Food photography styling: Behind the scenes

As the years with my ‘big’ camera have passed, I have slowly learnt to shoot in manual and I can see looking back on old photographs how far I have actually come. One of the things I love to photograph the most is food, kids are great but anyone who has ever tried taking a good photo of the kids will know how much effort can go into it, they move around a lot and don’t always want to cooperate so still-life food or indeed flowers are the ideal subjects for me. Food with flowers? Even better!

walnut cake


I really enjoy putting my photographs on Instagram and often joke that there is nothing at all instant about my Instagram, it takes a lot of time to ‘set up’ the perfect shot and one that I am happy to share there and here on my blog. Most recently I have been uploading what I think are my very best shots to Unsplash a brilliant photo sharing site that allows you to download images to do with whatever you please. They really are the most awesome stock photographs and amazing for those times when you haven’t got something quite right in your own archives.

I have been seriously flattered (and amazed) to see that the few images I have uploaded to Unsplash have been downloaded more than 2000 times! As a complete amateur photographer this gives me all the warm and fuzzies and such a confidence boost that someone has seen my image and thought ‘hey I could use that shot somewhere’ it’s a really nice feeling.

I was chatting to Lucy from Capture by Lucy recently and she shared one of her articles with me Real life vs Insta life which is an interesting look behind the scenes. I loved getting a glimpse into Lucy’s photography set-up (her Instagram is beyond amazing if you didn’t already know) Lucy’s post inspired me to put this together to give you a little glimpse into how I go about taking my photographs.

I don’t really do anything special apart from attempt to find a nice background such as my favourite tablecloth from good old M&S or failing that I will use a slate paving slab left over from when we did the garden (pictured above) I always, always look for the light and never use flash. I will 9 times out of 10 do my photography sessions outside, whatever time I choose you can guarantee it will when the postman is coming who then catches me standing one legged – well we wouldn’t want shadows in the images – trying to get an aerial view of whatever I’m photographing. The last time he caught me he ended up with a fresh slice of lemon drizzle bundt cake so I think he times it deliberately now!

For my photographs I use a Canon 7D with a 17-55 mm lens. Most likely ISO 100, at about 1/125 shutter speed and between 2.8 and 4.0 for the F stop depending on how much detail I want. I generally take a few test shots at my usual settings and wing it from there. For each session, I could end up taking upwards of 100 frames that I will then cut down and edit later using lightroom and photoshop.

For props, I go into charity shops for pretty plates and cake stands and also find that TK Maxx is really good for items such as ceramic bun trays, interesting cake tins and pretty forks.

Here’s a list of cheap easily sourced items to make food styling/flat lays prettier:

  • Wallpaper as background
  • A mix of small and large plates with different colours patterns
  • Pretty teacups and saucers (charity shop is amazing for this)

Fresh roses displayed in a teacup

  • Paper napkins
  • Fabric napkins – I was lucky to be sent some from Liberty but Cath Kidston have affordable ones
  • Kilner jars/mugs
  • Coloured paper straws
  • Cake forks with floral design
  • A cake slice
  • Any type of fresh or good quality silk flowers to decorate. Roses, ranunculus and anemones photograph beautifully
  • Tile samples from B&Q such as marble, slate etc

That’s just a short list but let me know if you want more ideas I have a cupboard full of props!

Here is my set up and before pics of the lemon drizzle bundt cake. I had to go out and move all the furniture on our terrace and push the mess out of the way!

Food photography set up ‘before'

Food photography styling set up

And here are a couple that made the final cut!

Tea party with lemon drizzle bundt cake

Lemon drizzle bundt cake decorated with raspberries and redcurrants

So there you have my food styling behind the scenes which is more like plonking a cake outside on a tablecloth and hoping it won’t rain!

Let me know about your photography set-up, do you venture outdoors to do yours too?

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