Ten household items that can improve your food photography

Household Items for Food Photography
Today’s post is for the food photographers! I promise that POY won’t get overtaken by food photography stuff but lately I’ve been trying so many new (read: scrappy, easy, homemade) little things in my food photography and I’m just feeling compelled to share them. I firmly believe that you don’t need lots of fancy equipment to take great food photos. Just a few simple junk drawer tools can truly make your food pop off the page! POP.

#1: Nonstick cooking spray

You know those times when you click on a link on Twitter and end up reading an article, probably crying, sending it to your mom and your second cousin, and then remembering that you were going to shoot that hot plate of spaghetti sitting in the kitchen? Woops. Nonstick cooking spray is going to come to the rescue on this one. I’ve used it to re-liven pastas, meat, lasagna, cheesy foods, and salads. Just one careful spray restores that glowy sheen and allows the food to catch the light a little bit better.

Food Photography Tip - Nonstick cooking spray

 

#2: White Flour Sack Towels

I’ve always liked using plain, white four sack towels right off my towel rack as a background textile in my food photos, but it wasn’t until I did this example that I truly realized how powerful that little white piece of cloth can be. Holy moly. I had to double check myself to make sure, and yes indeed, both of these photos had the EXACT same camera settings (SS 60, f/2.8, ISO 250) and I didn’t edit either of them at all. Nothing. Zippo. It’s possible that the lighting changed slightly in the one second between these two photos, but really, I’m shocked at how much of a difference that white towel makes for not only the composition, but even more so for the colors. If nothing else, having a white towel in your photos gives you a definite white point that you can use to accurately set your white balance in editing. Go white flour sack towels!

Food Photography Tip - White Flour Sack Towels

 

#3: Scratched, stained cookie sheets

Take that outta the garage sale pile right now. That old, “ugly” cookie sheet is a treasured background to use for shooting food, and it doesn’t have to be just for cookie photos. I am consistently inspired by Naomi, the photographer and author of Baker’s Royale, and her frequent use of really creative textured backgrounds like cookie sheets or other dark, scratched surfaces. Here’s a yummy example.

Food Photography Tip - Scratched, stained cookie sheets

 

#4: Parchment paper

I don’t know what it is exactly about this stuff, but whenever I shoot with it I just love the texture that it gives the photo. It is transparent enough to tease you with the texture and color of whatever is behind it while still keeping the background of your food photos mostly clean and white. Sometimes I also cut up small pieces of parchment paper and use for individually cut dessert bars, like this.

Food Photography Tip - Parchment paper

 

#5: Hand mirror

A hand mirror is a great way to bounce light around. It can be more a little bit more directed than your regular old reflector. Just hold your mirror across from the window, angle it down at the food, and you’ll be able to manipulate some highlights into a particular spot in the photograph.

Food Photography Tip - Hand mirror 1

Food Photography Tip - Hand mirror 2

 

#6: White printer paper

White printer paper is a powerful little reflector on the cheap. You can fold it, move it, and angle it however you want to get just the right spot of light under the plate or over the food. I typically end up folding the paper and letting it rest on the table so I don’t have to hold it, or I ask someone {thank you Bjork} to hold it over the food while I take a few shots.

Food Photography Tip - White printer paper

 

#7: Cardboard paper towel roll (+ flashlight)

If you don’t laugh when you’re holding this thing, you might not be alive. Apparently it’s called a snoot, and it’s a supergoofy looking little contraption made out of a flashlight with a paper towel roll taped to the end. The idea here is that it allows you to blast a little bit of concentrated light into a very specific spot. I actually just learned about this the other day when I was watching a video about photography, so I don’t have much experience using it, but I can imagine this being really useful when you want to create a photo that has a strong or dark vignetted look with stronger light right in the center.

Food Photography Tip - Cardboard paper towel roll (+ flashlight)

 

#8: Cardboard shoe box

Cardboard boxes can make for a quick and easy background when you have something awkward behind the food that’s making its way into your photo. Just cut the little flaps off the top and place the box with the open side up. Arrange your shot so that it leads naturally from your surface into your background space (er, the cardboard box). AND fold a white piece of paper over the edge of the box if you want to make a really pretty all-white background. I’d suggest putting a piece of paper under the food so that it matches background white exactly. I didn’t even have to edit the crease on the “horizon” because my low aperture just kinda blurred it out. Love it.

Food Photography Tip - Cardboard shoe box

 

#9: Curtains

Sheer white curtains can be used to soften harsh light and create more of a soft glow. And it doesn’t really have to be curtains because any thin white cloth can serve this purpose – white sheets, thin white dish towels, etc. One time I even cut up an old pillowcase right down the seam so I could hang it up next to the window.

Food Photography Tip - Curtains

 

#10: White t-shirt

And now I will creep you out with a human-looking lamp. I know, it’s so ridiculous. But if you are someone who has a photography lamp and uses it often, a t-shirt can be a great tool for softening what can otherwise be harsh artificial light. Just snuggle your (fitted) t-shirt over your lamp and you have a tightly fitting light filter that won’t slip off or hang awkwardly into your photo.

PS. I have never had a problem with starting my house on fire, but I guess this isn’t something you’d want to leave on all day and you proooobably want to make sure the fabric isn’t touching the actual lightbulb. Just sayin.

Food Photography Tip - White t-shirt

If you’re interested in learning more simple tips and tricks for taking better food photos, check out Tasty Food Photography, my ebook! I just released an updated version that has more than 15 additional pages on lighting, smart phone photography, and creating emotions through food photography.


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Comments

  1. Great tips! I hope to use them on my blog soon. Thanks!

  2. LOVE this post, Lindsay! Pinning to my photography board! Love all the tips and tricks you’ve mentioned! Wow – so many great lighting suggestions and ways to use common household items to really brighten up shots. I am a big fan of white posterboard. It’s amazing what 49 cents of posterboard from Michael’s can do. I love the shoebox trick, too! And old cookies sheets – yes!

  3. You’re so super dooper resourceful and creative!! This post is inspiring. I’m especially excited to try out the cookie sheet trick and the cardboard box! Thanks so much for sharing girl :D

  4. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to try these :-)

  5. These are super useful tips… thanks

  6. Awesome post! Thanks for the hot tips.

  7. Love it! My favorites are the Pam idea and the white paper on a cardboard box! Thanks for posting this!

  8. Love this!!! Such great ideas. Sheer curtains (mine were $5 from a discount store) are a lifesaver for me!

  9. What a great set of tips! I wonder if I can get my kids to hold a mirror or piece of paper to reflect light without letting it hang in the shot!

  10. What great ideas Thank you for sharing these.

  11. These are great ideas, I’ll for sure be trying some of them out!

  12. Awesome tips!! And they came at the perfect time for me. :) Thanks!

  13. I loved reading this post, thanks for all the great tips and tricks! It’s so amazing what you can do with everyday household items. Love the before and after pics, too.

  14. I’m going to go buy a hand mirror today (yes, I’m a girl, and don’t own one…yet!)

    Quick question for you or any bloggers out there: what are those small square wax paper looking things that you put under your desserts sometimes (see the chocolate chip cookies under #9)? They make the dessert food photography look so nice, and I think I’m going to make my first dessert post sometime soon so it’d be nice to know what they are and where I can get them. I tried making them by cutting regular wax paper into squares, but it looked a little messy :/ Thanks!

    • For me, it’s literally wax paper or parchment paper! :) I cut it into squares and keep the pieces under a book or pressed under some heavy surface (so they stay flat). That way I have a stack of them to use when I’m ready to shoot my desserts.

      • Hey! Thanks for the response, I’ll go ahead and try it again with the book trick.
        One more question: you live in Minnesota like I do, and the winters can be LONG and sometimes very cloudy. How do you work on cloudy days when you’re trying to photograph? I’ll use the white board and flashlight trick, but any other tips? I’m trying to cook and photograph as much as I can while it’s summer but I don’t want to stop doing it in the winter!

  15. Love this! Such great ideas!! I can’t wait to try some of them to brighten my photos! Thanks Lindsey!

  16. Lovely post….great ideas..thanks for sharing great tips and tricks…going to try this for my blog…

  17. Love this post! Off to buy some flour sack towels…

  18. such an informational post :) thanks Lindsay

  19. What an interesting array of ideas! Definitely going to steal some of them ;) Thanks!

  20. These are the best tips ever! I’m so going to update my food photography post with the link to this post. My favorite staging props are my stained rimmed baking sheets. I have butcher block counters which I love, but they are not the best when it comes to photographing, so I have to place my food on something other than my countertops when photographing.
    I do have a question. I have been looking for a portable white table top base of some sort to photograph on, but can’t find one anywhere. Where did you get the white one you show in the first photograph? Also, I see that you have tons of bases actually, did you get them at a scrap yard, make them yourself? I would some suggestions as I’m getting tired of just using my rimmed baking sheets! Thanks so much! xoxo, Jackie

    • Hey Jackie! Here’s a link to an explanation I put on the Food Blogger Pro forum with pictures and descriptions of some of my favorite backgrounds. The loose boards came from a table I bought at the market in the Philippines. The only surface not mentioned in that forum post is the white one because it’s brand new – I just found a large white surface at Home Depot (it was located near the wood siding and panels but it’s actually more like a white board surface) and had them cut it into smaller pieces that would fit on top of my “photo table”.

  21. Great post and really helpful tips, Lindsay!

  22. LOVE THIS! Thanks for all the great tips! :)

  23. Thanks for the great tips!

  24. WOW! Thank you so much for these awesome tips. I thought that old pan was gross and useless. Here’s to revitalizing it!

  25. This is a seriously awesome post. I was actually a little proud of myself for knowing some of these things already…maybe it means I’m well on my way to having my pictures look like yours! One can only dream! :)

  26. What fun and interesting tips! I can even put some of those tips in action right away. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Another brilliant post :) I’ve used a few of these ideas already but there are definitely some new tricks to add to my repertoire! ;)

  28. Great post! As a relatively new and novice food blogger I really appreciate these simple tips to improve my pics- thank you!

  29. Great tips Lindsay! I love the human looking lamp!
    Where did you get the wood that you use on top of your table? Did you buy it assembled like that or did you put it together yourself?

    • The dark brown scratched wood? That was from the market in the Philippines. The pieces are actually separate right now because we brought them home from the Philippines in our suitcase! :)

  30. Great tips as always! I learn something each time I read your posts, thanks! Is that the Lowel Ego light that you have dressed in a t-shirt? I have read a few recommendations for it and went to buy it yesterday from Mike’s Camera and they don’t carry that brand…I was disappointed but wasn’t ready to buy what they had (I had a gift card to spend) so I am back to researching a bit more.

    • Yep! That’s the one. I’m sure there are plenty that are comparable … we usually try to read reviews before buying stuff like that, even if we are just buying in the store, it’s nice to be able to research and read reviews online first. Good luck!

      • I used your cookie sheet tip for a post I did this week for blueberry gelato. I love the background and am sure it will pop up in other posts of mine soon. Thanks again!

        And, btw, thanks for responding to my first comment above. I didn’t receive the reply by email as I do on other sites. Glad I happened to check back to read your post again and to leave (yet another) comment. Sorry to clog your inbox but thanks again for the tips!

  31. Lindsay, thank you so much for these amazing tips! I have that same artificial light, and I think I’m going to sneak one of my fiance’s undershirts to dress it up ;)

  32. LOVE these tips, Lindsay!! I use the white printer paper trick for every photo shoot. And instead of a mirror, I rip off a sheet of tin foil! I fold it in half so it rests on the tabletop by itself, and I can easily reposition it without needing someone else to hold it. I’m excited to give the snoot a try! :)

  33. These are great ideas and items that I would not think about. I think the mirror is a pretty cool idea but I use a piece of aluminum foil to manipulate light to hit a certain spot on my food that I’m trying to reach as well. Also, bought several pieces of poster boards in different colors to give some of my food background something different. Thanks for the ides! The white tshirt trick is going to do me some serious justice.

  34. This is such a great post. Thanks for sharing!

  35. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! Great tips as always.

  36. Love all of these tips! Amazing what you can do with things you have laying around. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Wow…I never would have thought about any of those tools! I don’t usually do much to help my photos but I prob should!

  38. Love it! Thanks for sharing your tips. Yay! So glad to find a use for my old yucky baking sheet :)

  39. Love these tips – love that you show how the set up was as well as the finished product. I’ve always wondered how these are set up.

    Thanks for sharing!

  40. Smart! That flashlight thingy in the tube is totally new to me and I can’t wait to try it! Awesome post :)

  41. LOVE all the tips, thanks so much! I’m just starting out in food photography but can’t wait to give these ideas a go :)

  42. Devon girl says:

    Beautiful, instructional post! It has been a secret vocational dream of mine to be a food photographer/stylist ever since I went on a school field trip to the “Betty Crocker Kitchens” at General Mills in Golden Valley, MN. At the end of the tour they gave us a box of brownie mix and an iconic big red plastic mixing spoon that I used for years.

  43. Thanks for the tips Lindsay. I definitely learned a few new things that I’ll need to try out! I especially love the t-shirt-on-the-lamp trick; so goofy/creepy looking hah, but I think that’s exactly what the artificial light needs to tone it down a bit (I have the Lowel one too). :)

  44. That white t-shirt trick is the best! And PAM? How have I never done this before?!

  45. Lindsay, since these are the easy tips, I can’t imagine how much work goes into the pictures that you post! (I am pretty proud of myself when I take the two seconds to take out the red eye glow from the pictures of my kids before I post them on Facebook. And you do amazing things to make FOOD look good!)
    p.s. The glowing ghost t-shirt steals the show! I love it. :)
    p.p.s. I just heard that food photography is the single most difficult kind of photography out there. (I guess you already knew that, but it sure is impressive.)

  46. Ahh such awesome tips, thanks for sharing..I think the cookie sheet is my fav! :)

  47. Thanks for sharing these food photography tips! I’ve been telling Peter we need to shop the thrift stores to see if we can find some more bases to use for food photography. Right now I have none. I’ve been using flexible charger placemats I got on clearance at Target. I usually buy a couple of the same type so that I can piece them together and look as though it’s a larger piece than it really is. The placemats/chargers are easy to store if you are short on space like we are at our house. I like how you store your things in the cubes under that table. That’s a great way to make it still look nice if you need to leave your items exposed for others to see in your storage space. :-)

  48. Thanks for share!

  49. These tips are so practical and helpful thank you!

  50. Thanks for all the tips! I have just bought your e-book and can see my photographs improving already! :)

  51. Ahh I LOVE these tips!! Thank you soo much! I used them this morning and wow there is still hope for this rookie food photogragher!! :) :)

  52. These are fantastic tips, Lindsay – I’m so amazed at how items just kicking around the house could improve my photography! I’ve been going through your updated e-book too and I love it. Thanks for always sharing these invaluable tips.

  53. Love this post, thanks so much!:)

  54. I love that creepy lamp and I will have to give that snoot a try! Thanks for the tips!

  55. This post is JUST what I needed! I’m quite new at food photography (less than 3 months!) – and these tips are genius … and I’ve already got most everything!!
    In the background of several of the photos is a board with holes – may I ask what that is?
    Thanks again for a great post!!

  56. Found you through The Pinning Mama. These are such great tips – especially those based on lighting. As far as backdrops, I’ve got a giant woven tray that makes a great textural element. It’s one of my favorites (come to think of it, I haven’t used it in a while. Need to correct that). Thanks again for the tips!

  57. I’m so glad I found this post via bloglovin. Finally a post about photos that I can understand! Thank you so much!

  58. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually ordered me lunch because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss this subject here on your web site.

  59. I just got the book and can’t wait to start trying some of these tips, thank you!! I have a pretty funny question…could you tell me where you got that board/tray that looks like a wooden table or pick nick table that is on the coffee table in #9?
    Thanks!
    Phi

    • Yep! That was from an antique store – it was actually a chess table, so the base is kind of like a box, and the top (what you see in the photo) is removable, so I move it around from window to window. It was something like $30. :)

  60. Thanks so much Lindsay – such great tips! And I was really getting ready to bin my old cookie sheets!

  61. I am such a fan of parchment paper for food photography. Thanks for keeping on inspiring us and showing us such simple but fab tricks.

  62. Thanks for the great tips! I have been reading your e-book (hubby bought it for me for Christmas) and slowwwllllyyyy I think my pictures are improving! I used the parchment paper for some photos I took today and am excited to post the pics sometime soon! :)

  63. Thanks for the ideas!! The parchment paper trick is awesome and saves my poor table from getting scratched. I would’ve never thought of it. I love how pictures suddenly have this other dimension to them – http://canuckcuisine.com/goat-cheese-salad-with-walnuts-and-pears/

  64. Thanks for some really great tips. I recently got a DSLR camera and am trying to make my food pics look better.

  65. What a great list of ideas! When I first began blogging, I was desperately seeking something to help me, and Gina at Running to the Kitchen suggested your e-book. It has really been what saved me and my previously crummy pictures. I can’t wait to try out some of these tricks. I especially love the look of the ice cream. Ice cream can be tough to work with, but you made it look so great. Thank you! :-)

  66. Pinned this. Please more, more.

  67. What awesome tips! Thanks for sharing. I have been taping printer paper to a old computer shipping box but I like your shoe box idea so much better! I am off to find some white flour sack towels! They really do make an amazing difference.

  68. Love this. You have a great knack for making photography tips easy to understand.

  69. This is amazing! Thanks SOOOOO much! I’ve taken pictures of a few meals and the food always looks…not appetizing. It’s amazing what a difference lighting makes!

    I love you guys and I love Pinch of Yum!

  70. Great tips! Thanks for sharing!!

  71. Great tips! Pinning this! Where did you get that wooden thing in #9? I like that wooden picnic table look, and I totally thought you used a table to get those type of shots!

    Also, I bought your e-book a while back, do those who have already bought the book get an updated version??

    • Yep! Just send me an email so I can send you the new download (my email is lindsay at pinchofyum dot com). And as for the surface, I have several “boards” like the one in #9. I also have one stand alone table that can be shot directly on (it’s blue) or can be a base for placing the boards on top. I got that particular board as a part of a $20 or $30 chess table set at an antique store.

  72. great tips! And I totally want to eat the cookies from #9 ;)
    I use a shoe box often as a reflector. I do have real relfectors that are round for photoshoots but since I don’t like using a tripod for food photos (I prefer to do it quick) I use a shoebox instead to help get fill light, it works like magic. Also have used a different colored shoe box for backgrounds as you mentioned! I do have to get myself a flour rag, I don’t have a white one – great idea!

  73. What great ideas! So resourceful, I never would have come up with lots of them!

  74. Such great ideas! I don’t own a DSLR so I only take pics using my phone. Using regular household stuff to improve my pics is such a brilliant idea! Can’t wait to try some ideas like the scratched cookie sheet and the white towel.

  75. Thank you so much for sharing this! I will definitely try a few of these tips!

  76. Hi,
    I’ve just recently started blogging, and I’m looking forward to playing around with photography and photoshop as it ramps up. I just wanted to say how great I think it is that you share your blogging tips and income reports – really demystifies some of the behind the scenes. This post was very enlightening for me, and I look forward to purchasing your e-book as well. Thanks for helping to grow and inspire the blogging community!

  77. These are awesome; thank you! (Especially because thus far I’d only come up with #s 2, 4, and 9 by myself.) I will totally be using some of these in the near future. :)

  78. all i can say is, wow. this post is incredible and extremely helpful. thank you so much for this! :)

  79. Super helpful! I’m just starting out with food blogging, and your blog has provided some of the most useful and do-able tips. Definitely going to try some of these next time I want to post a photo on my blog!

  80. Wow, what helpful tips! I practiced all weekend and posted a recipe on my blog today! I need more practice but I’m so happy with the way my first try turned out. So thank you! I especially loved the idea to use an old pan..I had one that was in the goodwill pile!! Phew, saved just in the knick of time :)

  81. Loved this article and just shared it with the Food Bloggers Los Angeles group. We all thank you for your wonderful tips.

  82. Those ideas are brilliant! Thank you so much for taking the time to share them. Here is to better photos for all of us.

  83. OMG…that is so awesome!!! I never would have thought to use household items that way :)

  84. Lindsey,
    Thanks all the great tips. I’ve pinned.
    Annamaria

  85. great tips………..First time on ur space.Happy to know you……

    x❤x❤
    http://indianveggiesbhojan.blogspot.in/

  86. Love the tips! Thanks so much for sharing!!! I think those stuff will work well on my handmade cards too :) I probably can make my own light box out of cartons.

  87. What a great post! Exactly what I was looking for. So glad I stumbled to your blog. I look forward to sharing these tips with other bloggers out there!

    Thanks again for these great tips and keep them coming!

  88. This is super useful thank you!! :D
    In #9 curtains – the photo on the left, those wooden slats/planks where did you acquire them!? I am looking for something similar to lay on my coffee table as I have recently moved and my surfaces are not photo pretty at all!!! Thank you again for this wonderful post, I truly adore you’re beautiful blog x

  89. Awesome tips! can not wait to try some of them.

  90. Thank you!!!! So helpful. Great blog!

  91. These are really excellent tips! I’m always trying to get better a food photography so will definitely be trying them out!

  92. I’m not a food blogger, but I can see these tips coming in handy for when I take photos of plants since my blog is about combining ‘nature with art’ and about ‘container gardening’. I love your blog – very pretty! Cathy

  93. This is AWESOME! I struggle with food photography and I can tell right now this list is going to help immensely! Thank you a thousand times over!

  94. Wow! I can’t say enough about this post. Thank you for such eash and cheap ways to make my photos better. Your site has been so helpful in getting my own up and running and making my photos ten times better. Can’t wait to try out some of these easy tricks!

    Heather
    bostongirlbakes.blogspot.com

  95. I love this! I cannot afford expensive lighting or props, so ideas like this are fab! :-) Thanks, Vohn x

  96. I absolutely love this! Great tips for beginners like me who isn’t ready to invest in expensive tools :-) Amazing how something you wouldn’t think to use as a background (old cookie sheet) can look great!

  97. The most valuable theme here, at least to me, among these tips is clearly how easy it is to create powerful improvements to available light, especially with the food close to a window — my favorite natural light source for indoors photography!

  98. Thank you so so much for these simple tips! I’m always looking for ways to improve my photography without putting a massive dent in my wallet. I was also wondering, besides natural light, what lighting set-up do you use?

  99. Wow…this is BEYOND helpful…especially to us food bloggers who don’t want to invest in expensive equipment but still want beautiful photos of our food:)

  100. These are some amazing tips! Gonna try this the next time I need to get some extra props or lighting.

  101. very useful thanks a lot you’re inspiring!

  102. I love this post! Seeing the before & afters is so fun :) I was just wondering, I noticed that you don’t watermark your photos. Is there a reason for that?

  103. What a great blog, and such great tips for making food photography better with simple household items.

  104. Nice simple tips. What most likely happened in your #2: WHITE FLOUR SACK TOWELS shot is that even though all the settings and lighting were identical, was that the that there was a shift in the white balance (is your camera set to auto white balance?). You can tell there is a slight warmer colour shift on the wood and the nuts. Your camera analyses the entire image and chooses a white balance it “thinks” is correct. Also, the white towel acts as a light filler, and lightens the blue bowl. If you shot is with a manual white balance setting, such as day light, you wouldn’t get a colour shift, just the fill light effect.
    So if you are shooting several setups with the same lighting and want consistent colour, I would advise to shoot with a manual or custom white balance setting in your camera. (if you shoot RAW images, this can be set in post-production meaning the white balance setting in the camera can be chosen after).

  105. Hai Lindsay, I don’t have any idea how to take a good picture on my apartment in a warm lighting, after I found your post in Pintereset, I feel like ‘Oh God thanks, you meet me with my life-saver!’ I even don’t think about that white paper and curtain will work best for the photos!

    Thanks so much Lindsay for sharing these tips!

    Greetings from Indonesia…

  106. Such a wonderful post….though I don`t own a DSLR, I guess with these simple and easy tricks, I could make wonders….thanks a lot for such innovative tips…:)

  107. Thanks for the tips!

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