Read // Food Photography & Lighting

Food Photography & Lighting: A Commercial Photographer’s Guide to Creating Irresistible Images
by: Teri Campbell

If you want to improve your photographs for your food blog or instagram feed, this isn’t the book for you. The book is aimed toward professional photographers looking to make a career in commercial food photography.

Since I can only review the book from my perspective, I thought I’d share a little background on my education thus far. I attended the Art Institute for commercial photography. I learned not only about shooting and lighting but also about the business of photography. In addition to my formal education, I have attended and watched food photography workshops. You can see some of my work here.

food photography

Food Photography & Lighting is divided into two parts—business and assignments. The business portion covers setting up a studio, tools for the job, working with a team, marketing, and bidding jobs. The assignment portion features jobs Campbell has worked on arranged into topics like Burgers & Fries and Ice Cream Scoops & Shakes. The book is filled with Campbell’s beautiful images with details like exposure and lens choice. While Campbell shares a few tips and tricks, this is not a book about food styling.

As I mentioned, I’ve already studied about the business of commercial photography so I read that portion to learn what special considerations have to be taken with food photography.  In the section “Working as a Team” Teri touches on the value of a food stylist even when working with a professional chef:

Chefs know how to use taste, smell, presentation, sound, and touch to make food appealing, but they may need help in distilling all of those attributes down to just one sense–sight.

The true job of the photographer is to tell the story.

Given that the business information was (mostly) redundant for me, I was eager to read the assignment portion. The assignments address the different concerns when shooting a po-boy versus say, a pizza or glass of milk. The book includes some process shots, the final image, a photo of the setup and a lighting diagram. It would have been so helpful if the final image, setup shot, and diagram were on the same spread. His lighting descriptions can get a bit confusing, and it didn’t help having to flip back and forth to make sense of it. I want to look at the diagram and see how a certain light or modifier affected the image. Also, Campbell tends to work on variations of one lighting setup. I’d like to have seen more alternatives given “lighting” is in the title of the book.

While Campbell  touches on his early days as a food photographer, I feel a portion of this book is inaccessible to beginner photographers.  Campbell gives a “tour” of his studio, not failing to mention the quarter of a million dollar remodel and 3,000 sqft prop room. While this is very impressive and commendable, I would assume a photographer with those funds would not be reading this book. Additionally if you’re reading a book that tells you which lens and tripod to use, you probably don’t have a team of prop stylists, food stylists, assistants, and digital techs at your disposal. (Not to mention, owning a medium format digital camera…. one day, my beauty, one day.)

{TL;DR:} If you are a true beginner to commercial food photography, the first portion of this book will be very helpful. If you’re interested in lighting diagrams and setups, skip ahead to part two. Keep in mind the author is a seasoned professional with many resources at his disposable; so it’s not entirely relatable for beginners.

Rating: 3/5

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