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.



Fix White Balance with One Easy Trick

Fix White Balance with One Easy Trick |

I’m usually good with color, but I totally messed up the white balance on our last shoot.  Most of the time I set my camera to Daylight White Balance and call it a day, but on this session, I was using a couple of vintage (fancy for old) softboxes that had a serious yellow tint.  I could see the boxes had a color issue, but just like every other lazy photographer in the world, I said “I’ll fix it in Photoshop.”

What’s White Balance

This is a complicated subject, but I’ll try to explain it in simple terms.  Camera sensors are made up of Red, Green, and Blue pixels.  When an image is captured, the camera mixes theses colors together to create a neutral scene.  If the camera mixes these wrong, then you end up with an image that looks like a funky Polaroid from the 70’s.

If you’re thinking, why doesn’t the camera just get it right?  Here’s the problem: the world isn’t color neutral.  Afternoon light is warm; morning light is cool; candlelight is red; florescent light is green etc.  Our eyes automatically compensate for these color casts, but cameras don’t have it so easy. This is where white balance comes into play.  To compensate for these various color casts, cameras create different balances of red, green, and blue to create a neutral white.

Most of the time the camera gets it right, but it frequently needs some help.  This is why cameras and photo editing software have manual white balance controls.

Why Correct Color is Important

Actually, for food photography it isn’t that important.  Most of the time, morning food is cool and evening food is warm.  If you need to manipulate the color to make something look right, go for it.  Some may argue this point, but I have yet to see a Hot Pocket that looks as delicious as the package.

Despite this fact, you should still work in a color managed environment.  Color may not be critical, but it’s part of any professional practice. Tomes have been written on this subject, but the best way to manage color is with a Spydercube and an X-Rite Colorchecker Passport.

The Trick

Lightroom makes white balance so easy it’s stupid.  Here’s how you do it: (see image below)

1) Click on the Develop Module

2) Select the white balance dropper in the Basic Panel

3) Move the dropper over a patch of light grey

4) Watch the RGB values in the hovering pixel panel

5) When the RGB values are nearly identical, click on the patch and have a beer

6) Seriously, that’s it.  You’re done so have a cold one

For the picture above, I knew I was working on a neutral surface so I could color balance later.  If I wasn’t, I would have used a QP card for a neutral reference point.

Fix White Balance with One Easy Trick |

Parting Words

It’s easy to get obsessed about color, so don’t.  Stick with a few inexpensive QP cards along with a color calibrated monitor and you should be alright.  The most important thing is that the food looks good.  If it doesn’t, nobody is going to care about the color.