A Small and Portable Food Photography Studio

A Small and Portable Food Photography Studio

Food photography will at times take you out of the studio and on location. It may be to a restaurant, a farm, or a bakery. If you have to travel to where the food is, then you will have to think about what background you will shoot on. When shooting at a restaurant, capturing the decor and ambiance of the dining room with the dish is preferred by the client. Capturing the tables, walls, or any other distinctive features of the restaurant in the background will enhance your image of the dish. When shooting a food product, the ambiance might not be there. What do you do if all you have are grey walls and a metal counter top?

You will have to supply the background. I had this experience when shooting at a cupcake shop. It would be ideal for the client to bring the food items to you or have a food stylist prepare the dishes you are shooting at your studio, but sometimes that just isn't possible. You may have a small budget and find it more cost effective to go to where the food is being made. In the case of the cupcakes, I was shooting production shots, portraits of the staff, and a series of final cupcakes. I did not want to risk the cupcakes being harmed in transit, so I decided to go to the bakery and shoot on location. Bakeries are not the largest places in which to shoot. Between the ovens, giant mixers, decorating stations and customers coming in throughout the day,  you will not have a lot of room for your gear or backgrounds. Fortunately, the items at this cupcake shop would all fit in the palm of my hand. These small objects don't require a large set. For shooting at a location without a lot of room to work in, I have developed this 2'x 2' background system. For this system all you need are a few items from your local hardware store.


set_up
You will need two 2" A Clamps, and two metal right-angled roofing brackets. You will attach these to a 2' x 2' wooden square. If you are shooting overhead or at a 3/4 angle, you will only need one board. If you have a lower camera angle and want a head on view of your subject, you can use a second board to become the background.

For the board to stand without tipping, make sure the bottom of one bracket is under the horizontal board, and make sure the bottom of the other bracket is behind the vertical board. The brackets should be facing opposite directions, as seen above. These wooden squares are already cut to size and found in the wood section of Lowe's or Home Depot (I am not sure about their availability internationally).


wood_painted
With a little painting and staining, you can create these backgrounds in a variety of different colors. If you grow tired of a color you can easily paint over it. The board's uniform size allows them to easily stack for transportation. If there is no table to work on at your location, you can place them on top of two saw horses to create an instant shooting table. They are heavier than using cloth, but they won't wrinkle during transit. Here are two cupcakes that I shot at a bakery using two very different colored boards. The high camera angle allowed to the shot to only need one board.

cupcakes

Shooting flower arrangements at a florist's shop? This system can work for that as well. Notice how a second board is used to create a "false wall" background.

floral
 

If you have a small shooting space in an apartment, this background system will work perfectly in that environment. With a little bit of creativity, some wood, a few metal clamps and brackets, you can make a small and portable studio that will travel anywhere!

For more information on how shots like these were lit and other food photography tutorials, CHECK OUT issues 1-4 of photographing FOOD.

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19 Comments

Great portable setup! Where you wearing a red shirt in the white flower arrangement? I have enjoyed using foamcore as great, cheap "flags" for working with reflections.

Zach Sutton's picture

You're my favorite Fstoppers writer, Taylor....and hell, I'm one of the writers.

Taylor Mathis's picture

Thanks Zach!

Agreed. My food and cocktail photography has significantly elevated since picking up his ebooks. Hell, at $5 how could you not?

Todd Douglas's picture

Wow, what a fantastic article and exactly what I have been thinking about creating! Been wanting to start a little food photography project and this is perfect. Love the use of pre-cut wood squares and just repainting them as desired. Thanks Taylor!

Zack Williamson's picture

I didn't really have any particular interest in food photography before your articles, but I'm just about finished with college this spring and can't wait to have the time to try some of these techniques out! Another awesome article in the series

great!

thanx for sharing

Lorenzo P's picture

Pretty cool stuff!!

Now, this, this is something I can do. Brilliant!

Taylor, this is so cool! I shared this article with a friend!

Interested in reading out your lighting setup here as well. Did you just put your mini-studio next to a window or did you set up a light(s)?

Taylor Mathis's picture

For the flower pictures it was next to an open garage door. The cupcakes
were shot with a flash and small soft box. Both used one light.
Natural light with the garage and one small soft box with the cupcakes.

Todd Douglas's picture

Taylor - I went out today and built my own DIY Food Photo Studio based off your specifications. It worked perfectly and I love it. Thanks so much for the article. I posted it to my blog here and made sure to link to you and this article for the main credit.

http://todddouglasphoto.com/blog/category/diy-food

The blog also has a copy of my receipt showing the cost of all the items at Lowe's (total being under $30) - at least in my store in Mobile, AL.

Thanks again!

Jenn Zeller's picture

Brilliant! I shoot for a magazine, as I'm the resident cooking expert and often I find my kitchen (since it's very dated) is a terrible backdrop. Thank you so much for the tip! I can build this all by my lonesome!

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