipped corner) or a piece of foam board set on top of my trusty Aldi utility table.
Step Stool or Step Ladder
Depending on the lenses you use and the style of image you want, you might need a step stool or step ladder. These were pieces of natural light food photography equipment I didn’t realize just how much I needed. They are particularly great for getting overhead shots. Also, do I really use an Ernie and Rubber Duckie step stool? Yes. Because everyone in my family loves that gray step stool. And sometimes you gotta use what you gotta use.
Admittedly, I mostly freestyle my food photography, using a tripod only when I use a macro lens. Why? Because macro lenses are often heavy, making it hard to get a shake-free shot. Tripods carry the weight while you angle the camera for the shot you want. Tripods are also great for getting the exact camera angle you have in mind.
Speaking of lenses, I used just one standard lens for the longest time. It didn’t offer food photography-friendly options. Eventually, I changed out my camera and lenses, searching for deals along the way to make the upgrade as affordable as possible. Having the right lenses in your natural light food photography equipment collection is critical. Here are the lenses I work with:
Canon EFS 18-55mm
This is my standard lens for basic shots in each food photography photoshoot. I freestyle with this lens. It’s light and easy to use, and it captures crisp images in a variety of lighting settings.
Canon EF 50mm 1:1.4
I LOVE this lens for achieving wide aperture, bokeh-inspired, breathy, airy food photos. It is a prime lens, so when you use it, you will have to physically move yourself closer to or farther away from the food you’re photographing. It’s a heavier lens than the Canon EFS 18-55mm. But I still freestyle with it.
Tamron 90mm f/2.8
This lens is incredible for close-up shots, but holy cow, it’s a behemoth! There is no freestyling. It’s just too heavy. In fact, it’s the reason I finally broke down and started using a tripod in the first place. In spite of its weight, there are certain angles and focal points that only a macro lens like this can achieve.
And now you have a starter list for the natural light food photography equipment you might want to have in your collection! If you want to read up more on photography, then you might be interested in these blog posts:
- The One Food Photography Lighting Tip I Wish I Had Known Sooner
- How to Use Manual Mode Settings on a DSLR Camera
- 5 Essential Food Photography Props
Happy snapping, friends! ❤️