Behind the scenes of food on a white plate with a towel and fork on a small wooden board with a white foam board reflector behind it and an umbrella light in front (with logo overlay)

Food Photography on a Budget + Podcast Interview

I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on the podcast Eat Blog Talk, and it was a fun experience! That was the first time I had ever done anything more with a podcast than to just listen. It’s live now so you can listen to the interview HERE! We discussed food photography and, more specifically, food photography on a budget.

Eat Blog Talk was born of a desire to help food bloggers achieve the success they want in their lives and with their blogs. On the EBT podcast we will cover all the hot food blogging topics you want to learn about, but we will also discuss self-development and how it can improve your job performance, creativity, productivity and so much more. Most episodes will feature interviews with food bloggers and other experts who can bring insight into the world of food blogging.

You will hear from busy moms who figured out how to turn food blogging into a lucrative business (and what their secrets were). We will discuss how exercise, diet and sleep greatly impact your business. We will touch on the hot topics, such as SEO, Pinterest, food photography, how to approach brands and what equipment you should be using. We’ll discuss failure and how we can view it as a tool for growth. And we will talk about the importance of perseverance and patience because these qualities are imperative in food blogging. And so much more!

Description of the Podcast show from Eat Blog Talk’s website

Most of you may not be food bloggers, but a lot of these ideas will work for any type of product photography. It can also be interesting to see how things work behind the scenes. There was a post I saw on Facebook about a month ago that showed how much some of the scenes in Avengers: Endgame were green-screened. It was eye-opening to realize how much goes on that we don’t know about.

For that reason, I wanted to give you a bit of a taste (get it?) of what food photography really looks like. We don’t all start with a huge budget, so it helps to go small. I’ve been at this for almost 4 years now, and we still use some of the same budget pieces I started with.

You could spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on food photography. But why do that when there are cheaper options that work just as well?

Where to find the podcast:

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/eat-blog-talk-megan-porta/id1471783930

Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/m/Idcumjeagwdoqif2jpy6r2xurme?t=Eat_Blog_Talk__Megan_Porta

TuneIn: https://tunein.com/podcasts/Business–Economics-Podcasts/Eat-Blog-Talk–Megan-Porta-p1232525/

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/eat-blog-talk?refid=stpr

Backdrops & Props

Have you ever noticed the seemingly gorgeous tables that food bloggers have? What about the picture-perfect counters and backsplashes? Well, let me tell you a secret: they’re fake! That’s right, we don’t all have a magazine-ready home. Sure, some might, but most of us don’t.

Our secret: the right backdrops and props. The area that I take photos in is about 3ft x 3ft. That’s it!

Budget Backgrounds

There are so many ways to get backgrounds on a budget. If you or any family or friends use wood for projects often, use the scraps. Most of our wooden backdrops are pieces of wood leftover from different projects. We use a few different stains, one on each side, and have multiple options.

Ok, not everyone has scrap wood laying around, so what next? Wood can be purchased from your local home improvement store. You can also purchase pieces on amazon (of course) here for about $40. That may seem like a lot, but if you look for places that sell “professional” backdrops they can be in the $200-$500 range!

Another option is to use lightweight foam board with contact paper. It won’t be as sturdy as wood, but it works. Luckily, you can purchase contact paper in a huge variety of patterns and colors.

Options for Contact Paper on Amazon:

Overall, my favorite backdrop is one that was free. We had to replace a portion of our fence, so I had Justin keep some of the old fence boards. We cut them down to a reasonable size and used two other boards to nail them into place. It is naturally worn from being out in the south Texas sun for over 10 years. This gives it a rustic look without much effort.

This recipe can be found here: Mini Cinnamon Crescent Rolls

Props & Dishes

I love looking for new props and dishes for our food photography. Justin and I have set dates/times when the boys are in school to go “prop-shopping”! We set ourselves a budget and hit a few stores.

The best places to find cheap dishes are thrift stores and garage sales. One of my favorite new dishes, that we’ve used often, was found at our neighborhood garage sale last spring. Garage sales are a great place to look because people usually are selling things for cheap, and you don’t always have to buy a whole set. There’s no reason to have 8 of a plate when you’ll only use a few for photos.

Another great place to shop, similar to a garage sale, is thrift stores. We found a few great dishes at our local Goodwill for only a couple of dollars each. If we had bought them new the cost would have been at least 3x higher. Plus, the stock is always changing at a store like that, so you have a variety to choose from.

Finally, when you can’t get it second hand, check out the dollar store. Most of the towels you see in our photos were $1 each from Dollar Tree. There are three dollar stores in our area, so we like to hit them all. The slate serving dishes we use often were from one of the dollar stores, as well as the bamboo boards.

This recipe can be found here: Breakfast Hot Pocket

Lighting

Lighting is the hardest part of food photography. You can use natural light or artificial light, and the one you choose will depend on what works best for you. We prefer to use natural light when possible. This means we take a lot of photos on the living room floor. That’s where the most light comes into the house for us. But, when it’s cloudy, stormy, or night time, we have to rely on artificial lighting.

As with backdrops and props, there are expensive light kits and cheaper ones. You will have to find the one that works best for you in your work area. Some lights are much larger than others, meaning you need more space.

Diffusers & Reflectors

No matter which you choose, it helps to have diffusers and reflectors. Diffusers do just as the name suggests, they diffuse the light. At the same time, reflectors help reflect the light.

But the real question is, why do you need them? When you don’t have diffused light, it can create harsh shadows. Using a diffuser is like looking through a sheer curtain. You can still see a lot of the light, but it isn’t too bright. That’s the same idea you want for your photos. Unless you are looking for a very specific stylized image, most food photography looks best without many shadows. For a diffuser, we found an old sheer curtain at the thrift store for $1. It is a bit stained, but that doesn’t change how it works.

When we don’t have shadows, that also means we have less light. This is where the reflectors come into use. When you have dark spots on the food, use a reflector to bounce some of the light back onto the subject. Reflectors are usually white or silver since those reflect the most light. We were able to purchase a piece of white foam board and cut it to a few different sizes. By having some short ones, we can place them in front of the food without blocking the camera. Tall ones can go on the side of the setup to reflect more light.

Diffuser & Reflector Options on Amazon:

Artificial Lighting

Working with natural lighting can be tricky since it constantly changes. Working with artificial lighting is an entirely different skill set. And one that we are still working on. There are multiple light kits out there that cost in the hundreds of dollars. But really, a light is a light.

I’ve had a light stand for years, long before I did food photography and it’s still holding up well. In fact, I bought a second one about a year ago since we needed more light on some of our setups. If you are going to spend your money anywhere, get a good light bulb. The stand that holds it isn’t near as important as the light itself. You want something that’s true white and very bright. Remember, you are going to diffuse the light, so you need something bright enough to go through that.

Lighting Options on Amazon:

Fun Photos

There are many other aspects that go into food photography, but these few things can help you get started on a budget. If you are looking for more ideas, make sure you check out the Eat Blog Talk podcast. We discuss everything in more detail, including:

  • Backdrops
  • Props/Dishes
  • Lighting
  • Camera Settings
  • Best Starting Lenses
  • Setting Up A Shot

These recipes can be found here: Banana Cream Cheesecake, Chickpea and Spinach Orecchiette, Allergy-Friendly Taco Bar

PS These are my recommendations for camera equipment on Amazon:

Related Posts

20 thoughts on “Food Photography on a Budget + Podcast Interview”

  1. This post is really helpful! I really want to try and work on my blog photography, and backdrops are one of the things a struggle with a bit – especially on a budget!

  2. These are great tips. I never knew about the piece of wood. It does make the food look pretty and delicious. I love how your son is a part of the process. I agree prop shopping at thrift stores and garage sales. I have found some awesome kitchen stuff that way.

    1. It’s taken a few years for us to get really comfortable with it. And even then, there are some recipes that we can’t get just right but have to just go with the flow. These tips would help for product photography, too, not just food.

  3. Participating in that podcast seems to be an experience that I will benefit from. If it was not for photography, I could turn my blog in a food blog. Almost every day, my kids are telling me why don’t I post my succulent recipes on the blogs, the pictures are keeping from doing so.

    1. If you want to focus more on the food, try some of these to get good backdrops and lighting. It really makes a huge difference as well as having a few of the right size/shape dishes. I think you could do it because the recipes you do post look delicious!

  4. The one reason I don’t share much recipes on my blog is because I failed at taking food pictures. The lighting is never right. I learned a lot from this post. I need to get some good backdrops too. And of course the artificial lighting.

  5. How cool to be featured in the podcast. Your little photographer is doing pretty good, I think!! He’s well on his way to becoming a bona fide assistant. 🙂

    1. It was definitely something different for me! I only have photos of my youngest son, but both of my boys enjoy taking photos with us. It’s fun to be able to include them in so many ways.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Improve your cooking today

Whether you’re just getting started or looking to improve your skills, the Intro to Cooking guide was made for you! Sign up to receive a free copy, which also includes 7 simple yet tasty recipes. Plus you’ll receive new recipes in your inbox every week. Yum!

Make sure to check your inbox (and spam folder) for your confirmation email, which includes the link to download your Intro to Cooking guide.

Pasta All-In
Banana BreadBanana Bread covered with oats on a slate serving plate next to a brown towel and a bread knife on a wooden surface (with logo overlay)

Wait! There's more great recipes...

Stop cooking the same recipes every week. Sign up and you’ll receive new tasty recipes in your inbox each week. Plus, you’ll also receive an Intro to Cooking PDF so you can quickly improve your cooking skills.

%d bloggers like this: