What Goes into a Professional Food Shoot?

Snapping food photos has become common practice in the age of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The scrambled eggs you had for breakfast, the panini you had for lunch, or the grilled chicken you had for dinner – they're all one tap away from being immortalized in a photo. With #food being one of the top hashtags on social media, it's easy to assume anyone is just seconds away from a great food image.


Professional food photography, on the other hand, involves many more details. It requires intricate work that is learned through years of experience, mistakes, research, and practice. As photographers, we don't complicate the process simply to tack on more hours. On the contrary, we would be thrilled if we could put a plate on a table, in a dimly lit room, shoot it with our iPhones and have it be amazing. Unfortunately, it simply doesn't work that way.

Instead, food shoots involve a lot of prepping – most that occur before the shutter button is ever pressed. Here's how it usually goes:

  1. Confirm photo shoot scope, details and shot list with the client. This usually involves collaborating on the creative direction of each image

  2. Plan the composition of each shot

  3. Source most aesthetically-pleasing ingredients and props

  4. Set up shooting area for best lighting (whether natural light or artificial) and setting up diffusors and reflectors

  5. Set up backdrop

  6. Prep ingredients (pick out best-looking ingredients, carefully wash, cut, measure, pour, etc.)

  7. Cook the ingredients to be photo-ready

  8. Plate and style the food

  9. Stage the table with props

  10. Adjust camera setting to ideal exposure for the shot

  11. Shoot

  12. Continually clean the shooting surface, refresh ingredients, etc.

  13. Cull images (select the best of the images shot)

  14. Professionally edit images

  15. Send image proofs to clients for review

  16. Send final, full-resolution images

As you can see, shooting is a very small piece of the puzzle. If that list sounds hefty to you, that's because it is. In fact, large shoots typically require an entire team of people to pull off: Photographer, assistants, creative director, food stylists, photo editor, etc.


For smaller shoots, the photographer might take on all of this work themselves. This is why the average food shoot takes many hours, sometimes days, to complete from beginning to end. Even the most seemingly simple images have a lot more happening under the hood than you might think. I've personally spent hours picking out the perfect cookie, dusting off the crumbs, shooting it and editing out the imperfections – all for a "simple" cookie shot.

Of course, there is a lot of fun to be had from beginning to end. After all, food photographers get to do what we love and shoot just about the most amazing thing in the world. But there's also a lot of hard work, attention to detail, artistry and process that goes into it. Considering this, food photographers put the utmost effort into ensuring your edible creations tell your story, speak to your brand and look stunningly appetizing. And being able to satisfy our cravings once the shoot is done – well that's just a perk!