Photo Lesson – Photographing food

First, a caveat – there are many many ways to shoot food. Angles, lighting, plating, etc. So this is just a walk-through on one shoot I recently did for a pecan farm. And man, their products were absurdly good.

Second, I really need to do a live video on this topic, but it might need to wait until the next food shoot so I can get permission and set up to film.

With that said, hope this helps.

The Client – Billie’ Pecans in Crenshaw, MS.  The Goal – New marketing beauty shots of their products in a social, family setting.

Ok so what are we looking at? That is the gang that owns and runs Billie’s. We set them up in one of those outdoor family-style long tables and used them as our models. The goal was not to show them per se, but use them as the atmosphere for the shots.

They were mostly blurry backgrounds, hands serving platters and reaching for pecan items etc. Using the actual people that work for a place, any place, has its advantages and drawbacks. In their case they were awesome to work with and understood we were not focusing on them, but the food.

And that’s the point. Have a point of view, a plan for the images you want. We worked off a pretty elaborate shot list, a wish list if you will, created before we got down there to shoot, so everyone was pulling the rope in the same direction.


So THIS is what a shoot actually looks like, with a pile of marketing people prepping. The truth is about 90 percent of food photography is done before you ever push the button. It’s the planning, conceptualizing, getting the props, planning for weather and time of day, getting to the location VERY early in the morning to set up, dealing with the logistics of the location etc. Will we need power? A ladder? bug spray? Everything…

Then you get to the part of thinking how to shoot each photo on your wish list. Which photos are most crucial? Which food items are styled and ready? Which ones will melt in the heat?

And yes in this shoot we had ice cream. It was 90 degrees out…

Point is – planning planning prep…


Next step, lighting.

Shooting outdoors is challenging. The biggest issue all photographers wrestle with is light. We are in fact, recording light with a camera. If you have a day with clouds rolling in and out your table is constantly changing in appearance and intensity. It’s a huge pain.

See how the light is a little bit bright on the cheese crisps? The sun was peeking out a tad. Bright, direct sun would have made this a mess, but in this case i got a good shot.

But off camera I had a member of the marketing staff holding a giant diffuser –  round, thin cloth that acts like, well a window shear in your house. It softens and spreads the light, helping you control the light and get a more pleasing look.

Not having access to a diffuser is not the end of it though – you just need to look for a location where light is relatively even and consistent – a covered porch, or a sun room etc.

Next part is storytelling – trying to convey a message in a handful of photos. We shot maybe 2500 over the course of a day, a long day in the heat. But those will get whittled down to a handful of marketing photos they use over and over.

In this case the idea was about family, the social nature of the products. And the family was awesome. They genuinely had a great time sitting down and having fun in front of my camera.

One thing though.. we did not keep them out in the heat any longer than necessary. We did all the other shooting we needed without them present so we would not make them suffer while we went about our business.


This last photo is from a different setup, in a barn. Tough lighting as it is coming mostly from one side, so we added some fluorescent ones for a little help, called fill light.

But the point I want to make about this photo is this – look at the pecans on the table, in the shell. We spent most of a morning and early afternoon shooting and were close to being done when it occurred to us we had not used any raw, in the shell pecans in any photos.

Family members buzzed off on a four-wheeler and were back with enough (it’s not in season yet so they found extras somewhere) for us to pop into the photo.

The point is this – we captured wide images of tables and family, but now we needed to get the details, and the apples were an awesome detail.

So when you shoot products consider a few things – what the story of the work is, the lighting, the details, the variables with each dish.

In other words, plan every shoot out to the last detail. Shoots will evolve and you will find yourself shooting unplanned images because you see something resonate with you or the client.

Then, when in the actual act of shooting, do it every which way – vertical, horizontal, tight, from overhead, from down low. Be creative while always thinking about the larger goal- telling the client’s story in a handful of photos.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.