What Gear Do Restaurant Photographers Need?

Getting into any genre of photography can be both daunting and expensive. Knowing what to buy, how to prioritize your spending, and in which order to procure the new camera kit can be very time-consuming. Hopefully, this will help.

Most food photographers start out working with local restaurants; we then tend to move to small chains, small brands, big chains, and finally, big household brands. At the start, our skill set is lower, as is our bank balance and understanding of the importance of certain aspects of camera equipment. 

Although this video is looking specifically at restaurant photography, the mentality and a lot of the gear could be used for many other genres too. I think it probably most closely relates to portraiture and headshots. 

In this video, I go over what I think the most important items of equipment are for budding food photographers. I then go on to talk about how I would allocate the money, where I would spend, and where I would save, as well as the order in which I would purchase the items in order to both create quality images and to make sure that the business runs well without any major hiccups. 

What is your current camera setup?

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32 Comments

Spy Black's picture

Me neither, and and I've been shooting Godox for years now.

Scott Choucino's picture

If you fire them repeatedly the power and colour of the light changes as they get warmer, but if you have 2 or more all set to the same power, it does so at a differing pace per unit. So by the end of the day one can be orange and the other blue (to the cameras eye). This is with a high shot count of around 350 in a day and using godox battery packs. not sure if the pack has any input in this, but I would assume not. The same system and exact same shot type (long story but I had to shoot a specific thing where they had to be consistent and speed lights were the tool for the job rather than packs and heads and therefore had to reshoot it) with Canon speed-lights doesn't have the same issues.

Billy Walker's picture

James, Scott's lighting reply has been stated by others as well. As I have stated in the past, price is normally an indication of quality present. Yes, I fully realize this is not true all the time which is why you see the word "normally" in the sentence.

paul aparycki's picture

James, there have been multiple reports of Godox units shutting down or shifting . . . all the result of overheating. While they have a neat design and very compact it simply cannot reliably offer the consistency that a larger unit might . . . simply due to basic physics, not "that's my brand, etc". I am sure that Bron, Profoto, Elinchrom, etc could very easily make an even smaller unit with even more power . . . which would melt with sustained use. Period.

As Scott says . . . he had a high shoot count . . . most smaller, so-called amateur units just can't stomach the abuse. I have a couple of ad200s and love them, but I rely on mains and/or battery driven Profoto for daily stuff.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Did you actually work with latter generation Godex speed lights?

paul aparycki's picture

They have their place. I bought (and use) ad200s on set sometimes if I am shooting an interior. They are small enough to be taped in a room fixture to mimic room-lighting (usually a leisurely shoot, so no overheating), and the best part is that they cost thousands less than a Profoto sticklight (now discontinued).

Spy Black's picture

I'll have to disagree with some of his comments. First of all, tethering. If you're going to shoot locked off sets, I guess tethering may be nice, but really, what's the point? I just did a food shoot and the LAST thing I'd ever want to be was tethered. That's just a creative ball and chain. I'm free to roam around and frame my shot as I need it.

Second, tripod. Again, unless you're shooting locked off sets, why bother on location? I understand the decision to buy a good one if you're shooting EVERY DAY, otherwise I would just buy new and cheap, and simply buy a second tripod if you have any doubts. Plenty of decent tripods out there. Even thought I have Manfrotto aluminum and Benro carbon tripods, my cheap Slik aluminum tripod I bought back in the 70s is STILL with me, and is one of my studio 'pods today!

Third speedlights. I would NOT buy used speedlights. Ever. I don't care if they're made by Canon, or Jesus. I also don't agree with his assessment of Godox speedlights. I've been shooting all sorts of fashion and product shoots with my Godox speedlights for YEARS now, no problems. BTW, if you strap small LED flashlights appropriately for your setup, you can have basic modeling lights as well if your speedlights don't have built-in LED modeling lights.

I disagee about the softbox too. Really. Just get a decent softbox from whoever. Again, buy two or more if in doubt. I'd rather have MORE of something cheaper than putting all my eggs in one supposedly superior item.

Lens. Sure, get a cheap 50mm perhaps, but the bulk of shooting I do, as well as shots I've dealt with freelancing, are ALL shot with kit lenses. The bulk of ads you see anywhere were probably shot with the miserable Canon 24-105, yet no one's yet complained, right? ;-) If you have to choose between a 50mm and a kit lens, get the kit lens. Far more versatile.

Backup. Backup. Backup. Just like he says to have a second body, you need backup of EVERYTHING. I have 4 tripods, 6 speedlights, 4 monolights, 5 bodies, and any lens I'll ever need. I've accumulated much of this through time of course, but just because I get new gear doesn't mean the old gear necessarily gets dumped. BACKUP!

Just my two cents on this.

Billy Walker's picture

I'm not sure you're necessarily wrong but in general, product out of China is exceptionally poor quality. Now know this, I don't believe in doing business with China anyway. So I am absolutely prejudice against Chinese product. I have serious issues with American companies sourcing out of China. But I think my quality statement is an accurate statement.

That does not imply that you cannot end up with a Chinese product that ultimately lasts many years. But I go back to my "general" comment found in the first sentence.

I tend to purchase high quality product from the get-go. It may take longer to save up the purchase price but most everything I own I have had for years and years. Although not true 100% of the time, it is fair to say price is an indicator of quality. Paul Buff lighting seems to be a notable exception.

Spy Black's picture

Well, your professed discrimination about Chinese products goes a long way to occlude your understanding of how good they can be. What you may not realize is that practically all the "high quality" products you buy from name brands, American, European, etc. have most, if not all their products built in China.

It's an unfortunate mindset to have for the sake of humanity as well, but that's a whole different topic...

Billy Walker's picture

I understand Chinese product better than most. I actually have real life experience going back approximately 18 years with what they produce. Many major companies have pulled their manufacturing from China. Quality is THE primary issue along with China's continuing ignoring of our patent and trademark laws. To say nothing of human rights abuses.

Is there good Chinese product? Absolutely! The majority of it however is not so great.

As for me realizing the fact that name brands may manufacturer there; you are correct when you say there are name brands that choose to manufacture in China. It typically takes place when the name brand not only lays out a strict manufacturing protocol, it stays on top of the manufacturing process to ensure the end result meets their specs. In addition, typically there is ongoing verification they are using the called for raw materials and not substituting unapproved material.

An "unfortunate mindset"...? I totally respect your opinion. But you may want to dig deeper into how China handles human rights issues (i.e. Hong Kong currently) along with their lack of respect for our trademarks and patents.

But that's ok as there are still American CEO's who continue to go to China to manufacture. As for myself I tend to prefer countries that show respect for human rights and don't break trademarks and/or patents.

I don't know you so I'm going to leave out comments as to what you may or may not know and/or understand. As with commentary in general you seem to always get some people who will make accusations against someone they've never known and/or met. It is beyond me as to why people do that... maybe you can shed some light as to why that takes place?

Spy Black's picture

I just think it's foolish to make a political stand on an article of how to shoot food.

Billy Walker's picture

Sorry to disappoint... no political stand has been taken. I hate politics.

Off the soapbox.

Billy Walker's picture

Maybe more foolishness...? In the NY Times today:

Begin Quote:
"China Ramps Up a War of Words, Warning the U.S. of Its Red Lines
As the United States and Taiwan draw closer, state propaganda is sending the message that China will go to war if necessary."
End Quote

Mr. Spy Black, I'm pretty sure this is a good reason not to do business with China but perhaps your mileage will vary.

Politics? Not really... just very bad people at the top of the food chain in China. Even if someone deems this to be political, do we really want to give our money over to a country that does this type of thing?

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I agree that it’s not a good thing to trade with a country that oppress there population and where religious people art put in camps. Where workers are being explored. US haven driven by greed so long it finally seems like it is biting back. Trump should have been president 30 years ago, and stopped it then.
He sure did talk about it.
Now Godox was producing strobes for Bowens before they closed down, and also now.
Why would I pay double for Bowens strobes when I can get it directly?
China are making most electronics today. Should think with robots replacing labor that is less and lass desirable.

Billy Walker's picture

Why? Because you become one of the people that help to keep the Chinese abuse machine going.

By no means the same thing, but people will use the exact same excuse when stolen product is offered to them. They can save money. If thieves were unable to offload what they have stolen it would certainly help to eliminate a substantial amount of theft.

Sites like Ebay and Amazon are also prime places to purchase stolen product without knowing it. I have been involved in the firing and filing charges against 2 individuals, 2 different companies at two different times, who were involved in stealing product and putting it up on Ebay for sale. How rampant this is I don't know.

When brand new physical items are being offered up for what seems to be unusually inexpensive prices potential buyers need to be aware of potential issues. I don't know what the percentage of stolen product is on Ebay and Amazon but I imagine it is higher than we think. No clue if I'm right or wrong.

When so much of the public bases their buying decision primarily on price shaky things are bound to raise their ugly head. Those very same people are the same ones that will tell you that you're overpriced.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

May I point out that your American brands are those who have promoted Chinese industry by moving there production to China? Not me:)
Nike screwed up a lot when they started making shoes in China.
I can purchase Wescott moonlights, That is American. But it’s relabeled Jinbei lights.
I can get Adoramas, but it’s made by Godox.

Besides that yes, maybe Profoto or Broncolor is better that way. Profoto is Swedish and runs with almost 40% profit, close to Apple figures. It’s not affordable to me.
Bowen’s used to make lights in the UK but now it’s made by Godox.

Billy Walker's picture

I researched Profoto a little bit so the following information may not be accurate:

1) I found Profoto to be privately owned - where did you manage to find their so-called "40% profit"?
2) Is the 40% Gross Profit or Net Profit?
3) 40% Net Profit on a company selling hardware would be an extremely high margin
4) When discussing margins you should never refer to it as % profit - that type of terminology is useless in the financial world - Always refer to what is appropriate: the correct terminology would be either Gross or Net Profit - the word profit is meaningless by itself.
5) 40% Margin sounds more realistic... whether they have that built in to their price list is an unknown unless you are familiar with their mark-up schedule.
6) Keep in mind, a 40% margin on their product line has nothing to do with their Profit Margin.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

It’s a Swedish company, all figures are public online.

Omsättning
680 816
Rörelseresultat, EBIT
196 744
Res. e. fin
196 931
Årets resultat
102 726

Ernings befare intrest and tax. EBIT
Numbers in SEK

By all standards Profoto is a extremely profitable company.
That is admirable really.

Billy Walker's picture

Nothing wrong with being profitable for sure. Profits are what allow employees to receive benefits. Along with paychecks that allow them to provide for their families.

paul aparycki's picture

I will never, ever buy a cheap softbox. Two strip boxes that I had from a well-known and reputable manufacturer began to delaminate on me . . . silver flakes everywhere. Junk, absolute junk and a real mess.

Collapsible boxes are a design that is made to fail. Constantly opening and closing creates stress and will result in breakage eventually. Since the confetti incident I have only bought the best that there was . . . and it was worth every penny.

Spy Black's picture

So you have one product failure and you decide the entire industry is like that except for big brands? It's unfortunate you had the experience you had with your softbox, but my cheap softbox hasn't done that, and I've had it for quite a while now.

Jay Jay's picture

Agreed with one of the commenters on here, get a decent softbox from whoever at a decent/cheap price and you're good. Elinchrom makes flimsy cheap softboxes at over inflated prices (Ive owned many). Can you tell the difference between that and paul buff softboxes, or cowboy studios? Good luck! :)

Billy Walker's picture

Don't know about Cowboy Studio's softboxes but Paul Buff softboxes? In general, I think I have 4 total, the quality is pretty poor. I also own a few Larson boxes and the quality is great. I'm not sure if Larson (a.k.a. Sweetlight) is around any longer.

Chimera also makes a great softbox. I've never purchased an Elinchrom product so I can't comment on them.

John Ricard's picture

Are we ever going to get to the point where we don't have to have a call-to-action question at the end of articles like this? "What is YOUR current camera setup?" It's just so forced at this point. Meanwhile, a strong organic conversation happened as a result of the article anyway. There was no need to force it.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I think if you can not purchase some proper gear then maybe drive a cab or something first, and then start when you have tools. Speed lights are made to sit on the camera, it’s not suitable to use in a large soft box. Then you should have lights with flash bulb. A Canon or Nikon speed light is more expensive then a Godox AD200 pro. But the Godox light is much more suitable. As far as colors get tungsten if you want consistency and the best colors. If not that then I am sure Godox pro series will do:)

Spy Black's picture

Depends on what the gig is. I rarely travel with monolights anymore, they stay int he studio, and even there I use speedlights on most tabletop stuff. You don't need a softbox either. You can use and umbrella softbox or a smaller folding octagonal optimize for speedlights. Plenty of production options.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Speedlights are directional and are just are not as good for modifiseres like softbox or umbrella. There is a reason for why AD200 comes with extra speedlight head. You can use but light will be less soft.

Spy Black's picture

While they were never made to be used as such, they can still easily be put to use in modifiers, and they work just fine. The only limitation would be the photographer.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

No. The limitation is the size of the modifier.

Spy Black's picture

Again, depends on the gig.

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