How to Setup a Food Photography Studio: Part 1

How To Setup a Food Photography StudioSetting up a food photography studio can be a serious challenge. With all the marketing directed at photographers, it’s very difficult to make an informed decision.

This guide is intended to alleviate some of the confusion and provide a clear path to setting up an inexpensive food photography studio.  If you’re a food blogger or a photographer starting a food photography business, then this guide is for you.

The Table

You have to put the food on something and using a regular table can be awkward and inconvenient.  Most food photography studios simply use a piece of plywood and a couple of saw horses.  The best part of this combo is that everything can be folded flat and put in a closet.  I like to use a sanded piece of plywood that’s approximately 4’x6′ and a couple of compact sawhorses from Home Depot.  It’s a cheap and simple.

The Surfaces

Acquiring surfaces can be expensive, but with a little DIY it doesn’t have to be.  I like to use stained wood and Formica, but every photographer has their own style.  Here are some typical options:

wooden cutting boards
wooden serving trays
used baking pans
reclaimed wood from abandoned buildings
old painted metal signs
wooden fence planks
wooden floor boards from the hardware store
place mats
fabric sheets
marble countertops
brown paper bags
wax paper
tissue paper

This list could go on forever, but surfaces should either be neutral or work as a complimentary color with the food.  It’s also important to remember that the viewer should focus on the food and not the surface.  Busy surfaces may look good in person, but typically look out of place in photos.

A lot of this stuff can be picked up at Home Depot along with Sur La Table, Crate & Barrel, and Ikea.

Food Photography Studio Backgrounds

These are the same as the surfaces but with a vertical orientation.  Depending on how you shoot, backgrounds may not be necessary, but for hero shots, you need them.

I like to hang my backgrounds from light stands with grip arms and super clamps, but a variety of solutions exist.  It’s just as easy to use foamcore or an empty picture frame with a fabric wrap.  I’ve even seen photographers use gaffer tape to stick wallpaper on a white wall.

It isn’t a big deal how you hang it, just as long as the background is separated from the table and doesn’t create a color cast.


It may seem counter-intuitive, but the plates and bowls on a tabletop set should be small.  Large items overwhelm the food and make it exceptionally difficult to compose.  Large plates also affect the field of  view and can force the use of wide angle lenses.

It’s also important to select neutral plates with a low rim.  I frequently like to shoot from a low angle and hate it when half the frame is dominated by a thick rim.

Once again, Sur La TableCrate & Barrel, and Ikea are great places to pickup dinnerware, but my favorite places for this stuff are the local estate sales.  Cheap is always good, but cheap and unique rules.

Food Photography Studio Gear

Next, I will be covering the black hole of camera gear in How To Setup a Food Photography Studio: Part 2, so stay tuned.



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  1. 1

    My son Mike Brown was in your class @Juniper Iknow your dad very well.Question how do you make the inside of the lemon more yellow?that looks a little exposed unless you go into some software pro to change the color very interesting.Enjoy your lessons,you learn something every day.Thanks.
    Tom b.

    • 2

      With digital, the easiest way to make the lemon look more yellow would be to do a localized adjustment for saturation and luminosity in Photoshop. With film, since the inside of the lemon is translucent, you would drill a hole in the back of it and shine a light through. It would be similar to turning a Christmas light on and off. Thanks for stopping by.

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