How to Become a Food Photographer: Q&A Series

Interested in learning how to become a food photographer? You’ve come to the right place.

Read on to learn about my experience getting into food photography and a host of important tips for progressing in your career.

I get a bunch of questions on Instagram that range from “how did you leave law to work in food?” and “how did you find your passion?” to “how did you grow your Instagram account so quickly?” to “how are you so freakin cool?” J/k about that last one. No one has ever asked me that, though I’m still waiting if anyone wants to ask.

I try to respond to most questions, but it can be a bit too time-consuming and challenging to answer big picture questions in the format of an Instagram direct message, so I thought I would put start a blog post series with answers to some of the most common questions I get. Let’s start with one of the most common questions: How did I become a food photographer?  

How to Become a Food Photographer

How to become a food photographer  

The short answer is be determined and don’t give up!

And for the long answer…

I started experimenting with food photography nearly two years ago in the spring of 2016. At the time, I was working as a lawyer at a nonprofit, and compared to my last job as a BigLaw firm litigator, I had considerable free time on my hands, which I began filling with binge marathons of shockingly bad TV. After months of this, I decided it was time to find a new hobby.

My first new hobby was computer programming. For real. I naively thought I could easily become a badass female computer programmer, so I started teaching myself some basic coding online. This endeavor lasted for several months until I admitted to myself that, one, I frankly didn’t enjoy coding all that much, and two, my brain wasn’t wired in a way that coding made intuitive sense.

My next new hobby was gardening.  At the time, I had a sizable backyard, a rarity in New York City. I had high hopes of turning the rotting waste pit we inherited from the previous tenants into an elegantly curated garden that Martha Stewart would be proud of. However, after one weekend of pulling weeds and patting mulch into the ground on my hands and knees, I decided that I didn’t want a hobby that involved so much manual labor. My bone structure just isn’t cut out for that.

Finally came a hobby that made a lot more sense: food photography. I had always loved cooking and baking since I was a teenager, and to be honest, those were two of my existing hobbies. Making my food look pretty and photographing it seemed like a logical next step. Except it wasn’t easy at first. Not at all.

How to Become a Food Photographer

My initial attempts at food photography were embarrassingly bad. I used my iPhone to take photos, I shot with overhead kitchen lights on, and I got super close in my food’s face. To me, my photos looked just fine though, as I didn’t have much of a reference point to tell me that my photos looked like horse shit. I didn’t know anyone who was a food photographer and I didn’t follow any food accounts on Instagram.

Despite my apparent lack of aptitude, my interest in food photography and food styling persisted, so I decided to start an Instagram account showcasing my mediocre work. I started by using an inexpensive mirrorless camera that I already had, which took decent but not great photos. And even if it did take great photos, I had no idea how to use it outside of Automatic Mode.

I started by taking photos primarily of smoothie bowls because those were easy enough and seemed to be a novelty on Instagram at the time. I remember feeling quite proud of my colorful creations, though in retrospect, my photos were flat and lacked any dimension or dynamic quality. And my use of props was noticeably awkward and haphazard.

How to Become a Food Photographer

Eventually, I graduated to an introductory, crop-sensor DSLR camera, the Nikon D3300. This helped improve the quality of my photos, but not nearly as much as learning about the fundamentals of food photography did. Like light and the importance of using indirect natural light.

Luckily, I stopped using my kitchen lights before I started my Instagram account. And after months of taking photos in my garden, I learned that food photos taken indoors, even if in a low-lit room, almost always produce a better result than food photos taken outdoors (unless they’re taken on an overcast day in the early morning or late afternoon and in a shady spot).

Then, I started learning how to use my camera outside of Auto Mode, which made a huge difference. I started to become comfortable with the concepts of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and how they contribute to the brightness or darkness of an image.

How to Become a Food Photographer

My adeptness at food styling also evolved over time. When I first started out, I bought inexpensive brightly colored napkins and bowls because I was attracted to color, but along the way, I realized that very colorful props are hard to style and lent my photos an amateur, almost childlike quality. Eventually I became familiar with the tried-and-tested proverb “quality over quantity.” I donated dozens of cheap dishes and linens and started putting my money towards a few quality props.

How to Become a Food Photographer

After six months, my photography had markedly improved, and then six months after that, even more so. During that time, my appetite for learning about food photography and styling was insatiable. I would excitedly try out new settings on my camera, beaming with pride when I discovered something new. I would scour the internet looking for tutorials and free blog resources on photography.

About 9 months after starting my foray into food photography, I had a new job. Well, a new career, to be honest. In January 2017, I was hired as a content marketing manager at Hungryroot, a vegan and gluten-free meal delivery startup in NYC. Fast forward a year later, and I’m now the director of content there! I am responsible for all of the recipe testing, food photography, and food styling, along with other forms of content creation and strategy. And when I’m not working there, you can usually find me with a camera taking photos and videos of food for Instagram or Youtube.

My favorite part of being a food photographer is the continual growth and learning. While my food photography and styling have exponentially improved since I started, I still have a very long way to go. And I’m okay with that. I love the process of learning new tricks, refining my style, and watching my work evolve along the way.

To give you an example, last spring (10-12 months ago), I published a four-part series on my blog on food photography tips for the beginner. While I am still very proud of this series and definitely recommend checking it out, I have learned SO much since then. I’ve had “update food photography tips on blog” on my to-do list for the last three months and hope to one day actually cross that off my list so that I can include all of the new insights and tips I’ve learned since I first wrote those articles.

How to Become a Food Photographer

So, if you’re looking to become a food photographer, here is my advice:

1. Develop a “growth mindset.” This basically means believing that you can develop the skills and abilities it takes to become a photographer, even if you know nothing right now. If you believe that you will never be able to take professional quality photos or that your work will never be as good as someone else’s on Instagram, your negative thoughts will manifest themselves.

2. Acknowledge that you will never be perfect at this job. Even veteran photographers are constantly learning and improving their photography, so don’t get discouraged if you’ve just started out and your photos aren’t up to your standards. One of the most rewarding things about being a photographer is looking at your past work and realizing how much you’ve learned, grown, and evolved.

3. Learn as much about light as you can. Understanding light is essential to becoming a good photographer. Study light wherever you are and whenever you can. Observe how the sunlight is low to the horizon during winter and casts long shadows, how the sunlight at high noon is intensely bright and produces high contrast images, how the sunlight on a cloudy day appears softer and less yellow than on a sunny day.  Observe the way light hits food at different angles and how dark shadows can be filled in with reflectors. If you have a good grasp of how light impacts your food, you’re on your way to becoming a great food photographer.

4. Practice whenever possible. Even if you don’t have time to elaborately style a dish and take a bunch of photos, take out your camera whenever you can while food is around. Play around with your camera settings, the angles, and lighting and you’ll learn something new each time.

5. Invest in a DSLR camera. If you’re just starting out, you might be hesitant to buy a brand new DSLR camera. And that’s totally fine. But if you want to practice experimenting with aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and other camera settings, it’s helpful to practice on such a camera. Instead of buying a brand new camera, consider buying a refurbished, used, or older model camera. For more info on each of those, check out this article. Alternatively, if you have a family member or friend who owns a camera, ask if you can borrow theirs or check your local area to see if there are any stores that rent out cameras. Here, in NYC, there are plenty of shops for camera rentals, such as Adorama and CSI Rentals.

camera shooting (1 of 1).jpg

I hope you found this post informative and useful!

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54 comments on How to Become a Food Photographer: Q&A Series

  1. Jinitha Raj

    Hi Nisha! I was searching for a useful article for improving my food photography skills. Loved your work! Keep going!

  2. Maria Rosado

    Wow, I love your story :) Happy New Year. 2021 So Cool :)

  3. Manal

    I love this post, especially about hearing about your journey of shifting from law to photography and cooking. I graduated from law school this year and hated it. Would love to hear more about your experience!

  4. Lisa

    How are you so freakin cool? Actually wondering 😄
    Thank you for this blog post and sharing so generously your story!

  5. Milly Rios

    I have a Sony a6000 and I saw in your article you started out with a cheap mirrorless to a DSLR. Why is that? Is DSLR better for food photography?

  6. Hatim

    Such a wonderful and inspiring story!
    Your photographs are amazing. Helped me a lot on my perspective about food photography. Keep going and Thank you !

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Hatim! How sweet are you. Thank you for stopping by and for your kind comment. I am really glad that my story has given you some perspective about your own photography journey :)

  7. SHRUTI

    Your story is very inspiring Nisha! :-)I was happily reading this article n it was a complete mood-changer.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Shruti! That’s so wonderful to hear :) I am so happy my story resonated with you!

  8. Courtney

    How are you so cool? PS – this was very helpful!!

    1. Nisha Vora

      HA! Thanks so much Courtney!

  9. Maggy

    Great advice

  10. Tesia Beam

    You are so awesome!! Your photography is incredible and you are so generous to be offering this to those of us who are just thinking about starting out! I’ve been wanting to pour myself into my food photography for awhile now, and I’m just teetering on the edge of fully committing to it! This helps a lot!

  11. Amber

    You are a true professional, your photos always inspire me! My favorite blog!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Aww thank you so much, Amber! That’s so kind of you to say! I am truly flattered :)

      1. Amber

        You’re welcome!

  12. Jose Luis Gonzalez

    Thank you for posting this greatand helpful information I been working in gastronomy for decades and also a former chef . I been trying to get into food styling photography for a while reading and searching for classes waiting at list , thanks a million I will waiting for more of your much appreciated help and tips
    Jose Luis

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Jose! Thanks for stopping by and for your lovely comment. So cool you are a former chef and trying to start with food styling and photography. I have some Youtube tutorials on food styling and photography if you want to take a look :)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMmHixjZXTs&list=PLZ34BtqrTir-WtaWjlZp0YP3xBgGUNSx1

      1. Jose Luis

        Hi Nisha , thanks for sharing your Youtube tutorials and all the great tips amazing! So much to learn from itagain thanks a millionfor sharing well done.
        Jose Luis

        1. Nisha Vora

          Hi Jose! You are so sweet! Thank you for stopping by and so glad you’ve found the tutorials useful. Best of luck to you!

  13. Lisa

    Thank you SO much for posting this information. I’m a new mom and former executive chef to an event venue and catering company. I’ve decided to go for this route also and felt overwhelmed with a newborn and trying to understand/figure out just how to get into food styling/photography. You’ve given me a sense of direction and some much needed hope. Thank you a million times over. Can’t wait to read more!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Lisa! You are so welcome and thank you very much for your thoughtful comment! So awesome you are pursuing a new career even as you are full-time mom – that is so inspiring! I am touched that I could’ve given you any inspiration and sense of direction :)

  14. Colette Cumbo

    "I used my iPhone to take photos, I shot with overhead kitchen lights on, and I got super close in my food’s face. " I can assimilate to this so, so much! That’s exactly where I am! I was never really interested in photography for a living but I’m now considering it for a change of career. I read your post with great interest and hop to follow in your footsteps. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Aww yay, I’m glad this resonated with you and that you found the post interesting and helpful! Wishing you the best of luck as you continue to explore your new hobby and possibly new career :)

  15. Andre Casey

    I find your story very inspiring, Nisha and the food photos definitely looks striking. I love food and I love cooking and I hope to venture into food blogging one of these days. Loved the tips too, I hope it works with general photography as well.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Andre! Thank you so much for reading and so happy you found my story inspiring. I wish you the best of luck in your next venture!

  16. Amanda Shaw

    This was so inspiring to read, Nisha! I’ve been following your Instagram for quite some time so it was great to read about your journey.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Aww thanks so much for your kind comment, Amanda! Really appreciate the support!

  17. Dee | Green Smoothie Gourmet

    Nisha, love your story! I remember my first foodie photoshoot with a point-and-shoot! I was so proud, haha. You are great at teaching this topic, I loved your photography tutorial on your youtube channel, I hope you make more videos like that! lots of love, Dee xx

    1. Nisha Vora

      Aww thanks for reading, Dee! Same here – I remember taking my first photos and being so impressed haha. Thank you for the love and support!

  18. Jasmyn Brielle

    Thanks so much for this Nisha! Definitely giving me the motivation to start.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hey Jasmyn! Thanks for reading and so happy you found this motivational :) Are you interested in food photography or photography in general?

  19. Nondu

    Nisha! Thank you so much for sharing your journey. It’s very inspirational. I’m also in the legal profession and boy am I miserable😓. I really hope some day I will be able to make a living out of my food photography on vegan_attempts. Even though I’m still just a beginner. Lots of love to you.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Nondu! I am so happy you found this inspirational! The legal profession can definitely be tough and draining. Hope you are finding ways to relax and de-stress an best of luck in your upcoming endeavors :)

  20. nadia

    Very helpful tips Nisha! I’ve always loved your photography. You’re definitely a natural :D

    1. Nisha Vora

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Nadia! Means so much to me!

  21. Ela

    Thanks for this amazing (and funny) blog post. I remember when I took my first photos in direct sunlight, holding my food in my left hand and my camera in my right hand. Well, back then I thought my photos were pretty cool, lol. I love to see how your photography evolved! Lots of love :)

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Ela! So happy you found it funny hehe. Haha yes I definitely remember feeling very proud of my initial photos, even though I look at them with mild embarrassment now. It’s so rewarding to watch your own progress!

  22. Noelle~ Too Precious For Processed

    I love your story Nisha! It is so inspiring and it has been incredible to watch you grow in so many ways over the past couple of years. I hope to one day reach your level of talent. Thanks for continuing to push me :)

    1. Nisha Vora

      Aww thanks so much for reading, Noelle! I so appreciate your support over time and have loved getting to know you!

  23. The Vegan 8

    Such a fun post Nisha! Haha, I remember when I first started doing photos, I was using a 10 year old point and shoot camera and my biggest messups were composition. I look at old photos now and the composition was terrible. But I’ve been doing food photography over 5 years now and have evolved so much and it’s awesome to get hired for jobs now. Funny how the career we think we want changes so much, right? I used to be a very busy and successful realtor but it didn’t allow my creative spirit to come out as much as I liked. I’m now, just like you, doing what I love. Great feeling isn’t it?

    1. Nisha Vora

      Aww thanks for reading, Brandi! I also look at my old photos and cringe haha but it’s also so nice to watch your progress over time?! That’s awesome that you made the shift to something you love, even though I’m sure it wasn’t easy to leave behind a successful career. Feels great despite the risks!

  24. Robert Udave

    Thank you Nisha!!
    Great article and you are keeping me going forward 👍

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Robert! I’m so happy you found the article helpful :) Keep it up!

  25. Jess @choosingchia

    Great tips Nisha! It’s so true that never giving up really is the most important thing. I remember the very first time I shot with a DSLR camera…oh boy. Let’s say it wasn’t pretty! At first I wanted to just go back to shooting with my iphone because I really didn’t understand much about photography. But after lots of practice and work and not giving up I finally started seeing results!A growth mindset is always the way to go!:)

    1. Nisha Vora

      Thank you, Jess! Yes, like with any skill, practice and perseverance are the most important! I also used to get so frustrated because I didn’t understand how a DSLR camera worked and wanted to just use Auto mode haha. Trying to apply that growth mindset to all areas of my life – it’s a work in progress but I definitely notice the difference!

  26. Analía

    Thank you for this! I always find your tips so helpful you are one of my main food photography inspiration!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Analia! Aww I am so flattered and touched that you said that. So happy you enjoyed this post!

  27. Julia

    Thank you Nisha for this article!! It is exactly what I needed to read!! I have sent you a for developed email! Thank you for checking it!!!Love this post!!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Julia! So happy you loved the post! I am a bit behind on my emails but I will get back to you soon :) Thank you for the encouragement!

  28. Johanna

    Hello!When you applied for the new job, did they require some past experiences in food etc? Since you was a lawyer before, which is not related to your new job at all? Very inspiring to read since me myself is studying something that I am not really passioned about but I know that I have a passion for food. :)

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Johanna! My past experience was basically my Instagram and then in the interview, I talked about my personal experience working in food, creating content and building a personal brand. And I also talked about how my skills as a lawyer (writing, analysis, problem-solving, time-management) could be used in this setting. Hope that helps, let me know if you have more questions!

  29. N

    Loved reading this post. Very inspiring to someone like me this trying to get better at food photos! Thank you for sharing your story :)

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Nandita! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind feedback! I really appreciate it! I love watching my progress and I’m sure you will too!

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