Quality food images don’t have to break your budget. Try these homegrown DIY solutions for shooting affordable stock food photography.

A lot of people think you need a professional studio and equipment to get those flawless images you see in the cookbooks and magazine spreads. However, you’d be surprised to learn that even the pros will stick to cheaper tricks to get the job done. Regardless of one’s level of expertise, who doesn’t prefer a more wallet-friendly approach when possible?

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Melon
Image by Roberta Dall’Alba

For this article, we talked to some of our pro food photographers on Offset and Shutterstock about the little things they do to save money during stock food photography shoots. Whether it be a quick trip to the gas station or items you probably already have in your kitchen, it’s easier than you think to keep things affordable.


5 Pro Tips for Stock Food Photography

1. How to prevent fingerprints when styling food

While gloves aren’t typically thought of like a photography tool, they actually can be quite useful behind the camera. When setting up, wearing cotton gloves can keep your photos fingerprint free. Most people don’t even notice when they leave these sneaky marks in their photos, but that’s the last thing you want when you go to upload and need to re-edit the image.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Bread and Orange Juice
Image by Ashleigh Amoroso

Ashleigh Amoroso, an Offset Artist specializing in stock food photography, says cotton gloves are a must-have for her when setting up backgrounds and moving glassware. In food photography, it’s important that the photos look natural, so you don’t want traces of your assembly left behind. Plus, you want a clean background that doesn’t distract from the true subject, the dish.

2. How to keep items in place

More often than not it can be difficult to hold a seven-ingredient sandwich in place. Or, maybe you want to get creative with a gravity-defying cake. In these tricky situations, a few toothpicks can do the job. Or, as Amoroso likes to do, use toothpicks to create picturesque garnishes.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Fruit Cake
Image by Ashleigh Amoroso 

Another helpful tool to keep things in place is modeling clay. Ever have the stray berry that just won’t stop rolling away? That is exactly why Shutterstock contributor Natalia Klenova likes to use clay for styling her food photos.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Broccoli Flatlay
Image by Natalia Klenova

You don’t need professional modeling clay either, since sticky tack or your child’s unused dough make the perfect affordable substitutions. If you don’t plan to eat the food after you’re done, another great option for holding things in place is corn syrup. Try brushing corn syrup onto your base item before adding other foods, like sprinkles or berries, on top to really make them stick.

3. How to keep things fresh

Instead of throwing away all of those old cleaning spray bottles, try washing them out and repurposing them as misters. With the help of a fine-mist spray bottle, you can add natural-looking droplets to foods. For example, doing this when photographing raw vegetables helps give them a freshly-washed look. Another technique is spraying the outside of drink glasses to create the appearance of condensation. While a seemingly minor step, it can do a whole lot to make food look more appealing on camera.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Watermelon Drink
Image by Food Collection

Filling it with water can do the trick, but Amoroso prefers to go an extra step. “A mix of 50% vegetable glycerin and 50% water will create the perfect water beads that will last,” Amoroso said. “This is what is in my fine mist spray bottles!”

In this video, Custom contributor Joanie Simon explains how she uses the same combination of glycerin and water in order to create perfect water droplets on beverage glasses.

On the contrary, if you’re trying to perfect that fresh-out-of-the-oven look, baste your foods with some type of oil, like vegetable oil or olive oil, to give it a fresh shine. This is also helpful if the food has been sitting out for a while and seems too dull.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Croissants
Image by Roberta Dall’Alba

4. How to get rid of shadows in food photography

If you ask most professional photographers how to prevent shadows and get more balanced lighting, they’ll probably recommend investing in a reflector. However, you don’t need a professional-grade reflector though to achieve the same professional results.

In reality, you probably already have the perfect tool right in your kitchen! When folded to create a wall just outside the frame of the photo, aluminum foil does a great job bouncing light back on food. Just stand it on the opposite side of your light source, or wherever you feel there might be an imbalance of light on the subject.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Tomatoes
Image by Food Collective

Another easy-to-use reflector is a hand mirror, which can be leaned against something or held by an assistant if you have one. If you don’t have this either though, a simple white piece of printer paper or white poster board can do the trick, too.

5. Creating homemade backdrops

There’s no need to invest in fancy tabletops or tiles when you can DIY your backdrop for stock photoshoots. Yes, an eye-catching backdrop can add an extra layer of intrigue to your photos, but it certainly doesn’t have to be anything extravagant to be successful. In fact, simpler backgrounds are often better because they’re less distracting from the focus of the shoot.

Offset Artist Roberta Dall’Alba demonstrates the power of creating your own backdrop in her Instagram video here and in this article that includes other DIY photography hacks. With a simple plywood board, a paintbrush, and whatever colors of paint you prefer, you can easily create the set for your next photoshoot. The best part is that you can keep repainting the board to match the shoots after that, too!

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Tofu Soy Bowl
Image by Roberta Dall’Alba

Custom Contributor Kim Daniels does the same, typically using a plywood board she repaints herself or using items she’s thrifted. “I have an amazing rustic white wood table that I bought from the thrift shop and it doubles as our kitchen table,” Daniels said. “I also have an old barn door that my Dad found—it’s dark and weathered, perfect for moodier shots.” Sometimes the items you least expect can be the perfect setting!

Then, try adding layers to the scene with simple linens like pillowcases, cloth napkins, or placemats. Folded delicately, solid or patterned cloths are an easy way to accent dishes and add variety. Kim Daniels actually prefers to stick to a few simple backgrounds and then relies mostly on props to diversify her images.

Cheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography — Fig Bruschetta
Image by Food Collective

For more food-related photography tips, check out this video on Joanie Simon, a Shutterstock Custom contributor. If you just want some inspiration, watch our video here on Joanie’s journey as a food photographer.


Featured image by Fluid Frame.

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