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My Food Photography Journey: How I Learned to Shoot Recipes

This story of my food photography journey contains affiliate links.

I never thought I would enjoy food photography. I don’t even like cooking, but as the mother of 14 kids cooking is inevitable. I have posted many recipes over the years but my photos were truly cringe-worthy. Despite owning a photography business since 2009 and photographing dozens of births, the art of food photography eluded me. Let me give you an example.

My food photography in 2014.

Back in 2014, I shared one of my favorite recipes, Crockpot Peanut Chicken. Knowing I needed some photos for the post, I took the time to stage my photo. See that above? That was literally the best I could do. I worked hard on this photo but let’s be honest…it’s horrible. It has poor lighting and zero creativity. Below is a vastly improved version taken with natural light.

This photo of Peanut Chicken was taken in 2015 after I got serious about improving my food photography.

I’m not exactly thrilled with the second photo, but I think we can all agree it is a huge improvement over my first attempt. So how exactly did I improve my food photography so much?

Using a macro lens for food photography.

I bought a macro lens (specifically the Canon 100mm 2.8).

After rooming with some food bloggers at a conference I was told by all of the women that their primary food photography lens was a macro lens. I bought the Canon 100mm 2.8 and was delighted to find I loved it for both portraits and even births!

If you want to see exactly what I carry in my camera bag you can check out my Amazon storefront here.

How I got started on my journey to food photography.

I Realized I Cannot Just Photograph My Dinner

While I do often eat what I photograph (because it is real food, after all) I cannot simply make dinner and then take photos of it. That’s what I did in my original peanut chicken photo. I now know I need to plan, I need to stage my photos, and I need great light, which most of the year here in Bellingham is not at dinner time.

How to get started with food photography.
This picture was taken in my parents’ kitchen which has beautiful natural light.

I Learned My Kitchen is Off Limits

My kitchen off limits? For food photography? Yes! My kitchen is narrow and has no natural light. This means no matter what I did (and believe me I tried everything) I was not getting pleasing photos in my kitchen. For a while, I went to my parents’ house to use their kitchen which does have natural light. That worked okay, except it was a huge pain to haul everything I needed to their house, prep, cook, photograph, then clean their kitchen.

My food photography journey.

At this point, I started thinking about the best spots of light in my own house. Our living room has amazing natural light and once I was no longer just cooking dinner and trying to photograph it, I realized mid-morning is a great time to take photos…as long as I’m in my living room. There are plenty of professional food photographers who use artificial lighting but my first love of photography has always been natural light.

A pullback of my food photography set up.
This corner of my living room gets beautiful natural light.

Here is a pull back of my “kitchen” set up. To the left is a large window which gets afternoon sun. As long as I shoot here mid-morning, I soft side lighting that looks great in my food photos.

My faux kitchen for food photography.
Hey look! It’s my “kitchen” in my living room.
Simple props can highlight the natural beauty of food photography.

I Invested in Simple Props

Investing in props was not my first step. No amount of props were going to make for a great food photo when I took that picture of my peanut chicken in 2014. Once I had the basic skills down and knew where the great light was, I realized I needed some dishes for food photography. In my personal life, I am a minimalist, so I’ll admit, going prop shopping was a little bit difficult for me. Once I realized that it was truly necessary, however, I dove in. As you can imagine, Goodwill is my favorite place to shop for food photography props. Not only are the prices great, but I can sometimes find very unique pieces. Since these are for photos and not dinner parties, I don’t need complete sets of anything. I often buy two matching bowls or plates for continuity, but never a set of six or 8.

Practice is the key to mastering food photography.

I Practice. A Lot.

We all when learning a new skill, practice is key. In my journey to improve my food photography, I have been practicing a lot. I have been known to bake cupcakes or cookies just to practice photographing them. My family doesn’t mind this a bit as they get to eat the products when I am finished.

Have any questions about food photography? Ask in the comments and I will come back and answer.



  1. Ahavah

    Thanks for this – it was a really helpful post and my food photography needs help bad :). The shot pulled back showing your living-room “kitchen” was really useful.

    And your poor kids – obligated to help their mom with her work like that. By eating brownies. I hope they’re enduring and keeping their spirits cheerful.

    • Renee

      Yeah. Shooting in my living room has made a HUGE difference. As far as my children go? They suffer through eating my recipes 😉

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