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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    These are some really awesome tips and advice! Thanks so much for all of the information, it was definitely easy to follow and there is so much I had never thought of! Thanks for sharing!

  4. 6

    This was such a great read! I love food blogs and I’ve always wondered how photographers took such amazing pictures of food! I love to cook and every so often if I make something truly beautiful I will take a picture (for evidence) and they never seem to turn out. I will definitely be taking some of this advice. What is your favorite food to photograph?

  5. 8

    Wow, this looks awesome! Thanks for sharing your ideas, I really appreciated it. I’ve read some articles before about photography that you need to focus on your model and don’t let a lot of other details interfere in the photo. I always think that in order to make a simple food really look outstanding in the photo, every other detail should be at a minimum. Is this idea applicable for almost all type of photography subjects?

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    As a practicing writer, I have always adopted an instinctive logic it felt natural
    to concentrate on the topic -> develop with ideas/answers -> put it on paper.
    But, nothing could save me was writing regarding thermodynamics,
    for example, which, as you can guess, isn’t my main field of experience.
    Anyway, I took some Terrific tips in the writing style,
    thanks to that:slightly_smiling_face:
    Christiana recently posted…ChristianaMy Profile

  11. 15

    Great post, and you can never get enough ideas on backgrounds and table top surfaces. We often use dismantled wood pallets and rough em up a bit for some additional texture. Cheap too! If you hang around industrial estates, they’re often waiting to be collected.

    The Lemon image looks great!

  12. 16

    This post sounds like a delicious deep dive into the world of food photography! Setting up a dedicated studio at home is a dream for many food photographers. I’m eager to learn about the essential equipment, like lighting and backdrops, and how to arrange everything to create mouthwatering shots. This will be a great resource for anyone wanting to elevate their food photography game!

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